KC's Best Barbecue

Our annual bucket list of the metro's best 'cue joints, barbecue fests and, of course, beef ribs, barbecue sandwiches and burnt ends.



kansas city's best barbecue

pork spare ribs from fiorella's jack stack barbecue (Overland park location)

Photo by Brad Austin

 

     Ask any KC resident or non-native to summon up what comes to mind when you say “Kansas City” these days, and chances are you will get the holy trinity of “Jazz, the Kansas City Royals and barbecue” as your answer. Baseball, barbecue and jazz are quintessential American pastimes, and KC has put its unique stamp on all three. But sometimes it takes an outsider to perceive the essence of a culture. So it is that Kathleen Purvis, the food editor at The Charlotte Observer, accurately nailed KC ‘cue culture while attending a food writers’ conference in the city.

     Purvis writes: “Kansas City barbecue is an Olympic event. It’s the melting pot of barbecue cities, the inland beach where every other barbecue style in the country washed up in a tide of smoky-sweet, tomato-based sauce. Texas brisket, North Carolina pork shoulder, Memphis ribs, all smoked over fruit woods and hickory and slapped down on white bread with lard-fried potatoes on the side…. In Kansas City, cabdrivers with Middle Eastern accents argue the fine points of Gates vs. Arthur Bryant’s. The airport stocks three-packs of sauce in take-home boxes. People trash KC Masterpiece instead of politicians. And the supermarkets are rumored to carry more than 75 local sauces.”

     We may argue vociferously about who serves up the most finger- lickin’-good ribs, most authentic burnt ends or most addictive sauce, but all Kansas Citians can agree on our city’s ‘cue preeminence. For our annual KC Barbecue Issue, we take the pulse of the current ‘cue scene and analyze how this sweet alchemy of heat, smoke, meat, rub and sauce, cooked “slow and low,” has created not only a local cue craze — from amateur tailgates to the American Royal’s barbecue competition — but also a plethora of local eateries proffering prize-winning plates of ribs, smoky sausages, pulled pork and much, much more. Read on for our KC Barbecue Bucket List.

char bar ribs kansas city

ribs at char bar

 

No. 1

KC voted “America’s Best City for Barbecue”  (2015) by Travel + Leisure magazine:

“Whether it was for the sweet, tomato-y sauce, the rich history in meat-packing or those densely flavorful scraps — the burnt ends — this Midwestern city took the gold medal this year. “

 

A Definition of KC ‘Cue

     When it comes right down to it, in Kansas City, the sauce is the boss. A tomato-based, smoky blend of brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, vinegar, onion, garlic, and red pepper, Kansas City barbecue sauces are the perfect culmination of heat and sweet and are thicker than most other regional sauces. In addition, Kansas City-style barbecue incorporates a slow smoking of meats dry-rubbed with cayenne, mustard powder, sugar and paprika over a variety of woods including hickory, oak, apple, cherry and even pecan.  And while in other regions, barbecue distinctly refers to beef, in this cow town, anything that moves is fair game. Pork, beef, chicken, turkey, lamb and even fish — if it can be dry-rubbed and smoked, we will make it delicious. But perhaps the most iconic of all Kansas City barbecue dishes are burnt ends — most often served smothered in sauce and placed atop a pillow of white bread.

kansas city's best barbecue slap's sauce   

 

The Father of KC ‘Cue:  Henry Perry  

henry perry kansas city barbecue

     The delicious smoke that has billowed over Kansas City for more than a century can be traced back to one man: Henry Perry, the founding father of Kansas City-style barbecue. an African-American who was born in 1875 near Memphis, Tennessee,  Perry arrived in Kansas City in 1907 and quickly found a job as a porter in a Quality Hill saloon. It wasn’t long before Perry channeled his own Southern upbringing and began selling his unique style of barbecue from a stand in the alley of the city’s garment district. There he cooked his meats outdoors over an open fire, wrapping his slow-cooked ribs in newsprint for 25 cents a slab and selling unconventional smoked fare such as woodchuck, opossum and raccoon along with conventional meats. It wasn’t long before others began to imitate Perry’s successful stand. Perry, however, remained “The Barbecue King,” known for his oft-described “harsh” and “peppery” sauce that could “bring tears to people’s eyes.”

     Nonetheless, Perry’s following kept growing, and in the 1920s, he was able to open his own storefront at 19th and Highland Avenue, where he cooked out of an old trolley car. He later moved his street operation into a building in the heart of the 18th & Vine Jazz District, where his food became a staple for famous jazz musicians such as Charlie Parker and Count Basie. As the years went on, Perry became known as one of the city’s most influential African-American entrepreneurs and was hailed for his generosity as well as his no-nonsense approach to business.  Eventually, Perry’s barbecue empire included three restaurants and several employee acolytes, including Charlie and Arthur Bryant (ring a bell?) and longtime Perry cook, Arthur Pinkard, who went on to work for George Gates, founder of Kansas City’s Gates Bar-B-Q.

 

THE ICONS

arthur bryant's barbecue kansas city

Arthur Bryant’s 

   Stand in line at Arthur Bryant’s original location at 18th and Brooklyn, and you just might think you have stepped back in time. Bryant’s is a completely unpretentious “grease house,” as proclaimed by Arthur Bryant, and that’s just the way he liked it. The barbecue speaks for itself — no bells, whistles, or even tablecloths necessary.

