Summer is the time to savor meals cooked low and slow. Instead of slaving away in your own backyard, rely on Chicago-area barbecue restaurants. It’s almost impossible to try all the delectable options Chicago has to offer, but these BBQ joints will definitely have you and your family licking your chops.
Q-BBQ fast-casual restaurants serve up chicken wings and ribs smoked with tasty rubs, sauce on the side. You’ll find variety on this menu, from sliced turkey breast sandwiches to brisket burnt ends tacos and specialty sides like spicy Brussels sprouts and Southern Fried Potatoes. Kids love the mac and cheese with crumbled Cheez-It crackers on top.
Locations in Oak Park, LaGrange and Naperville
Go early to this warehouse-style restaurant with picnic table seating to encounter the fewest crowds. You can catch sight of briskets turning in the smoker as you line up to order specialties like beef short ribs, chicken legs, pork belly and smoked salmon. The ribs and Frito Pie are super popular. Be sure to try the pastrami: its peppery rub and tender, pink texture simply melt in your mouth.
Top your tray with an array of savory sides. The elote is rich and creamy, but the nutty, sweet broccoli salad stole our hearts. Sink beers make it easy for parents to grab some suds and kids go ga-ga over the soft-serve ice cream.
112 N. Green St., Chicago
Barbecue brunch? Oh yes, and Bub City does it best on Sundays around noon with live country music. The Southern-inspired menu serves up fried chicken and 18-hour brisket. Kids love the waffles and sticky buns while parents are pleased with breakfast tacos, brisket Benedict, fried chicken and a build-your-own bloody mary bar (two stalks of celery counts as a salad, right?).
The atmosphere is fun with song requests taken from the stage. Trucker Snacks and hash browns topped with pulled pork and pimento cheese are delightfully different options.
435 N. Clark St., Chicago and 5441 Park Place, Rosemont
Five guys passionate about BBQ banded together to make mouthwatering meats using special rubs and sauces with just right amount of tang.
The menu is focused on meticulously crafted meats, such as 14-hour brisket, moist and juicy chicken and St. Louis ribs (which are said to be smokier and juicier than baby backs). The kids’ menu features mini sandwiches and mac and cheese. Don’t leave without ordering the peach cobbler.
3800 N. Pulaski, Chicago & 125 S. Clark St., Chicago
Smoke Daddy serves top-rated barbecue along with live music seven nights per week. The Wrigleyville restaurant features an awesome outdoor space with ballpark views that’s incredible in sunny weather.
Can’t decide between the spare ribs, baby back ribs and rib tips? Order a Smoke Daddy Rib Sampler and taste them all. Other sampler platters enable you to try the rotisserie chicken, pulled pork, brisket and burnt ends. Sandwiches like the smoked corn beef mix up the typical BBQ offering.
1804 W Division St., Chicago & 3636 N Clark St., Chicago
This family-run restaurant serves food and music for your soul. The barbecue is all about applewood smoke and Memphis-style dry rub. Sauce comes on the side. Kids love the smoked chicken, mac & cheese and corn muffins while the desserts and Bacon Candy are highly recommended. All sides are vegetarian or vegan.
Wednesday nights are popular for families as swing music plays from 6-8. Big Band plays swing jazz every Sunday, with trumpets, banjo, sax and more. Missing out on Honky Tonk BBQ will have you singing the blues.
1800 S. Racine Ave., Chicago
While it may not be considered especially kid-friendly, they have a cult-like following for their BBQ specialties only served up Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. until sold out (typically around 2 p.m.). Go early to get your hands on an El Jefe sandwich with Texas sausage, pulled pork, brisket, pickles and red onions on a Kaiser bun, Back Alley Sticky Ribs, the usual barbecue suspects or one of the gastro burgers or Tex Mex specials they post on Facebook Friday mornings.
It can get crowded. The communal tables seat 36 (no high chairs or boosters) and loud metal music will be playing; but if you’re ready to rock out with some incredible food, it is a place to try.
773 N. Quentin Road, Palatine
The downtown locations of Blackwood might not have kids’ menus, but the new Woodfield Gatherings restaurant opening this summer will cater to families. The sliders and mac and cheese are sure to be popular with pint-sized diners. Mom and dad will love the brisket. Vegans will be elated with the smoked jackfruit. “It is a fiber-rich fruit that we rub, smoke and sauce. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that you are eating pulled pork,” says Stephanie Simpson, Blackwood partner.
Three Loop locations, Schaumburg coming soon
You might recognize the Lillie’s Q logo from sauces, rubs or chips you’ve purchased at the grocery store. Visit the restaurant in Bucktown (now counter-style service) or sink your teeth into some Lillie’s Q deliciousness when cheering on the Bulls or Blackhawks (restaurants in three areas of the United Center).
Tri tip, pulled pork, brisket and Nashville chicken are what they are known for. You can also order creamy grits and collard greens or try Kool-Aid Pickles (they’re red and tangy). Top it all off with some banana pudding for dessert and you’ll have a meal Grandma Lillie would be proud of.
1856 W. North Ave., Chicago & United Center, 1901 W. Madison, Chicago, Sections 205, 206 & 330.
L. Woods features a lodge atmosphere reminiscent of Northwoods supper clubs. Not only do they serve juicy BBQ, but also a full menu of American classics, including steaks, cheeseburgers, flatbreads and salads. 12-hour Smoked Prime Brisket, Buttermilk Fried Chicken and BBQ ribs bring people in as much as the nightly specials, like the Friday Wisconsin Fish Fry. This is a great place to go with picky eaters since their options are plentiful.
7110 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincolnwood
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 of Chicago Parent. Read the rest of the issue.