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Husky Hog BBQ Smokes Brisket, Pork, Corn Aboard Food Truck

By Benjamin Woodard | August 2, 2013 7:43am
 Joe Woodel, of Rogers Park, hits the road to sell his smoked brisket, chicken and ribs around the city.
Smoking on Wheels
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WEST LOOP — The city's 15th licensed food truck has a unique feature: It smokes chicken, pork shoulder and brisket and deep-fries hush puppies.

Owner Joe Woodel says his food truck — Husky Hog BBQ — is the only truck in the Midwest, and only one of maybe a few in the country, that can barbecue on wheels.

"So, booya!" said Woodel's wife, Lauren.

Since the Woodels were awarded their license last month, they've been smoking pound after pound of meat.

"We haven't stopped since," Joe Woodel said outside his truck Thursday. "I'm pretty tired."

Most of the food sold from the truck is smoked for up to 12 hours at a shared kitchen. Then it's moved onto the truck and refrigerated.

At lunchtime, the grub is reheated in a pellet-fed smoker.

Since January, he said he's been working full time on the barbecue business, and "it was a really long road to get there."

He moved to Chicago 12 years ago from Tennessee, got a degree in theater from Columbia College and pursued a career in acting and stand-up comedy.

Then Joe Woodel got into cooking. He took classes, and eventually worked at Table Fifty-Two on the Near North Side.

"I really got into it," he said, but the new-found passion almost went up in smoke.

After surgery to correct carpal tunnel damage in his wrists, doctors told him he'd never be able to work in a commercial kitchen again.

Years later, he started hosting cookouts in his Rogers Park front yard.

He bought two $300 smokers from Home Depot to smoke the meat and after entering a few competitions, finishing "in the middle of the pack," Woodel decided to travel to Georgia to take a three-day class from Myron Mixon, from the TV show "BBQ Pitmasters."

That changed everything, especially after coming home and finishing strong in several competitions.

The Woodels decided to open their business on wheels.

He found the truck in a Joliet used car lot, then bought a smoker, fryer, refrigerator and exhaust fan.

A welder installed everything, the truck got a paint job — which includes an American Flag — and the Woodels have been on the road ever since catering for condo associations, business meetings and workplace lunches.

Even though he's licensed with the city to serve to the downtown crowd, he calls fighting over limited food truck spots "freeballin'" — there are no guarantees.

On Thursdays, the Husky Hog truck serves food at The Garage, a "food-truck commissary" in the West Loop, at 116 N. Aberdeen St.

Woodel has signed up to compete in next month's Windy City BBQ Classic in Soldier Field's south parking lot, where he'll compete with the city's top old-school pit masters.

"Joey loves to cook," said his wife, 33, who keeps the books for Husky Hog and works as a dental hygienist in Evanston by day. "He loves to see the smile on the person who just put his masterpiece in their mouth."

She said her husband's mom owned a restaurant when he was growing up, and her grandma did, too.

"It's in our bloodline to do something like this," she said. "We're trying to put more positive karma in the universe [by cooking] good barbecue."