chicagosean deliberates

@ChicagoSean deliberates the crowning of the best ribs at Ribfest

For a few months every year Chicago becomes the City of Neighborhood Street Festivals. Despite the miserable weather of the past few days, this weekend was filled with fests: The Old Town Art Fair/Wells Street Art Festival, the Andersonville Midsommarfest, Chicago Blues Festival, and Ribfest Chicago.

In search of the city’s best ribs, I headed over to Ribfest with @ChicagoSean and @GapandYap to find the best BBQ ribs the city has to offer. While our goal was to try all the ribs out there, we only made it two-thirds of the way though; stuffing ourselves silly after splitting 10 different rib samplers (each containing 3 bones) of the 15 different restaurants showing (excluding the Korean BBQ place, because really…).

A few tips before you attempt a similar tasting:

  • Wear dark colors and carry a stain remover stick. ChicagoSean’s hoodie can attest to the value of having a stain stick around to clear up those BBQ sauce drips.
  • Drink water; there’s a lot to eat, so you don’t want to fill up the belly with extraneous liquid. I failed to follow this rule having one of those adult lemonade drinks and was sincerely regretting it as we headed into the last few samplers. The exception might be the fabulous homemade ginger ale slushie offered by Browntrout, which aids the digestion after all that hearty beef.
  • Try to go at an off time if you can. With the chilly weather this weekend, the fest was wall-to-wall with people when we went, so we were often stuck eating ribs standing in the middle of crowds. Better if you can find an out of the way table so you can smear your face with sauce in relative privacy.
Browntrout Homemade Ginger Ale Slushie

Ginger Ale Slushie: A dietary aid

Racks of ribs on the grill

Some great looking racks


And now the results — in order of my favorites:
Rib sampler from Corner 41 Bar and Grill

Corner 41 Bar & Grill

These were the first ribs we sampled, and were unanimously voted our favorite in the final count. These ribs had tender, fall-off-the-bone meat, a tangy and spicy sauce and were perfectly pre-sauced (unlike other vendors who had you sauce your own).

Rib Sampler from Pitchfork


We saved these ones for last as they were our favorites last year, but maybe due to the high expectations, they didn’t quite live up to their billing this time around. Pitchfork’s ribs were of the smaller variety and had very tender meat with a slightly smokey flavor. They did seem a bit heavy-handed on the rub though.

Rib Sampler from Cordis Brothers

Cordis Brothers

Similar to Pitchfork, these ribs were of the shorter variety and had a lovely fall-off-the-bone meat. The only drawbacks were either because they were so tender, or they way they were cut, both ChicagoSean and I had to fish pieces of bone out of our mouths on the first bite. While the meat was excellent, the tangy sauce was not my favorite containing hints of cinnamon that were perhaps not quite subtle enough.

Rib Sampler from Horseshoe


These were thinner, but longer ribs than Cordis Brothers or Pitchfork, more similar in fact to Corner 41’s offering. While fairly tender, the meat did not fall away from the bone well, causing ChicagoSean to declare them “falling apart, but not in a good way”. Their sauce was a bit sweeter than some of the others, and all-in-all we found them to be a middle of the pack taste.

Rib Sampler from Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro

Mrs. Murphy’s & Sons Irish Bistro

You wouldn’t expect an Irish place to be a rib contender, but these were voted best of Ribfest last year. While probably the most tender of any I tried, I was really disappointed with how salty they were. The sauce was also on the sweeter side, while I prefer leaning more toward the spicy.

Rib sampler from Celtic Crown

Celtic Crown

A overly sweet sauce with so much honey it tasted sugary, ruined these otherwise tender mid-sized ribs. Interestingly this was the only vendor who provided a fork and knife, which was a most appreciated break from a day of sticky fingers.

Rib Sampler from The Smoke Daddy

The Smoke Daddy

Perhaps unfairly low in this review, Smoke Daddy just lives up a little too much to it’s name for my tastes. These were a longer, more meaty rib with meat that clung to the bone, yet still had a tenderness too it. While they had a nice spicy sauce and hands down the most smoked flavor of the contenders, the smokiness was so overwhelming I began to worry for the health of my lungs.

 Rib Sampler from Chicago BBQ Company

Chicago BBQ Company

As the second sampler tasted in our quest to find the best, we had high hopes for these large ribs. While they were thick and meaty, it was at the expense of the fall-off-the-bone goodness I look for in a meaty rib, instead being rather chewy. ChicagoSean found them to be bland, despite our application of the “spicy” sauce option, and were his least favorite of the day.

Rib Sampler from Uncle Bub's BBQ

Uncle Bub’s BBQ

According to the signage, these were hickory and applewood smoked ribs. Like the Chicago BBQ Company offering, they too were large ribs with lots of meat on the bone, but again it was tough and stringy. While their “spicy” sauce option was not as spicy as some others, it did have a flavorful tang. ChicagoSean declared them undercooked.

 Rib Sampler from Robinson's #1 Ribs

Robinson’s #1 Ribs

I thought this was a case of very false advertising as these ribs were as far as you could get from being number one in my book (or blog post). In fact, I couldn’t get past the first bite. While the sauce had good flavor, the meat was extremely tough and tasted undercooked. ChicagoSean did finish the sampler though, and he felt these were better than the Chicago BBQ Company ribs.

While Corner 41 may have been crowned the king of this event, ChicagoSean stands by his assertion that the best ribs in Chicago are at Twin Anchors, and I can’t argue that (although maybe Corner 41 is okay with dancing :-)).