Garry Kennebrew had fire in his eyes and smoke in his veins since he was very young. He grew up in Gadsden, Alabama, crammed alongside six siblings in a home with no electricity or running water. When he was 6 years old, his mother taught him how to bank the fire that warmed the house in the winter—to take charcoal ash and lay it atop the flames. It kept the embers underneath hot through the night, and the next morning, a quick shake and some kindling brought the fire back up. But it was his grandmother’s skill in the kitchen that stayed with him. Frying chicken is tricky enough with a controlled gas flame, and she had it mastered on the intense and inconsistent heat of a woodburning stove.

A half century later, Kennebrew is still taming fire. As the owner and pitmaster of Uncle John’s Bar-B-Que, 30 minutes outside downtown Chicago, he’s one of the foremost practitioners of a peculiar form of barbecue found only on the South Side of this city. Winters are harsh here and outdoor space is hard to come by, so ribs and sausages are smoked indoors, in custom-made glasswalled contraptions called aquarium smokers. They’re called that because they look like giant fish tanks with meat swimming around inside. These smokers, which can cost more than $10,000, employ no dials, knobs, or even an onboard thermometer; they’re simple boxes that house a live fire and capture the smoke it produces. The primary method of controlling the heat produced by the fire is spraying with a garden hose.

Every region lucky to have its own barbecue style operates with its own conventions and peculiarities. Beef brisket is the state-sanctioned protein of Texas; pork shoulder reigns in the Carolinas; baby back ribs get smoked and sauced from Kansas City to Memphis. But

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Saveur

Saveur2 min readFood & Wine
Canada’s Brisket Whisperer
ON THE CORNER OF an otherwise indistinguishable big-box strip mall in Markham, a suburb of Toronto, you’ll see signs for a Jewish delicatessen. It’s a predominantly Chinese neighborhood, but Sumith Fernando, a Roman Catholic Sri Lankan immigrant, saw
Saveur13 min read
There and Back
Every meal at Milli begins with a complimentary chalupa. One of the cooks griddles a small, handmade corn tortilla atop a hot comal until it’s bronzed on both sides, then layers it with smoky red salsa and homemade queso fresco. It’s a humble gift—an
Saveur4 min read
Cannoli, Grandpa’s Way
CANNOLI HAVE ALWAYS BEEN a fixture in Angie Rito’s family, thanks to her Sicilian grandfather Santo. At age 8, he worked at a tiny pastry shop in Riposto, on the island’s eastern coast. His first task was mixing cannoli dough. “Back then, the shop wa