Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
--Peace, love and BBQ in Southern Illinois
If there is a single food that sums up regional eating and everything it is, BBQ would have to be it. When people travel the country there are different specialties of BBQ at every corner. Go to Memphis and you will find the amazing dry rubbed ribs, in Texas, beef is king and the brisket and sausage from the eastern European settlers is legendary. Go to the Carolina's and you will find pit's of pork with people making their family's traditional pulled pork sandwiches that are millions of Americans "last meal on earth."Owensboro, Kentucky gets the most unique BBQ for their mutton. In Baltimore they do the pit beef sandwich, Chicago is the land of rib tips, Cali the tri-tip, Kansas City has the sauce and those to die for burnt ends, St. Louis got that snoot and it goes on and on.
Southern Illinois might not be on your BBQ trail...if so your missing out.
What if I told you there was a place where you could get real bbq pork sandwich's as good as those in the Carolina's? and in this same area you will find BBQ sauce as good as anything in Kansas City but it doesn't end there, Ill lead you to some of the best rib tips in the state of Illinois (land of the tip) and along with those sandwiches and sauce you will find the best ribs in the entire world including Memphis. If I told you all of this was all together in Southern Illinois of all places you might say to me "sure and pigs are flying down there too right?" Guess what? pigs are flying.
17th St. bar & grill and the surrounding area is heaven for smoke heads
On a recent trip down to Southern-Illinois, I got to experience peace, love and barbecue all rolled into a little area of the state that hasn't changed much with time. They still do alot of things old school down there and BBQ is one of them. The true definition of barbecue is a hunk of meat cooked low and slow with indirect heat and usually a combination of charcoal and wood. Anything else is just grilled or BBQ flavored whatever. Down in southern Illinois they take great pride in their BBQ and most of it is a family tradition that has been passed along and kept alive due to the areas unwillingness to take easier less time consuming ways of creating perfect BBQ. Its an art that is slowly disappearing thru time but will never go away in this part of the Land of Lincoln. Some might say it is America's best kept culinary secret. If you dont dine with swine, stop reading now...I am about to take you to hog heaven.
Land of Lincoln and Porky the Pig
Johnson's BBQ (Harrisburg, IL)
Our first stop on this euphoric journey was in Harrisburg, where we stopped at Johnson's Southern Style Barbecue. Rupert Johnson is a fourth generation BBQ'er who has perfected the art of the sauce. Ladies and gentleman, over the years I have sampled 100's of different sauces of every background imaginable. I am hear to tell you that me and you no longer need to look any further. Johnson's southern style BBQ sauce is the best sauce in the world.
Rupert Johnson's BBQ sauce is a fourth generation recipe that continues to be handed down
As mentioned above the pig is king down south and one of the locals favorite ways to enjoy it is "a barbecue." The popular lunch item for folks of the area are smoked pork sandwiches with the places signature BBQ sauce. They are available at different pits all over the area. Rupert uses the best fresh pork he can get his hands. Him and his people rub the butts all over with their secret rub and then proceed to cook it low and slow on one of his mammoth pits using just charcoal. Johnson's serves their amazing barbecues sliced instead of chopped or shredded and the pig combined with his top notch sauce is one heavenly combo. Check below for online ordering information. Makes a great gift for any grillmaster.
Johnson's barbecue sandwich with its blue ribbon BBQ sauce
John Johns BBQ (Colp, IL)
About 35 miles to the west of Johnson's Southern BBQ is John Johns BBQ in the town of Colp, IL. JJs is all in the family. I am going to proclaim this super friendly group as Illinois "first family of barbecue." JJ is the pitmaster and helping him run the show are his mother who you know can cook, his brothers and his little nephew Andrew provides the customers with entertainment putting a smile on everyones face. The food here will keep that smile on your face all day long. The star of the show is the best barbecue sandwich I have ever had. JJ uses hickory to slow cook the house spice rubbed pig and they top off the perfectly smoked meat with yet another amazing BBQ sauce I found on my trip down there. The result is perfection-both crispy and juicy pieces of pulled pork with perfect smoke flavor and BBQ sauce that compliments it all. This family takes great pride in their cooking as I was told by one of JJ's brothers and it sure does show. JJ's brother does up rib tips (pic at bottom) that are as good and probably better than anything I have found in Chicago and those in the know will agree that Chicago is a rib-tip town. I would have liked to have tried moms fried blue gill which you just know is good. There will be a next time, thats for sure.
John Johns does one of the best sandwiches I have had...period.
17th ST. Bar & Grill is a living legend on the BBQ trail (Muphysboro, IL)
ATTN: Residents of Chicago. The last place im taking you to is the mecca of ribs. If you like ribs and you havent been to 17 St. then you just cant say you have eaten the best ribs on earth. If I told you the best ribs in the world were on I-57 you would assume im talking about Memphis, a place known for their ribs across the world. But these ribs are in a small town in Illinois a few hours before Memphis along 57 and the home of the Michael Jordan of BBQ. Mike Mills is a legend in the wide world of BBQ. The Murphysboro resident is the three time "Memphis in May" world BBQ champ, it is the super bowl of BBQ. In fact Mike and his team won so many times that they asked him to become a grandmaster judge. Mr. Mills has perfected and I mean PERFECTED the art of the rib.
Dont let that pretty pink meat fool you...these are cooked/smoked perfectly.
Over at 17th St. they use a secret rub called "magic dust" consisting of 18 different spices. They rub the ribs and then smoke them to perfection using apple wood that is local to the area. The dust is the best rub I have found and I was happy to be able to purchase more than a few for my BBQ experiments. If you are taking a trip down to Memphis make sure you stop here along the way for these ribs. With all due respect to Charlie Trotter and the rest of the high end chefs who create different types of culinary art...these ribs are the "Mona Lisa" of food. Graham Elliot Bowles and Bill Kim need to take a road trip down south to 17th St. and then they will see why we go crazy for food. I didnt get a chance to meet Mike this time because he was in Las Vegas making sure his BBQ joint there was running up to his standards. The only way to go is a full slab "dry" (no sauce on the ribs) this way you get to taste the true beauty of what they do here.
Full slab of the best ribs in the world from 17th St bar & grill (Murphysboro, IL)
I had no idea that Southern Illinois was so rich in BBQ. You can find pit's in every town and everyone has a place they go to and eat and chat and enjoy the country life. All these places mentioned above do catering and provide the respective communities with food and service. The people of the towns are lucky to have them and they know it by continuing to support these family run operations. If you are ever in the area or driving through it, dont you dare stop at Cracker Barrel, BW-3's or Chili's when you have these options. Here are some more pics from this wonderful journey that should tempt you to take a road trip some time soon.
"aint no place, like this place, close to this place, so this must be the place" (Johnson's BBQ)
These rib tips are as good as it gets and the sauce is amazing too (John Johns)
Every pitmaster has his own secret rub to pat down the pig (Johnson's BBQ)
Mike Mills' ribs won the world BBQ championship three times, only team to ever do so (17th St.)
Im still thinking about Rupert Johnson's sliced pork barbecues (Johnson's BBQ)
a member of the John John family tries to fly away on the pig (John Johns)
every pitmaster has his own BBQ pit that provide the towns with joy (Johnsons BBQ)
a close up of heaven with some magic dust sprinkled on top (17th St.)
You didnt think I went back home to Chicago with out any piggy bag's? (17th St.)
Johnson's Southern Style Barbecue
700 e. Walnut St.
Harrisburg, IL 62946
John John's BBQ
103 N Mayor Caliper Dr
Carterville, IL 62918
17th St. Bar & Grill
32 n. 17th St.
Murphysboro, IL 62966