Unlike Carolina’s pig pickings and the beef smoke pits that began as annexes of butcher shops in central Texas, Chicago’s barbecue started elsewhere. With the blues, it traveled up the Mississippi to neighborhoods where African-Americans found jobs and community. And like the blues, it originally was rural but developed a thundering urban personality. What electrical amplification did for the music, sauce did for the barbecue. With its main tributaries being Mississippi, Memphis, and eastern Arkansas—places where sauce matters—South Side barbecue earned its chops with sauce that is thick, sweet, hot, and as devastating as Junior Wells’ harmonica riffs in “Lawdy! Lawdy!” In Chicago’s great parlors, sauce is as important as the meat itself. Hence, the white bread slices on every plate. What better way to sop up every last drop?
4 GREAT SPOTS FOR BBQ ON CHICAGO’S SOUTHSIDE
Uncle John BBQ 337 East 69th Street (773/892-1233) Hot links, spiced with sage, cayenne, and pepper, are smoked by pitman Mack Sevier over elm, oak, and mulberry.
Exsenator’s Bar-B-Que 3349 West 159th Street, Markham (708/333-1211) Hickory-smoked ribs, hot links, and chicken come with fries and two slices of white bread for sopping up the sweet and tangy house-made sauce.
Lem’s Bar-B-Q House 311 East 75th Street (773/994-2428) At this 57-year-old South Side institution, pitmaster James Lemons cooks barbecue hot and close to the flame in a see-through aquarium smoker.
Barbara Ann’s BBQ 7617 South Cottage Grove Avenue (773/651-5300) The pit team at Barbara Ann’s dishes out rib tips, spareribs, and hot links slathered with tomatoey mild or spicy house-made sauces