Intro to BBQ Chicago Style

Intro to BBQ Chicago Style

This is the first of my love of being a home chef. I have no formal culinary training (but have been working on food since 1989), yet I try to make the best meals I can at home on a budget with limited time and resources.
I consider myself a “Pitmaster in training” I love BBQ, love eating it, love making it and it’s a passion of mine, so let me break down a few things about BBQ.
Being raised on the south side of Chicago, there are your serious “rib joints”, Leon’s on 83rd, Lem’s on 75th, Ribs & Bibs on 53rd, the long shuttered Painted Doll on 105th & Halsted was my favorite, those places smelled like BBQ, had stacks of wood in the back and smoke billowed out of them like the place was on fire.
And Kenny’s don’t count; they once had me on the side of Vollmer Road in south suburban Matteson on my knees with my head in a ditch.
Now I know there are a new group of BBQ places I need to try Smoque & Honey1 and from what I’ve heard they are keeping the pit fire alive but personally I prefer to make my own.
Now you may hear of “Grilling” or “Smoking”, so what the difference?
Literally about 100 or so degrees, in smoking its “low & slow”, ideal temperature about 250 degress. The picture you see is of my smoker, it’s a little vertical, water smoker you can get from Lowes for $ 60.00.
I have drilled extra holes in it for ventilation and put aluminum heating tape around the door to seal in the smoke. You can spend hundreds, even thousands on BBQ equipment if you want but it’s the technique, time and good wood (preferably hickory), that make good BBQ. A smoker involves a fire on the bottom, a water pan above it (for moisture), and racks of food above that. It’s good for larger tougher cuts of meat that need time to cook and tenderize, like pork shoulder/butt or even a whole turkey, think of meat you carve, roasts and that sort of thing, they are great smoked, but give yourself minimum a couple of hours to get your fire going and meat started. You can be talking easy 8-12 hours for meat over 10 lbs but it’s worth the wait.
Grilling is what we all know and love, a simple BBQ pit (Weber brand pits are the best), over an open flame (usually using charcoal), and it’s great for burgers, dogs & steaks. Now you do have “indirect cooking” which is how the best ribs are done (check out Chicago Tribune’s John Kass for good recipes), that’s cooking next to the open flame and like smoking you have a water pan but its next to the fire not above it. And your fire is hotter, usually about 350-400 degrees or so and cooking time is minutes not hours (unless you are doing ribs and even then it’s just a few), so this is a more convenient and fun way to cook.
And you have gas grills as well (I have a small one for weekday quick cooking), and they are nice for high heat (a seared steak on a gas grill is wonderful), but you lose some of the flavor from charcoal and certainly from wood.

Now granted good BBQ is hard work but you will never have a regret for the effort with such a flavorful meal.

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Tags: BBQ, Lem's, Leon's, Smoking

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum, class of 1999 and prior to that Brother Rice class of 1994. . And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say, feel free to email

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