Kansas City’s Rob Magee, owner and executive chef of acclaimed Q39 barbecue, has died

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Rob Magee, who spent 15 years perfecting his award-winning competition barbecue before opening the acclaimed Q39 restaurants, has died.

His family said he passed away early Friday morning after a “five-and-a-half-year journey with colon cancer.”

“A friend and mentor to many, he truly appreciated the thousands of people that enjoyed his BBQ from around the world. Rob was a true champion and no one could have packed more life into these last five years. May we all live by his life-affirming example. His commitment to BBQ will live on as Q39 continues to share his culinary passion. We appreciate your support as the entire Q39 family navigates this difficult time. #QStrong,” the family said in a statement Saturday.

Ardie Davis, a charter member of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, said Magee’s death leaves the Kansas City and barbecue communities “stunned and sorrowful.”

“Rob will always be known as a high energy innovative team-player participant in life, as well as a beloved individual in the barbecue community,” Davis said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to Rob’s family, and I know Rob would insist that we all move forward to make this the best world possible, one day, one detail, one person at a time and one flavorful outstanding serving of Q39 barbecue at a time!”

Magee earned a degree from the acclaimed Culinary Institute of America, then spent three decades working in food and beverage for top area hotels. His family said he was a barbecue novice when he first moved to the Kansas City area, but he quickly became obsessed with mastering the process.

Magee and his wife, Kelly, along with their competitive team, Munchin’ Hogs, won first-place awards for barbecue competitions across the country. They entered as many as 40 events annually.

Davis said Magee’s brisket and pulled pork earned the highest scores they can give at a sanctioned KCBS competition.

Magee had long wanted to take barbecue restaurants to the next level with “chef-driven barbecue.”

So he leased a former restaurant space at 1000 W. 39th St., then spent months remodeling the site for Q39. It opened in 2014 with exposed brick walls and ceilings, stained concrete floors and distressed wood. A private dining room in the back is lined with his many awards.

The menu includes smoked and grilled pork belly with bacon-onion marmalade, wood-fired grilled salmon salad, brisket burgers, pork spare ribs, pulled pork, smoked chicken, burnt ends with chipotle barbecue sauce, and smoked beef brisket dip.

Q39 offers jumbo chicken wings with a chipotle barbecue sauce.
Q39 offers jumbo chicken wings with a chipotle barbecue sauce.

In a restaurant review, Davis said Magee’s apple coleslaw is a hit with fans of sweet coleslaw, the onion straws and fries are top-notch, and the white bean cassoulet “rivals the best in France.’”

The restaurant quickly made national lists, alongside longtime Kansas City favorites, and was featured on several national TV shows including “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.”

In 2017, Magee opened Q39 South after renovating the former Hayward’s Pit Bar-B-Que building at 11051 Antioch Road in Overland Park.

Jeff and Joy Stehney, owners of Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, said they first met Magee nearly two decades ago on the barbecue competition circuit.

“We’ll always remember Rob as a great chef who fell in love with barbecue and did amazing things combining his love of both,” the Stehneys said in a statement. “ He has made Q39 one of the top destination barbecue restaurants in the Midwest and he will be greatly missed. “

The Magee family said they will continue his barbecue legacy at both Q39 locations.

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