ARMOUR SQUARE — Scroll through the list of barbecue restaurants vying for the people’s choice award at the upcoming Windy City BBQ Classic and you’ll notice some heavy hitters among the city’s smoked meat scene.
So where does Mr. Spanky’s — the little Bridgeport carryout sandwich joint — fit into the mix?
Nowhere. And that’s just how chef-owner John Schultz likes it.
"I'm not a pitmaster or just some guy running smoke all day. But that's my advantage. I'm a sandwich shop. I do a lot of smoked stuff, and I’m going to bring something that I think is my best."
Schultz, 31, was invited to the Sept. 1 competition by its founder Gary Wiviott, the barbecue aficionado who's authored "Low & Slow: Everything You Know About BBQ is Wrong." He co-founded the foodie site LTH Forum and serves as pitmaster for Lincoln Park's Barn and Company.
Wiviott said he and Schultz have never met, but the good reviews garnered by the Bridgeport resident's cooking — and Schultz's background as executive sous chef for the traveling Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus — left him intrigued.
"Sometimes people want to do an event like this but they don't have the skill set," Wiviott said. "The big boys are going to be out, and [Schultz] can hang."
The Windy City BBQ Classic is Sept. 1 in the South Lot of Soldier Field, and it's pretty much the daydream of your average Chicago glutton: unlimited barbecue samples, a hog-butchering demonstration, abundant craft beer and live blues, all day.
But it's also a serious charcoal or wood-only competition where the winners will take home big cash prizes, qualify for the invitation-only Jack Daniel's World Championship in Tennessee and earn coveted bragging rights on the barbecue circuit.
The event is broken up into two categories: a competitor series, where accredited barbecue judges will compare the offerings from 30 teams with names like "Game of Bones" and "One Toke Over the Swine;" and a people’s choice award, where 17 Chicago area restaurants will be judged by festival-goers.
Ticket information is available at the official event website.
Schultz's restaurant at 335 W. 31st St. has drawn a following for its locally grown vegetable sides and a changing roster of sandwiches — whiskey-smoked chicken one day, pot roast with homemade giardiniera the next.
He's especially proud of his thick-cut slices of applewood smoked bacon that he stuffs into his sandwiches, works into his baked beans and sells in $10 packages.
But none of that will be on his tasting table.
He said he's planning to blow people's minds with a secret menu item: a brisket that's brined, smoked, cooled and sliced in his own special way. He's guarded about specifics and would only say this: “New York claims to do it best, but I'm pretty sure mine is the best in the city."
He's banking on people tiring of the taste of an endless supply of ribs, chicken and pork during the Labor Day weekend pig-out, and he's confident that eaters will remember his contribution because it will be so different and tasty.
"I want to win. I want to beat all those guys," he said.