Sky Full of Bacon

Sky Full of Bacon 17: A Barbecue History of Chicago

There’s more than food in Chicago’s South Side barbecue joints— there’s the whole history of African-Americans in Chicago.

Though not as famous as barbecue styles in other parts of the country, Chicago’s South Side barbecue culture is distinctive and shaped by the African-American experience in the 20th century— from the great migration from the South to the civil rights movement and racial turmoil of the 1960s. This in-depth tour talks to half a dozen pitmasters, a sauce maker, a pit manufacturer and barbecue historians to show how barbecue was shaped by life in Chicago and in turn served as a vehicle for the aspirations of the black community from the Depression to the present day. Oh, and there’s lots of juicy BBQ food porn in it, too.

(Yes, it’s by far the longest one I’ve ever done. But it won’t feel like it— barbecue is fun food and this is a jumpin’, jivin’ history. I thought about cutting it into two parts, but it’s the internet, if you want to pause it, there are plenty of logical places to take a break.)


Here are some pieces that I did for Time Out Chicago, based on some of the interviews conducted here: this one interviews some pitmasters, this one is about the “aquarium” smoker. By the way, you know how you can tell an Avenue Metal aquarium smoker from one made by somebody else? Look for the octagonally-rounded corners, a distinctive design element. There’s one non-Avenue pit in the video. (Here’s some interesting history about the term.)

Here’s Meathead Goldwyn’s site, Amazing Ribs.

Here’s an ancient piece by Mike Sula that is more or less an account of the discovery of Honey 1, featuring Peter Engler who is in my video (and representing sort of the high point of the aquarium-smoker-no-sauce orthodoxy that dominated BBQ discussion at Chowhound and LTHForum for years).

Although this video pays high tribute to that style, I’m all for good barbecue however you make it, and you can see a master of the gas-cooker Southern Pride, Barry Sorkin of Smoque, in this Key Ingredient video by me. And of course, here’s my first video about barbecue, Texas barbecue to be specific.

One thing that didn’t make the final cut was Argia B. Collins’ career as a music producer (really, kind of a sponsor of up and coming talent) in the late 60s and 70s. Here’s the hit record he made with the soul singer Garland Green, and an interview with Green which mentions Collins as his mentor.

Here are links to sites of the businesses in the video, where any exists:

Lem’s Bar-B-Q
Honey 1 BBQ (incidentally, I made up the tagline you see on the homepage)
Cole’s Family BBQ
Avenue Metal
Argia B.’s Mumbo Sauce
Pizza-Ribs-N-Things seems to be down at the moment, but I left it in the video assuming it will come back…

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