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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pig Daddy's Night on the Town at Chicago q!

I've been meaning to get on over to Chicago q for over a year since they've opened and last night was the night.  Chicago q is located at 1160 N. Dearborn and is in the heart of Chicago's Gold Coast. 

Chicago q is an upscale BBQ place, akin to Fiorella's Jack Stack in Kansas City, which I've also dined. There is no question that this has got to be Chicago's most elegant, urban BBQ joint. The best I can describe the interior is modern day plantation style.

Chicago q's menu features typical Q fare like pulled pork, chicken and ribs, but what had peaked my interest aside from their huge selection of bourbon was the Kobe beef brisket and what they refer to as "competition ribs." Neither entree comes cheap at $21 and $35, respectively. That being said, having BBQ'd for years and having sacrificed many a sleepless night and early mornings hoping to finish a 12-14 hour smoke by dinner or turn-in (not including the prep-time it took to get it to the point of cooking it), I can truly appreciate the passion, patience, craftsmanship  and knowledge of a pitmaster who has learned to properly transcend a tough cut of meat into a heavenly smoked, tender piece of goodness.  And I don't mind paying the extra bucks for it - SO LONG as it's TOP QUALITY. 

Now, for those of you who have ever watched TLC's series "BBQ Pitmasters" you may have heard or seen Lee Ann Whippen competing against the likes of Johnny Trigg, Myron Mixon, Hary Soo and Tuffy Stone.  Well, Whippen is chef/partner of Chicago q and any BBQ being offered for sale by a pitmaster who has stared on TLC's "BBQ Pitmasters," who has won numerous awards on the circuit, runs an already successful restaurant in Virgina and even beat Bobby Flay in a pulled pork throw down better be TOP QUALITY! Or worst case, I guess I write it off as team research and development and never return.

They started us with  homemade chips sprinkled with Whippen's signature "Pig Powder" as well as hand cut bread and butter style pickles with garlic and onion. These were gratis and kept coming so long as we ate them. The Pig Powder was sweet with a bit of heat, the pickles were fresh, savory and crunchy. Each complimented the other in flavor and texture very well and set the tone for what we were to expect the rest of the evening.

(No sooner than when we arrived they dimmed the lighting to  "bar tone." Due to the low lighting, my pictures do not properly capture the true view of the food as put before us)

As an appetizer, we ordered the house bacon hush puppies with chipotle aioli. Chicago q smokes its own bacon from fresh pork belly, which is then used to make these. In fact everything but their deserts are made in-house. I've had lots of pups in my time and these were very good. They were perfectly cooked, smoky in flavor and not greasy whatsoever. The chipotle aioli served as a nice compliment.

For our entree, we ordered the Kobe beef brisket with cornbread as our side.  Next to chicken, brisket is probably one of the hardest categories to cook for competition. This brisket was very good. What I liked most about it was that it had exceptional graining. And keeping brisket moist after slicing is challenging and although this brisket was lean, it was served moist. It also possessed a good beef flavor and the perfect amount of smoke flavor. What I liked least was that there was some larger fat pockets left on it (as you can see in the photo) and it could have been ever slightly more tender. The cornbread was the best I've ever had.

Although very pricey for a slab of spares, we couldn't resist ordering the "competition spare ribs." I am not certain why a BBQ joint would offer two qualities of ribs - best and better than best? Why not just put forward your best 100% of the time? This concept seems strange to me, but then again I am not a marketing major. But then yet again, the menu item and pitmaster association worked - getting me to buy them. Well, whatever the case may be, these were very good. They were perfectly seasoned, and perfectly smoked. They came glazed and had a subtle hint of sweetness. I think many BBQ joints as well cooks forget that smoke, rub and sauce should be used as ingredients and not the main flavors. In my opinion, these ribs had a nice balance of flavor where I could even taste the pork! What a concept!

That being said, for an item labeled "competition ribs," that come in at $35 a slab, I think they were slightly overcooked, a tad too tender as they lacked a perfect bite through, some of which came right off the bone with little or no pull.  Now, I understand that ribs can't be cooked to order and these ribs like any other BBQ joint are pre-cooked and kept warm for who knows how long, which must affect tenderness, but they are advertised as "competition ribs" after all.


