Well my home’s in the delta, Way out on that farmer’s road. Now you know I’m living in Chicago, And people, I sure do hate to go. -Muddy Waters, My Home is in the Delta That lyric from Waters is a bit of an idle threat. It was recorded in 1963 at Chicago’s Tel Mar recording studios for one of the greatest records of all time, “Folksinger”. But, Muddy stayed in Chicagoland, dying in his Westmont, Illinois home in 1983. Advertisements
If Jesus smoked a perfect brisket and followed that up by walking on water, he’d still have a lot of catching up to do to achieve the deity status of Myron Mixon. You see, Mixon is the Michael Jordan of barbecue. To be fair, Michael Jordan is more like the Myron Mixon of basketball. Jordan only won six NBA championships. Mixon has won over 200 grand championships in barbecue
If you told me an East Coast barbecue joint with eight other locations was opening a monstrous 12,000-square-foot restaurant in the booty-shaking vortex that is Weed Street, I would have said, uh, yeah, that’s probably not gonna be serious. But Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, which has set up shop steps from sports/country/let’s-get-wasted bar Joe’s and gentlemen’s club VIP’s, is no flash in the pan
You could say that Smoque, an Irving Park barbecue restaurant that’s one of Chicago’s best, all started with a very large Texan.
If you’ve ever smoked a perfect rack of ribs, it’s easy to understand how a thousand barbecue joints have been launched. The beauty of a pink smoke ring and juicy shards of freshly pulled meat inspire a confidence that you were born to bring the gospel of barbecued meat to the masses. But opening a barbecue joint is different from being a confident weekend warrior.
There is never enough time for the beer, the family, the friends, that friendly game of bags, or even really to eat. You thought there would be, that on Memorial Day weekend, you’d stoke the charcoal, flip that hunk of pork shoulder a few times throughout the day, hang out on the lawn chair, filch swigs from a case of Goose Island and watch blue smoke evaporate into the ether.
The 1800 block of North Avenue is turning into the Lynyrd Skynyrd junction. On one side, you’ve got chef Cary Taylor serving up corn-perfumed johnnycakes and fried green tomatoes at The Southern, while across the street you’ll find Charlie McKenna, formerly of Tru and Avenues, serving up boiled peanuts and smoked ribs at the new Lillie’s Q.
Sometimes I wonder if anyone’s been shot over a piece of brisket. I knew that if you served the wrong type of sauce or rub on a rib in the wrong part of a country, you risked starting a war. But, I didn’t know just how hardcore the BBQ crowd could be until a few weeks ago when, as Chicago correspondent for SeriousEats.com, I declared thatChicago BBQ was better than Memphis BBQ. Commenters responding to my story impeached my sanity and my city (referring to Chicago as Podunk). These are the same folks who call fall-of-the-bone meat “baby food,” or baked ribs “pork jello” and who start nasty rumors about places with automated smokers. Tiger Woods probably has a better shot at reconciling with his wife than any potential restaurateur does pleasing the BBQ illuminati. And sure enough, even before Brand BBQ Market opened in Logan Square six weeks ago, the BBQ vanguard were already debating Brand’s definition of burnt ends and making fun of their smoked tofu offering. Smoke groupies started asking about Brand’s specific cooking temperatures, times and equipment (Cook Shack smoker filled with apple and cherry wood) before the first timbers had ever been stoked. The whole thing…
Memphis barbecue ain’t all that. There, I said it. I expected and wanted Memphis barbecue to be the soul shaking, stomach sating, come-to-Jesus occasion everyone says it is. I planned for weeks, read reviews, scoured internet forums, and I did my due diligence talking to locals about their favorite spots once I arrived in the land of Elvis a couple of months ago. I hit Central, Germantown Commissary, Rendezvous, Cozy Corner, Corky’s,Leonard’s. It’s the best I could do in three days, and it’s possible if I’d just hit one more place—Neely’s or A & R or Pig and Whistle or (insert your local favorite)—I would have finally found some real promised land. Or, maybe not. Everyone touts the Memphis dry rub as the thing, but all of the “dry” ribs I had—including the tourist trap/celebrated inventor of the form, Rendezvous,(Justin Timberlake says they’re his favorite; he may be gifted as a songwriter and performer, but he needs to work on his food criticism)—were overseasoned in terms of spiciness, and underseasoned when it came to salt. Generally, the rough bland sandy top coat on most of the examples I tried would have been more useful to prime a wall for painting than as a flavoring agent. At least I found…
ADMIT IT: Most of you grab bottled sauce when stocking up for a barbecue. There’s no shame to that game, but if you’re going to go bottled, at least go local. Which brings us to determining just which Chicago-made barbecue sauce is worthy of slathering all over your hot-off-the-grill grub. To find out, we enlisted three Chicago ’cue kings: Barry Sorkin (far right) of Smoque BBQ (3800 N Pulaski Rd, 773-545-7427); Robert Adams Jr. (far left) of Honey 1 BBQ (2241 N Western Ave, 773-227-5130); and Gary Wiviott (center), founder of LTH Forum and coauthor of Low and Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons (Running Press, March 2009). The panel took part in a blind tasting of seven local sauces, rating each on a scale of one to six. Here’s the breakdown: