When Mack Sevier, former pit man at Barbara Ann's BBQ, opened his own place, Uncle John's Barbecue, a few years back, lovers of his unique style of Chicago hot links let out a collective whoop. There's only one place to get these heavenly sausages—lightly charred smoky pork links, aggressively spiced with sage and topped with a drizzle of hot sauce—and that's from Sevier's wood-fired smoker. Meaty spareribs are smoked directly over the wood, resulting in a crisp, fat-in-the-fire outer layer that yields to a moist and toothsome interior. Rib tips, luscious with juicy pork fat and crisp bits of char, are the perfect complement to the hot links. Chicken comes smoked, fried, or in a tasty house special of fried boneless dark meat served with pickled jalapenos. Coleslaw, white bread, and terrific house-made barbecue sauce round out each order. There's no seating at Uncle John's, but I suggest dining auto alfresco, as the tantalizing aroma will otherwise have you reaching for a rib before you've driven a few blocks. —Gary Wiviott
A civic treasure among the city's honest smoke shacks, Lem's has long upheld the standard against which all Chicago barbecue should be measured. The rib tips, with a higher ratio of meat to gristle than you'll find at most joints, and the center-cut and small-end slabs are finished relatively fast over a relatively hot fire, bucking slow-smoke convention. They're deliciously tender and caramelized, limned with the telltale pink smoke ring. When they run out, long lines form. The excellence extends to the incomparable, complex sauce and coarsely textured hot links, which are too frequently served as mealy sacks of sawdust elsewhere. While disciples were saddened by the mysterious shuttering of the Lem's on State Street back in 2003, the mother ship, with its unmistakable neon beacon, endures. —Mike Sula
In a just world Robert Adams wouldn't have needed to move Honey 1, his celebrated west-side barbecue joint. Pilgrims would have traveled from distant lands, pitching tents on his sidewalk and chanting its name in the same breath as Black's, Arthur Bryant's, Moonlite, and McClard's. Businesses would have multiplied all around him, catering to the masses his restaurant attracted and employing hardworking people from the Austin community, and Robert Adams would have been a millionaire and a hero. Instead, after a few years of feast or famine, in 2005 Adams moved his operation to the north side. The current place has a seating area, which ought to preserve countless engine hoods from sauce stains, and smoked chicken on the menu, but otherwise Adams and his son Robert Jr. proffer the same ribs, tips, and links they did in Austin. Adams, who learned his craft from his grandfather growing up in Arkansas, smokes superslow in a gleaming eight-foot glass-and-steel aquarium-style pit, using a mixture of red oak, cherrywood, and only a bit of hickory, which in excess "poisons" the meat. Unlike most barbecue cooks, who think fat is necessary to keep the meat from drying out, Adams favors it lean: "A lot of people can't cook lean meat and make it real juicy," he says. "And I can. I guess that's my gift." —Mike Sula
Questing through the southwest suburbs earlier this year I stumbled on Cole's Choice barbecue, a bulletproof shack utilizing an aquarium-style smoker—always a good sign. Like many south-side and south-suburban joints, Cole's is minimally decorated: two tables, a small fish tank inhabited by a single guppy, and a dry-erase board scribbled with John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . . "). I ordered a link and minitip combo, sauce on the side, for $9.75, which seemed steep until I opened it in the parking lot across the street—a huge boat of nicely charred rib tips atop thick-cut fries, next to one amazing sausage. Though I tend to favor the coarse-ground variety of hot link you find at places like Uncle John's and Lem's, I was powerfully impressed with this long, deep-fried tube steak, finely ground and with a powerful sagey note and peppery bite. Along with George's and Exsenator's, this is a worthwhile stop on the south-suburban barbecue trail. —Mike Sula
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