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Chicago's Best Barbecue Joints

By Staff in Food on Jun 5, 2013 6:00PM

Although Chicago's barbecue scene won't be mistaken for those in Kansas City, Memphis, St. Louis, and the Carolinas, the times they are a-changin'. From classic rip tip joints housing aquarium smokers and "ethnic" restaurants to newer places using Southern Pride smokers or no gas or electricity to cook their meats, we no longer have to settle for the baked meat casseroles that pass for ribs at places like Carson's and Calo.

Following are our picks for the best barbecue joints in Chicago. We know we missed some—every list does—and are already looking forward to you adding your recommendations in the comments.

Honky Tonk BBQ. Photo Credit: bluelliot

True story: Until I moved from St. Louis to Chicago five years ago I had no idea that “St. Louis-style BBQ” was a thing. I just thought that was how everybody did it. It was a sore realization once I moved away from a city of juicy pork ribs smothered in barbecue sauce that’s tangy yet sweet, thin in consistency but still bold in flavor. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered the delicious St. Louis style ribs at Honky Tonk. Just like Dad used to make! Of course there’s also baby back ribs, pulled pork, brisket and loads of other meaty treats on the menu if you want to go a different route. PS - As long as you’re there, don’t leave without trying the bacon candy -- if they haven’t already run out! —Katie Karpowicz
Honky Tonk BBQ is at 1800 S. Racine Ave.

Barn and Company boasts some of the most interesting barbecue in Chicago, thanks in part to the expertise of barbecue master (and author) Gary Wiviott, a co-founder of Chicago's own LTH forum. Surrounded by wood, with paintings of pigs on the walls, you feel like you're dining in a barbecue theme park - but the food isn't messing around. You can practically smell this place driving by. The meat isn't drowned in sauce, so you can taste all of the hard work that Wiviott puts into the smoking. Grab an order of fried pickle chips, and order the surprisingly tasty smoked chicken (yeah, it's not traditional - who cares) and laugh at the hungry people walking by outside. —Anthony Todd
Barn & Company is at 950 W. Wrightwood.

The combo at Honey 1 BBQ. Photo credit: silverfuture
For barbecue on the North Side more in line with what is typically found on the South Side, visit Honey 1 BBQ. Robert Adams Sr. opened his barbecue joint on the city's West Side before re-locating to Western Ave. in Logan Square in 2005. The Arkansas native tends to his traditional Chicago style 'Aquarium' smoker. From his magical box of smoke, Adams produces spare ribs, tips, hot links, pulled pork and more. The result is a smokey meat that's tender in the middle but with a flavorful, crispy bark on the exterior. Whether ordering the ribs, tips or the tips & hot links combo (our favorite!) you get your meat atop a pile of fries and slices of white bread. Order your barbecue dry, with the sauce on the side, so that you can taste the meat in its virgin state before dunking it in their tangy sauce. —Benjy Lipsman
Honey 1 BBQ is at 2241 N. Western Ave.

BellyQ might not look like some of the other barbecue places on this list, but Korean Barbecue definitely deserves its due. Chicago has plenty of great Korean barbecue joints, but BellyQ is special. Chef Bill Kim has always been known for his authentic, modern twists on Asian fusion food, and BellyQ has taken it to the next level. Grill Korean short ribs right at your table or chow down on baby back pork ribs with rosemary hoisin barbecue sauce. Even though it's not barbecue, you have to order the Thai chicken wings. Just trust us. —Anthony Todd
BellyQ is at 1400 W. Randolph

Lem's Bar-B-Q

The "Chicago style" of barbeque is still growing and just now receiving the attention it deserves, but its foundation can be traced back to this Chatham institution, one of the crown jewels of the "aquarium smoker" style. Brothers Bruce, Myles and James Lemons have been serving up a no-frills menu of simple barbeque since 1954. The rib tips here are renowned for their smoky flavor, tangy sauce (that will screw with the paint finish on your car if you eat them in the parking lot), slabs and hot links. —Chuck Sudo
Lem's Bar-B-Q is at 311 E. 75th Street.

I went into a paroxysm of grief when I heard the Bocktown location of Lillie's Q had caught fire and sustained great damage. Where were we going to get the tastiest tri-tip in the city now? Who else would warm us with their house spirits? It seemed that location must be cursed, since no other restaurant had ever been successful on that corner and Lillie's Q was the first to thrive... was it the ghosts of failed businesses past burning them out? And yes, the French Market location has remained open, but it had none of the delicacies we were mourning, and the smoker in the basement of the Bucktown location was truly the heart and soul of the restaurant. So why out a closed restaurant on this list? Becasue come mid-June Lillie's Q in Bucktown is re-opening and you can bet we'll be the first ones in the door order a half pound of that delicious brisket, dip it in the flavorful house sauces, and wash down with some Q Brew. This is simple, solid barbecue that's never done us wrong and that makes it my absolute favorite seat in Chicago. —Jim Kopeny
Lillie's Q's usual Bucktown location is still closed for repairs from a fire in March. It's due to open again in June, but in the meantime, you can get the food at the Chicago French Market at 131 N Clinton St.

