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

Sean Cooley

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 (click here for address and info)
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 (click here for address and info)
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 (click here for address and info)
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 (click here for address and info)
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 (click here for address and info)
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 (click here for address and info)
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 (click here for address and info)
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 (click here for address and info)
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 (click here for address and info)
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 (click here for address and info)
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 Bar-Be-Cue 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-nonsense barbecue joint has cafeteria-style seating and lean, juicy rib tips to kill for. Honey 1 offers a bounty of saucy, smoked meats and veggie-based (not to be mistaken for “low-calorie”) sides. Restaurant goers get a view of the glassed-in, hickory-burning smoker and can enjoy a full slab of fall-off-the-bone ribs. Their slogan is "Real Smoke...No Joke," and once you get within a block of this place you'll instantly realize why.

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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. 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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9. 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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10. Pork Shoppe 2755 W Belmont Ave, Chicago, IL 60618

The outlet of porcine goodness (from the former Tizi Melloul folks) rocks mounted farming implements and pig diagrams in a barn-like 38-seat space, from where they'll sling the likes of smoked baby back ribs, pulled pig & fowl, Texas-style brisket, and sliced steak, all paired with your choice of three different sauces: molasses-based Sweet & Sticky, vinegar-y Tart & Tangy, and Wicked Spicy.

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