Smile Politely

The Humble Hog is mandatory barbeque

Tucked into the main street of the sleepy settler’s town of Paxton, 25 minutes, give or take, from the C-U, is your new favorite barbeque joint, The Humble Hog.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I lived in Paxton from the age of 9 until I went away to college. I went to high school with the proprietor, Ben Grice, and we remain friends to this day. That having been said, seriously, the food is worth the jaunt to this little town. The Humble Hog is a straight-up fantastic barbeque joint.

The building is immediately inviting. Simple and unassuming, you don’t have to dress up to go. In fact, be comfortable: t-shirt and jeans are the going attire. The wait staff is friendly and well-versed in the menu. They are happy to make suggestions, so please ask them!

We arrived to a packed house due to the Wednesday “wings” special. Accents of corrugated steel and an original rough-hewn wood floor give the place a rustic, homey feel. Criss-crossing bulb lights drape across the ceiling, making you feel like you could be at an outdoor BBQ party with your best friends. When we walked in, there was a buzz of chatter from full tables and BBQ smoke in the air.   

The Humble Hog stocks Illinois beer as much as possible and keeps on tap Blue Moon and a Humble Hog Moonshine mix called “Paxton Punch.” So special, Grice had the moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg, make a tap especially for the new drink. It’s the perfect summer beverage. I tried another specialty drink called the “Hog Heaven,” a blackberry flavored moonshine drink with a moonshine soaked cherry to top it off. You can taste the blackberry flavoring, which is not too sweet and just the right amount of alcohol; I’d have this one again!

There is a variety of appetizers on the menu that you might expect at a BBQ establishment, and some that might surprise you. We ordered the hushpuppies and the Wednesday special, wings. I was surprised by the fried pickles, who would have thought a fried pickle could be so good?


The hushpuppies and wings arrived at the table hot and fresh. The wings had a nice smoky flavor and a well-balanced dry rub with a hint of sugar. We got a mild sauce and a hot sauce on the side. The mild sauce is a perfect balance of sweet and spice. The hot version of the sauce is also well-balanced and full of BBQ flavor goodness: a little smoky, a little sweet and a nice heat that builds, rather than blazing with your first bite.

The hushpuppies are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, just the way a true hushpuppy should be. The real star of this dish is the sauce that goes with it. It’s an aioli-type sauce but with a BBQ twist. There is a good amount of BBQ seasoning in it and it delivers a kick, taken in tandem with the hushpuppy, it’s the perfect bite, no lie.

The perfect bite is the theme at The Humble Hog. Grice designed the menu with the idea in mind that each part would complement the whole. Grice received his culinary degree in Arizona at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. He worked as a chef at the renowned restaurant, Radius, in Boston, spent weeks as an itinerant in Italy learning as much as he could. When he moved back to his hometown, bringing his culinary knowledge with him, he wanted his focus to be on the community. He uses only locally raised meats, proudly stating that he has had the pleasure of shaking hands with all of the farmers who raise and process the meat.

For our main dish both my husband and I opted for a mixed platter; one with turkey, ham and brisket, the other, sausage, pulled pork and ribs. There were green beans, pit beans and coleslaw sides.

The turkey is moist, balanced in seasoning, not too salty, not too peppery and with the right amount of smokiness. You can choose the mild sauce, the hot sauce or a mix of the two, and I should mention the sauces are Grice’s recipe and made fresh. The sliced ham was juicy and smoky. Perfect. The sausage had a peppery kick which was phenomenal, paired with one of the homemade sauces, I became an instant fan. The sausage is also his recipe, made by a local meat processor to The Humble Hog specs.

The ribs were perfect. All on their own they were crazy-good, and didn’t need sauce. They had the perfect amount of bite and pull and the rub was a balance of sweet, salt and spice. Again, it’s about the perfect bite.

If you love a good pulled pork sandwich, you will not be disappointed in this one. The pork is perfectly cooked, tender and smoky, a definite crowd-pleaser.
I’ve saved my favorite for last: the brisket was absolutely the best I’ve had. It was pull-apart tender, you could eat it with a fork, and the sauce went with it unbelievably well. Every bite on the menu is balanced, without one more ingredient than necessary.

The green beans are like those sitting on your grandma’s table. Flavored with bacon, salted and generously peppered, they taste like a home-cooked meal. The pit beans are meaty and balanced with sweet, spice and smoke. They are one of my favorite little treats. The coleslaw has a vinegar based dressing, light and crisp, a nice palate cleanser.

Even the dessert was a careful choice. I am a huge fan of dessert and I hate it when the dessert is the afterthought on the menu, something thawed from the freezer and stuck in a microwave: this would never be acceptable at the Humble Hog. We tried both the “Not-So-Humble pie” and “Rebekah’s brownie.” The pie is homemade in restaurant, a deliciously sticky chocolate pecan with a flaky homemade crust and ice-cream on top. The brownie, also homemade and served a la mode, was two inches thick and delicious.

If I haven’t made you hungry reading this review, then I haven’t done my job. My mouth is watering as I write this. When you visit stop and say hello, I’m sure I will have taken up residence at a corner table. Seriously, it’s worth the trip!

The Humble Hog is located at 125 S Market Street, Paxton, and open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.

All photos by Jessica Denhart. 

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