When pitmaster Mack Sevier retired suddenly and closed Uncle John's BBQ in September 2013, you could almost hear the faint, collective whimper of white folks and would-be patrons who never made the pilgrimage to the gritty, no-frills barbecue joint on Chicago's South Side. Sevier's rib tips and hot links were the stuff of legend, enhanced not only by the restaurant's unique, Chicago-centric aquarium-style smoker, but also the revolving bulletproof glass window his barbecue was delivered through.
A younger generation of Sevier's family is keeping the flames alive in another location of Uncle John's, but the sudden closing is a cautionary tale for any barbecue eater with an unfulfilled bucket list of smoked meat havens to visit. Barbecue is a tough business. Pitmasters get old and cranky. Legendary dives sell out. Joints burn to the ground. Shit happens, and those great barbecue spots you've been meaning to try won't be around forever. (Or, you could also get hit by a bus tomorrow.)
This isn't a roundup of the "best" barbecue restaurants or a dissertation on what barbecue is or isn't. Lord knows, you people shred those lists like a pack of starving, angry hyenas. These are barbecue restaurants -- new and old -- that have contributed greatly, in some way or another, to the rich, unique, and delicious American barbecue culture. If you consider yourself a supporter of the barbecue arts, these are the places you've gotta try before you die (in no particular order). Go now.