19 Reasons Why Kansas City Barbecue is the Best

Did you hear that, Texas?

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   Reason No. 6

   We Have the Godfather of KC BBQ

   Words Ardie Davis   



   In the world of Kansas City barbecue, Jack Fiorella has been making barbecue no one can refuse because it's soooo good. Although he's not the father of KC barbecue (that distinction goes to Henry Perry) he can be called the Godfather for his enduring influence and family dynasty. Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue sells more Kansas City barbecue locally and nationally than any other KC barbecue enterprise and he learned the secrets to great 'cue at his father's feet. 

   The eldest son of Russ and Flora Fiorella, Jack grew up in South Kansas City and was raised literally on top of his family's Smokestack barbecue restaurant where young Jack learned the trade. In 1974 Jack spread his sauce-covered wings and opened Smoke Stack Barbecue in Martin City. Two decades later Jack and his wife, Delores, expanded into Overland Park and rebranded their restaurants as Jack Stack. 

   Today there are five Jack Stacks, a bustling catering business and thanks to a savvy 2000 business decision to start shipping their barbecue nationwide, the entire country can now be "Jack Stacked."

   Fiorella no longer handles the day to day operations of Jack Stack. In 2009 he sold his empire to his daughter Jennifer and son-in-law Case Dorman. But Jack is still the authority of barbecue, and friends say when the subject inevitably gets brought up Fiorella gets a gleam in his eyes and the stories begin to flow. 

   Reason No. 7

   We Can Get Fancy with Our Sides

   Words Sherry Kuehl


cheesy corn bake


   Barbecue Sides Reimagined

   We tasked two 20-something rising culinary talents with the challenge of reimagining some classic barbecue sides. Abby Calvert of Krokstrom Klubb & Market and Sam Hall of The Rieger took to the assignment with gusto.

   However, they both admitted to being a just a little wary of messing with tradition. As KC natives, they have strong opinions about barbecue and treat the subject with a level of reverence that speaks to, in our opinion, excellent home training.

   Hall picked the cheesy corn bake as his reimagined side dish. He says the flavors of the dish remind him “so much of growing up.” He also confesses to not changing the basic taste profile and instead updating it with fresh corn from Crum’s Heirlooms farm in Bonner Springs, Kan., and cheese from Green Dirt Farm in Weston, Mo. The crowning glory to his side is the char on top from a kitchen torch. Sam says it gives the dish a grilled texture that complements any barbecued meat.



vegan tri colored potato salad (left) and sweet beet coleslaw (right)

   Calvert chose two salads to elevate, giving potato salad a vegan spin and taking the quintessential ‘cue cole slaw and replacing the cabbage with sweet beets.

   If you’re hesitant about adding tofu to potato salad, Calvert urges you to give it a try. She used Chunco tofu and calls the product “something that should be showcased.” The sous chef promises that the blending of the tofu with vinegar, mustard and emulsifying oil tastes as good as mayonnaise. 

   Hall says barbecue and its sides are “ingrained in the heart of any Kansas Citian,” and he’s not shy to proudly proclaim that Kansas City has the best — hands down.

   Calvert agrees and calls the great debate over the best barbecue in Kansas City a local tradition. “If you are a Kansas Citian and don't have an opinion about who makes the best barbecue, then you are missing out.”

   Click here to view recipes. 

   Reason No. 8

   We'll 'Cue Anything

   Words Allyson wilson



   Will it Cue? 

   When it comes to barbecue, meat is king, but 435 Magazine wondered what other foods could stand the heat. So we rounded up a food panel and enlisted the help of Kansas City Barbeque Society Hall of Famer chef Paul Kirk and his Lang BBQ Smoker to answer the question, “Can you ‘cue it?”

   Blueberry Cake Doughnut from Big Daddy’s Donuts

   Rating: Fork up/five forks

   The heat from the smoker enhances the blueberry flavor, giving it a fresh-out-of-the-fryer taste. Biting into the caramelized glaze with eyes closed will have you believing you’re sinking your teeth into a slice of granulated sugar-dusted blueberry pie. Love at first bite.

   Basil-Garlic Polenta

   Rating: Sideways fork/two forks

   When ‘cued, the edges get nice and crispy, which is a plus, but the basil-garlic undertones made it taste a bit like undercooked pasta. Hard pass.


   Rating: Sideways fork/one fork

   Though the grill marks alone made it Instagram-worthy, seasoning it with Kirk’s 2011 Best Rub on the Planet-winning recipe still couldn’t save the typically tasteless favorite and left us divided. Can you ‘cue it? Absolutely. Should you? Probably not.


   Rating: Fork up/five forks

   Smoking a fresh nectarine livens the fruit’s natural sweetness. When sliced, the juices are slightly sticky, making it the perfect summertime treat. Kirk recommends halving and grilling nectarines then balancing out the sweetness with a dollop of tart blue cheese at the center.

   Brussels Sprouts

   Rating: Forks up/three forks

   With Kirk’s seasoning as its wingman, the sprouts got nice and tender on the grill and tasted nothing like the veggies you tried desperately to avoid as a kid. Roasting the leaves gave it an added elegance and a texture that won us over.


   Rating: Forks up/four forks

   To peel or not to peel, that was the question. With the peel on, grilling the fruit left the outside looking bruised but the inside unscathed. Surprisingly when naked, it grilled best, with our panel comparing the flavor to plantains, banana chips and even bananas Foster. Win.


   Rating: Forks up/three forks

   Move over, Los Angeles; Kansas City might be the next city to jump on the kale bandwagon. Surprisingly tasty when seasoned with all-purpose rub, the leafy greens turned into kale chips when properly charred, and we couldn’t get enough.

   Acorn Squash

   Rating: Forks down/no forks

   The second food on our list to be given the fork down, the fall favorite left little to be desired. We had high hopes for it (especially after we expertly removed its seeds — #boss), but in the end it was mealy, unattractive and tasteless. Pass.


   Rating: Fork up/five forks

   Sprinkling on barbecue rub to enhance the sweetness is the KC way of the ol’ salt-on-the-watermelon hack. Despite being 92 percent water, the slices of melon held up well and earned a delightful groan from the panel of testers.

   Pound Cake

   Rating: Fork up/three forks

   Grilling the sliced pound cake didn't’t change the flavor, but the grill marks sure made for an interest-piquing display. Opt for homemade or store-bought pound cake, but leave the Sara Lee on the shelf.



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