116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CR Midnight Smoker turns lifelong meat smoker into BBQ eatery owner at Cedar Rapids’ NewBo City Market
How a passion became a profession
CEDAR RAPIDS — With influences from so many regions, a new barbecue eatery’s style gives more than a nod — it’s shaking its head up and down in agreement with practically every iconic barbecue city in America through its brisket, pulled pork and more.
For that reason, CR Midnight Smoker BBQ owner Greg Stoll has trouble defining a style he’s spent 20 years crafting. But in a melting pot kind of way, it’s also a sign of what his new restaurant is hoping to build from scratch: a new sense of originality for barbecue food in Cedar Rapids, which has relatively few locally-owned barbecue restaurants.
“I don’t try to tame down my flavors for other people’s palates. I basically have tried to get the best processes that I can find from different areas of the country,” he said. “I like it to be flavor-forward, to have people taste what we do to the meats — not just that it’s cooked in a smoker.”
Naming his business after the name his mother-in-law gave him as he tended the meat during family gatherings, Stoll and daughter Lily Stoll, 16, are setting out to create a distinct new flavor profile.
CR Midnight Smoker BBQ opened in NewBo City Market on Oct. 7.
If you go
What: CR Midnight Smoker BBQ
Where: Inside NewBo City Market, 1100 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Phone: (319) 573-3190
Details: Pulled pork and beef brisket available by the pound or as sandwiches starting at $9. Sides include Carolina-style coleslaw and dill-heavy potato salad.
How it started
Stoll, 46, has been smoking his own meats for decades. With his mother’s family being from North Carolina, he had plenty of practice making Carolina-style barbecues for family.
But it wasn’t until his wife and one of his children encountered food allergies that the smoker became a full-fledged barbecuer. With corn and dairy in virtually every sauce available on store shelves, Stoll was forced to start creating his own rubs and sauces.
After he sustained a serious back injury, his days as a tiler with his company, Skippy’s Custom Tile, came to a close in 2019 after 21 years in business. At first, he got licensed in insurance and started to work at a local insurance company.
But seeing good sales numbers on a spreadsheet didn’t make him feel as good as he felt seeing reactions from friends, family and neighbors enjoying his food. While he worked in insurance, he sought out ways to start catering at gigs on the side.
With a smoker he bought at a steal, he was almost there. But commercial kitchens, as it turned out, are pretty expensive.
As he grew weary of an office job, an open spot at NewBo City Market made way for a new career path.
The sauce is not necessarily the boss
Stoll has a small line of his own crafted barbecue sauces which have proved popular. Within the next year, he hopes to bottle them for customers to buy for their own cooking at home.
Twang, a Carolina-style vinegar sauce, is the first one he started making for family years ago, when you couldn’t buy it in stores.
Harmony, his Kansas City-style sauce, has a lot of flavors that sit easily in your mouth, where they pick up new notes.
Blues on Fire, a new sauce with a Harmony base, ups the ante with a medium-heat from serrano peppers and a tart treble from blueberries — an uncommon barbecue sauce element. Greg chose the berry to add a fruit note without adding extra sweetness.
With all his sauces and rubs sensitive to those with allergens, Stoll uses ketchups made with sugar rather than corn syrup, and substitutes the common Worcestershire sauce for browning seasoning to give it the same kind of bite.
“Dealing with all those allergies, you really start experimenting with different recipes and how you can combine other flavors without going through the normal routes with dairies and gluten,” Stoll said.
But unlike some barbecue places where the sauce makes the meat, Stoll’s meat stands on its own, no matter where its style hails from.
Cooked over oak, hickory and cherry smoke for 10 to 12 hours, each meat is treated with an extra seasoning and wrap before it reaches full temperature. Then, it rests overnight to further tenderize.
Fat trimmings from beef brisket are saved to make a beef tallow used in the smoker.
Brisket is made in a Texas style, with a black pepper-forward profile incorporating granulated garlic, onion and one secret ingredient that adds acidity to help tenderize.
Ribs will be offered in a St. Louis style, and pulled pork is done with a Memphis style. Sides include a family recipe for Carolina-style coleslaw and a dill-heavy, mayo based potato salad that pairs well with the meats.
With a dry rub that is only sauced on the plate by customers, the tender meat is a tour of the South waiting to be tasted. But with homage to so many styles, Stoll’s goal is to make Midnight Smoker into a brick-and-mortar establishment and, eventually, help it position Cedar Rapids into a barbecue city.
“We have so much farming, so many hogs. We’re such a farming area, but we’re not known for barbecue,” he said. “I’d love Cedar Rapids to become a spot where people want to come for barbecue — and not just mine.”
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