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Charlie McKenna on how to barbecue like a pit master

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Chef Charlie McKenna, creator of Lillie’s Q Restaurants and Lillie’s Q Barbecue Sauces, won Memphis In May again last month, which is widely regarded as the most prestigious barbecue competition in the USA. Charlie, with his father Quito (the Q in Lillie’s Q), took out first in the pork shoulder category, mirroring the same win in 2007.

Competing in eleven Memphis in May competitions and making the top-ten nine times, Charlie and Quito have serious low 'n’ slow wisdom. 

Charlie explains what differentiates a professional cook from a weekend enthusiast. 

“What sets competition barbecue apart from weekend pit masters are the fine details. Competition cooks test everything out, to using the exact weights of meats and the exact number of wood chunks. It’s more the science of smoking than just hanging in the back yard and cooking with friends for fun.”

The most common downfall is rushing, and not keeping the temperature steady. 

“Temperature is one of the most important things in cooking good BBQ. You really want to learn how your smoking equipment works so that you can always keep a constant temp.”

Choosing your wood is another critical factor in characterising your barbecue. “Peach wood gives a light essence of smoke without overpowering the meat flavour. You want whatever you’re smoking to taste like that particular meat with a smoke essence.”

Charlie’s key smoking tips:

  • Get to know your equipment well
  • Use real charcoal or wood
  • Use a trusted thermometer
  • Choose quality meat
  • Have lots of bourbon on hand - smoking things takes patience… a lot of patience

If competing, add to the list;

  • A good injecting needle
  • A comfortable camping chair
  • A sleeping bag

To make Charlie’s baby back ribs (and convert your charcoal or gas grill to a smoker!) head to the recipe he shared with Chicago Magazine (here). IMPORTANT NOTE: the stated 225 degrees is in Fahrenheit, which converts to 107.22 Celsius.



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