Chef and restaurant owner Charlie McKenna has brought award-winning competition BBQ and elevated Southern favorites since opening Lillie’s Q in Chicago in July 2010. McKenna and Lillie’s Q have garnered critical praise and awards from local and national media – including being named “Best New BBQ Restaurant in the Country” by Food & Wine magazine in 2011.
McKenna, a former sous chef at two of Chicago’s four-star fine-dining landmarks in Tru and Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel, also opened a second Lillie’s Q location inside the Chicago French Market in January 2013. McKenna also co-owns and co-opened a Lillie’s Q outpost in Destin, Florida, with his parents in July 2008. McKenna also rolled out a food truck, the Lillie’s Q Meat Mobile, in the summer of 2010 in Chicago. McKenna also opened a Lillie’s Q outpost in the Chicago French Market in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago in February 2013.
Opening Lillie’s Q in Chicago allowed McKenna to return to his BBQ roots, and he’s slow smoking pork shoulder, tri tip, baby back ribs, hot links, and chicken in custom-built smokers over peach wood and lump charcoal that go perfectly with his award-winning homemade rubs and sauces. Lillie’s Q is named after McKenna’s maternal grandmother who taught him how to cook Southern fare in Greenville, South Carolina, as a child – and the elevated Southern favorites on the Lillie’s Q menu are inspired by grandma Lillie.
The Lillie’s Q traveling BBQ team (McKenna, his father, and two friends) has won numerous awards on the competition BBQ circuit including wins at Memphis In May — which is widely regarded as the world championships of BBQ. Lillie’s Q took first place in the Memphis in May pork shoulder category in 2007, placed in the Top Ten five years in a row from 2006 through 2010, and finished 12th in 2011.
Previously McKenna took over the role of opening general manager of Lucky Strike in Chicago specifically to learn about the financial and front-of-the-house aspects of the business from 2005-2008, and he also helped open four other Lucky Strikes around the country.
McKenna graduated from Culinary Institute of America in New York in 2000, and cooked at Norman’s in Coral Gables, FL, under legendary chef Norman Van Aken. McKenna is also a Florida State University graduate. The son of an Air Force colonel, McKenna was born in Santa Maria, California, and spent most of his childhood in Greenville, South Carolina.