Chicago q serves its sauce table side, which  we used solely as a compliment to the BBQ because it sure didn't need any. Starting at the top and moving clockwise, original mild (tomato based, rich and sweet), South Carolina mustard, spicy (tomato-based and bold wit red pepper flake) and an Eastern North Carolina vinegar sauce. The best mustard sauce I've ever had was at a BBQ joint in Virginia called Old Glory, Whippen's mustard sauce comes in a close 2nd. It was very good and complimented both the brisket and pulled pork extremely well. The other sauces were good - nothing to write home about.

Now, saving the best for last...

You know, honesty before visiting I had my doubts about this place. I figured it'd just be a hyped, upscale BBQ restaurant using a famous pit master's name in sake in an attempt to get me to spend my $. I even joked with my colleagues about Lee Ann Whippen probably not even knowing the address. Well, much to my surprise I was DEAD WRONG and although stuffed, I was forced make room to eat my words.

When seated in the dining room, I happened to see a blond woman who resembled Whippen from my seat performing what appeared to be quality control in the kitchen. Our waiter confirmed this was Whippen. The next thing I knew, she came out, introduced herself and invited us for a tour of her kitchen. Needless to say, I was shocked and tongue tied. Many of the questions I would have wanted to ask her just never got out.

 Chicago q uses Southern Pride Smokers. Fuel of choice here was hickory and white cherry. However, they use other woods for different foods like fish and chicken.

 Below is a picture of Whippen showing us her meat locker.  In her hand is a Kobe beef brisket. She was very personable, cordial and without any prodding engaged us in Q conversation. Like any other Q'er I know, she's the type that if she had not been busy would have sat down and talked Q with us all day long. She is very passionate and knowledgeable about BBQ. No doubts about it!

After shamelessly plugging the Glen Ellyn Backyard BBQ (some more), I had my buddy snap a photo of me and Whippen so I could brag to all my BBQ buddies including you all. And boy, if I weren't married.... 

I have many other places to try and am hoping to start covering them now that winter is upon us and I won't be cooking as much. All-in-all, I'd pay to eat at Chicago q again, no questions about it. The Q was very good and our service was outstanding. It was a great evening!


  1. we went last year with Sweet Baby Ray..i agree..the food was good and LeeAnn was a very friendly and gracious host

  2. Hey Bill,

    That sounds like a really great experience. How'd you come to meet him?

    I am fortunate to work with a few fellas who are as heavy into BBQ as me. Before heading to a Hawks game, we had dinner at Chicago q. All around it was a terrific place to dine and meeting Whippen made it that much better!

    I'll be hitting a few more places now that the weather has turned. Any recommedations in the burbs? Care to join me?

    Oh, and congrats on making the top 100 bbq sauce list. I saw that posted on BBQ Brethren. Impressive given the criteria.

    1. there is going to be a bbq brethren outing at sweet bay rays in wood dale on 1/29/..surprised you didn't see the might want to join that way you can meet him as well as some of the brethren
      id be glad to join you for any other places you might want to go to..just let me know

  3. I usually check the bbq brethren website daily and must have missed the posting. Is it under Q Talk? Heck yeah I want to go. Ill reply to the thread. Thanks!

  4. I see it now. Its under Brethren Bashes right in front of my face.

  5. Tom or Bill,

    What do you try and invite Lee Ann Whippen to the Sweet Baby Ray's gathering.

    -Porky Joes

  6. Porky,

    She'll definately be getting an invitation to Glen Ellyn's 4th Annual Backyard BBQ Cook-Off.

    You goin' to the Brethren Bash? I'm really lookn' forward to it.

  7. I think she is coming to the SBR outing...Phil Wingo invited her

  8. BTW Tom - I dont think ill be cooking this year but would love to help judge..

  9. I will be there for sure, can't wait to meet the fellow BBQ Teams.

    -Porky Joes

  10. Hey Bill,

    Glad to hear she's invited. Very cool! And consider yourself a judge. Would love to have you. Believe it or not, finding certified judges is the hardest part of the contest. If you know of anyone else who is KCBS and would lile to judge, let me know. Thanks to you, we got Ron L and his wife last year. I think and don't hold me to this, it will be held on Sept 8 this year.

    Hey Porky,

    Looking forward to catching up with you and hearing about your uds build.


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