Sweet, smoky, spicy... wet, dry, sauce on the side... meaty, fall-off-the-bone... Chicago does barbecue all ways. Make a pit stop at any one of these BBQ hotspots and be sure to bring your appetite – and extra napkins.
Fill up on Food AND Drinks
In the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhood, Lillie's Q brings Southern cooking to the next level. Don't let the sleek, contemporary décor fool you into thinking this restaurant is all looks and no substance. Just get a taste of the pulled pork shoulder. Manning the pit is Chef Charlie McKenna, who has won numerous awards on the competitive barbecue circuit including the top prize at Memphis — widely regarded as the world championship of barbecue.
Significantly more polished than your typical BBQ joint, Chicago Q in downtown's Gold Coast boasts rich leather couches and gleaming dark wood tables, as well as a pedigreed pit master. Billed as the new urban BBQ experience, the swank digs are home to a 15+ year vet of competition barbecue, Lee Ann Whippen, and she sets you up with artisanal housemade rubs, the highest quality meats and service that exudes Southern hospitality.
A late night bbq haunt with a whiskey focus, Porkchop in the West Loop isn't devoted to just its namesake cut of meat. Find the full spread here, from beef rib tips to bbq chicken to hot sausage, plus a full bar with over 100 whiskey varieties that are served neat with a personal ice bucket and water. A new second location brings the fun atmosphere to Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood too.
Fill up on Food, Drinks AND Music
The eclectic Wicker Park neighborhood is a mix of hipster cool and old school ethnic restaurants, but an even greater combination is goods eats and good rhythms. Bluesy rockabilly is the soundtrack at The Smoke Daddy, with free, live music seven nights a week and meats and vegetables smoked in house every day in their "Lil Red Smoker".
If you're down in Pilsen and have a hankering for some smoky goodness, Honky Tonk Barbeque is your fix. Owner Willie Wagner has garnered many an award at competitions and festivals and the lively space is home to live music many nights on the Saloon Stage: jazz, soul, bluegrass, rockabilly, and of course, honky tonk.
Also combining great tunes and tastes is Bub City, an always-entertaining mashup of bourbon, barbeque and live country music. Satisfy your cravings early in the morning — go for the beef brisket benedict served with cheesy grits — and all the way into the wee hours of the morning. At 2am, "the big pig" on the late night menu will be calling your name... a massive pile of pulled pork, hot links, carolina gold sauce and jalepenos on a pretzel roll.
One bite from Smoque BBQ and you'll know that Barry Sorkin and team knows their BBQ. The Irving Park destination packs in visitors and local regulars daily, with a beef brisket that is top-notch and a menu offering a sampling of regional styles (St. Louis ribs, Texas sausage, Carolina sauce) plus mini-sized portions on the children's menu.
Casual Logan Square sit down spot Fat Willy's Rib Shack is spacious enough to spread out and get messy. Kick back with a Hogarita from the bar and a full menu of BBQ and side selections from jalapeno corn fritters and baked four cheese macaroni. And for kids, there's a special menu and coloring pages just for them.
Pork Shoppe in neighboring Avondale keeps things simple: counter service, basic meat and sides menu, rustic yet understated decor, and straightforward drink options (either beer or bourbon). Standout is Jason Heiman's specialty: a 10-day cured, 12-hour smoked pork belly pastrami. Texas brisket tacos are a steal, as is the mac n' cheese and kids combo of hot dog/fries.
Up north, Rub BBQ Company is doing BBQ right in Rogers Park. Dry ribs – they've got 14 ingredients in them – are their forte, and you might want to order that up with a side of Meaty Beans, a one-to-one ratio of baked beans and pork sausage.
Using traditional Arkansas wood-smoked, your meal takes a little more time to cook at Honey 1 BBQ, but it's worth the wait. Plus you get a view of the Chicago-style glass-enclosed "aquarium smoker" as you walk into the modest eatery, run by Arkansas native Robert Adams.
A South Side staple has devotees lining up for orders of any and all smoked meats topped with their signature sauce. Lem's Bar-B-Q is a no-frills takeout spot, but the faster you can squeeze through the line and get back to your car, the sooner you can get a taste. Just down the street, double up on deliciousness at neighboring barbeque stop Barbara Ann's BBQ, another option for ribs, tips and links served up in typical takeout fashion.
Another power player on the scene is an oldie, but a goodie. The Old Town rib institution Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern hasn't changed much since it was established in 1932, and the crowds (which at one time included Frank Sinatra) appreciate it that way. Other traditional rib favorites include Gale Street Inn in Jefferson Park, Robinson's #1 Ribs in Lincoln Park and Carson's in River North.
Serving it up Asian-style
For an Asian take on barbeque, the hip, chef-driven West Loop restaurant bellyQ boasts a diverse menu that includes Baby Back Pork Ribs in homemade hoisin sauce and Smoked Wagyu Beef. You can be your own grill master while dining at one of the built-in Grill Tables, or follow up your dinner experience with some song and dance in the private Karaoke Den.
Switch it up from Korean-style bbq to Japanese-style bbq with two top Chicago spots both located in the trendy River North neighborhood. At Union Sushi + Barbeque, the centerpiece 600° Robata Grill in the middle of the colorful restaurant will surely catch your eye, as will the menu: kangaroo, alligator and beef tongue round out the typical meat offerings. Named after the Japanese word for charcoal, Sumi Robata Bar honors artistry and tradition both in its cooking and in its minimalist decor. The 26-foot robata bar offer the best seats in the house, where you can watch a master at work, Chef Gene Kato.
Newest Barbeque Restaurants
And as if that isn't enough, the latest contenders on the scene include West Loop hideaway Green Street Smoked Meats, a Texas-style warehouse hangout that feels like a big indoor/outdoor picnic; a Lakeview location of suburban staple Q-BBQ, an entry on the Michelin Bib Gourmand list; a pint-sized yet highly-original Filipino/Korean/American bbq joint smalls. smokeshack & more; and the cozy and casual County BBQ, which sports country-kitsch decor and welcomes lovers of all regional barbeque styles with open, plaid arms.