Against the grain or not, Blackwood BBQ's brisket is better than most

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brisket, Blackwood BBQ

If you're studying this photo of barbecued brisket from Blackwood BBQ and thinking something's a bit off (besides lighting, composition, focus, etc), it's because it's been sliced parallel rather than perpendicular to the grain of the muscle. Who does that? Amateurs, that's who. It all too frequently results in tough, stringy slices. When I asked owner John Naylor if this was standard operating procedure at the Loop quick-serve joint, he immediately made reference to a Yelp review some aggrieved whinger had posted complaining of the very same thing. Naylor knows the proper way to slice brisket; he says he's on the assembly line every day keeping watch, and has seen it happen only a few times.

I'm willing to take his word for it and accept that my order was one of these anomalies, if only because the brisket was astonishingly good—bordered by a thick, savory bark and powerfully smoky, with strands of meat held together by a matrix of melting fat and collagen. I can't think of a commercially made brisket in town that I like as much, except perhaps Smoque's (and on my last few visits there it wasn't up to its usual snuff).

I was prepared, given my gradually eroding conviction that it's been an extraordinarily bad time for barbecue, to find that Blackwood couldn't come close to smoking anything worthwhile, and I'm happy to be proved wrong. Naylor and his crew are using the common offset Southern Pride smoker and producing just three things—pulled pork, pulled chicken, and brisket—serving them on platters (which include one side) and in sandwiches and er . . . salads at an extremely friendly $6.49 to $7.49 that has the tight space cramped with shirtsleeves at lunch.

I haven't tried the chicken yet, but the pulled pork was decent too, not as fatty as I prefer, but served with just a bit of sauce to keep it moist. With the recent glut of ersatz barbecue joints trying to be all things to all people, it bodes well that Blackwood isn't muddying the waters with ribs, rib tips, manufactured burnt ends, or anything else. But they turn this on its head with five regional hot sauces: Memphis style, Kansas City, vinegar-based North Carolina style, a sweet mustard-based South Carolina, and a peppery, gritty Chicago style unlike any I've come across before. Standard sides include corn bread, mayo-and-vinegar-based slaw, mildly sweet beans loaded with shredded pork and green peppers, and a superlative mac 'n' cheese with fat, creamy elbows covered in a crusty Parmesan armor.

All this together means it's likely you'll hit a long, cramped line during the lunch rush in the tiny space, which happens to provide the happy consequence of an intensely concentrated atmosphere of smoky meat to help ease the wait.

the lunch rush, Blackwood BBQ

Blackwood BBQ, 301 W. Lake, 312-621-9663, blackwoodbbq.com

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