Here in Champaign-Urbana we’re lucky to have such a wide variety of dining options. Almost anything you have a craving for you can find in one of our beloved twin-cities, and barbecue is no different. There's always the old standby that I’ve frequented since I was a kid, but I felt like we needed something new. That is why I was so excited to hear about a new local barbecue joint opening up. I had some time this weekend so I headed to Wood N Hog to see what they had in store.
The location might be small, but the menu was much more extensive than I expected. Wood N Hog not only offers barbecue, but it also serves up fried fish, hot links, chicken wings, and the local favorite, turkey tips. I'd never tried turkey tips before, so I knew those would be a must try. I ended up ordering a huge feast. While I was waiting for the food, I got to chat a little bit with the brother and sister co-owners.
Okema Battle and her brother Michael McDonald opened Wood N Hog together eight months ago. The brother and sister team have numerous years of experience honing their barbecue craft, including time working at Uncle John’s barbecue in Chicago. McDonald came to C-U to attend the U of I, and he ended up loving the community so much he decided to put down some roots. After Michael opened up Wood N Hog, his sister decided to make a change in location and come down from Chicago to be a co-owner.
When my order was up, I gathered up the bags, said goodbye to the owners and thanked them for their kind hospitality. Then I got in the car to drive home. Smelling the smoked barbecue deliciousness that filled up my vehicle was torturous. I almost popped opened one of the containers to take a little sample.
Once home, I laid out all of my barbecue meats and sides on the dining room table. It was hard to know where to begin. When I asked the owners what their most popular dish was they both immediately said the turkey tips ($10.25), so I decided to start there. The turkey was tender and well seasoned. There were no bones in the meat, so unlike rib tips you can just pop the little pieces of juicy meat in your mouth and enjoy. I enjoyed the dish so much that on my next visit I’ll be trying the turkey tip sandwich, another favorite.
Next, I went for one of the sides, the battered and fried green tomatoes ($4.99). They were golden brown, salty and super crunchy. After I polished off a tomato, I reached for the spicy jerk tips ($8.39), made with their own dry rub and covered in house made sauce. I ordered everything with mixed sauce; you have a choice of mild, hot, or mixed. The heat level of the jerk tips is high and so is the level of flavor. If you can stand the heat, this is the dish you need to try. The jerk rib tips are tender, seasoned perfectly, smoked to perfection and extremely addictive. Even before they slather the tips with their sauce, these little guys pack a punch of flavorful spiciness from the jerk dry rub.
After the heat of the tips, it was time to cool down with some creamy potato salad ($0.99) and moist cornbread. The cornbread is $0.59 a slice or you can get 2 slices for $1. The mayo in the homestyle potato salad was perfect to cool down my mouth and make it possible to continue eating. The potatoes were tender and still had a nice bite — it was a well made, Midwest potato salad. Next, I bit onto the cornbread. It was so moist and sweet, it almost reminded me of a deliciously moist cake. I love sweet cornbread, so I was in heaven. It just melted in my mouth. To be honest I had the second slice for breakfast the next day. It was that good!
After the cornbread, I was so full that I didn't have room to try the 1/2 slab of ribs ($12.95) or rib tips ($6.75). I had to rely on the palate of friends to make it through this epic feast. In other words, I sent the grub with my hubby to boys night, with his promise of reporting back on taste. The verdict was that the rib tips were the favorite of the two, but they repoted that both had good smokiness, were seasoned well, and everything was full of flavor.
Wood N Hog has a small and modest location, but don't let that fool you. The food is cooked with heart, and that comes through in the flavor and quality of the food.
Wood N Hog Barbecue is located at 904 North 4th Street, Champaign, and open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
All photos by Rebecca Wells.