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Chicago’s 14 Best Barbecue Joints
Barbecue fans in Chicago don’t have to travel outside city limits to get some of the finest varieties of low and slow meats in this land. From the much beloved classic rib tip joints to succulent delights with that telltale pink ring promising smokey goodness, Chicago sure loves its BBQ. With so many wonderful options in our city, there is no reason for you to be dining on dry, overly-sauced and pale imitators.
Below we share some of our favorite spots around the city to visit when we get a hankering for barbecue. We’ve covered the topic before but with so many fine options, we don’t mind praising some new favorites while revisiting some tried and true spots. Grab some wet wipes and dig in!
For the past few years, it seems like a new BBQ joint has opened up every single week. And the one that started the BBQ renaissance in Chicago was Smoque. Barry Sorkin opened up his Old Irving restaurant in late 2006—and had lines out the door from the start. Smoque serves a variety of smoked meats, from ribs (baby back and St. Louis style), to pulled pork, chicken, sausages and brisket, which is the best smoked brisket north of Texas by the way. Way back in 2007, we anointed their sliced Brisket sandwich with Chicagoist’s One Great Sandwich designation, and it remains one of our very favorite sandwiches in all the city. (Which always makes a visit to Smoque a dilemma, because we love their pulled pork and ribs so much, too). While some BBQ joints may pass off sides as an afterthought, Smoque’s accompaniments are almost as good as the meat, from their stellar BBQ baked beans, to satisfying mac and cheese and their excellent hand-cut French fries. It’s all enough to make us lament no longer working close enough to enjoy some of Smoque’s BBQ every week or two. — Benjy Lipsman
Smoque is located at 3800 N. Pulaski
Honky Tonk BBQ
Honky Tonk BBQ is a smoky-sweet gem in the Pilsen neighborhood. The award-winning BBQ joint can also brag about the almost-nightly live music that never disappoints. The house-made cocktails and homemade sides only further compliment the authentic and seemingly effortless smoky-tangy-sweet flavor that is ingrained into each BBQ-ed bite on the menu. Have a veggie friend you wanna take for the cocktails and music? Their Fried Green Tomatoes are solid while the Girlfriend Salad is sexy and truly satisfying. Couple any of their aptly delicious food items, energizing music and flea market atmosphere with their house cocktail, The Lonely Presbyterian, and bliss will be had by all. — Carrie McGath
Honky Tonk is located at 1800 S. Racine Ave.
If you are a true barbecue fan you must visit Lem’s. It’s a stronghold of Chicago and barbecue history. Like many Chicago barbecue greats, James Lemons grew up in Mississippi where he learned to slaughter hogs and cook from his mother. She also created the recipe for their famous spicy-tangy sauce. When he and his brothers moved to Chicago they became the first to serve rib tips, which remain a must-order here. The juicy hot links are another item with a deserved cult following. If you want to learn more about Lem’s history, I highly suggest the Southern Foodway’s Alliance project. — Melissa McEwen
Lem’s is located at 311 E. 75th St.
Green Street Smoked Meats
A fairly new addition to the bustling West Loop restaurant scene, Green Street Smoked meats won me over with some of the best chopped brisket and ribs I’ve had outside of Texas. Add to that an impressive lineup of sides to choose from like a killer Frito Pie, spicy pickles and a lighter broccoli salad that might slightly offset your meat coma. Also be sure to try the variety of tangy and spicy housemade sauces—but honestly the meat’s so good, they’re not necessary. The atmosphere is always loud and lively and, the food aside, it’s just a nice place to grab a few friends, snag a picnic table and enjoy a few whiskey drinks out on the patio. — Gina Provenzano
Green Street Smoked Meats is located at 112 N. Green St.
Small’s Smoke Shack
New fangled gimmicky barbecue is easy to come by, and most of the time it isn’t very good. Small’s is a delicious exception where they do genuinely good barbecue with a Filipino and Korean influence. It makes for genius mashups like rib tips on top of congee (a delicious risotto-like rice porridge). Vegetables like coconut-milk braised green beans or their garlic rice are perfect for sopping up the juices from tender brisket or pulled pork. Your vegetarian friends won’t feel left out because the smoked tofu is also excellent. — Melissa McEwen
Small’s is located at 4009 N. Albany Ave.
Honey 1 BBQ
If Chicago has an authentic style of BBQ, it’s ribs and rib tips smoked in an aquarium smoker—a giant glass box with a bed of charred wood below a metal grate on which the meat is set to absorb the smoke. Typically, one can see the smoker doing its thing as one enters such a BBQ joint as Honey 1. The style is most prevalent on the South Side, and foodies have long ventured there to partake in some BBQ. For a time, there was one outpost of such Chicago-style smoked meat on the city’s North Side, when Honey 1 called a stretch of North Western Avenue, just south of Fullerton, home. As you approached, you’d usually see Robert Adams Sr. working the pit through his smoker, from the front window. When we worked nearby, we regularly enjoyed their spare ribs or the tips and hot links combo. Each was served atop a couple slices of white bread and a mound of french fries, along with their tangy BBQ sauce on the side. For a number of years, our visits were more infrequent, but when we did stop in, Robert Adams Jr. always greeted us with a smile and asked how we’d been. So we were devastated when we learned that, not long after moving within walking distance of Honey 1, that they were picking up stakes and moving to Bronzeville. We made as many visits to Honey 1 as we could in the months before they closed up shop on Western, and we’re sure we’ll receive another warm welcome when we finally drop into their new South Side location.— Benjy Lipsman
Honey 1 BBQ is now located at 746 E. 43rd St.
