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Chicago Barbecue

Looking for a fun place for a group of six that has round tables and good barbecue in central Chicago. Thanks

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  1. My favorite place for barbecue is Carson's. The baby back ribs are excellent. If members of your party prefer steaks or prime rib, those are outstanding there as well. (They also have the best cole slaw in town!)

    612 North Wells Street
    Chicago, IL 60610
    (312) 280-9200

    1 Reply
    1. re: nsxtasy

      It's worth adding that Carson's is different in many significant ways from the neighborhood barbecue places mentioned by others below. You'll need to decide what kind of place (and what kind of barbecue) you're looking for, what kind of place you and your companions will enjoy.

      Carson's is a "white tablecloth restaurant" with a steakhouse atmosphere. The neighborhood places are storefronts with small formica tabletops; they do a lot of carry-out business, and at least one (Hecky's) doesn't have any seating at all, at least at its original location (I haven't been to the second one).

      Carson's offers a variety of items, including barbecue baby back ribs, barbecue salmon, steaks of all sort (their optional char crust is very nice), prime rib, etc. The neighborhood places have a menu consisting of barbecue items and not much else.

      The geographical factor may be one of convenience for you. Carson's downtown location is in the River North area, a short walk from Michigan Avenue and from the Loop (I assume these are the areas you are referring to as "central Chicago"). The neighborhood places will all require a ride by cab or public transportation.

      Different people have different taste in barbecue. I really enjoy the barbecue baby backs at Carson's. They have a great barbecue flavor, nice sauce baked on, very meaty with very little fat, and tender and moist, with a slightly chewy texture. I like them a lot, and so do a lot of people; clearly, some others here don't agree. Here on Chowhound, most of us respect differences of opinion and can agree that not everyone likes the same places or the same items.

      Think about which kind of place, and which kind of barbecue, meets YOUR needs best. If you're still not sure, try several of the places and decide for yourself.

    2. While Carson's serves ribs (and lousy ones at that) they hardly qualify as a BBQ joint! Carson's is more of a restaurant & grill than a BBQ place. Or at least its not a BBQ joint in the traditional sense of it being anything like a true Texas, Memphis, KC, or Carolina type place.

      In other words, if a place doesnt even have brisket, pulled pork, smoked Turkey along with ribs it ain't a BBQ place. If they don't slow smoke any of the food, or they lack smokers and as such don't use any of the traditional woods; hickory, post oak, pecan etc. that are associated with true BBQ they ain't BBQ. So in that regard Carson's is more like the Weber Grill, only not as good, they do have a mean chicken liver appetizer and good breads though.

      If you want true BBQ in the this city you have limited options, but the three following options are at least real "Q":
      Fat Willies

      And although I shudder to even say it, the food chain Famous Dave's is a true BBQ restaurant that does have better "Q" than about 80% of the places in town, meaning at least they slow smoke everything fresh everyday.

      Most Chicago restaurants (Anchor bar, Portillos etc) serve boiled ribs and that right there is a real deal-breaker for me.

      8 Replies
      1. re: abf005

        I agree Carsons is not a BBQ joint, and not very good for anyone who knows what real bbq is all about. Carsons = Not smoked, no pink smoke ring, most likely boiled, or baked. Not real BBQ

        Honey 1 is my favorite.

        1. re: abf005

          I second Fat Willy's (http://www.fatwillysribshack.com/). There are a couple of good sized tables inside and it's always fun and laid back.

          Everything I've had there is great -- the corn of the cob is wonderful. As tempting as their desserts always sound, I've never been able to try one . . . too full by the end of the meal!

          1. re: abf005

            Thanks I there's a famous daves right next to me in Long Island and I went there once which was one time to much.

            1. re: grownup55

              If you want real bbq (smoked, pink smoke ring ) go to one of the spots abf005 recommended

              honey 1 is my pick

              Honey 1
              2241 N. western
              Chicago, IL.


            2. re: abf005

              very well put abf,

              I agree, to most brisket, turkey legs, etc are not "low end bbq"., but an essential part of bbq.

              1. re: abf005

                Hecky's take out baby backs were a MAJOR disappointment. Overcooked and dry.

                1. re: abf005

                  Simply stating a point of fact about regional terminology, not trying to make any qualitative judgment here. (There are a lot of Neapolitans who might be equally upset about Chicagoans liberal use of the term "pizza" to describe Gino's, Giordano's, etc. product).

