If you want to get people upset, talk about barbecue. Specifically, claim that a Northern city's offerings are better than those found in a genuine barbecue capital in the South. That's just what happened a few ago when Michael Nagrant declared on this site that Chicago had better barbecue than Memphis. He caught a lot of flack from indignant commenters for what seemed like a purposefully outlandish claim. I know, because I was among the angry mob. (No hard feelings, I hope!) Though I am an ardent supporter of the Windy City scene, I didn't quite think we had the range to compete with a city with so many different kinds of great barbecue, especially one that had Cozy Corner within its borders.
A little over two years and about a dozen barbecue openings later, and I am now wondering whether Nagrant was on to something. I disagreed before because two or three barbecue joints—even ones as great Smoque, Honey 1 BBQ, and Uncle John's—couldn't compete with a city that had dozens upon dozens of joints smoking a variety of different things. But a recent survey of barbecue restaurants around town has changed my opinion.
Chicago now has barbecue to satisfy the cravings of the most judicious barbecue enthusiast—no matter what part of the country he or she is from. While we don't have the same kind of per capita concentration of some barbecue capitals—I still think Memphis is better—when I looked at the big barbecue categories (ribs, pulled pork, brisket), I found truly excellent examples of each.
Of course, we could argue about the picks endlessly, or we could eat. Much like Nagrant, when I visited Memphis I arrived with a very detailed barbecue itinerary. I didn't waste time. And this is my humble little guide to Chicago's emerging scene. Consider this a guide to show off to your most demanding barbecue-loving friend. I've highlighted the main categories, along with a few oddball items that are a little too delicious to leave behind.
I assume I left something out, and I'd like to hear about it. I'd like nothing more than to have an excuse to go out and eat more barbecue around town. Trust me.