Can you smell it? The promise of smoke, meat, and pungent sauces.
Can you hear it? The sounds of 50,000 people buzzing with anticipation. The echoing twang of a guitar and the low beat of a drum as everyone counts down to it—Windy City Smokeout.
The heart-and-soul child of superstar Executive Chef, Doug Psaltis, along with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Windy City Smokeout will be celebrating it's 5th and biggest year yet. From July 14 - July 16, Chicago will play host to 17 of the nation's best pitmasters, 34 of country music's elite performers, 25 participating breweries, and dozens of the hottest vendors serving up non-barbecue favorites (I fan-girled a little too hard when I heard Cookie Do NYC and Bang Bang Pie were a part of that lineup).
"There's something for everyone at Windy City Smokeout," enthuses Psaltis. "There's stuff for music lovers, barbecue lovers, and festival lovers. The location is fantastic, right in the heart of the city on the iconic Chicago river."
Psaltis' career is legendary. From starting as a diner cook in New York to working his way up to some of the world's most prestigious fine dining restaurants, Psaltis is now the Executive Chef/Partner of seven Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, including RPM Italian and Bub City. In his spare time (pause for a chuckle), he has managed to turn a love of barbecue into a nominee for Best Festival Of The Year by the ACM awards.
"My twin brother and I used to take trips to barbecue festivals," Psaltis reflects on how his love for barbecue grew. "It was a way to get out of New York City, away from work, and just bond. We'd spend every dollar we had just to go to these festivals and check them out. I fell in love with the lifestyle."
Indeed, Psaltis loved it so much that he spent some time working with pitmaster legend Myron Mixon to learn more about competitive barbecuing. After that, thoughts of Windy City Smokeout began to take shape.
"The goal in the beginning was to bring different barbecue brands to Chicago," Psaltis recounts. "Now, the best thing is that Windy City Smokeout is attracting young pit masters excited to cook with legends, offering up different styles of barbecue. It's a mix of the older, traditional generation with the younger guys that are bringing new techniques."
Fast forward to 2017, Mixon is now the host to one of Windy City Smokeout's biggest curated events—the overnight Myron Mixon's Cooking School. Here, event guests will learn how to prep, smoke, and barbecue a whole hog from start to finish (an overnight process) with Myron Mixon.
"It's a one of a kind experience," Psaltis lights up as he describes it. "There's also something amazing about being on those camp grounds while it's all quiet before the festival lights it up."
It's more than just the lineup and unbeatable location that makes Windy City Smokeout a truly can't-miss experience.
"The festival is ultimately hosted by Lettuce Entertain You, which makes hospitality the most important aspect for us," Psaltis explains. From festival cleanliness to an elevated guest experience across the board, Windy City Smokeout is renowned for the best attendee experience. This year, Lettuce Entertain You has set out to make Windy City Smokeout the most guest-friendly event yet. “We do our best to create amazing hospitality for our vendors, our teams, our musicians, and our guests.”
The biggest addition to this year's Windy City Smokeout has been making it a technology-friendly festival, from WiFi all around the lot, to a guided mobile app, and an entirely cash-free experience.
Whether you're a first time or recurring attendee, here's what you need to know in preparation of next weekend:
- Buy your tickets in advance. This will help avoid lines when you arrive and get you to the 'cue and brews faster.
- Do your homework. Research the pitmasters and brewers so that you can plan your meals. Handy tip: Make use of the amazing new Windy City Smokeout App to plan your festival. The app sends you alerts for events, helps you map out your path through the festival, and so much more.
- If you're there for the food (of course you are), get there early! And do your research. For real.
- Set up your wristband. Loading the writstband will limit costs to what you actually spend and consume as well as help you move through lines quickly. The festival will be providing electronic wristbands to all attendees. The wristbands can be preloaded with a credit card, which helps minimize wasteful spending. Let's face it, we've all been that person that's bought one too many tickets in anticipation of using them and then gotten stuck with a pile of unused, worthless tickets at the end.
- Don't miss The Biggest Happy Hour of the Summer on Friday or the Crawfish Boil on Saturday.
- Head over to the Bub City Burger Shack and Whiskey Bar for some 'cue favorites...
In the loose words of celebrated pitmaster Rodney Scott to Psaltis regarding the event, "I was told if you get the nod from Windy City Smokeout, you gotta be there."
Chicago, you've got the nod. Be there.
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