Sunday afternoon I visited the Naperville location of local barbeque chain Q BBQ (the locations are south suburban LaGrange and in Chicago in Lakeview), now the local media has heaped praise on this restaurant (its plastered on the window and the servers shirts), but its well earned.
This is not the next “trendy bbq spot”, this is special spot on BBQ and as a experienced home BBQ cook I’ll tell you why.
First off you walk in this joint and it smells like BBQ, you smell the authentic smoke, some places will just drop juices or sauce on a fire for effect and that’s like putting lime juice on a hot pan, its just steam and smell. That evaporates quick and doesn’t do anything but make the ventilation dirty.
And a lot of chain BBQ places use electric smokers which often don’t emit any smell at all and I admittingly ate a place like that earlier in the week. The ribs were good but electric smoking is a nice, even cook that can be very tasty but not the character of a wood smoke.
Now Q is set up fast casual, you order and pay first and then the food is brought to you for dine in or bagged to go. Nothing wrong with that, its efficient. As we waited I looked around and its your usual pictures of rural “authentic” BBQ places but where there is the napkins, extra take out boxes and wet naps (nice touch), there were logs for BBQ out of the customers reach. It looked like hickory (which is one of the woods I use in my BBQ), and that’s a nice touch to show “we make legit BBQ”, the old Ribs N Bibs on the south side of Chicago (used to be on 53rd Street in Hyde Park), kept their wood in the customers sight. I like that, just a gentle reminder that here’s our fuel for your food.
So I had the Memphis wings and Carolina Pulled Pork first and I’m not lying those were the best wings I ever had and I have eaten and cooked enough chicken that I should have feathers on my back. Just a crisp, flavorful but not dry wing that literally popped in your mouth. You can see in the picture that color is perfect.
The pulled pork was interesting, started off almost bland it was so subtle but then the flavor rises up and the sauce is nice (unlike the ones on the table that are actually flat), and its not too much sauce. So many places and people drown their BBQ in sauce and its like “what are they hiding” or do you just have a fetish with sauce?
I sampled the beef and turkey from my guests (my wife and mother), and the turkey was just ideal. I’ve cooked a lot of turkey and smoking turkey (white meat especially), is so hard to keep it moist, flavorful and make sure its actually done. This was all three and muted in seasoning like the pork, no sauce on it, smoke ring was perfect. It was cut in manageable pieces but just masterfully done without being over the top.
Same with the beef, like the pork, tender and low key in favor at first, a little understated but then comes alive as you eat it and tickles your tastes buds.
I can tell you from personal experience its so easy to “over do” BBQ and I don’t mean burn it. First you can over do the wood, too much hickory (or especially Mesquite wood), gives the meat literally a “woodsy” taste, its like eating your mother in laws dining room table. Too much charcoal is the same over the top flavor, the meat is lost and you just taste fuel, just as bad as using charcoal lighter, the meat is corrupted.
And then over seasoning is easy too (hey I’ve done it), you fall in love with a rub or seasonings and before you know it, its a “spice party” and the meat is under there somewhere. Not to mention some people use coffee, chili powder or even Dr. Pepper on BBQ and remember that sugar (which the later has), burns easily and will blacken and rob the meat of flavor. Also some spices can become bitter in the wrong combination or just in BBQ cooking.
I use brown sugar & whiskey in my BBQ and you have to be oh so careful to keep that favor balance. Q BBQ does a masterful job of having a understated “flavor profile”, I can’t say enough in this day and age of “in your face BBQ”.
I respect the Q BBQ left their beef alone seasoning wife, true BBQ beef should just have a salt or pepper rub and most Texans will often just do a kosher salt base rub (that’s what I do but my maternal grandparents relatives are from East Texas), and its perfect. Q BBQ had that beef flavor which is hard to keep in its authentic form.
The sides at Q BBQ were literally okay, but remember they are sides, the meat is the main event and it did not disappoint.
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