17th Street Bar & Grill, Murphysboro, Illinois
32 North 17th Street, 618-684-3722; 17thstreetbarbecue.com
Mike Mills is the celebrity ambassador of barbecuehe’s parlayed his achievements on the competitive circuit into a bottled sauce, a cookbook, and a small fleet of restaurants, including three in Las Vegas. But anyone who cries “sellout” will do an about-face when they dig into Mills’ brisket, pork butt, and (especially) ribs at the place where it all started. The secret: a gentle application of smoke (from delicate fruitwood rather than robust hickory or mesquite) combined with a spice rub that Mills justly bills as “magic dust.”
Lem’s Bar-B-Que House, Chicago, Illinois
311 East 75th Street, Chicago, 773-994-2428
Chicago’s South Side has more than one estimable barbecue joint but none that can touch Lem’s. There are no tables; you can either eat standing up outside or over the hood of your car like regulars do, risking sauce stains from the hickory-smoked, mahogany-crusted ribs. Like those ribs, charred and chewy hot links come loaded on completely superfluous fries and topped with a few slices of white bread.