Smoke-Filled Rooms

These days, Chicago’s best barbecue comes from a legion of savvy new pit masters. Our man on the case digs in and gets his hands dirty.

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Over at HONEY 1 BBQ, everything is stripped to the bare essentials: a big glassed-in smoker, a pile of oak, a counter where you order, a menu on the wall, and a few tables. But that’s plenty, because Robert Adams has decades of experience smoking ribs in the style of his native Arkansas, where he learned from his dad. And he’s passing on his skills to his son Robert Jr.

The Adamses are proud of their four-by-eight pit, disdaining the Southern Pride brand gas-fired smokers used by some of the other joints discussed here (to good effect, by the way). And the sauce made by Robert Sr.’s Mississippi-raised wife, Patricia, contains honey—hence the name. The other ingredients are secret, but it’s very good if you like a sweet, tangy sauce. Do yourself a favor and ask for extra sauce on the side, or request a spicier version, then wash it down with your own beer. (It’s BYO.)

No baby backs here. Honey 1 smokes spareribs from the hog’s belly and serves them with fries, slaw, slices of white bread, and more sauce in a white Styrofoam container. I generally prefer spareribs to baby backs; they’re meatier and juicier. The ones I had here were very dark and almost crisp from a long stint in the smoker, but I loved the flavor, and the crispy bits were not at all tough. The pulled pork sandwich, served with coleslaw on a sandwich roll alongside thick fries, is above average, but not the reason to come here. The combo of fatty, juicy rib tips and spicy hot links just might be. And a side of tasty fried okra will convince you that Honey 1 is the real Southern deal.

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