#1: Uncle John's Barbecue
Rib Tips: (9.5/10) Wonderfully juicy, with great bark, and lots of smoke.
Hot Links: (9.5/10) Just as impressive. Smoky, slightly spicy, with just enough fat to hold the thickly ground meat together.
Sauce: (4/5) The mix of spicy and hot is spicy and tangy.
Fries: (3.5/5) Frozen, but very crunchy. Perfect for sopping up the sauce.
Overall Satisfaction: (10/10) As great as the individual elements are, they find their true calling when eaten together. Absolutely flawless.
Total Score: (36.5/40)
Uncle John's Barbecue, 337 East 69th Street, Chicago, IL 60637 (map); 773-892-1233
#2: Honey 1 BBQ
Rib Tips: (9.5/10) Lean but still juicy. Smoke-laden but not to the point where it overpowers the meat. These are wonders.
Hot Links: (9/10) Not especially crispy, but smoky and with a great kick.
Sauce: (4.5/5) The best. Tangy with a distinctive touch of honey. Ideal compliment for the meat.
Fries: (3/5) Relatively crisp for frozen fries.
Overall Satisfaction: (9.5/10) It all comes together so beautifully on the combo: smoky, spicy, sweet, and tangy.
Total Score: (35.5/40)
#3: Lem's Bar-B-Q
Rib Tips: (8/10) Crispy, crunchy, smoke-laden, and decadent. Missing some of the juiciness of the best versions, but still utterly fantastic.
Hot Links: (7/10) Thickly ground, juicy, and slightly spicy.
Sauce: (3/5) Tangy enough. Very good compliment to the meat.
Fries: (3/5) Acceptable.
Overall Satisfaction: (8/10) Lem's is one of the originals, and though it can be spotty, this visit was exceptional.
Total Score: (29/40)
#4, tied: I-57 Rib House
Rib Tips: (7.5/10) Great bark, with a fantastic smoky backbone. Could be juicier, but that's about it.
Hot Links: (7/10) Juicy and smoky, with a nice and crisp casing.
Sauce: (3/5) Just okay. Didn't add much to the meat.
Fries: (2.5/5) A little soggy and lacking salt.
Overall Satisfaction: (7.5/10) What a surprise. Solid combo from a place that doesn't get a lot of press. Plus, friendly service and free Wi-Fi (!) don't hurt.
Total Score: (27.5/40)
I-57 Rib House, 1524 West 115th Street, Chicago, IL 60643 (map); 773-429-1111
#4, tied: Barbara Ann's BBQ
Rib Tips: (7/10) Extremely juicy, but with a crunchy exterior to help balance it out. Only moderately smoky, but still some of the best around.
Hot Links: (7/10) Nice and spicy, with a good snap from the casing.
Sauce: (3.5/5) A tad sweet, but the great tang more than made up for it.
Fries: (2.5/5) Frozen, but reasonably potatoey.
Overall Satisfaction: (7.5/10) This is one satisfying package. Even though sauce was ordered on the side and the wait was over 40 minutes, the food more than made up for it.
Total Score: (27.5/40)
Barbara Ann's BBQ, 7617 South Cottage Grove Avenue, Chicago, IL 60619 (map); 773-651-5300
#6: Honky Tonk BBQ
Rib Tips: (7/10) Incredibly juicy and tender. Unfortunately missing the crispy bark and only moderately smoky.
Hot Links: (7/10) Smokier, with a good kick. Could have been crispier.
Sauce: (3.5/5) Thicker style, but good amount of tang.
Fries: (2/5) Fries aren't on the menu, but bonus points for serving crusty bread instead of the plain white variety.
Overall Satisfaction: (7/10) Even without the score for the fries, this is a strong showing. I had to combine tips and sausage to make combo, and the two didn't quite perfectly come together. Still, hard to deny that the individual elements were tasty.
Total Score: (26.5/40)
#7: Mary Lee's Smokehouse
Rib Tips: (6/10) Kind of gray meat, and not as tender as they could be. But great smoke profile.
Hot Links: (7/10) Flavorful and crispy. Best of the emulsified-style sausages.
