Chicago Q The queen of competition barbecue, Lee Ann Whippen, has parlayed her fame from TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters series into a swank sit-down restaurant in the Gold Coast. Upscale touches include Kobe brisket and a slab of “competition” ribs that goes for about $35. Pulled chicken and pulled pork are appropriately smoky and juicy, but that Kobe brisket is way too dry. Spare ribs, on the other hand (the straight-up standards, not the $10-more-expensive “competition” slab), proved just tender enough, with a good dose of smoke and a slightly sweet rub. 1160 N Dearborn St (312-642-1160). El: Red to Clark/Division. Bus: 22, 36, 70, 156. Average main course: $20.
Fat Willy’s Rib Shack Can good barbecue exist on the North Side? Yep. Instead of the South Side tradition of cash ’n’ carry, here there’s a dining room, a comfy, no-frills spot with a beer and wine list, and a house cocktail called the Hogarita (think cran-citrus margarita). For starters, go for the smoky, greasy rib tips and an insanely rich mac and cheese. Move past salads to a slab of baby backs and the beef brisket sandwich with horseradish. 2416 W Schubert Ave (773-782-1800). El: Blue to Western. Bus: 49, 76. Average main course: $15.
Honey 1 BBQ The father and son behind this rib house know a thing or two about barbecue—they hail from a part of Arkansas where smokers are more common than microwaves. Bring a hungry crew, stake out a table in the simple but spick-and-span dining area and order up a couple of slabs of meaty, tender spareribs, a whole mess of rib tips and a plate of hot links. If you’re still hungry after the main event, juicy smoked chicken and crispy catfish should round things out. 2241 N Western Ave (773-227-5130). El: Blue to Western. Bus: 9, 56, 73, 74. Average main course: $9.
Honky Tonk Barbecue Owner Willie Wagner started off with a portable smoker at the Hideout Block Party and Northalsted Market Days, but now he’s set up shop in Pilsen to serve his Memphis-style, dry-rubbed barbecue. The ribs can be a bit on the dry side, but the smoky pulled pork makes up for it, clocking in as one of the best around. Tender, juicy chicken comes in second for best bets, with puckery slaw and meaty beans solid runners-up. 1213 W 18th St (312-226-7427). El: Pink to 18th. Bus: 8, 18, 60, 62. Average main course: $15.
Lillie’s Q We have to admit we were skeptical that a stylish spot in Wicker Park could deliver memorable barbecue, but we ate our words with bite after bite of impressively smoky, truly tender, low-and-slow meats. Pick from the impressive beer list and apps like fried pickles and boiled peanuts, then move into stellar Southern classics like a shellfish and andouille–packed low country boil. It’s the pink-tinged pulled pork and thick slices of smoked tri-tip, though, that prove chef-owner Charlie McKenna is every bit deserving of that Memphis in May trophy behind the bar. 1856 W North Ave (773-772-5500). El: Blue to Damen. Bus: 50, 56, 72. Average main course: $9.
Ribs ’n’ Bibs Ribs—the hickory-smoked variety, to be specific—are the specialty of this Hyde Park house. Choose from “The Boss” (a whole slab) or smaller portions such as “The Ranch Hand” and “Jr. Ranch Hand”—each of which comes with fries, cole slaw and bread. For a little variety, opt for one of the Chuck Wagon Combos—the “chix ’n’ ribs” combo gives you two pieces of fried or barbecued chicken and a half-order of ribs for less than $11. 5300 S Dorchester Ave (773-493-0400). El: Green to Garfield. Bus: 55. Average main course: $10.
The Smoke Daddy Gluttony grabs hold in this kitschy kitchen, and it doesn’t let go until the band plays its last bluesy, rockabilly note (usually about 1am). So skip the brisket, ignore the chicken and resist filling up on the addictive sweet-potato fries: You need to reserve your hunger for “The Rib Sampler.” It’s a huge plate of baby back ribs, spareribs and rib tips—a pile so big it might intimidate you. Don’t worry: The pink, smoky meat pulls off the bone easily, so you’ll clean your plate. 1804 W Division St (773-772-6656). El: Blue to Division. Bus: 9, 50, 56, 70. Average main course: $15.
Uncle John’s Behind the glass curtain at this Park Manor carryout spot, Arkansas native Mack Sevier smokes some of the best stuff in town. Go for the rib tips and hot links combo: The rib tips are smoky, extremely juicy, meatier than elsewhere in town and crisp around the edges. The hot links are not for the heat-phobic, with searing bits of red chile and smoky, porky, sage-packed flavor. Request extra napkins if you want to save your car seats. 337 E 69th St (773-892-1233). El: Red to 69th. Bus: 3, 30, 67, 71. Average main course: $9.