On the Line: Charlie McKenna of Lillie's Q, Part One

Grill 'em up!
Grill 'em up!
Photo courtesy of Lillie's Q

Pairing award-winning 'que with local brews is a no-brainer. So when Charlie McKenna and Joe Manzella joined forces to launch Lillie's Q next door to TAPS in Brea, it only made sense. This week, we hear from the man whose resume includes Chicago's Tru and operating his own luxe lonchera. Talk about a range in talent.

Why cook with both wood and charcoal? So that I can impart the right smoke flavor to the meat, and not overpower it. I believe smoke is a flavoring agent, like spices and herbs, and should be used to enhance the piece of meat you're smoking. Not dominate the flavor profile.

Explain the meaning behind your restaurant's name. It is named after my 88-year-old grandmother who gave me the inspiration to begin cooking and focusing on Southern food and culture.

How would you describe Lillie's Q to someone unfamiliar? It's an upscale BBQ and Southern favorites restaurant that focuses on moonshine and craft beer for its beverage program.

What do you recommend for first-timers? Fried pickles, wings, pork, tri-tip, shrimp & grits, collards and mac & cheese.

One stereotype about your industry, and whether it's true. We all like to party! For the most part.

What skills/lessons did you learn from working at Tru and Avenues that you didn't learn in culinary school? Organization of your station.

Give us a pro and con to operating a luxe lonchera. Pro: The fact that you can change locations. Con: The fact that you change locations.

Most undervalued ingredient. Salt. How important it is to making food taste good.

Is there anything you'd like to learn how to make? True ramen broth from an expert in Japan.

Tell us about the limited-edition, bourbon barrel-aged sauces. Some of our most popular sauces go through an aging process in bourbon barrels to impart the bourbon flavor into the sauce. It is so much more nuanced than just adding bourbon to the sauce, which would give it that liquor 'burn'.

Favorite places to eat. Super Juicy Dumplings in Brea. Pretty impressed with my partner, Joe Manzella's restaurant TAPS. And I've become addicted to In-N-Out; my first stop in and out of OC.

What's the one thing people didn't tell you about working in a restaurant? How critical people can be.

You're making breakfast; what are you having? Biscuits & gravy and country ham.

What is your signature item on the competitive BBQ circuit? Whole pork shoulder.

What would be your last meal on earth? Dry-aged rib-eye with blue cheese butter and a frozen Kit Kat.

Lillie's Q is located at 240 S Brea Blvd, Brea, (714) 482-2001; http://www.lilliesq.com/restaurants/

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