Carson’s

**** (4 stars)

There are so many styles of barbecue that’s it’s always interesting to see people’s different favorites. I tend to like somewhat sweet southern style sauces and fall-off-the-bone meat, whereas a lot of the barbecue in Chicago often has a more tart sauce that isn’t what I’m looking for. Carson’s is interesting in that the sauce is quite good, with a sweet tang, but the meat is not cooked to fall off the bone. The result is okay, but not my favorite.

I tried the barbecue sampler, which in addition to a half rack of ribs included a quarter chicken and a giant pork chop. The chicken was pretty good, but the pork chop, not something I would typically order, was the best thing on the plate. It had a great charred crust, and was moist and tender (and did I mention huge?).

But for me, the highlight of the meal was the coleslaw, which was finely grated cabbage in a very wet sauce that was absolutely delicious. I finished the whole bowl.

Also excellent was the cornbread, which was crunchy on the outside and crumbly in the middle, served in a hot skillet.

The highly touted Au gratin potatoes did nothing for me; they were simply potatoes with melted cheese on top.

There’s a small but well-priced wine list and some nicely crafted cocktails. The atmosphere is vinyl booth bar-ish. Service was friendly if not particularly attentive.

I would definitely go back, but probably have a prime rib sandwich and coleslaw and cornbread

Carson’s
612 N Wells St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 280-9200
http://www.yelp.com/biz/carsons-chicago-2

Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ

**** (4 stars)

This bustling restaurant serves Japanese barbecue (essentially the same as Korean barbecue), and lots of it. You cook the meats and vegetables yourself on the grill in the center o the table.

The combo meals are the best bet, because they let you try almost everything on the menu. We had the Samurai, which included three types of beef, chicken and shrimp. The toro beef was the best, although all were good.

The meal also come with a tasty miso soup (lots of green onions in it, which I like), salad, a so-so tuna rice ball appetizer, and bibimbap served in a hot stone bowl. I love this type of bibimbap preparation, and usually order it at Korean restaurants rather than the barbecue, so it was nice to have it included. There were also vegetables for grilling, and a pouch of corn kernels.

Dessert, too, was included, and consisted of graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate–a do-it-yourself s’mores kit!

Service was fast and efficient. The place is pretty noisy, so eating on the sidewalk would be a nice option, when available.

Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ
210 E Ohio St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 266-8929
http://www.yelp.com/biz/gyu-kaku-japanese-bbq-chicago

Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa

**** (4 stars)

It’s not really fair to characterize Pig Floyd’s as a barbecue place, because they’re trying to do several different things, and succeeding pretty well. It’s not exactly a fusion of Asian and barbecue, either, although there are “tacos” on their menu.

The best way to sample the menu is to order the Big Floyd, a barbecue sandwich featuring a literal pile of brisket, pulled pork, sausage and fennel slaw. All the meats were tender and flavorful. I liked the strong smoked taste of the pulled pork, but the standout was the sausage, which was some of the best I’ve had. I’m really not a sausage fan, but that’s the meat I’d concentrate on for a return visit.

The fries that accompanied the sandwich were a bit sturdy, and the default barbecue sauce not quite the rich, spicy variety I’m looking for. The bun was good enough, but frankly the sandwich was so big I just ate the meat and slaw.

I also tried the shrimp and sausage taco, which was very saucy with a creamy mayo like mixture that seemed pretty rich. And I tried the butter chicken taco, which had a good flavor but was mostly rice sopping with the butter sauce, not my favorite ingredient in a taco.

You order at the counter and they bring the food to your table, inside or out. Beer and wine are available.

Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa
1326 N Mills Ave
Orlando, FL 32803
(407) 203-0866
http://www.yelp.com/biz/pig-floyds-urban-barbakoa-orlando

Art’s Southern Style Smokehouse BBQ

***** (5 stars)

Wow, the St. Louis ribs are amazing. I’ve regarded 4 Rivers as the gold standard for barbecue, and their brisket and burnt ends are better than Art’s brisket, but these St. Louis ribs are the best barbecue I’ve found in central florida. They’re very smoky, yet moist and tender, but with a bit of a glaze on the top side, then covered with just the right amount of a perfectly seasoned slightly sweet barbecue sauce.