     Arthur Bryant was born and raised on a farm in east Texas. After graduating from college in 1931, he decided to visit his brother, Charlie, in Kansas City, who was working for the founder of KC barbecue, Henry Perry. Thankfully for us, Perry decided to give Arthur a job as well, and it was there that Arthur began to learn the art of barbecue. As legend has it, it was Arthur Bryant who altered Perry’s harsh barbecue sauce recipe to the showstopper it is today — bright orange, gritty, tangy and distinctively Arthur Bryant’s. When Perry died in 1940, Charlie took over the business. He retired six years later, leaving Arthur to run the cue joint.

     Today, Arthur Bryant’s menu remains simple — heaps of beef, ribs or ham served on white bread and slathered with the signaure sauce. Visitors still grab their own plates and silverware and get dill pickles from a plastic gallon jug at the cashier — pickles that used to be hand-cut by Arthur Bryant himself.

     Through the years, Arthur Bryant honed his craft, never marrying, rarely taking a day off and often sleeping on a cot in the backroom of Bryant’s. His dedication and masterfully crafted meals quickly created a widespread and loyal following including jazz legend Count Basie, Presidents Harry S. Truman and The New Yorker columnist and Kansas City native Calvin Trillin. In 1974 Trillin wrote an essay for The New Yorker entitled “American Fried,” which named Arthur Bryant’s the “best damn restaurant in the world.” Following the release of “American Fried,” Bryant’s popularity exploded. When Arthur died in 1982, a cartoon in The Kansas City Star portrayed St. Peter greeting Arthur at Heaven’s Gate and asking, “Did you bring the sauce?”

     Today, the Formica tables look a little newer, but the formula is the same. Arthur Bryant’s currently has two locations — the original location on Brooklyn Avenue and a new spot at the Legends Outlets near the Kansas Speedway. While the Bryant’s original location may have slipped a little quality-wise in recent years, the eatery is currently under new management, so hopes are high for a comeback for this Kansas City gem. And don’t mind the grease on the floor — it’s part of the charm.

1727 Brooklyn Ave., Kansas City, Mo., (816) 231-1123; 102 Village West Parkway, Kansas City, Kan., (913) 788-7500, arthurbryantsbbq.com

arthur bryant's barbecue kansas city

arthur bryant's barbecue kansas cityarthur bryant's barbecue kansas city

Bryant's pitmaster of 16 years timmie brown

 

ollie gates gates barbecue kansas city

Gates Bar-B-Q 

     If the foundation of Gates Bar-B-Q is based on anything at all, it’s based upon family…and sauce. Lots and lots of sauce.  George and Arzelia Gates first opened the doors of Gates’ flagship location in 1946, and through the years, Gates has grown from a single storefront at 19th and Vine Streets to a group of six restaurants spanning both sides of the state line.

     As a young family man, George Gates often participated in barbecue competitions amongst neighbors in his own backyard. One day this former waiter on the Rock Island railroad line and first African-American postal clerk in KC decided to put his money where his mouth was. On a whim, he purchased Kentuck Bar-B-Q, a borderline speakeasy featuring live music that was located in the heart of the city’s jazz district, with the notion of getting into the liquor business. Mrs. Gates, however, would have none of that. So the Gates’s took the idea of a barbecue restaurant instead and ran with it, employing all three of their children, Winnifred, Gwendolyn and Ollie, and cook Arthur Pinkard, who had once cooked for pitmaster Henry Perry in his prime.

gates bar-b-q kansas city

     Daily, the Gates family honed their craft, but it wasn’t until George Gates’ son, Ollie, returned to the family business that Gates barbecue began to grow into the empire that it is today. After graduating from college with a degree in building construction, and stints in the United States Army and engineering school, Ollie returned to his family business and integrated his own doses of “engineering” into the business. Gates streamlined the way the restaurant made its famous barbecue sauce and allowed mass manufacturing of the “secret sauce” in the 1970s.

     Today, each of the six Gates Bar-B-Q restaurants is marked by its unique red roof and logo of a man in a tuxedo and a top hat that pays homage to the Kansas City of yesteryear—where jazz and barbecue collided. The “Struttin’ Man” logo was inspired by the famous 1927 Louis Armstrong song, “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.” However, the Gates Bar-B-Q logo is not the only trademark quirk about this beloved Kansas City locale. Immediately upon entering any Gates location, you will hear the age-old question, “Hi, may I help you?”….and you’d better be ready to answer. There’s simply no lollygagging when it comes to ordering at a Gates Bar-B-Q counter. Promptly, servers behind the counter shout the order back to the cook, who gets right to work preparing a plate of some of the best ribs and meatiest baked beans in the city.

   Six area locations, gatesbbq.com

gates bar-b-q kansas city

 

No. 2

KCMO, Voted Among “The 11 Best BBQ Cities in America” (2015) by Thrillist:

“…Kansas City boasts a barbecue scene that is a beautiful confluence of pitmasters’ personal preferences; the one stickler is dry-rub — cayenne, mustard powder, sugar, paprika. Otherwise, you can find basically any type of ‘cue in the city and any sauce.” (Thrillist named Austin No. 1.)

