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Charlie McKenna

Charlie McKennaChicago Magazine recently published an article about IBBQA member Charlie McKenna and his quest to win the Memphis in May competition. Here is an excerpt from that article.


From Chicago Magazine

The caravan of 250 makeshift cooking encampments that compose the 36th annual Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest have created a haze of sweet smoke that lingers on the sweaty banks of the Mississippi. The rain has turned the grounds into a mile-long swath of muddy slop. Considering what’s on the menu, the conditions are perfect.

Behind his stainless steel trailer, Charlie McKenna, chef-owner of the Bucktown barbecue joint Lillie’s Q, presides over a table on which 180 pounds of heritage Duroc hogs are splayed. Knife in hand, wearing a cartoon pig T-shirt and flip-flops, the boyish 36-year-old removes the glossy fat cap from 10 gorgeous bone-in whole pork shoulders—the well-marbled cut cherished by pit masters—leaving a small section of skin around the collar.

When these 18-pound beauties emerge after 18 to 21 hours in the smoker, that excess flap will shine candy-apple red, lending each shoulder what McKenna calls a “two-tone ’57 Chevy look.” Removing most of the fat cap also reduces the grease content of the meat, which will be shredded into pulled pork. The technique is one of many the Lillie’s Q team employs to win over the judges, who score each entry on taste, tenderness, and appearance. “Some people think fat equals flavor,” McKenna says. “But you can have too much of a good thing.”

Most in attendance at the world’s biggest pork barbecue contest—the 36th annual Super Bowl of Swine—beg to differ. Strolling down the winding pathways, you see anthropomorphic pig statues dressed as Elvis, floating papier-mâché pigs sporting Viking helmets, banners touting saucy team names like the Count Bastie Porkestra. Several contestants have multilevel booths with stripper poles and dance floors, where women in cowboy boots cavort with heavyset men in sauce-stained aprons.

Click here to read the entire article.


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