Smokin’ M’s BBQ owner, Jimmy Maccio, learned how to make authentic Chicago-style BBQ from soul food master, Farmer Brown, before making his way into the BBQ business himself. A large aquarium smoker has been at the center of Smokin’ M’s diminutive kitchen since opening 13 years ago. Aquarium smokers are uniquely tied to Chicago and always boast a signature smokestack, but they also have a reputation of being temperamental and labor intensive to use.
In recent years, Maccio developed a chronic back pain condition that has impacted his ability to work in his own physically demanding kitchen. When building the daily fires to fuel the smoker proved too difficult for her typically tireless boss, Lorena Baylon, a long-time Smokin’ M’s employee, offered to lend a hand.
“Lots of times I have to rest,” say Maccio, “but Lorena stepped right up and is keeping my dream alive.”
A mother of six and former fabric factory worker, Baylon is no stranger to hard work and heavy lifting. A self-taught cook, she started as a front of the house cashier nearly a decade ago and learned her way around the Smokin’ M’s kitchen by observing. Little by little she began to understand how to build and maintain wood fires capable of producing consistent heat in Smokin’ M’s rare aquarium smoker.
“They had never had woman working their BBQ pits,” says Baylon, “but I wanted to be an example to my kids and that helped me step up to learn how to make the BBQ at Smokin’ M’s”
Maccio continues to make Smokin M’s secret rub recipe. Baylon has never been given the custom seasoning blend recipe, but other than that her boss has transferred all his BBQ knowledge over to his first female cook.
“I really wasn’t a fan of BBQ before I started cooking at Smokin’ M’s” says Baylon honestly, “but now I really do like it a lot.”
In addition to their unique equipment, Smokin’ M’s house made rub differentiates their BBQ from others in the area. Maccio considers the rub to be a smart balance between sugar and salt with garlic, onion and a few secret ingredients. Nothing overpowers the meat and house-made BBQ sauce is an optional addition to any menu item at the Roosevelt Road restaurant.
Baylon is most proud of Smokin M’s best-selling rib tips. Unlike baby back or Saint Louis ribs, rib tips are compact and laden with meat, but contain cartilage rather than bones. Cartilage can make a for chewy ribs and tricky eating, but when perfectly cooked are both flavorful and meltingly tender. Baylon considers succulent smoked rib tips to be the signature dish driving Smokin’ M’s years of success.
“We are making BBQ with deep Chicago roots at Smokin’ M’s,” says Maccio, “and I want to pass that tradition along to people like Lorena.”
7507 Roosevelt Rd