 

THE UPSTARTS 

judge's plate q39 kansas city

judge's plate at Q39

 

Q39

   Quickly becoming a barbecue staple alongside iconic ‘cue names like Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que and Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, Q39’s hickory-smoked and wood-fire grilled creations have been a hit since its opening in 2014 on 39th Street. Q39 was also the featured barbecue cover of 435 Magazine last year.  A dream 30 years in the making for competition pitmaster Rob Magee and his wife, Kelly, Q39 combines scratch traditional Kansas City barbecue with a new-school twist. What diners and celebrity chefs fantasize about are the restaurant’s famous burnt ends. Tender, smoky and bursting with flavor, these chunks of KC gold grace sandwiches, combo platters, shareable plates and burgers. Here, wood is king, and it’s evident — from the wall of trophies and awards to the wood-based rustic- chic décor. Magee’s CIA (Culinary Institute of America) credentials are evident in specialty dishes like the white bean cassoulet with housemade sausage, onion, tomato and thyme. Rumor has it two new KC locations, including one out south, may be in the works. q39kc.com

poor russ jack stack barbecue kansas city

poor russ at jack stack

 

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue

Refusing to live by the old rule of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is the reason why Jack Stack and its tender, hickory-smoked meats, especially its ribs, are a household name. That and the restaurant’s crazy-good cheesy corn bake (they claim to have invented the recipe) and hickory pit beans. After branching off from the Smoke Stack family chain, eldest son Jack Fiorella wanted to expand the barbecue theme. With his delicious, upscale, white tablecloth take on Kansas City ‘cue, he draws in barbecue lovers from near and far. Touting KC’s most diverse barbecue menu (seriously, where else can you get seafood, filet mignon and a rack of lamb in addition to traditional items like burnt ends at a barbecue joint?), this restaurant has been a go-to since the opening of its first location in 1974. Now, 41 years, five restaurants and endless coverage later, Jack Stack has still got us craving their award-winning barbecue. jackstackbbq.com

 

z-man joe's kansas city bar-b-que

z-man at joe's kansas city bar-b-que

 

 Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que

   What began with a smoker and a dream has turned into one of KC’s most popular barbecue joints.  And even a recent name change (we approve!) has not diminished its appeal. Owned by Jeff and Joy Stehney, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que got its humble start at a gas station under the name Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que. That original Shamrock gas station location is still in operation and thriving off Mission Road and West 47th Avenue. One of many competition teams to open a restaurant, Joe’s made a name for itself with its mouthwatering, authentic barbecue. Bestsellers are its meaty and tender dry rub ribs, but if you ask anyone, its award-winning brisket, sausage and pulled pork are also of note. Food writer Bonjwing Lee writes in an Eater article, “What [Calvin] Trillin did for Arthur Bryant's, Anthony Bourdain did for Oklahoma Joe's when he named it one of the ‘13 Places to Eat Before You Die’  (along with places like elBulli, The French Laundry, and Sukiyabashi Jiro) in a 2011 issue of Men's Health magazine.A place that lives up to its hype, get your barbecue fix at Joe’s KCK, Leawood or Olathe locations. There’s a reason there are always lines out the door. joeskc.com

 

char bar kansas city

char bar

Char Bar Smoked Meats & Amusements

After the success of Westport restaurants McCoy’s Public House, The Foundry and Beer Kitchen, masterminds Mark Kelpe and James Westphal opted for a different take on the barbecue we Kansas Citians know and love with Westport-based Char Bar. They enlisted the help of Mitch Benjamin of competition barbecue team “Meat Mitch” to oversee the barbecue side of things at this “Southern-inspired smokehouse.” An omnivore’s delight, the playful eatery serves up delectable dishes of meat, seafood and sides smoked on a hickory-pecan wood blend. The “charred” motif wafts into everything: from the menu, which features a killer signature CBCG burger of house-ground smoked brisket; to the décor of repurposed bowling alley lanes, gas nozzles and charred cypress board. Even some of the cocktails are smoked. What sets Char Bar apart is not only its blissfully charred and flavorful ‘cue and Southern sides (lobster deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes, Tobasco-honey chicken wings), but also its hosts of amusements including a beer garden, fire pit, painted mural and an impressive roster of libations. charbarkc.com

 

OTHER NEWBIES:  

Fireside BBQ

10400 Mastin St., Overland Park, Kan.

Opened: 2014

What we say: Gaining popularity by word of mouth, this year-old barbecue joint emphasizes the importance of meat with its slogan, “our meat is boss without the sauce.” The longtime dream of retired firefighter Greg Barnes, the enticing smells of hickory and pecan smoke are an indicator that tasty things lie ahead.

What others say: On Yelp: “These people will take care of your BBQ cravings. The brisket is tender with a great, smoky taste. The cheesy corn bake has a few bacon bits. Nice touch.”

Gotta try this: The What-Not Sampler. If you’re not sure what to order, start here. Loaded with ham, turkey, brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork and homemade sausage, then loaded with sides like cheesy corn, cheesy potatoes and baked beans, it’s the ultimate sample platter. fireside-bbq.com

  

jon russells barbeque kansas city

jon russell's

 

Jon Russell’s Kansas City Barbeque 

One location

Opened: 2012

What we say: 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: The 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. jonrussellsbbq.com

 

Plowboys Barbecue

Two Locations

Opened: 2013

What we say: American Royal Grand Champions the Pork Pullin’ Plowboys make everyone feel like a winner with their thick slices of brisket, smoky pulled pork and generous portions.