Maybe it’s the beer can American flag on the wall or the super creepy cowboy mannequin that scares the bejesus out of you when you open the door to the ladies room, but there is something about this River North spot that has just the right amount of country charm and crass to make it a standout. The food is pretty tasty—it’s owned by the Melman family—and some of the must-haves include the giddy up waffle fries with pulled pork and the chopped brisket. For sides, you can’t go wrong with the spoonbread and buffalo tots. There’s also brunch and gluten-free menus and a lot of whiskey, though my personal preference is the saucy riverboat gambler cocktail made with bourbon, maple, lemon and blackstrap bitters. Don’t just go for the food though; there’s also live entertainment almost every night of the week and special events like the Windy City Smokeout they co-sponsor featuring BBQ, country music (headliners include Kacey Musgraves) and beer this July 10-12. — Selena Fragassi
Bub City is located at 435 N. Clark.
Barn & Company
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not particularly enthusiastic about any barbecue on the North side, but Barn & Company is a hidden gem where they have done their BBQ homework. Pitmaster Gary Wiviott is well-respected in the barbecue community for his hickory-smoked creations. And while chicken is often the red-headed stepchild of barbecue, here it’s the star, juicy and full of spice.
— Melissa McEwen
Barn & Company is located at 950 W. Wrightwood Ave.
Good ol’ Fat Willy’s is a no-frills BBQ oasis in Logan Square proudly boasting and encouraging sheer gluttony as any legit BBQ joint should. Sitting in the restaurant or on their patio, one looks around to see pure joy on the BBQ-lined mouths all around. The papered tables await drippings from their incredible ribs and BBQ chicken that also possess a pristine and subtle smokiness. While embracing their hedonistic impulses, visitors can admire the walls covered in coloring pages created by children and adults alike, peppered also with cheeky pig-inspired decor. The array of sauces on the tables will inspire diners to slather even more delicious sauce on everything, including the sides. As an added bonus, the corn on the cob and mac and cheese are truly stellar making this a place that requires a fast beforehand. Once you step into Fat Willy’s, you will want to eat pretty much everything while sipping on a 40 … or two. — Carrie McGath
Fat Willy’s is located at 2416 W. Schubert Ave.
While this New York-based restaurant only just opened a Chicago location on Weed Street last month, its St. Louis-style ribs and brisket should earn it a place on this list, and in your hearts. It’s the ninth Dinosaur location, but the first to open in the Midwest. The local restaurant has a substantial outdoor seating area and several new menu items, including three-way pork, pulled lamb shoulder and Hacked Jerk Ribs, inspired by Chicago-style ribs, that help the East Coast establishment fit right in. — Rachel Cromidas
Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is located at 923 W. Weed St.
This Lincoln Park hideaway has been serving up BBQ in perfectly fine form since 1932 in a building that dates all the way back to the 1880s. Guests can read all about the history on the back of the menu that hasn’t changed since about that time, and see it in photos adorning the wood-paneled walls straight from your grandfather’s schooner. A decent-sized bar area with a solid selection of regional and national beer on tap make a probable wait for a table quite tolerable, as does the quiet stretch of Sedgwick in pleasant weather. A rack or four (of ribs, that is) graces nearly every table, alongside the guest’s choice of original, zesty or ghost-pepper laced Prohibition sauce (“sweet start, fiery finish!”). Twin Anchors is a surefire bet for out-of-towners and a worthwhile rite of passage for every Chicagoan. — Kristine Sherred
Twin Anchors is located at 1655 N. Sedgwick.
At our previous job, we had easy access to Smoque and Honey 1 when we had the hankering for BBQ. A new job in the Loop meant block after block of the same four sandwich shops and the Golden Arches. Then Blackwood BBQ opened up on Lake Street and began serving real, honest-to-goodness smoked BBQ in the Loop! Blackwood offers sliced brisket and pulled pork, and pulled chicken serves as a platter, sandwich or goes well on a salad. To dress your meat, Blackwood offers five regional BBQ sauces, including a Chicago style with some sweet and heat, a sweeter Memphis style, a spicier Kansas City sauce, a North Carolina vinegar sauce and a South Carolina mustard-based variety. Their sides, typical of BBQ joints, are all solid. About a year after opening their first location, Blackwood expanded west of the river, opening a second joint in the shadows of the Presidential Towers. Even closer to the day job than their first spot!— Benjy Lipsman
Blackwood BBQ is located at 307 W. Lake St. and 28 S. Clinton St.
The Smoke Daddy
Call it Smoke Daddy or The Smoke Daddy Rhythm and Blues—the smoked meats would taste as sweet by any name. This O.G. of Division Street barbecue joints (hence the “Daddy?”) has been serving up smoked pork, chicken and brisket with great local brews and live tunes since 1994. Treat yo’ self and some friends with the Taste of the Daddy platter (a ribs-and-smoked-meats combo) or the KC Style burnt ends. The bottled sauces that are for sale mean you can take home more than just your leftovers—assuming you have any. Bonus: the Mac-N-Cheese gives the smoked meats a run for their money.— Danette Chavez
Smoke Daddy is located at 1804 W. Division St.
Barbara Ann’s Bar-B-Que
Barbara Ann’s is another stronghold of Chicago barbecue traditions. Like James Lemons of Lem’s, Delars Bracy hailed from Mississippi. He was a lawyer and entrepreneur and when he decided to open a restaurant in 1967, he named it after his daughter Barbara Ann, who still runs it. They are justifiably famous for their rib tips and lardy sage-infused hot links, all cooked up in their original aquarium-style smoker that’s meant to emulate the open fire cooking style of the South. If you eat too much they have a motel on site.
— Melissa McEwen
Barbara Ann’s Bar-B-Que is located at 7617 S. Cottage Grove Ave.