Big Ed's BBQ: Slow-smoked baby-back ribs, rib tips and burnt ends

WAUKEGAN, Ill. (WLS) -- A beloved barbecue joint that opened 11 years ago in North Chicago has been quietly attracting a devoted following, ever since it moved to Waukegan in 2012.

Not that many local barbecue joints have full bars - and you'll want a craft beer with your slow-smoked baby backs, or tips, or even burnt ends.

This barbecue palace, located in an old Pizza Hut, is churning out some of the region's best ribs and burnt ends. But here's the thing. They're not unlimited. When they run out, they run out.

Extra Course: Dessert at Big Ed's BBQ
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In Steve’s Extra Course Video, he takes a look at a few of the homemade desserts Ed’s wife makes each day for the restaurant, including a fantastic key lime pie.

The cutting board gets a workout at Big Ed's Barbecue, the last seven of which have been located in Waukegan, just off of highway 120. Big Ed himself is a product of the South Side, where he grew up eating barbecue from traditional aquarium-style smokers.

"I wanted to create barbecue that was reminiscent to what I was used to growing up on the South Side," Eddie Nero said. "We've upgraded to the Southern Pride. So it's not the same char, not the same as the aquarium, but it's pretty good."

Yeah, it's pretty good alright. Nero goes the extra mile though, trimming his baby backs and removing the membrane, then seasoning with salt, pepper and his dry rub. Into his Southern Pride for a few hours, then emerging with the tell-tale smoke ring and just the right amount of tug off the bone.

Rib tips are chopped to order. Like everything else, he serves them bare. But he also has six homemade sauces on every table.

"We want the meat to speak for itself, so we serve it sauce on the side. But we do rib tips. We make our own hot links, brisket, burnt ends," Nero said.

Those burnt ends come from the brisket. After he's sliced the middle, the ends are where the magic is. It's right out of the Kansas City barbecue playbook.

"We cook the brisket whole. We take the point off, we re-season it, we put it back on the smoker and it gets a really nice, deep smoky flavor; lot of fat, lot of marbling. It's meat candy," Nero said.

Sides are all homemade too: creamy mac and cheese, greens imbued with smoked turkey, beans embedded with pork and brisket, and some darn good cornbread muffins.

But Nero said no matter how many years of experience he has, newbies still come in, asking why there's a pink smoke ring.

"We do have people say, 'It's pink, I don't think it's done.' It's like, 'Let me explain this to you,'" Nero said.

Big Ed's BBQ
4030 Northpoint Blvd., Waukegan
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