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Chicago's 10 best North and South Side BBQ joints, ranked

One list is not enough for Chicago’s best BBQ, largely because the city has two distinct BBQ cultures: North Side and South Side, and each deserves its due. Each also deserves a power-ranking of its best spots, so we're hooking you up with that, along with what smoky meat to eat at each.

Mike Gebert

South Side-style BBQ

South Side-style is cooked over a live fire in a glass-walled smoker, and it’s all about pork -- ribs, yes, but also two scrap meats from the stockyards, rib tips, and the spicy sausages called hot links, served under white bread and over fries, and swimming in sweet-hot sauce (unless you ask them not to). Be prepared to take it to-go -- there’s rarely seating, and money and ‘cue are usually exchanged through bulletproof glass (more info on the South Side-style, here).

4. Ben’s BBQ ()
West Side, Austin
What to get: ribs or tips
This relatively new Westside spot is still learning its trade, but does a nice job with the classics. It’s the only South Side-style place where I’ve ever seen the pit master come out from behind the bulletproof glass to hand out samples to the folks waiting in line.
Flickr/Ellis Calvin
3. Barbara Ann’s BBQ ()
South Side, Greater Grand Crossing
What to get: rib tips/links combo
Recently reopened, this BBQ stand attached to a motel (let your imagination roam) does fine ribs and tips, but best of all are the sage-flecked hot links created by former pit master Mack Sevier, who went on to own (now-closed) Uncle John’s.
Mike Gebert
2. Honey 1 BBQ ()
What to get: rib tips/links combo; pulled pork
Besides not being on the South or Westside, Honey 1 breaks the paradigm in other ways, too -- it dabbles in pulled pork and brisket on occasion, has tables and chairs, and even delivers. Not 'til you get to the big, smoky tips do you know that it’s authentic, South Side BBQ at heart.
Mike Gebert
1. Lem’s Bar-B-Q ()
South Side, Grand Crossing
What to get: ribs; rib tips
The city’s oldest BBQ stand helped establish the rib tip as Chicago’s bargain BBQ meat of choice, but the real glory here is a stack of juicy, smoky spare ribs in the vinegary sauce that put them on the map back in the 1940s.

North Side-style BBQ

Call it "BBQ for the Food Network era"; in the last decade, the North Side has seen an explosion of places synthesizing the best-loved barbecue styles from around the country, with Texas-style brisket next to Memphis pulled pork and ribs, and mustardy sauces from the Carolinas... if you swing that way. Here’re the top six that pay tribute to tradition, while taking it in their own directions.

6.  Rub’s Backcountry Smokehouse ()
West Rogers Park
What to get: brisket, St. Louis ribs, peach cobbler
Great, smoky Texas brisket and ribs belch forth from a big black furnace of a smoker, while house-made root beer and desserts counteract the cholesterol with a heaping helping of sugar high.
5. Green Street Smoked Meats ()
West Loop
What to get: brisket, hot link, Frito pie
Restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff breaks out the honky-tonkyest faux-road house a city of eight million ever saw. Brisket, pulled pork, and the juicy hot link are all first-rate; the ribs less so, but if you just want a trashy quickie from the bar, get the Frito pie loaded with the brisket chili.
4. Lillie’s Q ()
Wicker Park, French Market
What to get: tri-tip sandwich, pulled pork, Brunswick stew
Charlie McKenna worked at swanky places like Tru while winning barbecue competitions on the side, and combines his two heritages in the unique, gently smoked tri-tip steak. Besides the standards, he also has a nice line in authentic Southern sides, like Pimento cheese spread and Brunswick stew.
Mike Gebert
3. Pork Shoppe ()
What to get: brisket, pulled pork, pork belly sandwich
The pork belly sandwich -- thick slices of smoky bacon-to-be piled on a sandwich -- is the OMFG on the menu, but beyond that, this is a good, overlooked spot that does very good brisket (including brisket tacos) and pulled pork.
Sean Cooley
2. Smalls Smoke Shack & More ()
Irving Park
What to get: brisket, brisket bibimbap, pulled pork, fried chicken, garlic rice
Texas barbecue with Asian sides proves to be an inspired combination (who really needed cole slaw, anyway?), and it’s no disrespect to the meat to say that it’s the one BBQ place where I could also be tempted away by fried chicken -- it’s great, too. No seating, but you can head over to the bar next door and they’ll bring it to you.
Sean Cooley
1. Smoque ()
Irving Park
What to get: brisket, pulled pork, St. Louis ribs, Rudy Mikeska sausage
Smoque kicked off the BBQ movement on the North Side not quite a decade ago, delivering great Texas-style ‘cue. It still has lines out the door today, but it's a model for customer service in a busy joint. No Chicago BBQ tour would be complete without a visit to these guys.