What others say: The Huffington Post named Plowboys the best ribs in Kansas City in its “The Best BBQ Across America, According to Experts” list, claiming,“Your first bite will explain why Plowboys’ competition barbecue team is no stranger to the winner’s circle.”

Gotta try this: The BBQ nachos: Topped with your choice of chicken, brisket or pulled pork and slathered in barbecue sauce and cheese plowboysbbq.com

 

slap's barbecue kansas city

Slap’s BBQ 

553 Central Ave., 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 barbecue scene. Expect more of a cozy, counter-service shack with a couple of tables than a fancy sit-down barbecue parlor. Slap’s is short for “Squeal Like a Pig,” the owners’ competition team name.

What others say: Zagat named it 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

 

Burnt End BBQ

11831 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, Kan.

Opened: 2011

What we say: With pitmaster Stephen “Smokey” Schwartz at the helm, this unassuming barbecue, burgers and beers joint cooks up high quality meats and oh-so-tasty sides. From its signature bowls to its ever-expanding selection of sauces, there are plenty of ways to customize your ‘cue.

What others say: On Yelp: “Best-kept BBQ secret in Johnson County! This place really surprised me. Delicious, tender morsels of the best smoked burnt ends.”

Gotta try this: The pulled pork paradise Pig Out and the Burnt End Bowls —both delicately dressed in crispy onion straws, they’re almost too pretty to eat. Almost. burntendbbqkc.com

 

The Rub Bar-B-Que & Catering

10512 S. Ridgeview Road., Olathe, Kan.

Opened: 2011

What we say: Tangy sauces, tender meats and creative menu items are what draw us to this barbecue joint. After wowing friends, families and the competitive barbecue circuit, local competitive BBQ team “Tender Racks ‘n’ Smokin’ Butts” made their “slow food” dream a reality. Get the full ‘cue lovers’ experience with barbecue cooking classes.

What others say: The Kansas City Star says, “It is barbecue cooked to perfection, served with an explosion of complementary flavors.”

Gotta try this: The Hillbilly and Hash signature bowls, pulled pork tacos and the burnt end burrito. therubbarbque.com

 

NEW THIS YEAR:

Crazy Good Eats

16695A W. 151st St., Olathe, Kan.

Opened: 2015

What we say: The trend of competition barbecue teams setting up shop continues with newcomers Crazy Good Eats. Emphasizing the natural taste of the meat, Bruce and Maggie Lemay and Dan and Jen Isbell have south Johnson County mouths watering.

What others say: On Yelp: “What a pleasant surprise! Tried the pulled pork, burnt ends and the beans. I’ve never had better burnt ends anywhere. They’re moist, not fatty and super flavorful.”

Gotta try this: Mad meatballs and the KC Original sandwich (hickory smoked brisket and pulled pork, topped with thick, crispy bacon and onion strings). crazygoodeats.co

 

CLASSIC STANDBYS    

kansas city barbecue

BB’s Lawnside BBQ

1205 E. 85th St., Kansas City, Mo.

Opened: 1990

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

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

Gotta try this:  The BBQ meatloaf or the rib tip platter with battered fries. It’ll change your life.

bbslawnsidebbq.com

 

Bates City Bar-B-Que  Of Shawnee

6493 Quivira Road, Shawnee, Kan.

Opened:  1976

What we say: This hidden Shawnee eatery offers fast and flavorful barbecue that won’t break the bank. Its license-plate wall décor gives it just the right down-home touch.

What others say: On Yelp: “Bates City is one of my faves! They have the best french fries in the city — you should go for that reason alone!”

Gotta try this: The ribs. Succulent and sauced, these bones are a hit with the locals. If there’s room, fill up on those famous fries.

batescitybbq.net

 

Brobeck’s Barbeque

4615 Indian Creek Parkway, Overland Park, Kan.

Opened: 2007

What we say:  You’ll find the beautiful simplicity of expertly smoked meats made in the tradition of Carolina-style barbecue with KC embellishment. Pork is roasted in the pit overnight at this hidden gem.

What others say: USA Today’s 10 Best says “Brobeck’s really shines with their BBQ dinners, including a massive combo platter with ribs, sausage and one slice of meat, a juicy Polish sausage meal or signature smoked chicken salad served with lettuce, cheese and tomato; plus two sides.”

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

brobecksbbq.com

 

Danny Edward's BLVD BBQ

2900 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, Mo.

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 and a distinctly smoky flavor to all the meats.

What others say: TripAdvisor ranks Danny Edwards #48 out of 1,254 restaurants in Kansas City.

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

dannyedwardsblvdbbq.com

 

Johnny’s BBQ

Two locations

Opened: 1977

What we say: We’re raising our forks to the delectable ribs and chicken combo. It’s magnificent.

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.

johnnysbbqkc.com

 

LC’s Bar-B-Q

5800 Blue Parkway, Kansas City, Mo.

Opened: 1986

What we say:  LC’s is a true local hideaway conveniently located near the Truman Sports Complex. Last year’s blaze is no match for the eatery, which is a mecca for fans of its tender burnt ends, awesome french fries and sweet-tooth-satisfying fruit cobblers. 

What others say: Roadfood.com hails LC’s as “one of the best barbecue joints, in Kansas City or anywhere.”

Gotta try this: The burnt end sandwich, hand-cut fries and any of its homemade desserts. Barbecue this good deserves a website.

