Occupation: Owner, executive chef and Madison's all-time barbecue king
Where: Smoky Jon's #1 BBQ, 2310 Packers Ave.
Why you should go: For Smoky Jon in his classic red Kangol cap, serving up succulent, memorable slabs o' ribs.
Is your crown achievement-based, or hereditary?
Both. My dad used to cook with hickory on Weber grills, my mom's a true gourmet cook, and my uncle used to own the Hickory House in Bloomington, Wis. I started barbecueing as a boy ' I was 10 the first time my dad put me on the grill. He said, 'Son, don't burn our dinner!' And he went inside to watch a Packers game. Was my barbecue as good as Dad's? No. Was it good? Yeah. Pretty soon I was cookin' the family meals.
When I was 19 ' this was '76 ' I saw the Houston Livestock Show on TV. Big barbecue cookers, lotsa money and pretty girls. I thought, 'I can do that!' I started playing around with my barbecue sauce recipe. In '80, I entered my ribs and sauce in the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors convention and won first place, out of 180 entries. I entered more amateur contests. I took second place in the Pabst Blue Ribbon ribs contest in '84, and fifth at Mike Royko's Ribfest in Chicago, out of 720 applicants, in '85. My delivery truck says I've won over 30 ribbons, but now it's over 40 ' I've gotta repaint the truck.
How's your barbecue stack up in the rib world outside Wisconsin?
If you're talkin' collectively, the best cities for barbecue are Memphis, Houston, and you gotta say Kansas City. There are regional differences in color, flavor and taste. But good barbecue's in the eatin', not in where it's from.
My place is a true North Woods BBQ shack. The building's over 60 years old. It used to be Tulip's Beauty Salon. I gutted it and did the decor ' the logs for the walls came from Endeavor, Wis. The black, white and red color scheme and the paper towel rolls on wrought-iron dispensers are traditional. I found those little pig lights on the ceiling online.
My barbecue's absolutely authentic. I've got a smokehouse down the way with huge freezers and vented indoor pits. The ribs are hickory smoked over wood and charcoal ' I'm layering flavors. My sauce is full-bodied and spicy-sweet ' it's not real hot, but it's real spicy!
Don't you feel bad for the little piggies?
No! I feel God put pigs on this planet and it's their job to be eaten. They have a good life till then. I know it's a hot issue, and I respect vegetarians ' I just don't want 'em tellin' me what to eat. We all gotta do our thing, whether it's eatin' lettuce or pork chops.
I always like to mention an article in the Wisconsin State Journal that said my ribs convert vegetarians, 'cuz I've never heard that said about anybody else's barbecue. I don't know how true it is, but just yesterday I catered a huge event. A fella there picked the veg lasagna ' it's part of our Supreme Big & Bountiful BBQ Buffet for 400 or more. 'I'm a vegetarian,' he says, 'but I had an urge to eat meat today like I haven't had in years!'