Yes, Chicago indeed has its own style of barbecue. Aquarium-style smokers produce wonderful rib tips, ribs, and more. But being in the Midwest, the city also is more than excepting to different regional styles. From sticky and sweet Memphis-style ribs to Texas-style brisket, Chicago has a wonderful variety of barbecue. Check out Eater Chicago’s top spots for smoked wonders.Read More
Chicago’s Essential Barbecue Restaurants
Feast on ribs, brisket, pulled pork, and other smoky delights
This Jefferson Park spot lures fans with items like a brisket burrito and pulled pork poutine, for breakfast. Other favorites include smoked salmon, rib tips, and smoked Polish sausage. Earl’s is equipped with a handy drive-thru, ideal for social distancing, and has a handful of picnic tables for outdoor dining. Sister restaurants, Ella’s BBQ in Lincoln Park and TK in Wicker Park, are also open.
The place that started Chicago’s barbecue renaissance is well-known and beloved by smoked meats enthusiasts. Smoque holds a long-standing spot on the Eater 38 thanks to its melting pot of styles. The meaty St. Louis ribs are slathered with a Memphis-style dry rub and smoked over apple and oak, while the moist and tender brisket by way of Texas is one of the finest in town. Sides are no afterthought, either, as homemade mac and cheese, brisket chili, and BBQ beans are all excellent. Staff have set up a covered and socially-distanced patio that’s also BYOB. A second restaurant, Smoque Steak, featuring, yes, smoked steaks, is scheduled to open soon.
Soul & Smoke - Avondale at Rockwell on the River
Chef D’Andre Carter and wife Heather Bublick have brought back barbecue glory to the river. Carter, a South Side Chicago native, has shown an obsession for barbecue with Texas-style brisket, tender baby backs, and more. The operation also has a stall in the Time Out Market Chicago in Fulton Market, a food truck, and the original location in Evanston. Don’t forget about the smoked link.
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Umamicue at Spilt Milk
Umamicue is pop-up that uses Vietnamese and other Asian flavors, to produce smoked meats. The pop-up has a residency at Spilt Milk, a Logan Square dive bar. The prime brisket is masterful, and so are the links. Order early.
South Side-style barbecue is, understandably, a rarity on the other parts of town. This Humboldt Park spot is the welcome exception to that norm, utilizing an aquarium smoker to produce tasty rib and turkey tips, links, and slabs of ribs. There’s a non-pork smoker, too, for folks with dietary restrictions.
After nine years in business, Charlie McKenna’s popular Wicker Park restaurant has made some changes. The menu has expanded to include new items like Texas brisket and pimento cheese sausage while the service is now counter. Old favorites — fried pickles, tri tips — remain, as do Lillie’s Q’s lineup of bottled sauces, which range from tangy Carolina Gold to a mayonnaise-based Alabama white barbecue sauce. McKenna relocated to a new space inside West Town brewery District Brew Yards in 2020.
Green Street Smoked Meats
Hogsalt Hospitality operates a variety of successful restaurants, including a cafeteria-style smokehouse located inside a former West Loop warehouse. Texas-inspired meats, like brisket, pastrami, pork belly, and ribs, are sold by the half pound. The simple menu also offers several sides as well as Frito pie topped with brisket chili. Green Street offers patio seating as well as delivery and carryout.
County BBQ’s smoked wings are delectable. Now that that’s out of the way, we can discuss how Bonni Cameron, a former employer, took over the Little Italy operation from Chicago restaurateurs David Morton and chef Michael Kornick. Those two brought over Erick Williams, who went on to open Virtue, to develop the restaurant’s menu. Cameron has maintained County BBQ’s excellence with rib tips, those wings, and more.
Chef John Manion knows his way around a kitchen. When Wicker Park was at its apex of cool, Mas along Division Street was one of the hottest spots around. Before Fulton Market grew into a magnet for brands, La Sirena Clandestina gave Chicago a taste of Brazil. His Latin steakhouse, El Che Steakhouse & Bar, continues to reinvent itself in West Loop. Now, Manion has taken all that meaty experience and applied it to barbecue inside FitzGerald’s, one of the Chicago area’s most loved music venues. Babygold is style agnostic, plucking from a variety of regional traditions to offer top-notch baby-back ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. A giant combo platter is dubbed “Berwyn Style.” Berwyn has marketed itself as a one suburb that doesn’t feel like a suburb. But with Babygold, Chicagoans may actually have a reason to venture out. Veggie options are available.
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Honky Tonk BBQ
Pitmaster Willie Wagner honed his skills on the competition circuit before opening a Wild West-themed smoked meats destination in Pilsen. His Memphis-style, dry-rubbed barbecue includes brisket, baby back and St. Louis ribs, smoked chicken, and some of the city’s finest pulled pork.
Honey 1 BBQ
Arkansas native Robert Adams runs this acclaimed barbecue spot with his son Robert Jr. and together the two slow-cook their meats over wood fire in a glass-walled “aquarium” smoker. The result is tender, meaty, and lean spare ribs, rib tips, hot links, and pulled pork that’s gained a devoted following. And in keeping with the spirit of other South Side spots, they also offer non-BBQ items such as chicken wings, smoked chicken, fried fish dinners, and burgers.
The Slab Bar-B-Que
Slab is a family-owned smoke stack that serves links, rib tips, chicken, and baby-back and St. Louis-style ribs. The South Shore restaurant uses hickory in its aquarium-style smokers. Slab also makes its side dishes — fries, cole slaw, and macaroni and cheese — on site.
Lem's BBQ House
Chicagoans’ love of rib tips and its popularity can be traced back to this small South Side smoke shack. Lem’s has been an institution for more than 60 years, serving smoky, finger-licking tips with a tangy, vinegary sauce. There’s little else available on the menu except for some juicy hot links and fried chicken, but everyone should head to 75th Street to understand why the lines stretch out the door.
Qs Tips & Wings BBQ
This is South Side barbecue without the aquarium. These rib tips and sausages are the star at this barbecue spot. The wings are also worthy.
The Full Slab
This cozy Chatham spot serves up St. Louis-style ribs, rib tips, wings, turkey tips, and more. Former pharmaceutical engineer Samuel Gilbert claims his travels to barbecue hotspots like Memphis and North Carolina gave him a chance to study the craft. The restaurant is takeout and delivery-only.
Lexington Betty Smokehouse
Brisket and ribs are the specialties of the house at Lexington Betty Smokehouse in Pullman. Dominque Leach has raised her profile on national cooking shows, demonstrating her skills using her favored Southern Pride smoker. She continues to expand with a line of wagyu sausages and sauces.