 

RJ’s Bob-Be-Cue Shack

5835 Lamar Ave., Mission, Kan.

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 upscale NYC restaurants while moonlighting on the competition circuit, perfecting his mouthwatering ‘cue.

What others say: Guy Fieri calls its jalapeño 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.

rjsbbq.com

 

Rosedale Bar-B-Q

600 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, Kan.

Opened: 1936

What we say:  This no-frills Southwest Boulevard staple is a solid regular on “Best of KC” lists. This legacy ‘cue spot founded in 1936 by Anthony Rieke is still family-owned. Here you’ll find reliably tasty ribs and crispy crinkle-cut 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: The Pig Pen sandwich. Your choice of pulled pork or beef topped with onion straws, fried jalapeño bottle caps, fajita peppers and pepper jack cheese. Need we say more?

rosedalebarbeque.com

 

Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

Four 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. Either way, there’s just something about its smoked goodness that’ll have you dreaming about it long after you’ve finished.

What others say: USA Today: “If you want to go another route, consider a Polish sausage platter, rib plate, hickory-smoked chicken or smokehouse special barbecue sandwich.“

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

smokehousebbq.com

 

Smokin’ Guns BBQ

1218 Swift St., North Kansas City, Mo.

Opened: 2003

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

What others say: Guy Fieri calls Phil and Linda Hopskins’ grand champion-winning meat “one killer brisket.”

Gotta try this:  The Big Gun combo platter: The heaping helping of four baby back ribs and your choice of three other meats (beef, brisket, ham, turkey, pulled pork or sausage) also comes with three sides like steak fries and is sure to satisfy.

smokingunsbbq.com

 

Woodyard Bar-B-Que

3001 Merriam Lane, 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 they have ben selling since its opening:  apple, cherry, hickory, oak, peach, pear and pecan.

What others say: Anthony Bourdain boasts, “At Woodyard, it’s all about the wood.”

Gotta try this: Baby back ribs and the delicious brunt end chili.

woodyardbbq.com

 

Zarda Bar-B-Q

Two locations

Opened: 1976

What we say:  Zarda’s world-famous beans and a variety of family recipes have been satisfying KC ‘cue seekers for more than three decades, earning its rightful spot on the list of legendary barbecue.

What others say: The Food Network: “At family-owned Zarda Bar-B-Q, 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:  The Sweet Carolina sandwich. Tender and juicy hickory-smoked pulled pork piled high and topped with tangy, Southern-style coleslaw will have you in hog heaven.

zarda.com

 

Beyond the ‘Cue Counter

baby back ribs at chaz on the plaza kansas city

baby back ribs at chaz on the plaza

 

     When it comes to barbecue, Kansas City’s culinary scene has much more to offer than just grease houses and smoke shacks. Take, for instance, the shrimp and grits topped with pulled pork or open-face burnt ends sandwich at the astute eatery known as Rye. Or savor the succulent and slow-roasted barbecue pork shoulder served with bourbon barbecue sauce, cornbread and braised red cabbage at Cleaver & Cork, downtown’s newest butcher-focused gastropub. If a sandwich is more your style, Cleaver & Cork delivers on that front as well with a smoked pulled pork sandwich served with fried jalapenos and goat cheese. You can also pop over to Alex Pope’s Local Pig Westport for a first-rate pulled pork burger with spicy pickles.

     Chef Charles d’Ablaing at Chaz on the Plaza has always had a hankering for barbecue, competing annually at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue with fellow chefs like Renée Kelly of Harvest, Michael Foust of The Farmhouse and Jason Wiggins of Sporting KC on a team called “Pork ‘n’ Boots.” So it comes as no surprise that he added several southern-style favorites to the lunch menu at Chaz,, including a delicious burnt ends sandwich with deep-fried pickles, tender smoked baby back ribs with cowboy beans and coleslaw, and a pulled pork sandwich.

      For fresh, farm-to-table fare with gourmet flair, stop into Renée Kelly’s charming restaurant, Harvest (12401 Johnson Drive, Shawnee Mission, Kan.), for a pulled pork sandwich with peach barbecue sauce, aioli and slaw, served for lunch on Wednesdays only. Local butcher shop/grocer McGonigle’s Market offers daily barbecue and fixings to go via its parking lot smoker, but the delicious burnt end sandwich is only on offer Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

pork shoulder cleaver and cork kansas city

pork shoulder at cleaver & cork

 

435 Magazine Readers' Poll

BEST RIBS:

Winner: Jack Stack won this informal reader’s survey hands down.

Honorable Mention:  Joe’s Kansas City and Q39

Quote: “Don’t forget LC’s BBQ. Close to the stadium and on game and concert days expect to have a long wait that’s worth it…the thick and meaty rib combo plate that’ll make you hurt yourself and throw your diet to the wind.” Lance Strawn

BEST BARBECUE SANDWICH (OTHER THAN THE Z-MAN):

Winner: The Pit Master Brisket at Q39

Honorable mentions:  The Tennessee Porker at Brobeck’s, Burnt Heaven sandwich from Char Bar, the Burnt End Burger at Q39, The Boulevard at Smokey’s on the Blvd

Quote: “Gates’ burnt end sandwich…old school genuine KC bbq!” John Wilczewski

BEST BARBECUE SIDES:

Winner:  Jack Stack’s baked beans

Honorable mentions: Jack Stack’s cheesy potato bake and cheesy corn, LC’s french fries, Gates french fries.

