Country Ribs with Golden Eagle Barbecue Sauce

Outside of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin stood the Golden Eagle Tavern. The bar itself was small, with living quarters on one side and a separate building on the other side that made and sold the most amazing barbecue sandwiches. The location was perfect – right along the highway between Wisconsin Rapids and Steven’s Point. On any given day, travelers along the picturesque wooded state route would pull off the road and mosey on up to the rustic log establishment to order some of the best barbecue around. What set the Golden Eagle Tavern and Grill apart was their barbecue sauce. It was different, tangy with a peppery taste. The longer the sauce was allowed stewed, the more intense the flavor became. Without question, the Golden Eagle Barbecue Sauce was the key to the success and popularity of the Golden Eagle Tavern and Grill.

neilda habeck goodwin 1930sAt least as far back as 1950s, (I’ve heard tell it might have been as far back as 1930s or 40s) The Golden Eagle Tavern and Grill was owned and operated by Joe and Nelda Goodwin. Joe and Nelda weren’t a young couple venturing into the restaurant business who suddenly struck gold. By the mid to late 1950s, when the Golden Eagle Tavern and Grill became popular among locals and travelers alike, the Goodwins had a few years under their belts. Joe Goodwin was born in 1888, his wife, Nelda, in 1901. They were married in 1928, and sometime thereafter the Golden Eagle open its doors. It’s unclear if Joe or Nelda developed the recipe for Golden Eagle Barbecue Sauce, or if it was a collaborated effort. Joe passed on in 1970, and sometime after that, Nelda decided to hang up her apron (she tended bar as well) and sold the joint. When the restaurant was sold, the recipe was part of the packaged deal. Eventually the original buildings were bulldozed over and an old favorite was forever gone, lost in the march of progress. Today another bar and grill sits on the lot, a bit further back from the road and much larger. Yet the Golden Eagle Barbecue sauce has managed to survive.

Nelda Goodwin was my husband’s grandfather’s sister. When my husband’s grandmother passed away, we went to Wisconsin to help sort through her belongings. In a box on a scrap of paper that was yellowed by age was a hand-written recipe for Golden Eagle Barbecue Sauce. I don’t know if Nelda herself wrote it down more than fifty years prior for her sister-in-law, but there it was all the same, in its original glory.  My husband remembers the sandwiches as thin slices of smoked beef smothered in this amazing sauce. I use it to make Country Ribs. We also use the sauce on chicken, pulled-pork and even burgers. The recipe will make more sauce than you can use in a single sitting, and it stores well in the fridge. By the time you get to those last few drops, the intensity of the flavors is incredible!

So for this post, you’re getting two recipes – some of the best, moist country ribs around and a sauce that has endless possibilities. When we do up the ribs, I like to serve them will country-style fried potatoes and grilled corn on the cob.

Some people “boil” their ribs for a while to help in the cooking process. I like to slow-cook the ribs in a warm oven over a pan of seasoned water, then finish them off on the grill. It’s braising – only in reverse. This method results in a country rib that is fork-tender with flavors that have penetrated the meat completely.

Ingredients Ribs:
4-6 lbs Boneless Country Pork Ribs, trimmed
2 Cups Water
1 Onion, cut into large chunks
3-4 Garlic Cloves, minced or pressed
1-2 Tablespoon Liquid Smoke

Preheat oven to 300-degrees.

In the bottom of a broiler pan, add water, onion and liquid smoke. Rub minced garlic into meat.

Lightly brush ribs with barbecue sauce. Let sit for 15 minutes to soak in the sauce. Place on top of broiler pan, cover tightly with foil cook in the oven 1-2 hours or until meat is tender but not falling apart.

Increase oven to 325-degrees and cook an additional 15 minutes. Keep a watchful eye on the ribs at this point. You want it to be tender but still intact, otherwise it will fall apart when finished off on the grill.

Ingredients: Golden Eagle Barbecue Sauce
1 Bottle Hunt’s Ketchup (32 oz) – see footnote
3 Tablespoon Dry Mustard
2 Teaspoons Ground Pepper
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
½ Cup Cider Vinegar
½ Cup Water
1 Tablespoon Chili Sauce
1 Tablespoon Hickory Liquid Smoke

To make barbecue sauce, combine all ingredients in a heavy sauce pan. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat, let “steep” until ready to use – the longer the better. Refrigerate any unused sauce. (The empty Ketchup bottle works well, just be sure to label it “Barbecue Sauce” so no one gets a surprise on their burgers or French fries).

To Finish off Ribs: Build a nice bed of coals in the barbecue. Transfer meat to a clean barbecue grate that has been wiped with vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Sear ribs 3-5 minutes, turn and sear other side. Mop heavily with Golden Eagle Barbecue Sauce during final grilling.

Note: For whatever reason, Hunt’s Ketchup is the only brand that works well with this sauce. Apparently “Ketchup is Ketchup” isn’t an accurate statement when it comes to this recipe because when other brands have been used, the results were less than desirable.  There’s something about the base in Hunt’s Ketchup that works well with the other ingredients to create the famous Golden Eagle sauce. On the handwritten paper “Hunt’s” was underlined, further emphasizing the importance of a particular brand of ketchup.