                  By the way have you tried Uncle John's at 69th & Calumet? No briskets, turkey legs, pulled pork, so I guess it can't be called a BBQ as per the poster above, but IMO terrific ribs and links, with plenty evidence of smoke.

                  1. re: abf005

                    Have you even been to Honey One? They certainly don't boil and/or over sauce their ribs. They have nothing in common with Carson's or Hecky's.

                  2. Anyone willing to take a drive to the south side can try a place at 53rd and dorcester called Ribs and Bibs. This is no Carson's in area, service, or decor, but likewise it will blow the doors off carson's on ribs. Buy a few slabs, bring them home and enjoy some of the best ribs in chi-town for over 40 years.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: jfood

                      i 2nd ribs and bibs, a chicago insititution... they have the most amazing pics on their walls
                      i highly recommend the ribs and slo their super special fried chicken, ask for the hot barbecue sauce if you can handle it, it's magnificent
                      but yeah they have a counter and liek one small round table. they do have 3 or 4 outdoor tables in the spring/summmer tho

                      1. re: jfood

                        imo, Ribs and Bibs has been just about the best 'que in Chicago for years and years and years! My sister now lives in Tinley, and she will still drive in to get them!

                        Also, I like Coleman's on the West Side.

                        I don't care for Carson's ribs, and I don't know anyone who considers them delicious.

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          *I* consider Carson's ribs delicious.

                      2. New place that just opened on the corner of Pulaski and Grace is Smoque. Doesn't have round tables is pretty darn good. BYOB. Have had the ribs and brisket, very, very good each. Rough cut fries, good slaw and other sides. Smoque is just south of the Kennedy expy, so accessibility is pretty good.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Spoonforkknife

                          I will second that!!! It is delicious and with the sit-down and take-out traffic, you know it has to be good. Had beef brisket and pulled pork plate. YUMMY!!!! A lot of chicago's finest eat there, so you know it's good.

                          1. re: donnacrocker

                            A lot of chicago's finest eat lunch and dinner at the Potbelly below my office. It's not good.

                        2. I'm pretty sure that Honey 1 has round tables. I think it's pretty "central" in location, being roughly 2100N and 2100 W, but given that the center of the Chicago area based on population seems to be Oakbrook, YMMV :)

                          1. In our only visit to Chicago, we stayed at the Hyatt downtown and walked to a "tourist trap" called Weber Grill (State St) which we loved. I like my BBQ food charred and it certainly was--ribs, burgers, steak. I know others will pooh pooh it...de gustibus non disputandum.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: notzagat

                              I'm not a huge fan of The Weber Grill but just curious why you call it a "tourist" trap? Weber grills were invented in the Chicago suburbs by George Stephen and are still made in the area. The original restaurant concept, started in the 1980's, was some what of a carryout place where all the food was cooked on Weber grills. The restaurants still cook on restaurant grade Weber grills using charcoal so your ribs in the restaurant will be just like in your backyard.

                              1. re: notzagat

                                Grilled food is NOT barbecue. Barbecue is smoked food.... I haven't been to Weber Grill, but i'm guessing they do both -- and pretty well.

                              2. If you feel like getting a little out of town, try Uncle Bub's BBQ in west suburban Westmont. It is REAL BBQ, smoke and all and yes, they've got brisket, turkey, sausage, pulled pork - all plenty smoked, and very good sauce (regular and spicy - which is not, very, but they have a hot sauce bar to liven things up.) The sides are traditional and all are made in-house.

                                They have a plain but attractive BBQ Joint decor, takeout, and they do a BIG catering business. They handled a BBQ dinner for 400 my Rotary Club threw a couple years ago, and got rave reviews.

                                It's worth the trip- on Westmont's main drag, Cass Ave., two blocks south of the Burlington tracks.

                                Come to think of it, it's accessible by mass transit- take the Burlington to Westmont (25 minutes or so from Downtown) and walk the two blocks south.


                                4 Replies
                                1. re: MikeLM

                                  good call mikelm,

                                  uncle bubs is a good bbq place. Ive never had bad ribs, pulled pork, etc from here.

                                  1. re: MikeLM

                                    Uncle Bub's has been good for a long time but has gone quite downhill recently. Despite only living a few blx away from Bub's we have been going to the Patio lately. www.patioribs.com.


