Steve Arnold’s father once asked him what he loves about competition barbecue. Steve gave him the perfect answer: “Dad, I finally found a sport where fat guys get trophies.”
Of course, there is far more to Steve’s love for barbecue than simply adorning his mantle with glittering baubles. He enjoys meeting new people at all the county fairs and churches that host cook-offs. Eating, no doubt, ranks right up there too. But more than anything, Steve enjoys bonding with his family over the arts of grilling and smoking. Steve will point out that barbecue has likely brought families together longer than any other pastime.
“We were once snowed in for four days back when we were living in rural Montana,” Steve recounted. “What do you do when you’re housebound for so long? You think about barbecuing, so my daughter Katie and I decided to spend all that time together developing the perfect barbecue rub.
“Katie was a great research partner – she’s since gone on to become the youngest certified Kansas City Barbecue Society judge in the country. After the snow let up we gave some of our finished product to a friend of mine, also a barbecue judge and a butcher, and he said ‘Steve, that stuff’s so good I’d put it on ice cream.'”
Steve began using “Miss Katie’s” rub to great effect at competitions, but didn’t start selling it until he moved to North Dakota a few years ago. He gave his business the same name he called his old homestead. As Steve is a nurse practitioner and his wife is also handy with medicine, local ranchers used to bring over three-legged calves, blind lambs, and other unfortunate livestock for much needed care on the frontier. “Arnold’s Misfit Acres” does have a nice ring to it.
In addition to Miss Katie’s, Steve’s rubs include Arnold’s Prairie Dust and Joltin’ Josh’s, the latter of which is named for his son and made with the finest grounds that Coal Country Coffee of Mandan has to offer. Steve also offers Due North Fish Batter for all your walleye perfecting needs. All of these dry goods are prepared by people living with disabilities at the Open Door Center of Valley City, North Dakota.
Steve’s primary focus as of late, however, is sauces, which he makes according to old recipes that he has toyed with and perfected over the course of countless cook-offs and cookouts. If you ask him what makes a perfect sauce, Steve answers in the tone of a mountaintop guru who has just been asked the meaning of life.
“Well, it has to deliver a sweet, almost tangy hit to the back of your mouth. It also has to have some pepper notes – subtle ones, since people around these parts don’t care for extreme heat. And these flavors shouldn’t hit you all at once, but at different times while you’re eating. I compare our mustard in particular to a fine bourbon that starts off kind of sweet but finishes off with a little heat.
“There have to be some unexpected flavors. The person trying your sauce should love what they just tasted, but also be uncertain exactly why.
“The perfect sauce should include as many local ingredients as possible. That’s why we only use North Dakota honey which folks from our church so graciously provide to us, beer from the Fargo Brewing Company, and chokecherry syrup that we cook up ourselves.
“The perfect sauce also has to be made in small batches, which is why my family makes ours in our local Eagles Club’s commercial kitchen. Sure, it would be a lot easier to hand it all over to a mass producer, but there’s no substitute for tasting each and every batch just to make sure it’s the real deal. It’s a labor of love, and you can tell the difference that makes.
“To answer the question of what makes a sauce perfect … well, I suppose it should be just like mine!”
It’s no empty boast. Last year alone Arnold’s Misfit Acres racked up several accolades at the World Hot Sauce Awards in Louisiana, including best mustard, best medium hot sauce, and second best alcohol infused sauce. Steve is especially proud to have beaten celebrity chef Jay Ducote right on his home turf.
You can buy Arnold’s Misfit Acres’ rubs and sauces at SCHEELS Home & Hardware in Fargo. You may also learn more about the family business and order their fine barbecue products online at arnoldsmisfitacresllc.com.
By David Scheller