Rib tips for lunch!

Note: the video at bottom is essential viewing for this post.

I’m having only one meal today: rib tips from Uncle J’s Barbecue on the South Side. For $12, you get a huge portion of rib tips—the best in Chicago—slathered with BBQ sauce and accompanied by a pile of fries, two pieces of white bread, and about 15 ml of “coleslaw” in a tiny plastic cup. (The bread and coleslaw are obligatory “sides” for Chicago BBQ.) The preparation is classic Chicago: cooked over hickory wood in a glass “aquarium smoker.”

The large order of tips (delivered through a revolving window in a bulletproof pane, also obligatory on the South Side) will feed me for at least two meals. To prepare for this gluttony, I had a salad for lunch yesterday and a green-pepper omelet that I made for dinner. Today I’ve just had coffee, two pieces of toast, and a banana. I’ll have a late lunch at 2 pm and then no food thereafter.

I used to frequent Uncle John’s BBQ, run by legendary pitmaster Mack Sevier, who died several years ago. Mack was a huge man and ran his operation like Charlie Trotter ran his restaurant: as a food autocracy with no room for slacking.

Mack’s death left a huge lacuna of good BBQ on the South Side, filled only by the overrated Smoque. Then Mack’s former employee, Brian Turner, became the pitmaster at Uncle J’s, which is just as good as its model but a lot closer: on 47th Street. I’ve gone there every few weeks since I found out about it.

As the Chicago Tribune reported in an article about Uncle J’s:

Turner and Sevier have known each other since the ’90s, and Turner’s reverence for his former boss is sincere. “Mr. Mack,” Turner calls him. Turner tells me there was little room for experimentation while working in Sevier’s kitchen. Sevier held a specific idea of how barbecue should be cooked, so there was little deviation from the course. Turner would eventually accept Sevier’s way as the correct way, and so now he has brought Uncle John’s techniques and methods over to Uncle J’s. Using Sevier’s old smoker probably doesn’t hurt in the transfer of cosmic mojo.

What I liked best were the rib tips: chopped into thicker hunks than most places, with a crusty, well-seasoned and vaguely sweet bark. The hickory smoke is subtle but present. For those reasons, it’s always a smart idea to request sauce on the side.

And that’s what I’ll be getting, for rib tips are better than ribs themselves, and offer a panoply of different textures and flavors. Each small chopped tip is different from the last.  I’ll dispense with the hot links (spicy sausages that were a specialty at Uncle John’s), as Uncle J’s don’t make them quite as good. And, truth be told, no Chicago BBQ is as good as rib tips.

I’ve eaten BBQ all over the US, including the touted rib emporia in Chicago like Honey’s, Lem’s, Smoque, and Leon’s. And none are as good as the unprepossessing Uncle J’s.  In fact, I’d say the two best instantiations of BBQ in America are the barbecued brisket of Texas (best sampled at The City Market in Luling) and the rib tips of Chicago, best sampled here:

You’d pass this place right by if you didn’t know about it. Photo: Kevin Pang/Chicago Tribune


Watch this 3½-minute video, which tells all. What they’re eating at the end is a SMALL order of tips and links. Mine will be about twice as large, and sans links.

This really is world-class food at bargain-basement prices. If you’re in Chicago and want to eat, this is the place to go. It’s take-out only, so I’ll drive home real fast after I get my prize, and set to the meal with, of course, a cold beer.

Update: Here’s my lunch, accompanied by a Belgian trippel brewski. Note the white bread and pathetically small portion of “vegetables”:



  1. bundorgarden
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink


    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 3, 2018 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      De gustibus, yo.

    • Posted March 3, 2018 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your useless comment, Bundorgarden (have you read the commenting rules?). Your Leisure Fascistic comment is duly noted, but I fear you’re on the wrong website. Try Salads Will Save Us.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted March 3, 2018 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Next to the sexual puritans, the food puritans are the worst.

