19 Reasons Why Kansas City Barbecue is the Best

Did you hear that, Texas?

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   Reason No. 1 

   Because We Have the Largest Barbecue Society in the Known Universe

   No sloppy seconds for KC because we are the birthplace, the home, the mothership to the biggest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts on the planet. The Kansas City Barbeque Society has more than 18,000 members, sanctions 450-plus barbecue contests worldwide every yar and has certified 20,000 barbecue judges.

   Reason No. 2

   Our Barbecue Qualifies as Disaster Relief

   Kansas City barbecue through Operation BBQ Relief provides aid and comfort during natural disasters across the United States. Founded six years ago after a tornado destroyed Joplin, Mo., the volunteer organization has become the ulitmate meals on wheels for disaster victims and rescue workers. The combination of cooking expertise, the ability to quickly mobilize and fearlessness make Operation BBQ Relief the gold standard for providing hot meals to thousands of people. When the barbecue pits from KC roll into a disaster zone, people cheer.

   Operation BBQ Relief By the Numbers

Meals served: 1.5 million and counting 

States served: 22 

Communities served: 41

Days deployed: 240

Volunteers: 5,000+

   Reason No. 3

   Our Pit Masters Aren't Afraid to Throw Down

   words ardie davis



   Brick, stainless steel, cast iron — It’s the eternal barbecue debate over which pit is superior in creating the ultimate ‘cue experience. We asked seven experts with more than 440 years’ collective experience in the barbecue industry to let loose.

   The Traditionalist with a Twist

   David Knight

   Barbecue Hall of Fame inductee, owner of Ole Hickory Pits, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

    “We’ve enjoyed considerable success providing Ole Hickory Pits to our customers. We leave that important part of taste to the public. Our job is to provide a reliable and consistent barbecue pit that is easy to monitor and adjust to pit masters’ specifications.”

   Kicking It Old-School

   Mason Steinberg

   Proprietor of the former Old Mill Barbecue, Omaha, Neb.

   “I much favor the old cast-iron pits like we’ve been using for more than 100 years, because once they are seasoned it has the smoke flavor that I really enjoy, whereas when I’ve tried using stainless steel I can’t get anything near that flavor because of the way stainless steel refracts heat … I like the original flavor that I grew up on starting at 14 years old.”

   The Dual Wielder

   Gary Berbiglia

   Owner of Berbiglia’s Roost, Overland Park, Kan.

   “When you use a brick oven, you don’t have any control over temperature and heat, and it’s all pretty much on direct fire. It’s really hard to get a temperature that’s low enough and constant enough to cook the way it needs to be cooked. I think the best way to handle it is to start it off in a stainless-steel pit like Ole Hickory, in a low, constant temperature with heavy smoke, which you’re not going to get off a high, direct fire in brick, and then finish it off to about 75 percent done and then pull it out and finish it off in a brick oven. It puts that open-air, direct-fire flavor into it in the brick pit, and it puts the heavy smoke flavor in the stainless-steel low-temp pit. I think it’s the best of both worlds. If you have the capability of using both, I don’t think there’s anything that can beat it.”

   The Master

   Bill Chaney

   Legendary Kansas City pit builder

   “The original barbecue was wood, oak or hickory in a brick pit designed for cooking barbecue over wood, and that puts the flavor in the meat. That’s what you call real barbecue…The old timers that enjoy barbecue, they know the difference … I’m an advocate of wood-burning pits. Of course, I understand that nowadays the demand for barbecue is so great that the wood pit needs some help.”

   The Realist

   Chef Paul Kirk, KC Baron of Barbecue, Barbecue Hall of Fame inductee

   “I could, you could, but I’m saying the public can’t [taste a difference in the flavor of barbecue from different types of pits] because they’re not exposed to all those different venues. You’re going to get some great flavor from the brick pit or steel pit. There’s going to be much more flavor embedded in there than in a stainless-steel pit, but I don’t think the public can really tell.”

   Mr. Blunt

   Johnny White, owner of Johnny’s Bar-B-Que, Mission, Kan.

   “They both have their place, but the best description I can give you in a few words would be, it’s pros vs. joes when it comes to using these pits.”   

   The Diplomat

   Joe Pearce, co-owner of Slap’s BBQ, Kansas City, Kan.        
“A big difference between a ceramic pit or a brick pit and a big commercial-style smoker like an Ole Hickory or Southern Pride is not really the pit itself. It’s the time and the attention to detail that goes into cooking each piece of meat. I think you can cook great food on either one of those. You can also cook great food on a hole dug in the ground over some open coals.”

   Reason No. 4

   Our Pit Masters Have the Best Tattoos


 (above) Dan Isbell, pit master at Crazy Good Eats, Olathe, Kan. 

   Reason No. 5

   We Eat BBQ For Dessert

   Words Allyson Wilson


Burnt End Ice Cream


   I ate Joe's KC Burnt Ends & Sauce ice cream... and survived

   I probably love barbecue more than the average Joe (pun intended); in a previous life I’m convinced I was a pitmaster or a curer of ye olde meats. In my current form, I hadn’t met a kind of ‘cue I didn’t like — until I tried burnt ends ice cream. The mere mention of it is either met with disgust or intrigue, and I’ll admit I was the latter. I can’t resist a novelty item. It’s really a problem.

   I was raving to a few fellow MU alums about how David and Mary Friesen’s Betty Rae’s Ice Cream would evoke nostalgia of the Sparky’s kind, so we found ourselves in the steady queue forming outside the creamery on Wornall Road. The surrounding chatter of how far some had traveled to taste this treat made me confident enough to try it. And there, dear reader, is where I made a terrible mistake.

   At first blush, it resembles something akin to Bunny Tracks, but that’s where the similarities end. Wrapped seductively in one of shop’s house-made waffle cones is a deceptive scoop of sweet cream-based ice cream swirled with candied Kansas City gold (burnt ends) striped with Joe’s Kansas Bar-B-Que original sauce-laced caramel. The British pomade Brylcreem said it best, “A little dab’ll do ya,” and that’s how much my taste buds could take as I found myself cautiously chewing a bit of burnt end.

   Did I find it tasty? Not in the slightest. I still shudder at the thought of tasting it, but that sweet and smoky creation is so Kansas City that it just makes sense. Only in Cowtown (and I use that affectionately) can you marry barbecue with ice cream, be darn proud of it, and people will travel many miles to join that elite bizarre-foods club. I couldn’t get behind the flavor, but I can sure get behind KC’s dedication to the best ‘cue in the nation.


Click here to see the Top 24 Barbecue Joints in Kansas City.