Serious Eats: Chicago
Standing Room Only: Uncle John's Barbecue
"There is no polite way to attack rib tips. Dig in with both hands and hope you have enough napkins."
Uncle John's Barbecue
337 E 69th Street, Chicago IL 60637 (map) 773-892-1233
The Short Order: Saucy and smoky rib tips and hot links.
Want Fries with That? Included, but hard to find under the piles of meat.
Want Ketchup? Nope, just more their spicy barbecue sauce.
Uncle John's Barbecue on the South Side of Chicago isn't the most inviting restaurant I've ever entered.
There's a large fan right in the middle and a soda machine to the left. That's it. Everything else is behind glass. You speak to the cashier through a speaker as muffled and obnoxious as any fast-food drive-thru. Money is exchanged much like you're at a bank. The food is heaped into foam containers then dished out with help of a rotating glass pedestal--you and the cashier never come into contact.
There is absolutely nowhere to sit. Hell, there is no place to stand and eat. Simply order food, get it, and leave. I ate mine uncomfortably in the car.
It may sound like a gruff, hostile kind of place but the moment I walked in, the smoke from the pit knocked me out, sending me into some kind of drug-addled haze. I could walked into a four-star restaurant for all I knew. I haven't been this happy in a long time.
They apparently have very good ribs, but I was there for a Chicago tradition--the rib tips and hot links combo drenched in hot barbecue sauce. Rumor has it that fries hide underneath this mess but I've never seen evidence.
If barbecue ribs are an ingenious way to use a part of the pig that's not a chop, the rib tips are what to do with the the last dregs--the part nobody really wants. They are loaded with fat with the occasional cartilage pellet attached. There is no polite way to attack these. Dig in with both hands and hope you have enough napkins.
The rib tips are a wonder and seem to suck up the smoke flavor like no other cut. Though they look burnt and wasted, they remain mysteriously juicy and delicious almost in spite of themselves. If barbecue weren't wholly hedonistic enough, these smoke-laden little time bombs ratchet it up a notch.
Hot links, a mad cross hybrid of breakfast sausage, might seem like an absurd addition to barbecue if they weren't so perfectly done. Each bite is crispy from the casings, smoky from the pit, and absolutely gushing in fat. The sausage is addictive and heavily flavored with sage and red pepper flakes.
It's a ridiculous affair. How one eats this thing, especially in a car, is not something I quite understand. But it's a process I'm hoping to figure out.