Smoky Jon's #1 BBQ
In a word: Two is not a winner and three nobody remembers.
The specs: #0598
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Madison Magazine, AV Club, Wry Epicures, Suicide Food, Welcome to My Pantry, Eat Drink Madison, Cold Carryouts!!, Popwilleatme, Althouse, Yelp; chatter at The Barbecue Bible; interview at Isthmus; official web site, Facebook fan page,
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JM, John, Judith, and Nichole got the #6 family dinner (brisket & ribs) with baked beans, butter corn, and fries.
The bill was $52, or $13/person, plus tip.
Nichole and Judith gave Smoky Jon's #1 BBQ an A; JM and John gave Smoky Jon's #1 BBQ an A- (see our grading rubric).
Smoky Jon's is #1.
Beyond that, basically we have nothing to add. BBQ is like religion. The importance of tradition, culture and geography can't be overstated. The details matter, right down to the color of the smoke. The dead (like Bull's, Doug's, Jada's, Kipp's, and Pete's) are canonized. High priests everywhere tend to congregations full of those looking for a little comfortable salvation. Gnostics abound, guarding their secret truths and often criticizing others' (which likely as not they haven't explored). And conversations about it often end up as arguments, especially on the internet.
As for us and our house, we'd rather just eat.
What we will say is that the people at Smoky Jon's are awesome. The man who handed over our carryout dubbed JM "Joe Money," instantly converting an ovine Nichole.
We also can tell you the facts about what we ate. Check out this plate. Baked beans as a side, on the recommendation of the person who took our phone order, were sweet but not treacly. The wet ribs were tender. The meaty chili was stellar over fries but good on its own - thank God it's autumn and chili season again. Not to mention the excellent (vodka/)lemonade and hot green salsa, courtesy our hosts.
Our little communion did have a disagreement about whether the "butter corn" adhered to rubric with real butter or heretical margarine. The side dish had a tasty pepper/garlic kick, but Nichole contended that the butter-flavor aftertaste was too assertive. John was sure that "butter" in the name has to mean "butter," a literal interpretation of the menu, the Quelle of any BBQ joint. We'd be curious to hear other seekers' opinions.
But it doesn't really matter; to borrow a phrase, for many, Smoky Jon's is food that's "psychologically true." In matters of BBQ, as so often in life, being loving is more important than being right.