It doesn't take long to figure out Jason Szmurlo is driven.
One conversation is all you need to know Szmurlo aims to be the best. The owner of BBQ King Smokehouse--just off the Square in downtown Woodstock at 125 East Calhoun Street--pursues perfection with a relentless zeal, whether it's the preparation of his soon-to-be-famous barbecue to the food presentation to the cleanliness of the washroom. "My Dad always taught me that whatever you do, do it right," Szmurlo says. "I want things done the right way."
The Woodstock resident (he came to Woodstock in the eighth grade) and fire fighter opened BBQ King four years ago to high praise. His ribs (St. Louis-style and Baby Back) have won awards, and his beef brisket, pork and smoked sausage are favorites. "We start with great meat and build on that flavor profile," he says.
Szmurlo uses only hickory to smoke his meats, and the sauces and dry rubs at BBQ King are Szmurlo's recipes. He even makes from-scratch soups using his own recipes.
Self-taught, Szmurlo pushes the boundaries with his menu. The Brisket Cheese Steak with onions, peppers and provolone is a customer favorite, as is his Fried Potato Salad, which sports bacon and mayonnaise on top of fried potatoes.
He also offers Woodstock Fries, smothered in your choice of meat, cheese sauce and barbecue sauce.
Open six days a week (forget Tuesdays, he is closed), BBQ King is quaint, charming and casual with a creative flair, perfect for Real Woodstock. It's also a family affair, as his wife and brother work alongside him at the restaurant.
"It was hard getting started," he recalls. "I remember where I came from, working 20 hours a day. I didn't know this would make it. We had to borrow $1,200 from a friend and hope to God it would work."
The year they opened, Szmurlo says, he would often be at the restaurant until 3am, then be back at 6am.
Now, with his systems in place and consistency achieved, Szmurlo is looking to expand. By end of 2016, he could have two more stores in the Chicago area, with another planned for 2017. While he declines to disclose the locations of his expanding BBQ king-ship, he pledges to tell folks he is proud to be from Woodstock, Illinois.
"Woodstock is my home," Szmurlo says. "It's great to be able to say we're from Woodstock."