Chef Charlie McKenna brought award-winning competition BBQ and timeless Southern cooking to Chicago with the opening of Lillie’s Q in 2010. Named a “Best New BBQ Restaurant in the Country” by Food & Wine magazine, the brand has since expanded into an international line of sauces, rubs, kettle chips and protein.
Florida State University alum Charlie graduated from New York’s Culinary Institute of America in 2000 and got his start cooking under legendary chef Norman Van Aken in Florida. He then relocated to Chicago to become sous chef at two of Chicago’s four-star fine-dining landmarks: Tru and Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel. During this time, he racked up numerous awards on the competition BBQ circuit including two first-place wins at Memphis In May in 2007 and 2016, one of the most prolific competitions in the country.
Opening Lillie’s Q (named for his South Carolinian grandmother, Lillie, and his father, Quito) allowed Charlie to return to his southern roots – slow smoking pork shoulder, tri-tip, baby back ribs, hot links, and chicken in custom-built smokers over peach wood. Now Lillie’s Q has four restaurants between Chicago and Florida, and its artisan sauces, rubs and chips line the shelves of more than 6,000 retailers internationally. In 2018, Charlie brought his award-winning smoked pork direct-to-consumer online and in select retailers, and is concurrently rapidly expanding the Lillie’s Q foodservice and deli business.
Charlie has traveled across the U.S., Australia and Europe for food, wine, and entertainment events, and cooked at the James Beard House in New York. His expertise spans beyond the kitchen, partnering with brands that share a similar ethos like YETI and Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet on cooking classes and lifestyle events.