-Grubbing in Chicago
Where the locals eat.
Mark today's stop as one of my favorite spots in the city. When it comes to BBQ, Uncle John's over on Calumet and 69th and its pitmaster Mack are the holy grail of smoked meats in the Windy City. Its a spot I was first put onto by my man G Wiv thru one of his posts about it over at LTHforum. In case you didn't know G Wiv is also the godfather of Chicago 'que and has written a book on making real deal BBQ the real deal way, low and slow. If there was one book you needed to own in your BBQ collection, this would be it. Uncle John's is where the boss of BBQ in this city eats his smoked meats and it's damn easy to see why. It is one of the best barbecue joints in not just the city but the country. It's been around for about four years now since Mack opened it up after working at another famous Chicago 'que joint. It has been getting lots of press of late since it is G Wiv's spot for good Chicago BBQ. Recently its been in the Tribune, on WGN news and discussed on all sorts of food forums and boards and featured in other articles. Just a couple weeks ago Gary aka G Wiv took Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods there for the Chicago taping. So its already getting loads of people from all over with plenty more coming after the episode airs and I'm about to send more.
Andrew Zimmern with G Wiv outside Uncle John's (pic by PhilW)
Let me start off by letting everyone know that if you have any hesitation about going to the neighborhood because you've never been south of 18th street to have that fear no more. It was a safe place when the spot was relatively unknown by northsiders and now that there's people coming from all over its still just as safe. The people that work with Mack, family and friends, are as nice and helpful as you can get. What's funny is, its the places like Uncle John's where I experience the best and most warm receptions from its employees. Its when I go to some trendy ass bar or hipster restaurant where I get snobby ass looks and actions from employees that are mad that I'm ordering alot of food and drinks and asking questions. Mack would love to share his knowledge of BBQ with you and is happy to answer questions about his specialty and what they do with it. As G Wiv put it "It's great to have Mack back and cooking BBQ, there are only a few real Pitmasters left in Chicago."
To the right as you walk in
The aquarium style smoker used at Uncle John's to smoke the meats
As you can see from the picture above, the meats are smoked at UJ's using an aquarium style smoker which is a custom piece of equipment very popular to the Chicagoland area. If you go over HERE you check out a thread from LTH about the history of the aquarium style smoker. Once again I will quote the Godfather of Chicago Barbecue on them in which he said "The Aquarium cooker seems to be Chicago specific, and they can be found all over Chicago, unfortunately few places still use them for anything but show or holding meat. Turning out good BBQ on an Aquarium style smoker is a dying art." Which is why UJ's is such a treasure to have and it's all about the 'que. As you do or don't know, I always order my BBQ with the sauce on the side. Its a way of being able to taste the smokiness and not drown the meat in sauce and changing the texture. The sauce is however phenomenal. It comes in a hot or mild variety and the hot is HOT. I always go with that.
Mack's HOT sauce
So what about the BBQ? what is it at Uncle John's that makes them one of the best yet? Well its all about the tips and links and everyone will tell you this. Don't discount the full slabs of ribs either because those too are great but in Chicago we love our rib tips. We also LOVE Mack's housemade hot links which are some of the best links you will ever come across. When you the pair the two of those together in a combo, you got a little taste of heaven.
XL Tips and Links Combo
Rib tips are Chicago's BBQ specialty. Memphis has the ribs, KC the sauce, Texas the brisket, Carolina's got pulled pork and Chicago's got its rib tips. I've basically grown up on the meaty end part of a spare rib slab that is cut off and smoked and then chopped, bones and all before serving. Tips when done right are full of flavor and provide a perfect balance of succulent smokey meat and crisp charred edges or bark as the pitmasters call it. While we still have 100's of places in Chicago that do up rib tips there arent as many that do a perfect job with them each and every time, which is the case over at Uncle John's. I just cant get enough rib tips from Mack and his staff. They got the perfect amount of smoke, fat and gristle in each and every bite and manage to make the outside nice and chewy in a good way while the meat inside is tender and melts on your tongue.
Nice piece of bark from a batch of Rib Tips
But you cant go there and just get the tips, you need to get the combo. The housemade hot links are simply outstanding. Quite easily some of the best sausage anywhere on the earth and as addictive as crack and facebook. Mack takes a very well coarse link that's perfect in texture and is seasoned with fresh spices and peppers and then smokes it to precision and once you dip it in some hot BBQ sauce it's called sheer perfection. In fact if you call ahead, which I always suggest you do, to make sure they're open, you can order Mack's hot links by the case and half case. Give them a day or two's notice but these are a must have for any tailgate or backyard BBQ party your planning on having this summer. It's hard to come up with anything better, all you need is the links, some wood and a little bit of time along with an ice cold beer.
Mack's housemade hot links on the Godfathers smoker
So if you were planning on taking a trip to Chicago this summer or taking a trip somewhere in your city for some good bbq, you now have your spot. The 'que even travels real well (make sure you get sauce on the side) so you can can make a call ahead order and take it over to Calumet Park and eat it along the lake or back home or at US Cell field for some tailgating eating or whatever the hell you want to do. Its all up to you, just know that all of us who have been, have done so a countless amount of times. Its one of those places that will be in your regular rotation, the rest of your life. Please note to call before your visit if you plan on making a trek to UJ's (which is well worth it) the hours can sometimes change and they, like the rest of us, like a vacation now and then too. Although every time I go by there, I feel like I'm on vacation eating the best bbq in the Midwest. If your planning on taking a food journey this summer, Uncle John's is your spot.
Inside of a hot link, a beautiful piece of art it is...
337 East 69th Street
Chicago, IL 60637-4638