“Well, here it is,” says Jimmy Moccio Jr. matter-of-factly as he gestures toward an impressive aquarium-style smoker nestled in the heart of his restaurant’s kitchen. “This is the essence of Chicago-style barbecue.”
Moccio, chef and owner of Smokin M’s, has been cooking meat at his Forest Park storefront for nearly six years using a smoker that is fairly unique in the Chicago area.
“This particular smoker originally belonged to my father,” says Moccio of his grandest kitchen appliance. “I kept it in storage for nearly twenty years before installing it here at Smokin M’s.”
Aquarium-style smokers look like enormous fish tanks because of their large tempered glass doors, but direct cooking low and slow over hickory wood gives the smoked meats their signature flavor. This smoker offers commercial kitchens like Smokin M’s the convenience of large volume production, but still manages to capture all of the smoky flavors of small batch Southern barbecue.
The smell of smoke is heavy in the air as Moccio opens his smoker to reveal traditional Chicago barbecue favorites like pork ribs, rib tips and hot links. “The rib tip and hot link combo is probably our biggest seller,” say Moccio as he checks the progress of his cooking meats.
Smokin M’s hand cranks nearly 700 hot link sausages each week. The ground meat, made from restaurant produced pork butt trimmings, is seasoned liberally and smoked until cooked through and the sausage casing has just a bit of crunch. The links are paired up with a robust portion of smoked rib tips and doused with a bit of Smokin M’s hot or mild barbecue sauce for less than $10.
Moccio prizes St. Louis style pork spare ribs for their meatier bones and ability to stay moist during their two- hour stay in the smoker. The ribs are rubbed liberally with a secret blend of spices including, allspice, paprika and sugar to impart flavor and are sauced only after they have finished cooking. The resulting ribs are tender at the bone, but still sturdy enough to be sliced into individual rib sections.
“When we decided to add greens to the menu, I asked every woman who came through the door how she cooked her greens at home,” remembers Moccio, “and we developed our recipe from there.” The customer-driven creation is divine and a generous portion of Smokin M’s turnip and mustard greens pairs perfectly with a slab of tender ribs. Look for smoked chicken, wings, assorted seafood and a selection of homemade desserts to round out Smokin M’s offerings.
The chef-owner is clearly proud of his warm and welcoming establishment. “I want people who eat at Smokin M’s to enjoy a good meal at a fair price,” comments Moccio as he looks around the busy dining room, “and leave her so satisfied they just can’t resist telling someone else about our food!”