Grandpa John's Rib Shack is living local history. The sights and smells alone conjure up memories of the man who introduced these barbecue flavors to the River City more than sixty years ago.
John Robinson migrated from Mississippi to Peoria in 1943. In the mid 70's, at the height of his success, his restaurant was featured in the Chicago Tribune. John and that restaurant are gone. But his son Doug and grandson Derrick carry on with John's techniques and advise.
"He said whenever you're cooking ribs, you've got to get them to rise on the bone. So when you see a healthy rib and you can see the meat. It is pretty much gong to fall off. That's because you've started with low temperature and you've kept that temperature pretty steady," said Doug Robinson.
John cooked in a pit in the ground. The next generation uses new technology to reduce man power. But same flavor. Much of it comes from the material used to smoke the rack of ribs and rib tips. The cook makes trips out back to gather fuel for the fire.
You know it is good wood when it is kept under lock and key.
There are two kinds of wood in the smoke flavor business; hickory and cherry.
"The definition of barbecue by its very nature is that you cook with hard wood. So when you're using charcoal you're actually really grilling. You're grilling out when you use propane. You're grilling. But if you got hard wood and that's the only means of cooking the meat and you are cooking it low and slow, that is actually barbecue," said Derrick Robinson.
The smoker stays between 250 and 300 degrees for three hours to cook the ribs. After its done. Dice up some ribs. Toss in some specially seasoned fries and you have a real meal.
"I think this is a uniquely Peoria restaurant. And recipe. And I don't think you could go anywhere. You could go to Memphis. You could go to New Orleans but I don't think you are going to get the same recipe that Grandpa John's has," said customer Phyllis Brecklin.
"The ribs are excellent because they are super tender. And the BBQ sauce is not like any you've ever had. It is just excellent. Really is. It is really great food and the serving. You get full. It is two meals in one," said customer Julie Gehrt.
No laughing matter when you leftovers for another day.
After struggling over the specifics of which item to order, I settled on a one pound rib tip dinner. You get to sides. I picked Ranch style beans. They're flavored with beef and not to spicy. I dribbled each rib tip with Grandpa John's barbecue sauce. Each nibble puts your taste buds in a state of ecstasy.
My photographer Alyssa ordered the pulled pork sandwich. She was crazy for the meat and even more infatuated with the sweat potato french fries. I could only finish half a pound of my rib tip order. I would return to the state of culinary nirvana another day.
The cost for our order with drinks (and leftovers) $22.82. This new generation of Robinson's want to see their restaurant become a franchise. In the meantime, Grandpa John is no doubt smiling down on his offspring. His barbecue recipes live on.
Grandpa John's Rib Shack is open Tuesday through Sunday. They open each day starting at 11am. Call ahead for carry out. They cater and deliver.
Grandpa John's Rib-Shack
200 West McClure Avenue
Peoria, IL 61604-3555