Kansas City's Best Barbecue

When it comes to barbecue, Kansas City rocks and rules

Brooke Vandever

   Kansas City is hands down the barbecue capital of the world. The salty, savory, slow-roasted meat slathered with a signature sauce is the city’s International icon, trademark, calling card, export and lure. We found nearly 100 BBQ joints spicing up metro shopping centers, strip malls, neighborhoods and nooks.

  And it’s a dynamic market. Some of the best spots just recently entered the fray; two of this year’s best weren’t even in business a year ago.

   It’s a testament to the vitality of KC’s ‘cue culture, where saucy innovation meets hard work and a passion for the pit.

   Here is our list of the very best KC BBQ for 2014.


Kansas City, Mo.

Opened: 2014

Kansas City has a reputation to uphold when it comes to our bone pile.  So it's no surprise that anyone would have to be half-mad to open a sauce and pit shop.   

With our discerning tastebuds in KC, we know good from medicore (there's no poor barbecue here).  I'm going to put my skinny neck on the line with the latest entrant:  Q39 rates.            

Currently, I'm standing in my closet guzzling the honey glaze, one of owner Rob Magee's hot velvety sauces.  

You think I'm kidding?              

You'll banter and beg that your top pick of our barbecue joints throughout town are better, along with a thorough explanation.

However, I've tasted my share of plates and we could debate until the cows come home. 

Firmly, Magee's got a winner.

In his own words, “The idea to open a restaurant of my own has been smoldering in my mind since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in New York 30 years ago.  My roots in Kansas City have grown and so has my love for barbecue.”


First outing  

The place is something to hoot about. It's not a slide-in-and-out joint. Not by a long shot.               

Entering from the garage door, it reminded me of BRGR and sure enough, after probing I found out that the same interior designer did both.          

Cooly fashionable with exposed ceilings coupled with a rustic yet welcoming vibe.  Even with a peek at Gates' smoker, at Q39 you really can watch all the action in the totally open, from-scratch kitchen from anywhere in this big room that holds over 100.            

 All underscoring that everyone in this crew knows exactly what to do because Magee touts three decades as a professional in the restaurant biz.  Notably, his barbecue team, Munchin' Hogs has made it known on the circuit that they're the team to beat.  One glance at the wall in the restaurant will confirm.

Stacked floor to ceiling, awards and trophies galore — lots of bling from competitions across the country.  Big trophies.  Fact: the team holds the reserve championship and two national grand championships from the Kansas City Barbeque Society.

But the food is sans bling.  It's straight-up fare that seeks to imprint your buds with sharables that aren't stingy, brisket burgers, BBQ plates, specialty sandwiches and wood-fired grilled plates. 

On round one, I sampled the steak, then the burnt ends, then the burger, then the salmon.  But it was the ubiquitous fries (nicely smoked and toasty) that I deemed the most drench-worthy.               

Like the sides at Thanksgiving (in my book, always the target instead of the bird), these fries are smokin'.              

Plus, I have to give a shout-out to the white bean cassoulet bubbling with sausage, onion, tomato and thyme.  You don't see this side on many menus around town.

Second outing           

Saturday night.  The place was shoulder-to-shoulder.  The kitchen line was hustling as Tastebud and I eventually found a table.    

Jason, our eager-beaver server and himself from a multiple-restaurant family, knew how to please, and suggested Tastebud try the sliced burnt ends sandwich and onion straws. ($9.50 and $6)        

My best-wings-on-the-planet was clearly from one hefty bird.  Six, sufficiently sauced, was a meal in itself. However, I couldn't keep my hands out of the straws ($10).    

I asked for a witheringly sweet-sour lemonade barkeep Angie made on my first visit. It's the perfect complement to all the savory meat and sauce.       

Tastebud pondered getting one of the many craft beers (they have in profusion) but opted to concentrate on the food instead.

The evening produced more and more people but settled down around 8:30 p.m.             

Kelly, Magee's wife and co-owner, stopped by and tried her best to entice with warm apple crumble, champion cheesecake or made-to-order donuts.                

None for either of us but I have to admit, any one of them would've hit the spot more than our eventual late night run to Sheridan's.        

This is the kind of place where flip-flops and ball-cap-casual is just fine. 

Magee isn't just blowin' smoke — he's bottling, grilling and selling it. From the looks of it, seems everyone wants a taste. 



Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que (formerly Oklahoma Joe’s)

3 locations

Opened: 1996

What we say

Whatever you call it, Joe’s is simply great, in both ribs and sandwiches. We wish they’d offer burnt ends more than two days per week.