Quote: “Don’t ask me…I’m just there for the BBQ meat” Norma Spottswood  Sulzberger

 

Burnt Ends: KC’s Quintessential Barbecue Dish  

burnt end appetizer q39 kansas city

burnt end appetizer at q39

 

     There is perhaps no more quintessential example of Kansas City barbecue than the dish fondly called exactly what it is: burnt ends.

According to Kansas City folklore, burnt ends began at Arthur Bryant’s when customers were allowed to freely munch on the smoky, chewy burnt ends that had been trimmed off  the beef brisket and left to pile. Deemed too fatty to eat, traditionally these trimmings were set aside as the cooks’ snack.

   Calvin Trillin, Kansas City native and renowned food author, first shed national light on the burnt end phenomenon in the 1970s when he praised Arthur Bryant’s by saying, “I dream of those burned edges.”

   Before long, barbecue enthusiasts began to request “burnt ends” at other KC grease houses, and restaurants were swift to capitalize on the demand, adding burnt ends to menus throughout the city. “At their best, burnt ends are the crisped and charred ‘bark’ from the fattier corners of the brisket — beef crackling that has been blackened by smoke,” says acclaimed food blogger for The Ulterior Epicure and Kansas City barbecue enthusiast Bonjwing Lee. Ideally, they strike a balance between the crunchy, tough exterior and the juicy, fatty interior of the meat.

   Unfortunately, some barbecue restaurants try to manufacture burnt ends by chopping up pieces of regular brisket and mixing them with sauce, calling them “burnt ends.” However, without the concentrated smoky flavor found in the fatty end pieces of the meat, these dishes are merely a façade. Most importantly, burnt ends must be as the name suggests — burnt. Serve them over a thick piece of white bread to sop up the fat and sauce, and you have yourself some authentic Kansas City ‘cue.

 

 “No doubt there are some omnivores and vegetarians who have somehow lost their way. However, I have yet to meet anyone of any age or background who doesn’t suddenly crave barbecue the instant the aroma of a meat fire hits their nose. It touches a primal button in our DNA that is as powerful as the sex drive. " Ardie Davis as quoted in an interview with Andrew Zimmern in 2012

 

BURNT OFFERINGS: WHAT THE FOOD CRITICS CRAVE 

ardie davis barbecue

   They may differ in their preferences, but local and national food critics alike proclaim the beauty of KC’s prize dish, which transmutes the burnt and fatty scraps of lowbrow cuts of meat, usually brisket, into a sumptuous feast. Below some noted ‘cue critics weigh in on KC’s best burnt ends.

 Bill Addison, national food critic at Eater.com:

Addison calls burnt ends “KC’s iconic dish” and praises” the scrappy shards” at LC’s  as “gristly, nasty, and glorious”

Thrillist, a national e-newsletter, named LC’s burnt ends sandwich  as one of “50 Essential American Sandwiches”:

“Once you eat the burnt ends from LC's, you're a changed person. You are not the same. You will consider camping out just outside the restaurant to keep coming back for that meaty, crispy, beautiful bark.”

Bonjwing Lee, KC-based international food critic of The Ulterior Epicure food blog: 

In an article for eater.com in 2014 entitled “The Burnt Ends of Kansas City: A Guided Tour,” Lee writes of LC's burnt ends: “When they are good, they are fantastic. Fresh out of the smoker, the blackened crust is bubbling and crisp, the meat is a juicy and flavorful, with a generous amount of fat running throughout. LC's sauce, which is more vinegary than most Kansas City sauce, is a foil for the richness of his meat.”

Bonjwing Lee on Gates’ burnt ends:

“…their burnt ends knocked my socks off….The best way to describe Gates' burnt ends is brisket feuilletine. They reminded me of Rodney Scott's famous pulled pork in South Carolina. Scott separates the crisped skin from the pulled pork meat and then chops the two back together so that every bite is mottled with crystals of crunchy crackling. Gates' brisket burnt ends are just like that. And it's marvelous.”

Ardie Davis, barbecue expert, author and judge, as quoted in The Huffington Post:

“What chef Rob Magee (Q39) does with Kansas City’s favorite barbecue candy is simply classic: tender and juicy with bark, a kiss of smoke and sauce.”

Bonjwing Lee on Joe’s Kansas City’s burnt ends:   

“Like many others, Joe's  [Kansas City] separates the two muscles of a smoked brisket, and returns the point muscle to the smoker to darken... The charred point is chopped into small cubes and served on buttered toast with sliced pickles and a side… Joe's burnt ends have a nice char on the outer edges and the meat is tender, some of it layered with fat. It's consistently good.”

 

Sandwich Wars!  Contenders to Z-Man’s Crown

z-man joe's kansas city bar-b-q

in case you forgot what the z-man looks like

 

   We all know about Joe’s Kansas City’s Z-Man sandwich (possibly to be re-dedicated in honor of Royals player Ben Zobrist). This legendary sandwich, consists of slow-smoked beef brisket, barbecue sauce, smoked provolone and crispy onion rings on a toasted kaiser roll. It not only has a cult following among locals, but also celebs like Jimmy Kimmel. But what other KC contenders can give the Z-Man a run for its money? Here are some tasty challengers.

