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 it all, sometimes at the same restaurant. In other words, Chicago BBQ is a damn melting pot. With that in mind, here are the 8 best ribs in Chicago. Let the meat sweats commence.
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, which is just plain thoughtful.
County BBQ in Little Italy has had some ups and downs, including closing for two years after a fire and losing their original BBQ chef. Despite all that, their St. Louis-style spare ribs continue to be delicious. They’re served dry, and heavily coated with a rub that’s so tasty on its own you won’t feel the need to add any of their sauces. But if you insist on adding a sauce, it should be their mustard-y Carolina.
If you haven’t had the ribs from Full Slab in Stony Island, you need to cancel whatever you originally planned on doing today to correct this. The ribs are tender and chewy, have a satisfyingly charred bark, and are lacquered with their sweet, slightly spicy, Chicago sauce. Also, for god’s sake, get the baked beans. They’re tangy, sweet, and will change your life.
If you ask someone their favorite place for brisket, there’s a 99% chance they’ll say Smoque. Understandably - the brisket here 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 because making that kind of decision is unfair.
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. Either way, their tender, meaty ribs have such a fantastic rub that (like County) they don’t need any sauce. Also, it would be irresponsible for us to not mention that their pulled pork is excellent, and should be used as a rib-chaser.
Fat Willy's Rib Shack
Every time we get the baby back ribs from Fat Willy’s we’re always re-blown away by how good they are. The combination of smokiness and rich, thick, practically baked-in sauce makes them a total flavor bomb. Plus, they’re the only place on this list that gives you wet naps in your carryout order.
Earl’s in Jefferson Park is wonderful. For one thing, this restaurant has a drive-through (very convenient in 2020) and they serve fresh donuts. All that is nice, but we’re here to talk about their baby back ribs. The rub they use is spicy but doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of the meat, which has a fantastic crispy bark and kind of tastes like bacon. The ribs are topped with your choice of sauce (Carolina, Georgia, Chicago hot, or original) but the move is to order the sweet and spicy original and then dip the ribs into a side of the vinegary Georgia.
Lexington Betty Smoke House
Ok - we understand that rib tips are not technically ribs. But the sheer perfection of the ones at Lexington Betty’s earns it a place on this list. They’re meaty and tender, with a deep pink smoke ring and a ton of flavor. And their sauce, inspired by Chicago mild sauce, is some of our favorite BBQ sauce in the city, period. Right now there are three places you can find these rib tips - a food truck, One Eleven Food Hall in Pullman, and the brand new Dr. Murphy’s food hall in the Medical District.