Baby Back Ribs ($11.95, half slab)
The baby backs are a straightforward classic, expertly done. The lean meat is tender enough to come away cleanly from the bone, and tough enough to make you work a little for it—the way a good rib should. I appreciated the emphasis on dry rub, which, after getting smoked and touched with a slightly sweet sauce, had caramelized into a sticky-chewy crust with the tiniest hint of spice. Compared to those ribs that come plastered heavily with sauce, the meat was clearly the showcase, and I was proud to count only seven crumpled napkins on my tray at the end. —Lindsey Howald Patton
St. Louis Ribs ($11.95, half slab)
Eschewing tender baby backs for gaunt, angular spareribs requires decisiveness underscored with conviction, and like most such choices, it pays off here in spades. Meaty and smoky, the burnished, sandpaper crust gives way to pink flesh that puts up a slight fight before releasing from the bone. The dark, tangy barbecue sauce is great on its own, though I honestly forgot to apply it before the slab was reduced to scraps.
Brisket Sandwich ($7.95)
Smoque's brisket has no equal in Chicago. Most versions are either way too tough and stringy or overcooked to the point where they break down like a pot roast. But Smoque's manages to be tender and yet still maintain its texture, allowing the restaurant to slices it into even slices. While great on its own, the brisket also makes for a killer sandwich when heaped on the restaurant's insanely soft and fluffy buns. —Nick Kindelsperger
Pulled Pork Sandwich ($7.45)
For me, pulled pork is the quintessential barbecue food. I don't think I'm alone in fawning over heaping piles of shredded porky goodness. Smoque's version is gloriously tender and ludicrously succulent. The mound of pork is so soft and juicy it tastes almost like a whopping serving of smoked pork compound butter. The tender meat is countered by crispy morsels that developed a char on the exterior. The pulled pork sandwich is served on a bun so soft and doughy, I could easily sleep on it as I lapse into a food coma. It may look large and clunky, but it squishes down like a marshmallow, making for the perfect pork vessel. —Matt Kirouac
Texas Sausage ($8.45)
The impressive Texas Sausage has a thin, ultra-snappy exterior with a heavy dose of black and red pepper seasoning. It has a tight, dense grind with a good amount of smoke to it, and the meat is moist, but not drippingly so, giving you just another good excuse to dip it in the barbecue sauce. The spiciness has a good way of creeping up on you, but it doesn't matter, you'll keep going back for another bite anyway.
1/2 Chicken ($8.95)
I'm usually apprehensive when it comes to ordering chicken since it's oftentimes dry and overcooked. But rest assured, from the moment I pierced the meat with my skin and the juices ran wild, I knew that I was in for a treat. The meat was seasoned with the right amount of dry rub and kissed with the just enough smoke as to not overpower the chicken itself. More importantly, both the dark and white meats were cooked evenly. As one of the favorites from the rest of the panel, I'll be sure to order this again next time I'm so that I have it all to myself.
BBQ Beans ($2.25)
Smoky and sweet were the first things that came to mind. Morsels of meat (undetermined if it was pork or beef) provided a nice textural contrast every 3-4 bites but, in my opinion, did not contribute to flavor as bacon (or the likes) would in other iterations that I've enjoyed. That being said, the beans were a great counterpart to some of proteins, namely the Texas sausage, with its sweetness playing off the back heat of the sausage. —Huge Galdones
Brisket Chili ($2.25)
The brisket chili comes steaming and studded with velvety kidneys and chewy cubes of brisket. The texture and spice were spot-on, although a little lacking in robust tomato flavor. The green bell peppers instead took reign. —Lindsey Howald Patton
Macaroni & Cheese ($2.25)
"My favorite part is the crunchy stuff. The sauce is [after slight hesitation] good and cheesy. It has good salt. This mac and cheese is much better than Popeye's." —Jules Roy, age 4 and Mac & Cheese Connoisseur.
Fresh Cut Fries ($2.25)
Barry Sorkin may have a passionate argument against serving fries with barbecue (which you can read here), but that doesn't stop him from serving a rock solid version. These skin-on spuds are crisp on the outside and puffy within. They may not be ideal for barbecue, but they are great in every other real life scenario. —Nick Kindelsperger
Cole Slaw ($.95)
Don't worry about a heavy-handed mayo-drenched cole slaw; this version is crisp and tart, absolutely ideal as a counterpoint to the meaty main event. In fact, the cole slaw is almost too acidic on its own, but one bite of barbecue balances everything out.
I like my cornbread a tad on the sweeter side, to break up the melee of meat happening in and around my mouth. The cornbread at Smoque skews sweet, but not overly so. It tastes and feels like a sweet corn sponge cake, buttery enough to leave your fingers glistening upon touch. Baking the cornbread in miniature tins allows the edges to caramelize a bit while the innards remain moist and fluffy. —Matt Kirouac
The Sides: Small Salad ($5.95)
When all the food arrived, it was actually this salad which garnered the most initial attention, mostly because it is huge (and yes, this is the small order). Featuring what seems to be a whole head of chopped romaine lettuce, cucumber, red onion, sunflower seeds, and a few sun-dried tomatoes, the salad comes with your choice of a sweet and tangy vinaigrette or creamy ranch dressing. Although not the star of the show for long, the salad was indeed finished in its entirety by our group. Like everything else Smoque puts out, even the salad feels like it was given some care and attention. With a large group, it's worth ordering if you want to feel slightly virtuous at the end of your meat feast. —Abby Kindelsperger
Mini Peach Cobbler ($2.25)
The minature peach cobbler is topped with an oatmeal cookie-like crust that is crumbly, rich, and cinnamon-sweet. The peach chunks inside are soft, with a lot of tart, floral peach juice at the bottom, so be sure to keep a spoon handy to take it all in. By the time you get to the cobbler, you might think you're too full, but trust us, you'll find a way to pack in a few extra bites of dessert. —Dennis Lee