What others say

Anthony Bourdain: One of the 13 places to eat before you die.

Gotta try this: Z-Man sandwich — sliced smoked brisket, smoked provolone, onion rings and barbecue sauce on a Kaiser roll.




Jack Stack Barbecue

5 locations

Opened: 1957

What we say

Five very different venues with the same outstanding offerings.

What others say

Zagat Survey: #1 Barbecue House in the country.

Gotta try this: lamb ribs, Strawberry Hill Polish sausage.



Gates Bar-B-Q

6 locations

Opened: 1946

What we say

Ribs are meaty and portions are big. They might try to go easy on their trademark yelling behind the counter.

What others say

Gayot: In a city known for good ‘cue, Gates is at the front of the line with its savory, saucy slabs.

Famous quote: "It's like crack … though I've never actually tried crack." Missouri Congressman and former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver II to The Wall Street Journal when describing his affection for Gates BBQ.

Gotta try this: short end ribs. Then take some sauce home with you.



Arthur Bryant’s

2 locations

Opened: 1930

What we say

The 18th and Brooklyn location is not just a chowdown venue; it’s a historic monument. Nothing fancy, and some say the sauce tilts toward pepper and vinegar. So get over it and dig in.

What others say

Zagat: Forget about Memphis and Texas, this is the best.

Gotta try this: pulled pork sandwich on white bread. Add cole slaw (President Obama tried, but they were out).



Rosedale Barbecue

Kansas City, Kan.

Opened: 1934

What we say

This no-frills Southwest Boulevard staple is a solid regular on “Best of KC” lists.  You’ll find reliably tasty ribs and crispy fries delivered in waxed paper bags by a friendly server.

What others say

The Pitch: People still stand in line to get into Rosedale’s clean, spacious dining room.

Gotta try this: pig pen sandwich.



Woodyard Bar-B-Que

Kansas City, Kan.

Opened: 1950s (exact date unknown)

What we say

This place screams “down home.” It’s not for prom night, but it’s the real deal for succulent, smoked meats prepped in three smokers fired with the same kind of wood that was the original merchandise and is still sold there.

What others say

Anthony Bourdain: At Woodyard’s, it’s all about the wood.

Gotta try this: baby back ribs, chili.




Kansas City, Mo.

Opened: Unknown

What we say

This is a true local hideaway. The unobtrusive structure located a convenient distance from the Truman Sports Complex is a mecca for KC fans of tender burnt ends, awesome french fries and gut-busting fruit cobblers.

What others say

Roadfood.com: LC’s is one of the great barbecue joints in Kansas City or anywhere.

Gotta try this: burnt end sandwich, hand-cut fries, any of the homemade desserts.

Barbecue this good deserves a website.


Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

4 locations

Opened: 1987

What we say

Maybe it’s the hickory-smoked certified Angus beef brisket that makes this place so memorable, or the burnt ends platter — made with real deal brisket ends, but you will be dreaming of the smoky sweet flavors long after you’ve finished.

What others say

USA Today: If you want a more adventurous protein, consider the Polish sausage platter, a succulent rib plate, or the hickory-smoked chicken.

Gotta try this: Smokehouse Special Sandwich with two smoked meats on a 10-inch French roll served with crispy french fries.



BB’s Lawnside

Kansas City, Mo.

Opened: 1990

What we say

Maybe this place should be called a blues-b-cue joint. Lindsey and Jo Shannon decided years ago that good barbecue wasn’t enough, so they added blues Thursday through Sunday. The performers may vary, but the selection of standards like ribs and beans along with Louisiana faves like jambalaya and crawfish etouffe make this a unique local experience.

What others say

USA Today: Blues, beer and barbecue. What more could you ask for?

Gotta try this: BBQ meatloaf, rib tip platter with battered fries.



Three Little Pigs BBQ

Kansas City, Mo.

Opened: 2009

What we say

After taking high culinary honors at the American Royal Invitational and the Jack Daniels World Championship, Three Little Pigs’ devilishly delicious fare is finally available for public consumption at the Crown Center Shops, as well as for catering.

What others say

The Pitch: Chief BBQ Expert (CBBQE) Chris Marks is looking to help out the rest of us by releasing a line of five seasonings and rubs from his family's secret recipe.

Gotta try this: Rib dinner with cheesy potatoes and vinegar cole slaw.



Johnny’s Barbecue

2 locations

Opened: 1977

What we say

The rib and chicken combo is perfecto.