Guy Fieri featured this Burbank barbecue palace on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, proving that even bottle blond bloviators can be right about something once in a while. Chuck's blend Cajun and Southwest influences atop its low and slow foundation to serve some of the best barbeque in the southwest suburbs. I would put their brisket on a par with Smoque and their super sampler is a steal, with three meats for $17.25. If you're a soccer fan heading to Fire games, Chuck's is a must-visit before and after games. —Chuck Sudo
Chuck's Southern Comfort Cafe is located at 6501 W. 79th Street in Burbank

Cho Sun Ok. Photo Credit: supafly

It's hard for me to tell you about this Korean spot because I'm not really sure what I ate. If you're looking for a quick bite, romantic ambiance or friendly servers, this isn't the place. If you're looking for a cheap adventure, Cho Sun Ok is a good bet. Cha-dol-bak-ee (paper-thin sliced beef) is the specialty, prepared on a hot skillet at the table. The server set down a plate of raw meat, then a number of sides and dips and kimchi and whatnot were scattered on the table with little explanation from the server. We didn't ask questions because it was all good. We weren't very good at cooking the beef ourselves, so the server pitched in and stirred it up. When the beef was done, she cooked up amazing fried rice in the leftover juices from the marinated meat. For an appetizer, get the seafood pancake thing. I wish I could tell you more about it. Just eat it. Bonus: It's BYOB. —Samantha Abernethy
Cho Sun Ok is at 4200 N. Lincoln Ave.

If Chicago were to erect a Mount Rushmore of barbecue, Mack Sevier has earned a spot on it. The 68-year-old pitmaster has held court over this South Side institution for 17 years and was the original pitmaster at Barbara Ann's before that, recently opened a secont location in Chatham working on a second location at 83rd and Cottage Grove and is training his replacements in preparation for retirement. Sevier's rib tips, hot links and slabs are tender and smoky at either location and I have no doubt the show will go on long after Sevier has fired up his last round. —Chuck Sudo
Uncle John's BBQ has two locations at 337 E. 69th Street and 8249 S. Cottage Grove Avenue.

I'll cherish Smoke Daddy forever because it introduced me to "burnt ends." Ask for them as soon as you sit down because they run out. Order a platter, and don't miss the rib tips. Plus, Smoke Daddy just rolled out a new brunch menu to go along with its big new patio, so there's a whole new manner of eating to stretch out your waistband. —Samantha Abernethy
Smoke Daddy is at 1804 W. Division St.

Smoque. Photo Credit: monkeysort

When we returned to Chicago after a time in the South, we found the Chicago barbecue scene a bit lacking -- especially if we weren't in the mood to head deep into the South Side. All that changed when Barry Sorkin opened up Smoque on the city's Northwest side. Despite a broad menu of smoked meats, Smoque quickly hit their stride with pulled pork, chicken, ribs (baby back and St. Louis spare) and perhaps the best brisket -- available sliced or chopped -- anywhere outside of Texas. Almost as strong are their side dishes, like mac & cheese, smoked barbecue beans and some of the best french fries in Chicago. Smoque success was clearly the impetus for Chicago's smoked meat renaissance, as dozens of new joints have popped up in Smoque's wake. Nonetheless Smoque stands tall as the gold standard among the city's newer establishments. —Benjy Lipsman
Smoque is at 3800 N. Pulaski

Chicago Q manages to walk the fine line between pretension and authenticity. The clientele is on the overly dressed douchey side, but the dishes the kitchen serves up are pure downhome goodness, if with an upscale twist. And you don't have to break the bank to dine like a hog. Start with an order of honey butter cornbread and the BBQ Flight and sample the kobe brisket, pulled pork and pulled chicken and then decide if you want a full helping of any of those. No? Move onto the ribs, delicious in both babyback and St. Louis-style. And save room for dessert! I always get the milk and cookies but you can get other cakes or boozy shakes, if that's more your style. And make sure you wear something with an elastic waistband, you'll appreciate its give when you try to waddle walk away from the table. —Jim Kopeny
Chicago Q is at 1160 N. Dearborn St.

Sun Wah BBQ. Photo Credit: Darwensi

Barbecue typically brings to mind the American South, but slow-roasted meat has an appeal that spans continents and centuries. An Uptown institution since 1987, Sun Wah BBQ is a family-owned-and-operated Chinese barbecue joint, probably best known for its Beijing (Peking) duck feast. (Call a day ahead for the multi-course duck feast, or for tableside whole roast pig service.) Stroll by the window for a glimpse of barbecue duck done right — glazed in sugar and Chinese spices, the roasted skin practically floats above the juicy meat, separate from the fat — and even get a whole duck to go. But this is Hong Kong style barbecue, after all, and there is plenty more on the menu worth mentioning. (This being a barbecue post, I'll just nod to the phenomenally fresh tofu made down the street and leave it at that.) Roast pork on rice and honey spareribs are among the dishes delicious enough to silence regional U.S. barbecue feuds, if only for a moment. —Chris Bentley
Sun Wah BBQ is at 5039 N. Broadway St.

Jared and Amanda Leonard's "no gas, no electricity, real BBQ" has eager gourmands flocking to West Rogers Park for something besides Indian food. Everything here is cooked over nothing but hardwood and teems with beautiful smoky flavor in every bite. Jared Leonard's dedication to the craft of low & slow is evident with his work here and in helping to create the Windy City BBQ Classic in September. —Chuck Sudo
Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse is at 6954 N. Western Ave.

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