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George Battle made some of the best barbecue in the region. Born in Dallas, Texas, Battle ended up in Des Moines by mistake in 1962 when his car broke down on the way to Michigan. He couldn’t find any barbecue to his liking in Des Moines back then, so he went back home to get some tips from friends. George opened his first restaurant in Des Moines in 1977, learning the business by trial and error. He moved back to Texas after seven and a half years, found Dallas to have grown too big and too fast, and came back to Iowa on purpose—this time to Ames, where he bought an ice cream store. But before he knew it, he was back in the barbecue business again.
When George Battle talked about barbecue, he could talk forever. Traditional Texas barbecue is beef — ribs and brisket and smoked sausage. The demand for barbecue that exists in Texas does not exist here, so to make his business viable, he had to adapt a bit and include pork. He used sliced loin, however, the most expensive cut and not pulled pork, the cheapest. He found no demand for traditional Texas beef ribs in Iowa, so he didn’t serve them. His pork ribs were spare ribs, which are a bit more fatty than loin back and so last longer.
When George was traveling, he kept an eye out for barbecue signs and his nose alert for the scent of wood smoke. The first thing he looked for was a woodpile.
Properly made, good barbecue is meat slowly smoked over a wood fire. Battle cooked his beef about 12 hours and his (pork) ribs and loins about three hours. Of course, the quicker the meat cooks, the quicker it can be sold, so a variety of cooking equipment is on the market. Battle’s operation fell in the mid-range for cooking times. His restaurants were small (one in Ames and one in Nevada) but do a high volume of business.
According to George, the variety of sauces available today is a relatively recent invention and designed originally to cover the flavor of bad meat. Years ago, Texas barbecue included no sauce. Today, sauces vary throughout the Southern United States, and different ingredients dominate: vinegar, mustard, ketchup, and sugar. For some, Battle noted, barbecue without sauce is just not barbecue, so he offered a range of tomato-based sauces for a variety of Texas-style smoked meats.
For those with a sweet tooth, Battles also provided homebaked sweet potato and lemon chess pies — as well as real homemade lemonade. George served food that no one else in the area did. His place was too small to please everyone, but those who wandered by and smelled that sweet wood smoke were guaranteed an authentic, filling, and tasty meal.
Battles BBQ—Southern Select remains in operation under new management at the same location: 112 Hayward Ave, Ames, IA, 515.292.1670