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Barbecue chicken | Cheap eats

Julia Kramer defends barbecue's oft-forgotten stepsister: low-and-slow–smoked chicken.


“I like to eat barbecue chicken—if there are no ribs around.” This is barbecue aficionado–ese for: “I like to eat scrap metal. If there is no food left on Earth.” Ribs—pork ones, it goes without saying—that’s what barbecue is, the enthusiasts bellow.

Chicken is the milquetoast sidekick. The ugly, forgotten stepsister cropped out of the barbecue family portrait. Pity the chicken. Roasted to dryness, poached to wateriness or tossed by backyard barbecuers onto a flaming grill, only to emerge enveloped in black char, still raw inside.

Done right, low-and-slow barbecue chicken knows none of these flaws. So if you are eating oversmoked chicken, or chicken with a tough, chewy skin, don’t pity it. Pity yourself for eating at the wrong barbecue joint.

Picture this: a half chicken, its crisp, tanned skin touched with char. Snap off a piece of skin: It’s salted and peppered by a lunatic—a lunatic who knows how to get maximum flavor out of a bird. It slicks your tongue with fat and grease. It’s incredible. Reach to separate the leg from the body. With the slightest touch, the leg bone will simply slide away.

Granted, this kind of poultry perfection is hard to find. After many dry, tasteless misses, only two examples stand out.

Barbara Ann’s (7617 S Cottage Grove Ave, 773-651-5300; half chicken $8) has some of the best chicken around. You won’t have a choice but to use your car hood as a table—bulletproof glass is as much ambience as the standing-room-only spot offers to its barbecue-loving patrons.

Want to eat in a chair? Go home. Or go to Smoque (3800 N Pulaski Rd, 773-545-7427,; half chicken $8), where the chicken’s seasoned exterior yields to pink, juicy flesh. It tastes gently, sweetly of smoke. It is more than tender: It loves you.

Find it in your heart to love it back.

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