                                    1. re: pbz

                                      That's odd- the same Managing Partner is running it, as he has since it started. I don't notice a decline: what do you think is going wrong?


                                      1. re: MikeLM

                                        Mike: Long term slow decline -- prices up, quality down. We'd been finding more than half of our takeout orders screwed up. Nothing disastrous but stuff like special requests missed, burgers underdone, etc., that you can understand once but not when it keeps happening. Straw that broke the camel's back was finding a bunch of little ripped up pieces of paper blended in with the mashed potatoes. :(

                                        Been going there since it opened, and the punch card program is good but the decline has been on for a while.

                                  2. The Chicago Sun Times Today, Friday 1/26/2007 had short reviews on 5 in the Friday Section:

                                    311 E. 75th Street
                                    Chicago, IL.

                                    3800 N. Pulaski
                                    Chicago, IL.

                                    Robinsons # 1
                                    940 W. Madison
                                    Oak Park, IL.

                                    1234 N. Halsted
                                    Chicago, IL.

                                    Honey 1
                                    2241 N. Western
                                    Chicago, IL.

                                    I have tried Robinsons, & Honey 1, now Ive got a couple others on my list to try.... :()

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: swsidejim

                                      >> The Chicago Sun Times Today, Friday 1/26/2007 had short reviews on 5 in the Friday Section <<

                                      Link: http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment...

                                    2. I'm not on expert on bbq, but I have good memories of chowing down on some ribs and chicken from the Smoke Country House on Irving Park (near Lincoln I think). Has anybody been recently, and what did you think?

                                      1. Baby Back Blues in Plainfield--Best outside of the south

                                        1. Three meals at "Sweet Baby Rays"... it's the best I've had. New location in Elk Grove. Outstanding. Liked it better than Uncle Bubs...

                                          1. the Horseshoe on N. Lincoln is also pretty good. I think it's just booths and bar tables there, but it's good for socializing if you don't mid a pub-like atmosphere. the barbecue is decent to great (the brisket) and depending on the night there might be cheap beer and/or good music.

                                            1. I LOVE Fat Willy's!!! Its really good... my favorite in Chicago actually. Sent a friend and all of his guy friends there - apparently they all love me now for recommending it. The only place I will eat Mac-n-Cheese... They do smores as well... brisket is yummy... and their baby back ribs... great sauce - normal or hot is what i ususally get. Fantastic.

                                              1. I used to live downtown and used to enjoy Chicago Rib House at Chicago Ave and
                                                Dearborn. Good smoked baby back ribs. Size is a little small and the sides are really small, but it was the best I could get in downtown proper. And I echo the above, Carson's boil their ribs and The Rib Inn in Old Town boils as well.

                                                A quick cab ride away in Old Town is Twin Anchors. I never ate there, but heard nothing but good reviews of the place. Very local place. Which I think is a good thing

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: gotdebt

                                                  Twin Achors are some of the most famous rib boilers in the city...

                                                  1. re: gotdebt

                                                    All hype; no substance. Worst ribs around and they line up for hours. Idiots!

                                                    1. re: gotdebt

                                                      Another vote for Twin Anchors here
                                                      1655 N Sedgwick St
                                                      (312) 266-1616

                                                    2. Sorry, meant to say The Fireplace Inn not the Rib Inn.

                                                      1. is Nida's still in business - On Irving Park near Ashland? Used to be good..
                                                        I left town 10 years ago

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: jbl123

                                                          Nida's aka N&N has been closed for several years. I keep hoping that Larry, the old owner, will show up again, because that was some of the best BBQ ever.

                                                        2. We have tried ribs at a number of places over the years. I still love Twin Anchors! The best time to go is durring the week. Make sure you get the Zesty sauce.

                                                          Hecky's is "ok" not great.
                                                          Weber Grill serves competition style ribs which stick to the bone.
                                                          Fat Willy's has good ribs (but get it to go, the atmosphere stinks!)

                                                          1. I attended a special event at Merle's Barbecue in Evanston last night. I had several of their barbecue menu items as well as having a chance to discuss their barbecue techniques with them.

                                                            I liked their barbecue items a lot. They served baby back ribs with what they call "a little pull off the bone" (more on this in a moment). They were very good - very meaty, with very little fat, and very tasty. I liked them almost as much as Carson's, my personal favorites, to which they were very similar. They also had barbecued brisket which was very good, and smoked prime rib, which was outstanding (extremely tender and flavorful, and no fat anywhere). Incidentally, the smoked prime rib is a special they have been featuring on weekends only, so if that's of interest, call ahead to check whether it's on the menu.

