Back when Burger King unveiled its “Flame” body spray (“the scent of seduction with the hint of flame-broiled meat”!), it seemed that some savvy marketing folks had tapped into a human, primordial desire so ingrained, so instinctual, it demanded to be bottled. Where there’s fire there’s smoke.
You’ll find the real McCoy of unbridled genuine barbeque smoke, not some $4 fast food cologne, at Rub’s Backcountry Smokehouse. Owner, pitmaster, and chief bottle washer, Jared Leonard clearly likes smoke. With a tag line of “No Gas. No Electricity. Real BBQ,” the restaurant revels in meats, beans, potato chips, and even an apple crisp that has been given the sweat blessing of wood smoke. In fact, Jared prides himself on being one of the few pitmasters in Chicago cooking BBQ the old fashioned way, using only hardwood for fuel.
“My goal is to continue to share my love for BBQ with as many people as will listen, states Jared. “Teaching people about the history of BBQ, the many styles of BBQ, and watching them get just as excited as I got when I first got into this - that’s what keeps me going. Spreading my passion only makes it grow. This is what I was put on earth to do – cook great BBQ for the people.”
I’m good with that, and settle down with a laminated menu of down-home cookin’. The place is small but inviting. Exposed brick and repurposed barn siding surround the homemade benches and picnic tables. Clever lighting – wooden wagon wheels with mason jar sconces – and flags, perhaps representing the superfecta of quality barbeque in the U.S. (Texas, Tennessee, North and South Carolina), add to the homespun décor (Jared designed). A turntable spins on the front counter playing blues, bluegrass, classic rock.
I order a carnivore’s dream. The St. Louis Spare Ribs are outstanding, A first place winner at Ribfest last year, these tender, dry-rubbed ribs possess the classic telltale pink smoke rings and dark, flavorful bark of genuine smoking and are perfectly complimented by either of the four sauces. I choose a mix of Citrus Chipotle and Smoked Jalapeno, but Smokey Sweet and North Carolina are also options.
Our waitress Briette recommends the burger (her favorite), and I am not disappointed. In truth, calling it a burger does it a disservice. 100% ground, smoked brisket is topped with aged smoked (there it is again) cheddar cheese. If desired, one could make it a BBQ Burger by adding pulled pork, chicken, or brisket on top. Needless to say, vegans don’t come to this joint. (Although there is a delicious salad of mixed organic herbs and greens, jicama, and dried cranberries; the crumbled goat cheese can be optional).
My occasional carnivore guest, fellow Splash journalist Toby Nicholson, orders the Cheesy Chipotle Chicken. Served on toasted bread, the sandwich is a juicy blend of pulled white breast chicken, cheddar cheese, Giardiniera peppers, and Citrus Chipotle sauce. Toby gives it high marks, and then samples my burger, his one allotment of red meat for the month well spent. “Outstanding,” he exclaims.
Other delicious options on the menu include Rub Paninis – Chicken or Pork – Brisket Melt, and Texas Tacos. The Pulled Pork sandwich is my go-to meal when I need a quick barbeque fix, but I show restraint by not ordering this today. Rub’s is a piled-high serving inside a light, tasty bun with a side of chips (yep, smoked) and cole slaw (unsmoked). It is one filling meal.
Sides include Truffled Mac N Cheese, Meaty (Smoked) Beans, and Texas Caviar. The Custard-Filled Cornbread, served with optional honey, is a side dish and dessert all-in-one, but Toby and I manage to save room for one of the tasty finales: the Wood-fired Peach Cobbler. Served warm on a skillet with vanilla bean ice cream, it disappears in a blaze of flashing spoons.
It’s BYOB, so bring an ice cold IPA or try the Fresh Brewed Root Beer served in a frosty mug.
By the way, if you are one of those amateur grillers that would love to know the secrets to authentic barbeque, Jared Leonard is happy to oblige. He offers classes on smoking meats, and to date claims to have conducted over 250 classes with over 4,000 attendees. Informative and fun, these friendly gatherings take place around the “pit” in the adjacent storefront. Jared is a confident, affable, and entertaining speaker and he shares many recipes, tips, and sauces.
Myself, I will let the pitmaster handle the Art of Smoking. And get my aromatherapy for no extra charge.
Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse
6954 N. Western Avenue
Chicago, IL 60645