Mike Gebert is a James Beard Award-winning food video producer and writer and Founder of Follow him on Twitter @skyfullofbacon.
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1. Ben's Barbeque 5931 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60639

Head to this take-out only BBQ spot later in the day(don't ask, just trust us that the dishes get better as the day goes on) for one of the best rib tip and hot link combos in town. If you taste a little kick in the ribs that you're not used to it's probably because they were seasoned with Creole seasoning and if you opt to get them in a mild sauce you might be surprised by the apricots and peaches that make up the base. Of course if you're in need of more sugar there's always the rich, homemade banana pudding!

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2. Barbara Ann's BBQ 7617 S Cottage Grove Ave, Chicago, IL 60619

Mack Sevier helped create the recipes that make this divey BBQ joint attached to a motel so mouth-wateringly great. Try the sage-dusted hot links, or the ribs and tips, for that authentic BBQ flavor with a creative edge.

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3. Honey 1 BBQ 2241 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

This no-frills BBQ spot is a neighborhood institution for smoked/pulled/rubbed meaty goodness. Pro tip: get the rib tips.

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4. Lem's BBQ House 311 E 75th St, Chicago, IL 60619

Lem's has BBQ that's both satisfying and mouth-watering. Their hot links and rib tips are seriously worth the drive.

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5. Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse 6954 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60645

You're likely going to want to gather around one of two live-fire barebecue pits when you turn up at this spot. Rest assured your tastebuds will be just as satisfied as your eyes once you sink your teeth into the Saint Louis spare ribs whether or not you opt to go with one of the four house-sauces.

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6. Green Street Smoked Meats 112 N Green St, Chicago, IL 60607

This clandestine Texas BBQ smokehouse is down an alley off Restaurant Row. From world class beers to brisket chili Frito pie, this is Chicago's hottest restaurant, open Tuesday-Saturday, 5pm-close. Allied: Since it’s so hot, cool down with some Smith & Forge, the hard cider that's built strong -- built from Apples and built to Refresh.

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7. Lillie's Q 1856 W North Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

LQ's a patio-abetted 60-seat temple of slow-n-low BBQ, decked with butcher's hooks outfitted with Edison bulbs, tables made from reclaimed barn boards, and seriously delicious barbecue-style smoked, fired-up meat.

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8. Pork Shoppe 2755 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

As soon as you hit the counter of this joint - because that's likely where you'll find a seat - ask for the por belly pastrami before you even begin to consider anything else. The part salty, part fatty dish sounds just as unhealthy as it likely is but it's exactly what you want. Sure there's coleslaw and fries to fill out your plate, and even a few beers and bourbons to wash it down with but the pastrami is the way to go. Maybe next time you can indulge in the Texas-theme of the decor and go with the strikingly good imitation of a Texan brisket but for now stick with the pork belly.

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9. Smalls 4009 N Albany Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

Smalls is a Filipino smoke shack that's got a tasty mix of American barbecue and Asian comfort food in a snug Irving Park space.

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10. Smoque BBQ 3800 N Pulaski Rd, Chicago, IL 60641

This BBQ joint is a serious upgrade for Chicagoans that love their 'cue. Head in for some delicious ribs, smoked or rubbed, and some seriously delectable sides.

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