The theme at Lillie's Q in Bucktown has always been more focused on Carolina-style barbeque. But owner Charlie McKenna wanted to add brisket to his menu, after a trip to the source.
"Couple years back I went to Austin, and really realized what everyone was loving about brisket," he said. "I love the pepper and salt rub, the base. They use very simple, pepper and salt go really well with beef. I loved how they cooked it low and slow, this butcher paper technique
McKenna uses a J & R Smoker from Texas, which does wonders to his carefully-sourced briskets. He's careful about the direction he slices.
"Because when you cut with the grain, it causes more jerky-esque, where it's a little tough. So cutting across the grain is probably the key that you need to look for," he said.
Seeing that tell-tale smoke ring helps. And even though he offers plenty of sauces on each table, he says in Texas, it's frowned upon.
"Texas for sure, it should stand alone, without a sauce. And they don't really have a signature sauce down there," said McKenna.
In Old Irving Park, the 11 year-old Smoque still sells the city's best example of Texas-style smoked brisket. They also smoke ribs and pork shoulder, but they've figured out brisket better than anyone else.
"It's hard because there are a lot of variables and a lot of steps and it only takes one to screw it up. You gotta start with a great product, you gotta trim it properly, you gotta rub it well, you gotta smoke it properly, pull it out at the right time and then having done all of that, if you don't cut it right your perfect brisket is going to be garbage anyway," said co-owner Barry Sorkin.
Slicing in the right direction is crucial. Smoque will serve it either sliced or chopped - which is an excellent way to have it on a sandwich - but like any good Texas barbecue, they encourage you to use sauce sparingly.
"Sauce should always be an accent, with any good barbecue I think. We don't tell people not to put sauce on it, but we serve the sauce on the side and hope they'll get the hint," he said.
So ribs, tips, links and pulled pork have always been pretty easy to find in Chicago. It is the brisket that's been more elusive. Partly because of all those variables that Sorkin referred to. Although after 11-and-a-half years of trial and error, they've figured it out.
Extra Course: Two of Smoque's desserts, including a peach cobbler and a brand new addition - pecan caramel bread pudding.
1856 W. North Ave.
(brisket served on Tuesdays only)
Chicago French Market
131 N. Clinton
(they do not serve brisket at this location)
3800 N. Pulaski Rd.