Mr. Burns

Q39

   Crafted alongside five other new menu items in celebration of Q39’s one-year anniversary, this heavenly dish elicits rave reviews from all who dive in. The Mr. Burns consists of tender, sliced burnt ends neatly sauced in a stick-to-your-ribs chipotle barbecue sauce, blanketed with pepper jack cheese and crispy shoestring onions, then housed in a fluffy, toasted bun. The result is a taste so excellent it’ll have your channeling The Simpsons character himself. 1000 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Mo., q39kc.com

the remus sandwich johnny's bbq kansas city

the remus sandwich at johnny's bbq

 

The Remus Sandwich

Johnny’s BBQ

   Named for BBQ expert Ardie Davis’ alter ego Remus Powers, Ph.B (doctorate in barbecue), this succulent Southern-style contender is a delicious display of what KC does best. Introduced in 2014, this grand champion-worthy sandwich features pitmaster Johnny White’s perfectly smoked pulled pork between toasted buns swiped with a hearty helping of pimento cheese. KC-style hickory barbecue sauce is then drizzled atop it before it’s adorned with crunchy coleslaw and a shake of dry meat rub. For an added kick, try it with the spicy jalapeño pickle chips. Two locations, johnnysbbqkc.com

 

Hog Wild

Zarda Bar-B-Q

   Prepare to be in hog heaven with Zarda’s piled-high pork masterpiece, Hog Wild. Part of its Limited Reserve line, you’ll find layer after layer of mouthwatering smoked meat, starting with juicy, artfully draped ham. Up next is Zarda’s world-famous pulled pork, followed by crisp bacon and topped off with melty provolone cheese. There’s no telling when this one will go back in the smoker, so enjoy it while it’s hot. Two locations, zarda.com

 

The Big D

Danny Edward's BLVD BBQ

   Though the ‘d’ in Danny Edwards’ famous Big D sandwich probably stands for Danny, it should stand for delicious. Wasting a single bite of its juicy, barbecue sauce-drizzled, point-end brisket would be considered blasphemous. Sandwiched between two slices of marbled rye, embellished with Swiss cheese and crowned with two crispy, golden brown onion rings, this melt-in-your-mouth creation gives the Z-Man a run for its money. The sandwich was also featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. 2900 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, Mo., dannyedwardsblvdbbq.com

 

 

celebs who love kc barbecue

best barbecue sides kansas city

 

ardie davis barbecue sauce

 

American Royal: The Highlights from the World Series of Barbecue Competition

   According to Carolyn Wells, executive director of the Kansas City Barbeque Society, the American Royal’s signature competition is the “World Series of barbecue, the Super Bowl of barbecue and the ultimate backyard barbecue,” (as quoted in Doug Worgul’s book The Grand Barbecue). This year’s barbecue competition will prove no exception, with a brand-new location and some exciting new features. 

The ‘Cue Competitors: This year’s World Series of Barbecue (WSB) boasts more than 600 teams representing 40 states, as well as teams from Japan, England and Canada and, for first time, Australia. The WSB is the largest barbecue competition in the world

New location: For the first time in its 36-year history, the barbecue contest has moved from the West Bottoms to the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot, to allow more room for contestants, visitors, tailgating, parking and general festivities. With the larger venue comes even more fun, including several stages of entertainments, a family fun fest, cooking demos, etc.

american royal world series of barbecue

New Tailgator Contest:  Hey, backyard barbecue masters, break out your secret sauce and crazy cooker — this year the American Royal World Series of Barbecue will host a tailgating contest on Oct. 3 for the general public involving two meats (it can be anything from pork or burgers to lobster or hot dogs) and two sides. The entry fee is $100. Perfect your four dishes and bask in barbecue bragging rights for a year.

The Barbecue Hall of Flame: This year’s inductees are Ed Fisher, inventor of the cult-like Big Green Egg outdoor cooker; Paul Kirk, the “Kansas City Baron of Barbecue,” winner of seven World Championships and author of seven barbecue books; and Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue Bible, journalist and public television host of shows such as Primal Grill and Project Smoke. The induction ceremony will be held Oct. 3 at 7p.m., and admission is included with general entry tickets to the WSB.

Here’s the Rub:  The World Series of Barbecue recently launched its own line of barbecue rubs based on last year’s contest winners and available at area Wal-Marts. In addition, it is about to launch a collection of prize-winning sauces, so you can take truly home the WSB experience. 

The Charity Connection:  The American Royal, a nonprofit organization, donates more than $1 million annually to support local youth and education initiatives, awards and scholarships.

For information, schedule and tickets visit americanroyal.com.

american royal world series of barbecue

 

 

KC Barbeque Society 

kansas city barbeque society

     Founded in 1985 by Gary and Carolyn Wells, the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS) is the largest sanctioning body for competition-level barbecuing in the world with its more than 20,000 members worldwide. Simply put, the KCBS sets uniform rules and a consistent judging structure to more than 450 sanctioned barbecue competitions throughout the globe. In addition, KCBS is the official headquarters to dozens of competitive barbecue teams. With its library and extensive archive of barbecue related information as well as its connections with the latest barbecue equipment manufacturers, KCBS offers its members educational programs and consultation services all while promoting barbecue, and specifically Kansas City barbecue, on a global scale via seminars, lectures and their playfully named newsletter The Bullsheet.

     Carolyn Wells, executive director of the KCBS, and her husband, Gary, began winning barbecue cook-offs in the 1970s and quickly earned a reputation as experts in the field of barbecue. Before long, KCBS was born and Wells was off and running — travelling to barbecue competitions throughout the country, often forgoing sleep to stay up all night with contest organizers and cooks to keep things running smoothly and even travelling internationally to speak about barbecue as part of the Slow Food International movement.

