Chicago owes much of its barbecue fame to the masters of smoke who have served up ribs, rib tips and hot links on the south side and beyond since the 1940s and 1950s.
Lem’s, Leon’s, Barbara Ann’s and other joints earn daily kudos for their tender, juicy, smoky, sauced barbecue that would easily resonate with the fussiest of Chow Town palates. Many are carryout only. Wood-fired aquarium-style barbecue pits, made in Chicago at Avenue Metal or Belvin J & F Sheet Metal dominate the south side scene.
It takes skill and attention to turn out great barbecue in those pits. Robert Adams and other Chicago pitmasters with roots in the American South have the know-how. A garden hose is used to douse flare-ups and regulate temperatures.
It’s a meat-meets-fire-arrangement with burning logs placed a few feet directly below the meat in a rectangular pit surrounded by glass walls, with a stainless steel vent hood above.
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Honey 1, a family-owned business, opened in 2006 in Bucktown. Robert Adams, owner/pitmaster, and son Robert Adams Jr. tend the pit. Patricia Adams makes the sauce.
Instead of carryout only, Honey 1 has a dining room. I’m okay with pizza, hot dogs or pretzels on the go — but slow and low saucy hands-on barbecue? It’s a sit down and savor cuisine.
Patricia Adams makes a respectable tomato base sauce, get it on the side so you can take in the full flavor of the barbecue with a touch of sauce. As they advise on the menu , you’ll get it sauced “unless you say not to.”
If you order fries, you’ll find them on the bottom, below the meat. That’s how it’s done at Honey 1 and other old-time Chicago barbecue joints.
“I came from Arkansas,” Adams said. “We cooked with wood. We didn’t have gas back then.”
Honey 1 meat is cooked with hickory and oak until tender, firm, easy to chew and smokey delicious.
“The Smoke Is No Joke” is Honey 1’s motto.
For an engaging history of Chicago barbecue, visit Michael Gebert’s video documentary, featuring Robert Adams and other pitmasters. Uncle John’s in the video is now closed.
My Chicago barbecue favorites thus far are Smoque, Lillie’s Q, Calumet Fisheries and Honey 1.
Thanks to Meathead and Jeff Sanders of Roadhouse Barbecue Sauce fame for introducing Chef Paul Kirk and me to Chicago barbecue for revisions in the upcoming revised edition of America’s Best BBQ restaurants.
Honey 1 rib tips are old-time Chicago aquarium pit barbecue at its best. Go to Honey 1 for the rib tips and stay for the ribs, hot links, pulled pork, brisket and chicken.
Honey 1 is located at 2241 Western Avenue in Chicago. Its telephone number is 773-227-5130.
Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, His most recent release book is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”