CHIGuide

The Best BBQ In Chicago

If you’re looking to eat BBQ in Chicago, head to one of these spots.
The Best BBQ In Chicago image

photo credit: Heffer BBQ

The best part about Chicago’s BBQ scene is that we aren’t beholden to a particular region—from St. Louis to Kansas City to Carolina to the elusive McDonald’s McRib. You’ll find all of Chicago’s wonderful BBQ represented on the spots in this guide (sans McRib, unfortunately). So put these restaurants at the top of your list the next time you plan an afternoon around smoked meats and sides. Whether or not “next time” means tomorrow is up to you.

THE SPOTS

BBQ

$$$$Perfect For:Serious Take-Out OperationCasual Weeknight DinnerOutdoor/Patio Situation
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Soul & Smoke has a familiar story: a catering business designed for events buys a food truck. But now this outstanding barbecue spot in Evanston has (along with a food truck) a riverfront spot in Avondale. And not only are the meaty brisket and ribs incredible, but the sides (like creamy mac and cheese, cornbread muffins, and spicy baked beans) are all just as great as the meat.


photo credit: John Ringor

BBQ

Back of the Yards

Heffer is on our best wings and best burgers list, so it’s no surprise that this resident pop-up inside of Whiner Beer at Back Of The Yards just makes great BBQ—period. Staples like ribs, brisket, and pulled pork are all juicy and smoky, and perfectly complemented by sweet coffee or tangy mustard sauces. And with things like chili queso or brisket crunchwraps, the sides and specials aren’t afterthoughts either—every dish has main character energy. The menu rotates, but rather than being a downside, it’s a great excuse to make regular visits.


Umamicue’s residency at Spilt Milk in Logan Square might not last forever, so you should check out this pop-up right after reading this. This Vietnamese-Chinese-American BBQ operation has some of the best brisket in the city. By itself, in an eggroll, in a banh mi—the meat is fantastic regardless of what form it comes in. The short menu also has great tangy chuc nuam-infused potato salad, smoked cream cheese crab rangoon, and pork belly. Spilt Milk happens to be one of our favorite bars, so pair all of the above with an Imma Head Out, and sit on their back patio.

If you’re already familiar with the Southern restaurant Luella’s in Lincoln Square, then you’ll understand why Bell Heir's is so great. Bell Heir's is a small, counter-service BBQ spot in Bronzeville, and its owner is one of Luella’s grandsons. Rib tips and turkey legs are lacquered in a tangy, sweet sauce that complements the hickory-smoked flavor of the meat. Especially the smoked turkey leg topped with baked mac and cheese. A forkful of everything together tastes like the backyard picnic you wait all winter to have.

If you ask someone their favorite place for brisket, there’s a 99% chance they’ll say Smoque (especially if they haven’t tried Soul & Smoke or Umamicue). Understandably—the brisket at this casual BBQ spot in Irving Park is outstanding. But the ribs are too, and shouldn’t be overlooked. They’re smoked over oak and applewood, and coated with a Memphis-style dry rub. You can choose between baby back, St. Louis style, or a combo platter of both—which is what you should do.


Lem’s has been around since 1951 and is probably the one BBQ restaurant your uncle who’s visited here exactly once knows about. History aside, this carryout-only spot in Chatham still makes some of our favorite ribs in the city. The ribs are aquarium-smoked, and the sweet, vinegary mild sauce is a perfect counterpart to the fatty meat. Also, the ribs come on a bed of fries that soak everything up, so save some room for those.

Green Street is from the people behind Au Cheval, and somehow (whether it’s burgers, Italian food, ramen, or BBQ) everything this team does is fantastic. We suspect there’s some sort of Faustian deal going on. But we’re not here to talk about that, we’re here to tell you about their barbecue. Their meaty ribs have such a fantastic rub that they don’t need any sauce. Also, it would be irresponsible for us to not mention that their pulled pork is excellent. Order sides like broccoli salad, macaroni salad, Frito pie, cornbread with honey butter, and prepare to require an embarrassing amount of napkins.


Ok, hear us out. Babygold Barbecue isn’t in Chicago, it’s actually out in Berwyn. But if listening to jazz while eating fantastic barbecue ribs sounds fun, you need to make a trip out here. Babygold recently opened at FitzGeralds, a 40-year old music venue. And the music isn’t just what makes this place worth the drive—the BBQ is great, too. The meat has a wonderful smoke, and while the ribs don’t have a bark, they are tender and covered with a sweet sauce we really like. Make sure to get an order of the beans (which are full of big pieces of brisket), and the al dente mac and cheese. They just remodeled their outdoor patio, and they have live music nightly, with bands playing everything from jazz to blues to bluegrass.

The sheer perfection of Lexington Betty’s deserves a moment of silence—probably because your mouth will be full of smoked meat. One particularly perfect dish here are the rib tips—they’re meaty and tender, with a deep pink smoke ring and a ton of flavor. But we also love the turkey leg and the pulled pork—and it’s essential that whatever you order gets paired with the candied yams, mac and cheese, and greens.


In case your BBQ feast involves, say, just you and your goldfish, consider hitting the drive-thru at Earls. This BBQ spot in Jefferson Park has a menu full of platters that are perfect for one person. Get the ribs, which have a crispy bark that kind of reminds us of bacon. You’ll probably want to order the mac and cheese, Texas toast, and charred corn too. Also worth noting? Earls also sells fluffy made-to-order donuts all day long, which your goldfish definitely wants you to have.


If you still haven’t had BBQ from The Slab in South Shore, now is the perfect time to correct this. The specialty here are St. Louis-style ribs, which have a satisfyingly charred bark lacquered with a sweet and slightly spicy Chicago sauce. Also, for god’s sake, get the candied yams. They’re rich and sweet, and make us way more excited than yams really should.

Honey's used to have a location in Bucktown, but has since relocated to Bronzeville. The menu is the same, which means hickory-smoked ribs and tips, pulled pork, wings, and fish. The sauce has enough honey flavor to make you understand the origins of this counter-service spot's name, giving everything a sweet, smoky taste. Just know it's cash-only, but there's an ATM right there.

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