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Babygold Barbecue brisket
Photograph: David T Kindler

Where to find the best BBQ in Chicago

From pulled pork sandwiches to racks of ribs, the best BBQ in Chicago is hiding in plain sight

Morgan Olsen
Zach Long
Written by
Morgan Olsen
&
Zach Long
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Chicago barbecue doesn't have the cultural cachet of smoked meats from St. Louis or Kansas City, but local cooks have developed a style that's specific to our Midwestern metropolis—and plenty of other styles are showcased all around town. The best BBQ in Chicago isn't all that hard to find, whether you're searching for old-school favorites like Lem's Bar-B-Q or newcomers specializing in Tex-Mex dishes (hello, ATX Bodega). You can snag a tri-tip sandwich from the Lillie's Q kitchen inside a Chicago brewery or sample Chef John Manion's smoked pork belly at an outdoor restaurant in nearby Berwyn. Heck, many of the spots on this list are among the best cheap eats Chicago has to offer, so you'll save a buck or two on the bill. Grab some extra napkins and get ready to devour the best BBQ in Chicago, whether you prefer brisket, pork, chicken or smoked cauliflower.

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The best of the city under one roof

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • West Loop

When fine-dining vets D’Andre Carter and Heather Bublick struck out on their own, they founded a catering business to feed the masses. But in 2020, the husband-and-wife team pivoted to takeout—and then a roving food truck—to bring their raved-about barbecue from Evanston to Chicago. Now, it’s easier than ever to get a bite (or an entire platter) of their tender brisket, smokey ribs and succulent pulled pork. Whatever you do, just don’t forget about the mac and cheese.

Best BBQ in Chicago

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Irving Park
  • price 1 of 4

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.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Humboldt Park
  • price 2 of 4

Founded by a pair of Chicago restaurant industry veterans who each spent time in the kitchen at Wicker Park barbecue institution Smoke Daddy, Offset BBQ smokes chicken, pork, brisket, ribs and turkey, serving them by the pound or as part of salads, sandwiches and rice bowls. Barbecue purists can order a rack of St. Louis-style ribs or some smoked wings to enjoy, but everyone else should sample dishes like a smoked beef dip sandwich (served with horseradish sauce and au jus for dipping) or the smoked lamb shank, acompanied by tzatziki sauce, pickled red onions and pita bread. Whatever you order, make sure to try it with a bit of the housemade pineapple Huli Q sauce.

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Grand Boulevard
  • price 1 of 4

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.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Wicker Park
  • price 2 of 4

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. And if the cramped confines of the original Wicker Park don't suit you, there's a more spacious second location across the street from the Friendly Confines in Wrigleyville.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Lincoln Square

A self-described "food truck stuck inside a building," ATX Bodega serves its take on the cuisine of Austin, Texas—specifically, the three B's: birria, barbecue and breakfast tacos. You'll place your order at a window on the side of the building, choosing between meats that come wrapped in tortillas or served on their own before finding a seat at one of the picnic tables in back. Dishes like the birria tacos (made with smoked brisket that has been soaked in consommé) and Wagyu brisket served with chimichurri are hard to beat, but even vegetarians can get their fill with an order of portabella mushroom and pineapple tacos. Some cuts of meat sell out early on busy days, so order ahead for the best selection.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Greater Grand Crossing
  • price 2 of 4

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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Suburbs

Fancy a barbecue dinner in Bewyn? Chef John Manion has taken over the kitchen at FitzGerald's, serving everything from brisket to char-grilled oysters that guests can enjoy while taking in a show. With a menu centered around smoked meats and creole-inspired dishes (like po'boys and cornbread served with honey butter), the offerings at Babygold Barbecue are meant to be paired with twangy country tunes or an adventerous jazz combo. And vegetarians aren't left out—Manion serves a smoked, BBQ-spiced cauliflower that you can douse in the house mustard gold barbecue sauce for an added kick.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Rush & Division
  • price 3 of 4

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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • West Loop
  • price 2 of 4

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.

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • River West/West Town

Lillie's Q gave up its stylish home in Wicker Park a few years back, but it has since taken up residence at District Brew Yards in West Town—a sprawling space with pour-you-own taps that hosts local breweries Burnt City Brewing, Around the Bend Beer Co. and Bold Dog Beer Co. Thankfully, you'll still find all of chef-owner Charlie McKenna's classic dishes intact, including the smoked tri-tip sandwich and sausage links stuffed with pimento cheese. If you bring your dog, you can even snag a smoked pig ear for them to gnaw on while you dig in to your meal.

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Lincoln Park
  • price 2 of 4

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.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Loop
  • price 1 of 4

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.

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  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • Lower West Side
  • price 2 of 4

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.

  • Restaurants
  • Barbecue
  • River North
  • price 2 of 4

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 baby back ribs are where it's at. Pair 'em with a side of buffalo tots and an order of Texas pit beans. And be warned: you're going to subjected to some live country music if you're dining in during the latter half of the week.

Best BBQ in America

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