arry Kennebrew had fire in his eyes and smoke in his veins since he was very young. He grew up in Gadsden, Alabama, crammed alongside six siblings in a home with no electricity or running water. When he was 6 years old, his mother taught him how to bank the fire that warmed the house in the winter—to take charcoal ash and lay it atop the flames. It kept the embers underneath hot through the night, and the next morning, a quick shake and some kindling brought the fire back up. But it was his grandmother’s skill in the kitchen that stayed with him. Frying chicken is tricky enough with a controlled gas flame, and she had it mastered on the intense and inconsistent heat of a woodburning stove. A half century later, Kennebrew is still taming fire. As the owner and pitmaster of Uncle John’s Bar-B-Que, 30 minutes outside downtown Chicago, he’s one of the foremost practitioners of a peculiar form of barbecue found only on the South Side of this city. Winters are harsh here and outdoor space is hard to come by, so ribs and sausages are smoked indoors, in custom-made glass-walled contraptions called aquarium smokers. They’re called that because they look like giant fish tanks with meat swimming around inside. These smokers, which can cost more than $10,000, employ no dials, knobs, or even an onboard thermometer; they’re simple boxes that house a live fire and capture the smoke it produces. The primary method of controlling the heat produced by the fire is spraying with a garden hose. Every region lucky to have its own barbecue style operates with its own conventions and peculiarities. Beef brisket is the state-sanctioned protein of Texas; pork shoulder reigns in the Carolinas; baby back ribs get smoked and sauced from Kansas City to Memphis. But the style of Chicago’s South Side remains a curious footnote in the American barbecue canon. Few barbecue cognoscenti outside Illinois would consider it top-tier. The restaurants in Chicago still cooking in this manner use a cut many butchers throw away. They cook it indoors in smoke-choked kitchens. And there are only a dozen or so left.