Chicago has a great barbecue tradition. It just didn’t know it for a long time.
To North Side locals, barbecue ribs were something oven-baked and found in Italian restaurants. To the large population of African-Americans who moved to Chicago’s South Side after World War II, true barbecue, like the blues, came up from the Mississippi Delta, smoking scraps from the Stockyards - like rib tips and hot links - low and slow over a real wood fire.
More recently, places like Smoque have introduced Texas-style brisket and ribs to the city, giving them a Chicago spin with extras like Asian-flavored sides. Today we have a vibrant, tasty scene coming from all barbecue directions. Here’s a cross-section of it to kick off your own explorations:
Champion competition barbecue-er and Food Network personality Lee Ann Whippen runs the city’s most upscale barbecue restaurant, accompanying smoked ribs and chicken with artful takes on Southern sides.
1160 N. Dearborn, 312.642.1160, www.chicagoqrestaurant.com
Real barbecue in the Loop? This breakfast and lunch-only spot dishes up authentically smoky brisket, pulled pork and chicken from the street level of a parking garage.
305 W. Lake, 312.621.9963, www.blackwoodbbq.com
Green Street Smoked Meats
The hot Randolph Street restaurant scene first lured us to entrepreneur Brendan Sodikoff’s new cafeteria-slash-honky-tonk-for-hipsters; Texas-style barbecue brings us back.
112 N. Green, 312.754.0431
Honey 1 BBQ
A rare example of the south side style on the North Side (specifically, Bucktown), offers the classic no-frills-just-smoke-flavor basket of rib tips and links piled on French fries and topped with tangy sauce—and white bread.
2241 N. Western, 773.227.5130
Restaurant kingpin Michael Kornick thought barbecue belonged on the Taylor Street Little Italy strip, and so do the crowds coming for Texas-style meats in a roadhouse atmosphere.
1352 W. Taylor St., 312.929.2528, www.dmkcountybarbeque.com
Uncle John’s on 79th was the south side’s best-loved barbecue stand when it closed in 2013. Now the pitmaster’s daughter and her family carry on his take-out-only tips and links tradition in Bronzeville, a few blocks from the Obamas.
502 E. 47th St., 872.244.3535
Smoque has had a line out the door nearly every day since it opened in 2006, serving impeccable Texas-style brisket, ribs, sausage (from Mikeska’s near Austin, Texas) and more.
3800 N. Pulaski, 773.545.7427, www.smoquebarbecue.com
Smalls Smoke Shack & More
The Texas-style brisket and pulled pork are first-rate here, but what’ll blow a barbecue buff’s mind is the pairing with Asian-style sauces and Filipino sides like garlic rice—fusion cuisine at its tastiest. Note: Smalls is open only Wednesday to Saturday.
4009 N. Albany, 312.857.4221, www.smallschicago.com