Sauce: (3/5) Just average, but didn't get in the way.
Fries: (3/5) Decent frozen fries.
Overall Satisfaction: (7/10) Great option, especially considering its location to downtown. Seems to be missing that one element to set it apart from the rest.
Total Score: (26/40)
#8: Mary's Restaurant
Rib Tips: (6/10) Very smoky with an interesting black pepper kick. Thinly cut, but still moderately juicy.
Hot Links: (5/10) Decent amount of smoke, but kind of generic overall.
Sauce: (2.5/5) Not too sweet, but still very standard.
Fries: (3.5/5) Crispy crinkle cut fries with the healthy helping of black pepper.
Overall Satisfaction: (7.5/10) Really admirable combo, with a great deal of smoke flavor. Still, rib tips do steal the show.
Total Score: (24.5/40)
Mary's Restaurant, 606 South Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60624 (map); 773-638-2233
#9: Fat Willy's Rib Shack
Rib Tips: (7/10) So distinct they are kind of hard to compare. Very meaty with a good backbone of smoke. Still, missing the crispy bark.
Hot Links: (6/10) Undoubtedly a good sausage, but missing snap.
Sauce: (2/5) The sauce on the tips was gloopy and not particularly flavorful. A vinegar sauce on the table was much better, but then it had to compete with the sauce already on the tips.
Fries: (4/5) Kind of remarkable steak fries. Crispy and very potatoey.
Overall Satisfaction: (5/10) Fat Willy's obviously does a lot of things right, but the combo is not among its first priorities. The sausage had to be ordered separately, and it didn't pair well with tips. Basically, each element had its pluses, but they didn't coalesce.
Total Score: (24/40)
#10: Best Bar B Que
Rib Tips: (6/10) Good smoke, but much too fatty.
Hot Links: (6/10) Totally solid, if not particularly exciting.
Sauce: (3/5) Also fine, if not quite tangy enough.
Fries: (2.5/5) Limp but well seasoned.
Overall Satisfaction: (6/10) Respectable version, but hard to justify a visit when I-57 Rib House is so close.
Total Score: (23.5/40)
Best Bar B Que, 1648 West 115th Street, Chicago, IL 60643 (map); 773-239-1522
#11: Smokey Bear's BBQ House
Rib Tips: (5/10) Beautiful looking, with a nice rub. But oddly bland and lacking smoke. More of a pork chop flavor than anything else.
Hot Links: (6/10) Very smoky, with a nice crispy casing. Still, not as juicy as could be.
Sauce: (2.5/5) Didn't detract from the meat, but a little too thick and sweet.
Fries: (3/5) A little soggy, but decent amount of flavor.
Overall Satisfaction: (6/10) No combo on the menu, so had to add a hot link to the rib tips. Partly explains why the parts didn't quite come together for the combo.
Total Score: (22.5/40)
Smokey Bear's BBQ House, 3314 West Foster Avenue, Chicago, IL 60625 (map); 773-583-2327
#12: Ribs N Bibs
Rib Tips: (5/10) Crispy on the outside, but gray and lacking smoke.
Hot Links: (5/10) Crisp casing with a breakfast sausage profile. But grainy and missing heat.
Sauce: (2.5/5) Loads of tomato, but not enough vinegar to balance it. Still, points for keeping the sauce warm before serving.
Fries: (3/5) Definitely frozen and lacking salt, but crisp enough.
Overall Satisfaction: (5/10) One of those places you want to love dearly, and the stack of wood next to the door proves that Ribs N Bibs does care. But had to combine the rib tips and sausage to make a combo, and it doesn't quite work.
Total Score: (20.5/40)
Ribs N Bibs, 5300 S Dorchester Ave, Chicago, IL 60615 (map); 773-493-0400
Rib Tips: (3/10) Gray and stringy meat with almost no smoke.
Hot Links: (5/10) Decent snap, but not enough smoke or heat.
Sauce: (2/5) Very sweet and thick.
Fries: (4/5) Curly fries! Crisp and spicy.
Overall Satisfaction: (3/10) Sadly, fries can't save the other sub-par offerings.
Total Score: (17/40)