Art’s doesn’t mess around with multiple bottles of sauce on the table, which at first concerned me, but to my palate the have the perfect sauce already on everything when it comes from the kitchen, and the perfect amount, so it doesn’t matter.

Baked beans were a bit watery but tasty. Coleslaw was crisp and refreshing. My new favorite barbecue spot.

Art’s Southern Style Smokehouse BBQ
15502 Stoneybrook W Pkwy
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 614-8910
http://www.yelp.com/biz/arts-southern-style-smokehouse-bbq-winter-garden

Hecky’s Barbecue

** (2 stars)

Adequate barbecue, but nothing special. The rib tips are meaty, and the snack size is a generous serving for two. A BBQ place is all about the sauce, and Hecky’s seems a bit too acidic for my taste. I like a richer, more full bodied sauce. There was certainly a lot of it, though.

The pulled pork sandwich had a nice serving of pork, but the bun was soft and flavorless, not really any point to eating it except to hold onto the pork.

Sweet potato pie is pretty good.

No place to eat, so take out only.

Hecky’s Barbecue
1902 Green Bay Rd
Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 492-1182
http://www.yelp.com/biz/heckys-barbecue-evanston

Smoque BBQ

**** (4 stars)

I love the quick efficiency of this place, which handles a huge crowd without long waits. The BBQ is good, but not life changing. I agree the brisket is tender, but I’ve have much more flavorful brisket in the South. The sauces are good, though, so pile it on and you’ll enjoy some excellent BBQ.

Smoque BBQ
3800 N Pulaski Rd
Chicago, IL 60641
(773) 545-7427
http://www.yelp.com/biz/smoque-bbq-chicago

4 Rivers Smokehouse

***** (5 stars)

Indeed, in a city of BBQ joints, this is the best. At most BBQ places I lik sliced pork, but the ticket here is either the “burnt ends”, a mixture of beef and pork from the edges that is seared to perfection and mixed with BBQ sauce, or the brisket, which is best just as a lump on your tray rather than a sandwich. Most of the sides are less exciting than these two entrees, although the do have some tasty (and caloric) desserts.

4 Rivers Smokehouse
1600 W Fairbanks Ave
Winter Park, FL 32789
(407) 474-8377
http://www.yelp.com/biz/4-rivers-smokehouse-winter-park-2

Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar B Que

**** (4 stars)

Bubbalou’s has been doing its thing for a long time, and at this location for close to 20 years, so they must be doing something right. The pork sandwich is my favorite here, and I prefer it sliced to pulled. For a splurge, ask for it on the grilled toast rather than the bun. Beans and fries are excellent accompaniments, but the best thing about the BBQ here is the sauces. I like to mix the sweet and hot.

Newly discovered secret: their wings are delicious! Try the sweet ones and add some hot bbq sauce.

Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar B Que
5818 Conroy Windermere Rd
Orlando, FL 32835
(407) 295-1212
http://www.yelp.com/biz/bubbalous-bodacious-bar-b-que-orlando

4 Rivers Smokehouse

***** (5 stars)

Essentially a clone of the original 4 Rivers. In a city of BBQ joints, this is the best. At most BBQ places I lik sliced pork, but the ticket here is either the “burnt ends”, a mixture of beef and pork from the edges that is seared to perfection and mixed with BBQ sauce, or the brisket, which is best just as a lump on your tray rather than a sandwich. Most of the sides are less exciting than these two entrees. The outside seating here is spacious and not too noisy.

4 Rivers Smokehouse
1047 S Dillard St
Winter Garden, FL 34787
(407) 474-8377
http://www.yelp.com/biz/4-rivers-smokehouse-winter-garden

Pine 22

**** (4 stars)

Although some people (notably restaurant critic Scott Joseph) don’t like the build it yourself concept of this place’s order form-like menu, I love it. You can assemble whatever ingredients suit your fancy, and do something different on each visit. The burger was nicely cooked, juicy, and had just what I wanted. Fries were just okay.

Pine 22
22 E Pine St
Orlando, FL 32801
(407) 574-2160
http://www.yelp.com/biz/pine-22-orlando-2