   For more information visit kcbs.us.

 

'Cue the DVR: A Future Food Network Show to Highlight KC 'Cue Competitors?

     No official confirmation from the Food Network at this point, but we have it on good authority that they are working on a potential future show focused on barbecue and grilling. Producers plan to shoot in the KC area and are searching for three must-visit barbecue spots helmed by pitmasters/chefs with culinary backgrounds that are able to transform basic barbecue into truly inventive dishes. They are also searching for qualified local barbecue judges. We can certainly think of loads of contenders! The show is still in the development stage. Stay tuned for future announcements.

     In addition, Andrew Zimmern of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods visited the Local Pig and Woodyard Barb-B-Que recently for a rumored upcoming show on KC eats.

 

Hot off the Press:

Barbecue Lover’s Kansas City Style: Restaurants, Markets, Recipes & Traditions by Ardie A. Davis (Globe Pequot Press, $21.95)

barbecue lover's kansas city style

   Described as “an essential reference tool for those looking to immerse themselves in the culture of Kansas City-style barbecue,” Barbecue Lover's Kansas City Style is a must-have reference and travel book rolled into one, penned by KC’s resident barbecue sauce king and expert Ardie Davis (he’s authored nine books on the subject of ‘cue). The book, released October 2015 by Globe Pequot Press, features the history of the local barbecue scene; a comprehensive list of where to find — and most importantly consume — the best local KC ‘cue (including what to order at each joint); regional recipes from restaurants, chefs and pit masters; lavish illustrations of local ‘cue; plus info on the best barbecue fests.

 

Recipes

All recipes from Barbecue Lover's Kansas City Style by Ardie Davis

 

Slap's (Squeal Like A Pig) Buttermilk Hush Puppies  (Makes 8)

6 cups vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups self-rising white cornmeal mix

3/4 cup self-rising flour

3/4 cup diced sweet onion (about ½ medium onion)

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/4cups buttermilk

 

   Pour oil to depth of 3 inches in a 4-quart Dutch oven; heat to 375 degrees. Combine cornmeal and next 3 ingredients. Add egg and buttermilk; stir just until moistened. Let stand 10 minutes. Drop batter by rounded tablespoonful into hot oil, and fry, in 3 batches, 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden. Keep warm in a 200-degree oven.

 

R.J's Bob-B-Que Shack Original Burnt End Hash (Serves 4)

rj's bob-b-que shack burnt end hash

 1/4 cup unsalted butter

6 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms

1 bunch sliced green onions

1/2 cup diced red and green peppers

6 ounces chopped crispy smoked bacon

2 cups cooked diced potatoes

24 ounces crispy beef brisket or pork burnt ends, cut in bite-size pieces

1 tablespoon R.J.’s dry meat rub

8 whole eggs, prepared any way you like (scrambled, over easy, etc.)

 

   In large frying pan melt butter on medium heat; add mushrooms, onions, peppers and bacon. Saute until vegetables are soft, add potatoes and burnt ends, brown lightly, and toss with dry meat rub. Cook eggs as desired and serve with the hash. Add Texas Toast and your favorite barbecue sauce.

 

 

Arthur Bryant's-style Fries (Serves 4)

4 pounds pure lard

4 large Idaho russet potatoes (as large and lengthy as possible), washed, unpeeled, cut into about 5/16-inch french fry-style pieces

 

   Heat the lard to 325 degrees in a deep fryer. Divide fries into 8 batches and blanch each batch for about 3 minutes in the hot lard. Drain each batch on paper towels or on a wire rack. Put the blanched fries in a cooler and let cool, covered, for at least 30 minutes. Then five minutes before you’re ready to serve the fries, drop them in hot lard in batches and fry them for 4 to 5 minutes until golden crisp on the outside. Enjoy the sweet, crispy outside/soft inside fries that helped make Arthur Bryant’s famous. Never salted.

 

 

Burnt End's Beer-Battered Pickles with Jalapeno Aioli (Makes 50-75 chips)

1 1/2 cups flour, plus additional for dusting

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 tespoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder

1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder

1 (12-ounce) can beer

20 dill pickles, sliced into chips

 

   Line cookie tray with parchment paper and dust with flour. Whisk ingredients (except for pickles) together. Dip pickle chips into the batter and place on cookie sheet. Dust tops of pickles with flour and freeze for at least 12 hours. Drop pickles in small batches into oil (heated to about 356 degrees) until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes. Dry on paper towels. Serve with jalapeño bbq aioli .

 

Jalapeño BBQ Aioli  (makes 6 cups)

1 ounce minced garlic

1 ounce minced shallot

1 1/2 ounces minced fresh jalapeño with seeds

1 1/2 ounces rough chopped cilantro

1 1/2 ounces lime juice

3 egg yolks

1 ounce plain yellow mustard

1 1/2 ounce cider vinegar

3 ounces traditional tomato-base barbecue sauce

1/4 ounce salt

1/4 ounce Black pepper

2 cups vegetable oil

 

   Place all ingredients in blender except the oil; pulse blend until smooth. Then slowly drizzle the oil into the blender running at low speed until the sauce emulsifies and thickens. Store refrigerated until ready to serve with beer-battered fried pickles.