PEORIA, Ill -- The Smo-King Pit at Northwoods Mall in Peoria is the perfect place to start our rib tour.
Owner, Michael Citchens has been perfecting his technique over eight years and teaches us the basics to basting the best barbecue.
"The number one thing is the meat," said Citchens. "You've got to start with a good foundation. When we're talking about ribs, it has to be a nice, thick consistency."
He says the second most important aspect is the smoker.
"I use racks in my smoker, and it's a gravity-fed rack, so the heat starts from the bottom and works its way up to the top." Citchens said ribs are best when, "...cooked low and slow"
And as for the sauce?
"It's sweet and tangy, and when I bring the sauce in, I do mix other things to it," Citchens said modestly. "I make it hot or make it sweet."
The sauce is what makes a rib Kansas City style.
However, the Smo-King Pit signature sauce is such a specialty, Citchens prefers to call it Peoria style.
"It just gets in your mouth and the taste buds just come alive," long-time customer Alger Johnson told us. "It's a little tangy, a little sweet and like I said, finger lickin' good."
"We've tried a lot of barbecue places all around the area, and this is one of the best," said Jim Shaver.
Photographer Larry Foulk and I agree.
Larry ordered a full rack, and as he put it, "The meat literally fell right off the bone."
These ribs are as tender as they get with three sauces to choose from: signature, honey barbecue and habanero hot sauce.
Citchens even brought us a side of dry rub to sample, which I think is the best way to do Memphis Style.
We'll save that for one of the coming rib specials.
I had the choose your own dinner with ribs and Smo-King Pit's other favorite item, pulled pork, a pile of white meat you can pick apart easily with a simple slice of bread if you're craving a small sandwich.
Our bill with sides was $31.93 plus tip.
After eating here, you can tell Citchens meansit when he says he grew up on barbecue before opening the restaurant with his wife.
"I work here with my family, so it's kind of the same thing when I was a kid, And I just love it. It's not work to me. It's something I love doing, and I love it."
The Smo-King Pit is in the Northwoods Mall.
They are open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.