The best part about Chicago’s BBQ scene is that we aren’t hostage 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 11 spots on 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.
Soul & Smoke has a familiar story: a catering business designed for events buys a food truck and pivots to takeout and delivery because of the pandemic. But now this outstanding barbecue spot in Evanston has (along with a food truck) two ghost kitchens in Avondale and the South Loop, and a stall at Time Out Market in Fulton Market. And not only is the meaty brisket incredible (currently the best in the city), but the sides (like creamy mac and cheese, cornbread muffins, and spicy baked beans) are all just as great as the meat.
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). 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.
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.
Maybe it’s because we hardly left our house that year, but we’re pretty sure ATX appeared out of nowhere at the end of 2020. This takeout spot (you order from a window) is located on a residential side street in Lincoln Square. The Tex Mex menu is full of things like tacos, elotes, and queso blanco - but we’re here to discuss their excellent BBQ. They have pulled pork, brisket, baby back and St. Louis-style ribs - and we’re fans of all four. Their sauce is thick, sweet, and goes really well with the smoky meat. And while you won’t find classic BBQ sides like cornbread or mac and cheese, the elotes and queso are so perfect you won’t even miss them.
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.
If you still haven’t had BBQ from Full Slab in Stony Island, this summer 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. And if you’re not into pork, they also make some delicious “turkey tips”, which are hickory smoked and come with the same delicious sauce. Also, for god’s sake, get the baked beans. They’re tangy, sweet, and make us way more excited than beans really should.
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.
County BBQ in Little Italy has had some ups and downs, including closing for two years after a fire and the departure of their original BBQ chef. But despite all that, their BBQ continues to be delicious. The St. Louis-style ribs are served dry, and heavily coated with a rub that’s so tasty on its own you won’t feel the need to add any sauce. Their smoked pastrami is tender and has the perfect amount of seasoning. And while we love the meat, make sure you order plenty of sides - particularly the corn pudding, pork puppies (hush puppies filled with cheese and pulled pork), and mac and cheese.
Lexington Betty Smoke House
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. Right now, there are three places you can find Lexington Betty’s: a food truck in Galewood, One Eleven Food Hall in Pullman, and Dr. Murphy’s food hall in the Medical District.
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 $15 BBQ 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.
Krazy Hog BBQ has ribs, rib tips, pulled pork, and sides that are almost better than the meat. But their from-scratch sauces are the big reason we like ordering from this virtual kitchen in Lincoln Park. They have several varieties of sauce - Krazy original, ’Bama white, Carolina honey, Texas heat, and (our personal favorite) the magnolia sweet, which tastes a little bit like blackberries. They all go well with the smoky meat.