  2. Posted March 3, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Yum! I’ll be there in a minute or so.

    • Les Faby
      Posted March 3, 2018 at 11:41 pm | Permalink


  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    …. looks yummy!….

    [ diet/health advice detected ]
    [ something about last meals ]
    [ erased ]

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Well, that settles it for me. There’s a pretty good BBQ joint around the corner from my place, and sometimes when I walk the dog that way, it smells so good, the two of us get to slobbering so bad we have to bring a big to-go platter home. Think we’ll head in that direction this evening.

  5. Paul S
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Late spring road trip. A day at MSI with a BBQ picnic lunch.

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    and what beer[s] have you selected for those rib tips Prof?

    I found Uncle J’s BBQ on facebook with the menu if anyone’s feeling peckish & closer than my 6,206.34 km
    [by magic it gives ones distance on the fb page]

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 3, 2018 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

      Be forewarned, if you make the trip, that last .34 km is the bitch of the bunch.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted March 3, 2018 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

        lol. It might also be true.

    • Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      I’m having a New Belgium Trippel, which goes perfectly with the ribs. I hadn’t tried it before, so it was a shot in the dark.

      • Mark R.
        Posted March 3, 2018 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

        I enjoy Pilsner Urquell with BBQ, but a New Belgium Trippel sounds good too. During the summer, a hefeweizen with lemon or orange is a fine BBQ beverage as well.

      • BJ
        Posted March 3, 2018 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

        A shot in the dark would be a stout 🙂

      • Posted March 5, 2018 at 7:19 am | Permalink

        New Belgium does OK; but for (in my opinion of course) appropriately styled Belgian-style ales from North America, I recommend the beers from Ommegang in NY and Unibroue in QC.


  7. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    I am hungry as hell and just ate.

  8. tubby
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    If I ever go to Chicago, I’ll skip the not-pizza and have this instead.

    • Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

      I think I should start a Chicago Food Tour business.

      • tubby
        Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        I might make you cry by putting ketchup on my hotdogs though.

        • Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

          You won’t be allowed to join the tour. Some places in town don’t even serve ketchup with dogs.

          • tubby
            Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

            I’ll have to bring packets or a tiny bottle with me.

          • BJ
            Posted March 3, 2018 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

            This is one area in which I heartily endorse an authoritarian tack. You’re doing the right things.

            You should also keep out anyone who puts ketchup on steak.

      • Posted March 3, 2018 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

        Please do. I would join if I’m in Chicago. “Retired Chicago Biology Professor Starts Food Tour Business”.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted March 3, 2018 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

      Don’t miss the Italian beef either.

  9. notsecurelyanchored
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Don’t know about Chicago, but you’re absolutely right about the brisket at Luling’s City Market in Texas!

  10. Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Long ago on a business trip I stuffed myself at Carson’s. Your opinion of them?

    Famous Dave’s in Minnesota was pretty good too.

    Our local (NorCal) BBQ joint has very tender brisket and pulled pork, with self-serve dispensers offering a wide variety of sauces.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink



      That’s the one I was trying to remember. I ate there too – once.

    • Posted March 3, 2018 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Carson’s is just okay: the ribs are overcooked and mushy, and I found the sauce too sweet. Not a smoke flavor either: I doubt the ribs are cooked over a wood fire.

      But their scalloped potatoes and gold brick sundaes are a treat.

  11. Larry Smith
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Awesome! We’re having homemade chili tonight (with beef and venison) and homemade cornbread, but I’m ready to jump ship and get me some rib tips!

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Maybe similar to this is Arthur Bryant’s BBQ in Kansas City, Mo. Have not been there yet but would like to try it.

    • David Coxill
      Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      I thought he was the guy wot wrote History books in the 1950s ?

  13. Posted March 3, 2018 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    That looks so scrumptious. The best part is not having to cook them yourself.
    I cook pork ribs at 225 degrees for 3.5 to 4 hours.
    Here’s a simple online recipe though I use my own dry rub as well as a bourbon bbq sauce.

