Chicago may not be one of the major barbecue regions, but we have a style all our own. From Chatham to Pilsen to Wicker Park and beyond, the best BBQ in Chicago isn't hard to find if you know where to look. From old-school spots like Twin Anchors and Honey 1 BBQ to new-wave joints that are worth their salt (hello, Smoque BBQ), the city's smoked-meat scene is wonderfully diverse. Plus, most of the names on this list are considered some of the best cheap eats Chicago has to offer, so you'll save a buck or two on the bill. When we're craving saucy ribs, juicy pulled pork and melt-in-your-mouth tender slabs of brisket, we turn to the best BBQ in Chicago. Psst! Some of the restaurants on this list only offer takeout, so pick up some cold ones at the top Chicago breweries before you go. When you're ready to get your hands dirty, dig into the best BBQ in Chicago.
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Best BBQ in Chicago
At this now-famous Northwest Side barbecue joint, St. Louis spareribs are near-perfect—juicy, pull-apart tender, with subtle smokiness that doesn’t overwhelm the tangy spice rub—while pillow-soft chicken’s slick, seasoned skin gives way to meat that’s partially pink from smoke and fully flavorful. But it’s the brisket that has folks coming from far and wide. The beautifully marbled beef is given just the right treatment—it’s the stuff that shows Texans that Chicago knows ’cue too.
From the restaurant group behind fan-favorite spots Au Cheval and Bavette's comes this equally meaty concept that specializes in Texas-style barbecue. Hop in the line that snakes around the bar and grab a cocktail while you wait for your turn at the counter. Guests can choose from coffee-rubbed brisket, juicy chicken legs, saucy pulled pork and ruby-red pastrami. Load your tray with classic sides—like baked beans studded with pork belly and elote-style street corn—before you snag a picnic table on the covered patio.
The father and son team behind this rib spot know a thing or two about barbecue—they hail from a part of Arkansas renowned for smoked meats. They moved their barbecue operation from Bucktown to Bronzeville, swapping tables for a takeout only joint. But even though you'll need to figure out where to eat (tip: drive to the Lakefront), the slabs of meaty, tender spareribs; a whole mess of rib tips; a plate of hot links and juicy smoked chicken are still tops.
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 Smoke Daddy Rib Sampler. It’s an intimidating pile of baby back ribs, spareribs and rib tips. But don’t worry: The pink, smoky meat pulls off the bone easily and the full flavors inspire bite after bite, so you’ll have no trouble cleaning your plate.
Instead of the South Side tradition of cash ’n’ carry barbecue, this comfy no-frills spot has earned loyalists with smoky ’cue, a solid 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 insanely rich mac and cheese. Move past salads to a slab of baby backs and the beef brisket sandwich with horseradish. End the night with a cask ale or Scotch at Fat Willy's adjacent sister restaurant, Owen & Engine.
If you didn’t know that Chicago had its own style of barbecue, try South Side barbecue at Lem’s. Made in an aquarium-style smoker, the most commonly cooked meats are rib tips and hot links. Lem’s is takeout only, so you’ll need to get your spare ribs and rib tips, which have a thin, vinegary sauce and charred outer edges hiding pink, juicy pork, to go.
Art Smith knows his way around a barbecue pit, and he shows off his prowess at Chicago q in the Gold Coast. The venue itself is cute as a button, especially in the summertime, when the patio is lined with a white picket fence, twinkling lights and comfy couches for lounging around. But don't let the exterior fool you—Smith is serious about his smoked meats, with pulled pork shoulder, baby back ribs and prime brisket on the menu. Combos like the Pit Boss Platter—which is loaded with hot links, pulled pork, ribs, prime brisket and pulled chicken—make it easy to try a bit of everything on offer. Though you’ll want to save room for the bourbon milkshake and cookies for dessert.
Nothing’s changed much in the 87 years since this Old Town rib institution started packing in the crowds, and that’s okay with us. Once in a while, we’ll still cram our way into the old tavern to wait among the masses (no reservations are taken) for the falling-off-the-bone, baked-then-grilled baby backs with a side of the “zesty” (really tangy) sauce. Add a side of the pork-flecked baked beans and an Old Style, and it’s a perfect Chicago meal.
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. Ease into the night with bourbon-spiked sweet tea or a pick from the impressive beer list and apps like fried pickles, smoked wings and pimento cheese. But it’s the pink-tinged pulled pork and thick slices of smoked tri-tip that prove chef-owner Charlie McKenna is every bit deserving of that Memphis in May trophy behind the bar.
With a handful of locations situated throughout downtown Chicago, you don't have to go far to cure barbecue cravings at lunchtime. Simply pick your protein—brisket, jackfruit, pulled pork, etc.—and decide on a vehicle with which to funnel it into your mouth. Aside from stacking your meat on a buttered brioche bun, you can also get it tucked into tacos or served atop a loaded chopped salad. The tough part is picking your sauce, though we're quite fond of the vinegar-based North Carolina style as well as the local Chicago style, which is simmered with Old Style lager.
Success on the competition circuit and local festivals prompted Willie Wagner to set up a permanent home for his “Memphis-style,” dry-rubbed barbecue in Pilsen. The smoky pulled pork clocks in at one of the best around. Tender, juicy chicken comes in second for best bets, with puckery slaw and meaty beans right behind it. Make a night of it with the lively bands that play in the attached bar on the weekends.
This Lettuce Entertain You joint offers an exhaustive menu of oil-dappled starters (think fried pickles and jumbo wings), barbecued meats, fried chicken, mac and cheese, sides and sandos. The 18-hour brisket ain't half bad, but the Chicago-style baby back ribs are where it's at. Pair 'em with a side of Asher's cheesey spoonbread (as good as it sounds) and an order of Texas pit beans.