Chicago is known for our food scene, and that extends to our festivals. The annual Windy City Smokeout (July 12 –14) brings some of the world’s best pitmasters to Chicago along with some of country music’s hottest stars for three days of live bands, beer, and top-notch barbecue.
We caught up with some of the acclaimed pitmasters you’ll find at Windy City Smokeout this summer to learn more about their craft and a few tricks of the trade.
Take a look Behind the Smoke with these barbecue legends. And check back soon to meet more pitmasters who are heading to Windy City Smokeout.
Sam Jones – Sam Jones BBQ
Hailing from North Carolina, Sam Jones is the third generation in his family to carry on the tradition of whole hog barbecue. “I was born into barbecue,” says Jones. And he does it well — he’s named one of the “Top Ten Pitmasters in South” by Southern Living Living and published his first cookbook on the topic, “Whole Hog BBQ: The Gospel of Carolina Barbecue,” this spring. He opened Sam Jones BBQ in Winterville, North Carolina in 2015, a modern restaurant with all the techniques of traditional barbecue. One taste, and you can tell that Jones is passionate about his barbecue and what it means in his family.
What makes Sam Jones BBQ special? “Our style is unique because it’s whole hog, woodfired,” says Jones. “And the main difference is we crisp the skin and then chop it up into the main dish, which most of the time the skin is the by-product.”
When asked what’s the one thing he always looks forward to when visiting Chicago, Jones says that he “always stops in to visit Bub City. It’s barbecue by day and country music by night. And I always find myself pretty happy there.” He also mentioned he is looking forward to hanging out with his friends at Windy City Smokeout.
Key tip for aspiring pitmasters: “Slow down, take your time, and don’t be in a hurry.”
Favorite beer to pair with barbecue: Carver (Sweet Potato Lager) by Full Steam Brewery
Elliott Moss – Buxton Hall
This might be his first time at Windy City Smokeout, but Elliott Moss is certainly no novice when it comes to barbecue. He’s a son of South Carolina’s low country, where he spent his childhood on his grandparent’s farm eating whole hog barbecue. Today, those memories help guide the direction of Buxton Hall, Moss’s whole hog, all-wood smoked barbecue joint in Asheville, North Carolina. Opened in 2015, it quickly earned national acclaim, including being named one of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants and one of Southern Living’s Best Restaurants.
For his first trip to Chicago since 2001, Moss is most excited about experiencing Chicago’s barbecue scene and (of course) attending Windy City Smokeout. Another Chicago event he’s pretty excited about is Windy City Riot. “It’s going to be about 150 rollerbladers having a street contest all in the middle of the city, so I hope I can sneak away with a pair of rollerblades in hand.”
Tip for aspiring pitmasters: “Come prepared. Get some sleep. Something is always going to happen to interrupt your cooking time so always be prepared and allow some extra time.”
Favorite beer to pair with barbecue: Hoppin’ John (Lager Beer) from Fonta Flora in collaboration with Buxton Hall
Barry Sorkin – Smoque BBQ
A true neighborhood gem, Smoque BBQ is one of Chicago’s most beloved barbecue spots. Illinois native Barry Sorkin, owner and chef, believes barbecue is at its best when all the flavors work together. “The natural flavors of the meat. The savory flavor of hardwood smoke. The spiciness of the rub. The sweetness or pungency of the sauce. When these elements are in balance, you have found barbecue heaven.” All of their sauces, rubs, and sides are lovingly crafted from scratch in their own kitchen. “It’s a bit more work to do it this way, but we believe the results are well worth it.”
Tip for aspiring pitmasters: “Keep it simple.”
Favorite beer to pair with barbecue: Scentinel (IPA) from Old Irving Brewing Co.
Doug Psaltis & Christian Eckmann – Bub City
Doug Psaltis (partner, pitmaster, and Windy City Smokeout co-founder) and Christian Eckmann (head pitmaster) are the dynamic duo of Chicago’s famous Bub City. Psaltis fell in love with barbecue while living in New York and traveling to festivals up and down the East Coast. And Eckmann, a local Illinois boy, grew up making and smoking sausages with his grandpa.
What makes Bub City special? “The food is not from any one region,” says Psaltis. “We cook the best beef from Texas, the best barbecue from North Carolina, ribs from Kansas City, and then we have a Chicago sausage guy, fourth generation nonetheless, creating hot links and all different kinds of sausage.”
Tip for aspiring pitmasters: “Patience and let the meat rest.”
Favorite beer to pair with barbecue: Smoked Applewood Gold (Smoke Beer) by Moody Tongue
Charlie McKenna – Lillie’s Q
Charlie McKenna, owner and chef of Lillie’s Q, brings southern hospitality to Chicago. His award-winning barbecue joint is named for his grandmother, who taught him the art of cooking back home in South Carolina. He opened Lillie’s Q in 2010 and it quickly became a Chicago staple thanks to McKenna’s detail-oriented approach to barbecue.
“We bring a nuance of using smoke as a flavoring agent, not as just the overpowering thing,” he says. “We’re here to make sure you to taste the meat, the rub, and the smoke and we’re bringing Carolina style that most people in Chicago haven’t seen before.”
Tip for aspiring pitmasters: “Learn whatever cooking apparatus you’re working on — whether it’s a grill, kettle, or smoker — learn how to control the heat and the fire of that source.”
Favorite beer to pair with barbecue: Sofie (Belgian-Style Farmhouse Ale) from Goose Island