Johnson's Barbecue

As I made my way around the Naperville Ribfest on Thursday I had a chance to talk to a few of the barbecue masters that were there cooking up massive amounts of food for a hungry crowd. I had the privilege of chatting with Dan Johnson who was in town all the way from Virginia cooking up everything from ribs to brisket to chopped pork to chicken. He was quite a character and a joy to meet.

His sauces have been big winners all over the country. Johnson has been in the barbecue business for about 32 years and has two restaurants in Virginia (at one time he had a total of 6 restaurants) in addition to traveling the country serving up his food at fests like the Naperville Ribfest.

Johnson said that while growing up as a kid on a farm, he noticed that hogs like to lie on their right side, so he said he tries to get the left side and save the right side for the others. Left side meat is more tender and makes for better barbecue, he said.

He slow smokes his pork butt and brisket for more than 14 hours in hickory with a little apple giving it that tender and juicy fall-off-the-bone consistency. Ribs are slow smoked for 5 to 6 hours.

There are three different sauces available, one of which has held the title "Best Sauce in America." I can see why. After sampling some items from a combo platter, I fell in love with that sauce. It is one of, if not the best I've had. And I've had a lot of barbecue sauces in my day.

Johnson's offers a Mild, a Medium and a Thermo Nuclear Sauce that he said will "improve your cardiovascular system, your sinuses, your pancreas and your colon in less than 32 seconds." The latter variety is only available at the festivals and unfortunately not available online. I declined to try it, but he said it's one for the most bold and brave of the barbecue consumers.

"We have a saying in Virginia," Johnson told me. " Wine gives you wisdom, beer gives you strength and my barbecue gives you pure pleasure!"

I tried out a combination platter of ribs, chopped pork and smoked sausage with baked beans and potato salad. It was a perfect way to start of a day of fun and feasting. I'm not normally a smoked sausage fan, but the grilled sausage covered in Johnson's award winning sauce was pretty awesome. The chopped pork was melt-in-your-mouth tender with great smokey flavor.

If you ever come across Johnson's at a summer fest, be sure to try them out. Or if you find yourself in the Virginia Beach area, stop in to one of his restaurants. I unfortunately don't think I'll be in Virginia any time soon or hitting any other barbecue fests this season. I do plan to hop online, though, to order some of that phenomenal sauce and use it on grilled meats this season.

And I didn't realize it at the time, but once I researched Johnson online I learned that he is a retired Army Colonel. So, a big salute to the Colonel as we celebrate Independence Day for his service and for his sauce!

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