    I make my own coleslaw too with shredded red cabbage and carrots.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 3, 2018 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      What’s your dry rub recipe please sp?
      Does it include smoked paprika? 🙂

      • Posted March 3, 2018 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

        As a matter of fact, it does! Plus a little bit of this and a little bit of that (cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, minced shallots, thyme, a little tarragon if you have it on hand, habanero (optional), Tellicherry peppercorns or just any black pepper, tad of cayenne pepper, smidgen of sea salt). I add a small amount of apple cider to the baking pan to help it along or you could use peach juice. I like Guy Fieri’s bbq sauce but your favourite will do. (I don’t measure anything; just wing it.)

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted March 3, 2018 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

          thnx. Guy Fieri not available in the UK, not available Amazon UK, available Amazon US but silly price.

          From the reviews, Fieri might be too sweet for my tongue settings anyway. But, I’ve found an intriguing Kansas-city style BBQ sauce recipe so I’ll batch-make my own ready for summer.

          Other ingredients I’ve got including the habanero atom bombs you use – I have the dried. Evil.

          • Posted March 3, 2018 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

            Oh, I sometimes use a pinch of 5-spice powder too. Not to be overused, as it can overpower a dish. I think the young people here prefer the G. F. Kansas City flavour over the Bourbon one.

            If you can and want to get it instead, Bull’s Eye Hickory Smoked is good and economical.

  14. Taskin
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Those ribs look amazing and everybody in that video is so happy! 🙂

  15. George
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I would just like to point out that Smoque has very good BBQ. It may be overrated but that does not mean it is not good. It is the best BBQ for people unwilling to venture into black neighborhoods on the south and west sides.

    There is even good BBQ in Elgin, IL.

    As far as beer, I now only drink craft beer brewed within 200 miles of Chicago. I will die not having sampled all those beers. I make the limit 200 miles to include Grand Rapids, Michigan.

  16. BJ
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I only have one truly excellent BBQ place near me, and it doesn’t serve BBQ like this. Oh, I must visit Chicago!

  17. Matthew Jenkins
    Posted March 3, 2018 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    I love the professor’s food posts. I’m an operating room nurse in a small countryside town in the UK and I will never be able to visit these places, and it is soooo nice reading about them.

    On reflection that sounds sarky. It is not meant to be 🙂

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 3, 2018 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Never say never Matthew!

    • Christopher
      Posted March 3, 2018 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

      That’s how I feel about the Indian food posts… but I make due with local restaurants; endeavor to persevere.

  18. Posted March 3, 2018 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    Oh man, so many Chicago restaurants to try out if I ever go there.

    • Mike
      Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:25 am | Permalink


  19. Posted March 4, 2018 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    The fact of evolution indicates the continuum of nervous system development across species. I don’t know why Jerry isn’t more open to vegetarian/vegan ideas

  20. Posted March 4, 2018 at 2:17 am | Permalink


  21. Mike
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    Having watched that, I am now starving.lol

  22. Vaal
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    You, Sir, live like a King!

    Next time I’m in Chicago….

  23. Posted March 5, 2018 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    I was hoping for some tips on tips! 🙂

  24. Bklynj
    Posted March 5, 2018 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Yes! I lived in Texas for 20 years and, finally, a food blogger agrees with me that City Market is THE place for barbecue! For the uninitiated, just stay on 183 South through Lockhart for about 30 minutes.

  25. Posted March 5, 2018 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t it Chicago the home of the restaurant that Hawkeye tries to get ribs delivery from in Korea in some episode in early M*A*S*H?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted March 5, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the fictional “Adam’s Ribs” of Chicago
      Season 3, Episode 11, Adam’s Ribs
      Tuesday, November 26, 1974, on CBS
      [All Detective Google’s work]

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