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Barbecue is our nation's great, iconic slow food. Mission BBQ respects that tradition but serves it fast, fast, fast.

The duo behind Mission BBQ, Bill Kraus and Steve Newton, opened their first restaurant in Glen Burnie in 2011. Two years later, they have four locations — all in Maryland — and a fifth opening this month in York, Pa.

Their newest restaurant opened in Canton's new shopping center, Canton Crossing, in early October.

Scene & Decor Judging by the Thursday night crowds, just a few weeks after opening day, Canton has found Mission BBQ and likes it.

Mission BBQ is casual, organized like a fast-food restaurant that delivers a little extra loving care. The first few minutes of our visit were a whirlwind, as we perused the menu, placed our order with the frighteningly efficient and friendly woman at the cash register, and grabbed one of the restaurant's few empty tables — a deep booth large enough for lots of food.

As we waited the few minutes for our dinners, we caught our breath and looked around. The "mission" in Mission BBQ is about something bigger than serving tasty smoked meats. In their restaurants, Newton and Kraus celebrate the proud tradition of Americans who serve their country, a group that includes Kraus' sons, Andrew, a former Marine, and Alex, a plebe at the Naval Academy.

With walls covered in patriotic quotes and photos, that mission comes across as loud as a drill sergeant at boot camp. The rest of the decor is casual-rustic, with galvanized metal and distressed wood — a sanitized version of the traditional barbecue dive.

Entrees Patriotism and giving back are all well and good but at a barbecue restaurant, the real question is: How's the meat? The answer, at Mission, is that it is good. Sometimes very good.

A three-meat platter ($17.49) gave us a chance to try the pulled pork, sausage and brisket plus two sides, and the chicken combination platter ($11.29) gave us another side plus half a chicken. Together, our meals covered most of the menu.

All the meats had great flavor after hours of smoking, though our favorites were the chicken and brisket, both of which were impressively moist. The sausage was nicely balanced with heat and savory spices, but the pork was a little dry.

On every table at Mission, a cardboard caddy holds a six-pack of house-made sauces in squeeze bottles, each labeled with its name scrawled on a strip of blue painters tape. Touches like that were sweet and a good reminder that even though Mission BBQ is a chain, and its owners have aspirations to make it a big one, at its core, it's just a barbecue joint run by a couple of guys who like smoked meats.

The sauces draw on barbecue traditions from around the country, from Memphis to Carolina. Easy access to that many sauces was fun — mixing and matching to create our own private blends entertained us for a while. Our favorites were the Old Bay-spiked Bay-B-Que (natch) and a careful blend of uber-tart Carolina vinegar mixed with the sweeter Kansas City-inspired KC Classic.

The sides were equally impressive, including soft and well-seasoned green beans cooked with pork, chunky creamed corn and seasonally spiced whipped sweet potatoes that had a hint of cinnamon. Hunks of corn bread were sweet and crumbly (though we have to admit we wish they'd been warm).

Drinks Mission BBQ doesn't serve liquor but they do serve canned beers and an array of bottled sodas — the kind with real cane sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup. Barbecue goes equally well with Natty Boh or grape Fanta.

Dessert After dinner, we jumped back in line to buy a wrapped brownie ($1.99) that turned out to be a tinge dry but intensely chocolaty. We enjoyed it, but next time we'll stick with the meats and sides (the whipped sweet potatoes were like dessert, anyway).

Service Mission BBQ is set up mostly like a fast-food restaurant, so we were pleasantly surprised that a waitress stopped by our table a couple of times to make sure we had everything we needed, and to clear empty plates. Like the counter staff, she was super friendly.

Tasty food aside, the staff's welcoming attitude made us want to come back. And soon.


Mission BBQ in Canton Crossing

Back story: The Canton Crossing location of Mission BBQ, opened in early October, is the local restaurant's fourth site and the first in Baltimore City proper. Owners Bill Kraus and Steve Newton kept the concept simple: good barbecue, smoked in-house and served with traditional sides and a variety of sauces, delivered in a space that celebrates the U.S. military, police and others who serve the country.

Parking: Lot next to restaurant

Signature dish: Order a combination platter to try a variety of meats but don't miss the brisket. Mission BBQ made brisket believers out of us, with their smoky and moist take on beef. Experiment with the sauces to find your favorite blend; we liked a combination of Carolina vinegar and sweet tomato-based Kansas City sauce. On the side, you won't go wrong with soft and porky green beans.

TVs: 20

Where: Canton Crossing; 3701 Boston St., Baltimore

Contact: 443-955-6807; mission-bbq.com

Open: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday

Credit Cards: All major

Reservations: Not accepted

Bottom line: Slow-cooked meats and house-made barbecue sauces served with friendly efficiency in a space that celebrates the United States.