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Follow Chef Charlie McKenna to Montana for a Real-Deal BBQ Weekend

Plan a Memorial Day weekend of lux glamping and outstanding barbeque.

The Resort at Paws Up cliffside camp   Photos: Courtesy of The Resort at Paws Up

Lines out the door and a full house at Lillie’s Q in Bucktown might be all you know of proprietor and BBQ extraordinaire Charlie McKenna. But this Memorial Day weekend (May 22 to 25), make plans to visit western Montana and the Resort at Paws Up, a lux glamping retreat set on 37,000 acres where you could be hanging tight with the chef in the great wide open.

That’s because McKenna will be joining four other pit masters from across the country, including chefs Josh Bowen (John Brown Smokehouse), Danny Fischer (Baby Blues BBQ), and Sam Huff (Sam’s BBQ) as part of  “Montana Master Grillers,” a standout culinary event that’s among a slew of special programming celebrating the resort’s 10-year anniversary. McKenna will also cook alongside Ben Jones, the executive chef at Paws Up and McKenna’s former colleague.

“Ben used to work with Charlie at Tru and Peninsula Chicago,” says Larry Lipson, an owner at the resort and also a Chicago native, who said Jones was quick to recommend McKenna for Master Grillers. “We like Charlie because he creates upscale, ‘haute’ barbecue.” Lipson says McKenna’s homemade BBQ sauces and moonshine will also be featured at the event.

McKenna, too, is looking forward to the event, not just to cook with Jones again but also for the chance to work with the other guest chefs in the lineup. “It’s always fun for chefs to get together and collaborate a little bit, even if you’re each creating your own dish,” says McKenna. “You make a connection, and before you know it you’re cooking at their restaurant, wherever that may be. It’s also fun to see what other people are doing, see what kind of techniques they use, and just enjoy some chef camaraderie.”

That camaraderie will extend to an intimate group of 120 guests. The chefs will prepare special lunches and dinners (paired with everything from Lagunitas brews to Rodney Strong wines), and they’ll lead grilling and butchering demonstrations. But they’ll also join guests for signature Paws Up activities, which include rafting on the Black River, real cattle drives, ATV tours, and fly fishing. “I’m most looking forward to shooting clays,” says McKenna, not surprisingly a hunter who likes to bow and bird hunt.

On Sunday, an outdoor fair featuring all of the chefs will be followed by an evening concert from country singer Robbie Fulks.

Rates for the all-inclusive experience are from $969 a person, per night. For more on what to do at Paws Up, see Chicago’s “Five Summer Trips for Adventure Seekers.”

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