Windy City Smokeout brings people out for the barbecue and the country music

The 10th edition of the yearly music and food festival outside the United Center runs through Sunday.

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Stalls line the parking lot of the United Center on Saturday at the Windy City Smokeout in 2023.

Stalls line the parking lot of the United Center on Saturday at the Windy City Smokeout.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

The 10th annual Windy City Smokeout drew thousands of fans to the Near West Side on Saturday. Many came for the barbecue. Gina and Chuck Rios came for the music.

It was their first time at the four-day music and food festival outside the United Center. The couple, from Alsip, bought their tickets in September.

“I’m a rock and roll guy, but this is fun,” Chuck Rios said, “I’m enjoying this, and I’m excited for the performances later.”

“I came for Luke Bryan,” Gina Rios said. “We’ve never been to something like this.”

Gina and Chuck Rios at the Windy City Smokeout Saturday outside the United Center.

Gina and Chuck Rios at the Windy City Smokeout Saturday outside the United Center.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Attending the festival is a part of their “year of firsts,” a goal to try something new or go to an event they haven’t attended. They went to Milwaukee’s Summerfest for the first time last week.

‘We love to try new things, new experiences, new festivals like this,” Gina Rios said.

By early afternoon, they’d already tried the brisket from Salt Lick, a north Texas barbecue spot — and were eyeing ribs, pulled pork and burnt ends from dozens of barbecue stands.

“We’re trying to get a little taste of everything,” Gina Rios said. “Our plan is to get one of each type and split.”

Nick Gershak, Paige Gershak and Sophie Rambeaux-Olson (center) share nachos, tacos and a po boy Saturday ath Windy City Smokeout outside the United Center.

Nick Gershak, Paige Gershak and Sophie Rambeaux-Olson (center) share nachos, tacos and a po boy Saturday ath Windy City Smokeout outside the United Center.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Sophie Rambeaux-Olson, Nick and Paige Gershak enjoyed a bounty: beef cheek elotes, burnt ends and sausage, birria tacos, nachos and shrimp po boys.

“I really like the elotes, but I think the tacos are going to be my favorite,” Rambeaux-Olson said.

“The sausages are really good,” Nick Gershak said. “Coming here has become a family tradition for us.”

The Brookfield crew marked their third year at the festival and the first time they’ve done back-to-back days.

“He likes barbecue, and I like country music, so it works out,” said Page Gershak, who was excited about Bryan’s performance. “And this time we can pace ourselves and just relax and enjoy.”

Brisket cooks on the Truth BBQ’s grill Saturday at the Windy City Smokeout outside the United Center.

Brisket cooks on the Truth BBQ’s grill Saturday at the Windy City Smokeout outside the United Center.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

People sampled barbecue from Chicago restaurants — and from eateries around the country, including Texas, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Connecticut and Tennessee.

That included the Kansas City, Kansas, institution Joe’s Bar-B-Que. The “Z-Man” is Joe’s famous sandwich — the restaurant sells 250,000 of them a year, served on a toasted roll with beef brisket smoked for 16 hours, smoked provolone cheese and onion rings.

Joe’s Z-Man Sandwich.

Joe’s Z-Man Sandwich.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

The sandwiches — nearly 1,000 of them — have sold out each day of the festival. Many Kansas City natives have stopped by to get a Z-Man or burnt ends for a taste of home, the operators said.

Leonard Botello IV, owner of Houston’s Truth BBQ cooking brisket.

Leonard Botello IV, owner of Houston’s Truth BBQ cooking brisket.

Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Leonard Botello, the owner of Truth BBQ, brought his barbecue from Houston for the fourth year.

“We bring in everything from Houston — the pits, the smoker, the equipment, the wood we use to smoke meats.”

He said one of his favorite things about the Chicago festival is sharing Texas-style barbecue with a new crowd.

“Not everyone will have a chance to come to Texas and try Texas barbecue, so it’s fun to feed those people who might never try it.”

The Windy City Smokeout continues Sunday. Tickets start at $59.95.

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An attendee takes a bite during the 10th Windy City Smokeout outside the United Center, Saturday, July 15, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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