What others say 

Guy Fieri: Johnny's Bar-B-Q just screams tradition. With a handmade pit, over three decades of happy customers and an owner who's been making BBQ since he was 14, that comes as no surprise.

Gotta try this: Smoked-and-deep-fried chicken with Johnny’s mild BBQ rub, a side of onion rings and an old fashioned strawberry soda.



Brobeck’s Barbecue

Overland Park

Opened: 2007       

What we say

You’ll find the beautiful simplicity of expertly smoked meats made in the tradition of Carolina-style BBQ with KC embellishment. Pork is roasted in the pit overnight.

What others say

Kansas City Star: The burnt ends are “true” burnt ends, not chopped-up brisket.

Gotta try this:  Pulled pork sandwich with mustard-based barbecue sauce and fries.



RJ’s Bob-Be-Cue Shack


Opened: 2003

What we say

Profoundly flavorful ribs — moist with a rich, dark, salty-peppery crust and a rim of sublime, flawlessly rendered fat. RJ’s chef, Bob Palmgreen, spent years in high-end NYC restaurants while moonlighting on the competition circuit perfecting his ‘cue.

What others say

Guy Fieri calls their jalapeno sausage "tremendous," and the lamb ribs a bona fide top seller.

Gotta try this: Burnt ends or lamb ribs and deep-fried corn on the cob.



Jon Russell’s Kansas City Barbecue

4 locations       

Opened: 2012

What we say

Competition barbeque chefs Russell Muehlberger and Jon Niederbremer have partnered with 39 Bevco to roll out four locations on the new BBQ scene. The creative use of a micro smoker gives macro flavor. The sauces are made from scratch and feature a variety of flavors.

What others say

Kansas City Star says Jon Russell’s is where they douse melt-in-your-mouth burnt ends sandwiches with crazy-good blueberry-habanero sauce.

Gotta try this: The signature Jon Russell sandwich jammed with burnt ends and sausage.



Danny Edwards BBQ

Kansas City, Kan.

Opened: 1980

What we say

This rustic shed on Southwest Boulevard just looks like a barbecue joint. Its eclectic blend of red brick and corrugated siding (guarded by a pink concrete pig) shelters a local favorite known for huge portions. It’s also renowned for what it doesn’t have — a deep fryer.

What others say

TripAdvisor ranks Danny Edwards #17 out of 1,200 restaurants in Kansas City.

Gotta try this: brisket sandwich, dry-rubbed pork ribs.



Slaps BBQ

Kansas City, Kan.

Opened: 2014

What we say

Strawberry Hill has been seeing a steady increase in lunch hour traffic thanks to this newcomer to the BBQ scene. Expect more of a cozy, counter-service shack with a couple of tables than a fancy sit-down BBQ parlor.

What they say

Zagat: One of the “Hottest BBQ Joints Across the U.S.,” lauding their ribs and burnt ends plus delicacies like corn bake oozing with cheesy goodness.

Gotta try this: burnt ends with warm baked potato salad.


Smokin’ Guns BBQ

North Kansas City

Opened: 2003

What we say

After more than 400 competitions and numerous awards, this BBQ joint is deserving of a look-see. We found the meat worthy of every trophy, ribbon and championship medal, and we were reminded how spectacular a brisket can be in hands of a barbecue artisan. The pulled pork is equally tasty, tender and smoky.

What others say

Guy Fieri calls Phil and Linda Hopkin’s grand champion winning meat “one killer brisket.”

Gotta try this: The Big Gun Combo Platter with sweet potato fries and apple crisp for dessert.



Wabash BBQ and Blues Garden

Excelsior Springs

Opened: 1997

What we say

The building shows its age, but that’s part of the charm. One block west of The Elms Hotel, the Wabash’s ribs and chicken are deserving of their many accolades.

What others say

Travel Channel dubs Wabash a BBQ paradise.

Gotta try this: Fireman’s Favorite consists of a half pound of tender burnt ends with Wabash’s special BBQ sauce.



Zarda’s Bar-B-Que

2 locations

Opened: 1976

What we say

World-famous beans and a variety of family recipes have been satisfying KC ‘cue seekers for more than three decades, earning Zarda a rightful spot on the list of legendary BBQ.

What others say

Food Network: At family-owned Zarda Bar-B-Que, things are definitely, definitely hot. Brisket burnt ends and baked beans with Creeper Sauce are served on one plate — heat seekers say the dish is “breathtaking.”

Gotta try this: Billy’s Ton of BBQ” Sandwich with the signature BBQ beans.