We’ve compiled a “bucket list” for ice cream and pizza joints (and donuts and cheese curds and burgers and even cocktails!) so it’s only logical to hone in on something that everyone seems to love, in one form or another: barbecue. Or barbeque. Or Bar-B-Q. Or BBQ.
As always, for the purposes of these lists, we avoid national chains.
Black Dog Smoke & Ale House (320 N. Chestnut St., Champaign; 201 N. Broadway Ave., Urbana): What more can be said about Black Dog? It is considered among the best BBQ restaurants in Illinois, if not the Midwest. Perhaps the most appreciated menu item are the burnt ends, but you can’t go wrong no matter which way you turn.
Hickory River Smokehouse (1706 N. Cunningham Ave., Urbana): Hickory River has grown into five locations, but the business has been well established along Cunningham Avenue in Urbana (with multiple names) for a while. It is Texas-style barbeque, which is to say the smoky sauce (we prefer the mild sauce) makes it special, especially when spread across the beef brisket. Don’t miss the smoked turkey. Look for another Hickory River coming to southwest Champaign?
Kag’s Bar-B-Q (North Gilbert Street, Danville): Kag’s is legendary in Danville. It is a food truck that typically sits near the 500 block of North Gilbert. (Just look for the line of customers.) Kag’s has been in place for decades, and it offers ol’ fashioned, home-cooked barbecue. We prefer the rib tips.
KJ’s (114 W. Market St., Sidell): A reputable source says the barbecue nachos are a must-have at this new-ish restaurant in the Vermilion County burg. (For that matter, there’s a lot of good things to be had here, not just the ‘que.) KJ’s closed in August 2019.
Humble Hog (125 S. Market St., Paxton): From the quaint wood-floored interior to a menu that includes pulled pork, smoked turkey and smoked sausage, the Humble Hog is so good that people don’t think twice to drive 35 minutes to get there. We love the burnt ends with mild sauce.
Witt’s Smokehouse (10325 E. State Highway 33, Effingham): The smoked back back ribs are what drew our attention to this Effingham County staple. The menu is huge but, as the name implies, it is the barbecue that draws ’em in. Note: Between Labor Day and Memorial Day, the restaurant is closed Monday-Wednesday.
Pauly’s BBQ (310 E. Columbia St., Arthur): Pauly’s has, hands down, the best logo in barbecue-dom: “If you’re not messy, you’re not eatin’ it right.” Amen to that. And amen to Pauly’s has terrific pulled pork and outstanding slow-cooked, thinly sliced pork tenderloin.
READER’S CHOICE: Wood N Hog in Urbana and Champaign: “All Smoke No Joke”