Do you smell that? That distinctive charcoal, wood and smoke aroma that drifts from your neighbor’s backyard grill to your window. It teases you. Makes you not want whatever the heck your mom is making downstairs.
Screw meatloaf and steamed broccoli — you want barbecue!
Luckily, Champaign-Urbana offers a wide selection of barbecued foods from Lil’ Porgy’s Bar-B-Que, Black Dog Smoke & Ale House and Hickory River Smokehouse. To make things easier for you, buzz tried all three food joints to decipher which offers the best barbecue pork sandwich in CU.
Lil’ Porgy’s Bar-B-Que
Although they boast that they’re “incredibly good ‘cause [they] cook on wood,” Lil’ Porgy’s offers only the basic barbecue delicacies, chicken, pork, beef and fish on their small menu. The only sauce they offer comes in four heat levels — mild, mix, hot and extra-hot — and is very acidic, most likely due to the apple cider vinegar in it. We tried their pork sandwich (the special on Thursdays), which consisted of sliced, not pulled, pork on a sesame seed hot dog bun. Priced at $4.65, it also comes with steak fries and a dill pickle.
The fries had a tinge of freezer burn taste and were nothing out of the ordinary. Although they looked like they had been cooked thoroughly, they were chewy and soggy. The pork itself was dry and did not have much flavor; it relied on the sauce for taste. The lemon shake-up, however, was delightfully refreshing with the meal.
Even though we smelled the smoke walking into the restaurant, we didn’t taste it in the food. The price is affordable, but this is not the place for a pork sandwich. Perhaps their ribs or rib tips are better.
Black Dog Smoke & Ale House
You can always expect Black Dog to be packed, and for good reason. Their barbecue is always spot-on, which has earned the restaurant a glistening reputation in town. Although their prices are higher than other barbecue joints, the flavor, atmosphere and overall quality is worth it. We tried the pulled rib sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries. The pork tasted like tender, melt-in-your-mouth pieces of smoked wood — it was that flavorful. Black Dog always grills the bun to ward off sogginess, as well. The sandwich is served with a side of pickles and red onion, which pair beautifully with the tanginess of their house Carolina sauce. If you’d like to spice things up, they also have six other sauces to choose from, which vary in spice, base (vinegar or tomato) and geographical origin.
They have a much more extensive menu offering daily off-the-menu specials. The restaurant itself also caters to the local beer connoisseurs, serving craft beers from both local and domestic companies.
The service was admittedly a bit slow, and you have to tip if you eat in, which raises the price, but we think it’s worth it. We dare you try anything on the menu and tell us it’s not good.
Hickory River Smokehouse
Hickory River has stayed low on the radar. We had no idea what to expect going in, except that they feature Texas-style barbecue. The pulled pork sandwich was only $3.99, and an additional two sides were an extra $2.50. The sandwich was quite literally sitting in a pool of sauce and came with a good amount of meat for the price. It tasted like what you would expect a pulled pork sandwich to taste like, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The flavor of the sauce was overwhelming at first, but it continued to grow on us as we ate. This is definitely not something you want to eat with your hands, even if you’re a diehard barbecue fan. You’ve been warned. Use a fork.
Hickory River is also the only barbecue place that offers macaroni and cheese on the daily, and we ordered it for both of our sides. The noodles were decent, although the cheese was a bit runny, but it got the job done.
The restaurant is suited for larger parties and groups, making Hickory River a better choice for catering to large gatherings.
If you want barbecue that surpasses the general idea of the genre and is a food style unto itself, go to Black Dog Smoke & Ale House.
If you’re in a large group and want some barbecue, in the pure sense of the word, Hickory River Smokehouse is probably a safe bet.
If you’re looking for something to just satisfy that barbecue craving, head over to Lil’ Porgy’s and make sure to save enough room for a lemon shake-up.