                                                            Unlike most other places, Merle's offers a *choice* of two barbecue styles - "fall off the bone", which they refer to as "Chicago style" (see below), or "with a little pull off the bone", which they refer to as "Southwestern style". I was discussing the difference in preparation with them, and they noted that both styles are cooked in their smoker for three hours. (FWIW, they also mentioned that they cook the smoked prime rib in their smoker for two and a half hours, and the brisket for twelve hours.) They make the "fall off the bone" style by adding a pan of water in the smoker to increase moisture content in the ribs. They do *not* boil any of their ribs or barbecue items at any point in their preparation. This makes me wonder whether the claims of some barbecue aficionados that most Chicago barbecue places boil their ribs might just be conjecture that is not actually true; I haven't asked other barbecue places how they prepare their ribs, so I just don't know.

                                                            I think the terms "with a little pull off the bone" and "fall off the bone" are far more descriptive, whereas "Chicago style" and "Southwestern style" are bound to be confusing. The reason they are confusing is, both styles can be found in both places. Many places in Chicago have long served ribs "with a little pull off the bone" (e.g. Carson's), while many others have long served them "fall off the bone" (e.g. Gale Street Inn). Similarly, not every place in the Southwest is "with a little pull off the bone" either; a few months ago I was in Texas and ate at a barbecue place that had won barbecue cook-offs (smoke-offs) in its city, and its ribs were of the "fall off the bone" variety.

                                                            Anyway, what all this says to me is, there is a variety of styles (with additional grades of variation between these two), and you can find those different styles in many places around town. If you enjoy barbecue, I recommend trying as many of the places as you can, including those mentioned here in this topic and on Chowhound and elsewhere. It's all a matter of opinion and personal taste, so decide for yourself whose barbecue YOU like best.

                                                            Merle's Barbecue
                                                            1727 Benson Ave.
                                                            Evanston, IL 60201

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: abf005

                                                              abf005, excellent, and informative post. thank you.

                                                              this is my second year with my smoker (pictured in my avitar, I am a smoking novice), but I still prefer the ribs I produce to any I have tasted in the Chicago area.

                                                              I am a Memphis dry rub fan myself, no sauce, except for maybe some Melindas XXX hot sauce on the side....

                                                              thanks again for the great post.

                                                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                                                Merle's sounds mini cool, what was the price and was it crowded?

                                                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                                                  Thanks! where would you go for "fall off the bone" ribs? i will be visiting town so will only have one shot at this. PS i'm going to Alinea the day before, so need some comfort food to wash down all the aromatics and molecular experiments! I'm not so much about the sauce or the smoke as about ribs that are tender and juicy. Used to go to Twin Anchors 10 yrs ago but heard it has gone downhill...

                                                                  1. re: barleywino

                                                                    Merle's in Evanston ( www.merlesbbq.com ) offers their ribs in a choice of "Chicago style", meaning "fall off the bone", as well as "Southwestern style", meaning "chew on the bone".

                                                                    I remember many years ago having "fall off the bone" ribs at Gale Street Inn in Jefferson Park. I don't know if that's still the way they do them, but they're still there - www.galestreet.com

                                                                2. Do yourself a favor and stay the heck away from Carson's. The only one downtown is a dreadful tourist trap. (FYI, the Blackie's outposts are to-go only, with an extremely limited menu. Very odd set-up indeed.) No brisket or pulled pork, just some sliced meat on a samdwich, doused in BBQ sauce. Beware of BBQ restaurants that serve Shrimp DeJonghe and Portabella Wraps. :oP

                                                                  1. The Chicago Tribune today started a series covering the origins and styles of barbecue. Today's installment is about barbecue in North Carolina; they plan to continue with Memphis, Texas, and Kansas in future installments. The series is useful not only in describing different styles of barbecue, but also as a basis of comparison when discussing barbecue places in Chicago.


                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. Smoque, Willie's and Honey 1...in that order.

                                                                      Rip tips from Carsons are remarkably good.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: radmd

                                                                        another vote here for Fat Willy's. They slow cook the ribs with perfect flavor and all of the sides(except for fries) are top notch