A Squared: The Best BBQ in Chicago

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Best BBQ in Chicago

Today is a very special day: It's my hubby Alex's birthday! In honor of my southern hubby and his special day, I'm showcasing one of his favorite foods: Barbecue!

"Best BBQ" may not be the first thing that enters your mind when you're thinking about the Chicago food scene, but lately the tides are turning. Much to the delight of foodies like me, Chicago has seen several new barbecue joints pop up all over the city in the past few years. Some of them are fancy, a few are definitely dive-y. Some offer barbecue so tasty that you think you've been transported right to Kansas City or the Carolinas and others, not so much. To help you weed out the delicious from the not so much, I'm sharing a few of my favorite Chicago barbecue joints with you today-- and a few suggestions of what to order at each place too!

For great BBQ with a fine dining feel...
Head to Chicago q in the Gold Coast. Chicago q is such an interesting juxtaposition: saucy barbecue and messy ribs (because let's be honest, ribs are always messy) served at tables covered in pristine white tablecloths. This is not your average BBQ joint. Chef Lee Ann Whippen elevates humble barbecue food by serving it up in a beautiful atmosphere and using high quality ingredients and housemade sauces and rubs. I have dined here a handful of times and have even ordered takeout once or twice and have never had a bad meal. Their pulled pork and their brisket are both wonderful and the homemade pickles and barbecue potato chips on every table are addictive.
Standout menu item: The House Bacon Cheddar Hush Puppies. My husband admittedly hates anything made with cornmeal, but insists on ordering these spicy cheesy smokey hush puppies every time we eat at Chicago q.

For [arguably] the best BBQ in the city with absolutely no frills...
Venture up to Old Irving Park and check out Smoque. You probably wouldn't give this neighborhood barbecue shack a second look driving by, but word spread quickly about the authentic and delicious food being served up at Smoque and then Guy Fieri and the Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives crew showed up and put this little barbecue joint on the map. There are absolutely no frills at this place: you wait in line to order, take your tray to one of their first come, first served communal dining tables, and BYOB if you'd like to enjoy a cold beer with your hot barbecue. They are famous for their ribs: both St. Louis and Baby Back, but their other offerings like smoked brisket and Texas sausage are equally delicious. And if you love barbecue sides (like me!), Smoque is the place. They offer a wide variety of sides and a few desserts (like delicious peach cobbler) in large and small sizes, perfect for sharing and sampling.
Standout menu item: The Rib Combo. Because when you can't decide on one, why not get both?

For classic BBQ and an old school Chicago experience...
There is nowhere better than Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern in Old Town. Twin Anchors sort of epitomizes the phrase "Why change a good thing?" The restaurant is not bright and shiny or modern, but it's quaint and vintage with nautical touches that add to its charm. A scene from Batman: The Dark Knight was filmed here and the restaurant is famous for being a favorite spot for Frank Sinatra and several other celebs over the years. Twin Anchors is also famous for its saucy baby back ribs, which they've been serving up since 1932. These guys know what they're doing and you really can't go wrong with any menu item you order-- though the ribs, chicken, and pepper-jack creamed spinach would be on my 'must order' list!
Standout menu item: Chicken. I know that sounds boring at a barbecue joint, but Twin Anchors slow roasts and then grills their chicken so it's juicy and full of flavor. And if that's not "BBQ" enough for you, consider the Rib & Chicken combo and get a taste of each!
For a wide variety and hip atmosphere...
My 'go to' is always Lillie's Q in Wicker Park. Lillie's Q is my standby for barbecue: delicious food, tons of menu options, and a great location in the heart of Wicker Park. Definitely the trendiest of the barbecue joints on this list, Lillie's is a modern but rustic space with great people watching right on busy North Avenue and it is the perfect spot for a casual date night, dinner with friends, or a laidback lunch. Their menu offerings range from standard barbecue fare to traditional lowcountry foods like Brunswick stew and chicken and dumplings to playful takes on southern food like a chicken skin BLT and Memphis tacos. And their six handcrafted sauces are displayed at every table so no matter if you want spicy, mustardy, creamy, or vinegary, they have something for everyone.
Standout menu item: A tie! For a starter, we always order the fried pickles. They are beer battered and crispy on the outside and served with a tangy ranch for dipping. For an entree, order the Tri-Tip Sandwich (delicious tender smoked beef on a brioche bun) and make it Southern Style-- they'll top it with their slaw!

For slow cooked BBQ served up fast...
Try Blackwood BBQ for lunch in the Loop. It seems counter-intuitive to list a fast casual restaurant as one of the best places to get low and slow barbecue, but Blackwood makes it work. Located on Lake Street on the west side of the Loop, they're only open during business hours so it's the perfect place to pick up a hearty lunch (or breakfast!) on the go. Sandwiches and plates are available with a variety of traditional barbecue sides, but I'm a fan of their salad option for a lunch that doesn't feel so heavy: a bed of leafy greens topped with the meat and sauce of your choice and a little slaw. I was really pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food at Blackwood and have to say that the smoker aroma outside the restaurant will already have you craving barbecue no matter how early your morning commute.
Standout menu item: Anything with the Chicago Style Sauce. Blackwood describes it as "the right balance of sweet and heat" and listed on a menu among more famous regional sauces like Memphis, Kansas City, and the two Carolinas, why not pay some homage to the Windy City on that pulled pork sandwich?

 A Squared


  1. omg smoque's brisket is the BEST! i also love lillie q's! xo jillian - cornflake dreams

    1. So so good! I pretty much love all BBQ-- and you're in an even better spot for it now. Jealous!


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