Interesting followup here: http://www.avclub.com/chicago/articles/chicagos-bbq-is-worse-than-memphis-bbq,36152/
by Marah Eakin
December 17, 2009
Internet foodies pitched a fit late last month over at grub blog Serious Eats, sparring over writer Michael Nagrant’s post, “Chicago BBQ is better than Memphis BBQ
,” which claims we have “the best retail barbecue-food scene in America right now.” Based on a recent trip to Memphis, Nagrant posits that the Second City is tops because of joints like Smoque
(3800 N. Pulaski Rd., 773-545-7427), Honey 1
(2241 N. Western Ave., 773-227-5130), Leon’s (1200 W. 59th St., 773-778-7828), Barbara Ann’s (7617 S. Cottage Grove Ave., 773-651-5300), and Uncle John’s (773-892-1233, 337 E. 69th St.). Worthy eateries, all around, but the blogger misses the saucy point—Chicago’s barbecue “scene,” relatively small in the first place, stands on the shoulders of its meaty forefathers—Kansas City, Texas, the Carolinas, the deep South and, yes, Memphis.
Almost as a rule, Chicago-style barbecue has a tendency to be a little all over the place. Take ribs, for example. Honky Tonk BBQ
's (1213 W. 18th St., 312-226-7427) are dry-rubbed and smoked, sauce on the side, almost Memphis style. Smoque and Honey 1 use different dry-rubs on their slabs, wood-smoke them, and then sauce them up with tangy, semi-sweet sauces, St. Louis-style. Brisket, a common entrée at most “hip” joints around town, isn’t even something you’d normally see at most Southern-style barbecue restaurants—they don’t normally dabble in “cowboy barbecue,” as they call it in West Texas.
Nagrant’s arguments are based on one trip to Memphis, where he may or may not have eaten at the best places in town, and the Chicago scene could be hiding all sorts of hidden gems, but that’s a moot point. Sure, we have great barbecue, but barbecue is inherently pretty great—it's meat so tender it practically melts in your mouth, sometimes with delicious sauce on it. Loving it is practically a given. Do places like Honey 1 or Honky Tonk, which do exceptional work, mean that the Second City is doing it better than anywhere else, though?
Think of it like this: Whenever there’s a long line at local favorite Hot Doug’s, inevitably someone will strut by and grouse, “I can’t believe people are waiting this long for a hot dog.” Anyone who knows Hot Doug’s, though, knows that it’s not just a hot dog, and if that’s what the customer really wants, instead of a venison sausage and foie gras fries or whatever, he or she can drive on up to Superdawg or any of 1,000 other wiener joints around town. What makes Hot Doug’s famous, and what’s made Memphis and St. Louis and Texas and all the other barbecue cities famous, is that what they do, they do on a level above everyone else, and totally different from anyone else. Can Chicago say that yet?