When seeking out the top three barbecue restaurants in Chicago, Chicago q was a no-brainer. We jumped at the chance to speak with Chef Lee Ann Whippen, who shared her inspiration for the restaurant, her barbecue secrets, and what she loves about the Windy City.
What inspired you to open Chicago q?
The inspiration came from the desire to create “upscale” BBQ using high-quality meats in a Savannah-style venue with impeccable service. The demographic of the Gold Coast is the perfect setting.
Without revealing any secrets, can you give us an idea of how your meats and rubs are prepared?
We have two house-made rubs. “Pig Powder” was developed by my dad many years ago, and it’s sweet with a kick, applied generously on our Pork, Chicken, and our complimentary Potato chips (fried daily). The second rub is very herbaceous and coats the entire exterior of our Wagyu Briskets.
What historical figure or celebrity could you see really loving Chicago q and why?
President Obama would love it here, as he appreciates great BBQ and Chicago!
What are some drink pairings you would recommend for some of your menu items?
We have one of the most extensive bourbon lists in the city, topping in at 70. I recommend one of our bourbon flights, which pairs well with the BBQ, as does our Jalapeño Margarita. Made with fresh jalapeño and basil, it’s very refreshing.
For those of us trying our hand at barbecuing at home, what’s some advice on getting the most out of our meats?
Spend the extra money to buy high-quality meats, heavily coat in dry rub, and don’t sauce until the last 20 to 30 minutes. Many sauces contain sugar and the sauce will burn if put on too early.
In your personal opinion, which is more important, the rub or the meat?
Meat, which is why we use the best money can buy. The rub is important too though, as it needs to enhance the meat flavor, not mask it.
What would your “Death Row” meal be?
A three-pound steamed Maine lobster, drawn butter, grilled artichoke, and sliced potatoes and onion fried in an iron skillet with bacon grease.
And if I could only have one thing on your menu, what should I get?
The Competition St. Louis Ribs, which is the recipe I use in BBQ competitions. Can’t leave out the Double Cut Pork Chop either, which is brined, slow-smoked, and finished on the grill.
Did you eat your veggies when you were younger?
I love veggies (almost as much as meat)! My favorite was when silver queen corn came into season and my family would head to roadside stands to buy.
What would your perfect day in Chicago look like?
Spending time with my two daughters strolling down Michigan Avenue, shopping, and eating outside on a restaurant patio.
What are some of the things you love about Chicago?
It’s the greatest city in the world. It has a beautiful skyline, Lake Michigan right around the corner, Michigan Avenue, great restaurants, eclectic people, and of course, the Blackhawks and the Bears!
If you were going to open another Chicago q in another city, which would it be and why?
Los Angeles! My sister lives there and they are craving great BBQ. A concept like Chicago q would fit right in.
Are there any interesting facts about Chicago q that you want to leave us with?
1: We have two Southern Pride Smokers that hold 2,000 pounds of meat and run 24/7 365 days a year.
2: Originally the name of the restaurant was going to be “That BBQ Place,” but changed to incorporate Chicago and the simplicity of q.