Kansas City's Best Barbecue
Everything you need to know about KC's brand of 'cue
In Kansas City, we're all about smoky, saucy fall-off-the-bone barbecue. As a tribute to our city's signature cuisine, we take you on a tour of everything you need to know about KC's brand of 'cue: the history, the sauce, the restaurants, the pit masters and more. So roll up your sleeves and dig right in — you're going to need lots of napkins!
Kansas City-style Barbecue
WORDS ARDIE DAVIS
“If I had to use one word to describe Kansas City barbecue,” Ardie Davis says, “that word is eclectic. There are four major regional barbecue styles: Texas, Memphis, the Carolinas and Kansas City — Kansas City being the most diverse in terms of types of meats, cooking styles and sauces. The other regions have their distinctions, but Kansas City’s barbecue is an adaptation of the other categories.”
Davis went on to tell us nearly everything we could possibly need to know about Kansas City-style barbecue and the restaurants that serve it to us.
Kansas City’s barbecue heritage started in the early 1900s when Henry Perry, father of Kansas City barbecue, sold streetside barbecue from a downtown stand. Later, he opened the first barbecue restaurant here, called Henry Perry’s. Perry brought the Memphis influence with an emphasis on pork, also a favorite throughout Tennessee and the Carolinas.
Texas influence is beef, specifically brisket. Perry trained other barbecue legends, like brothers Charlie and Arthur Bryant, and he later sold his business to them.
We freely acknowledge that our barbecue tradition stands on the shoulders of others. We didn’t invent barbecue, but as author of The Grand Barbecue Doug Worgul and others say, we perfected it.
When it comes to the meat, it all started with the cheaper cuts of meat, such as brisket, spareribs and rib tips. Butchers often used brisket in ground beef hamburger meat, blending the tough muscle meat with fat.
Traditional American barbecue is rooted in African-American culture. Enslaved plantation workers in the antebellum South learned how to convert tough discarded cookhouse meats and wild game into flavorful, tender barbecue with minimal seasoning by cooking it low and slow. That method of cooking spread beyond the South after the Civil War. African-Americans, some with pit master skills, were attracted to construction, manufacturing, meat processing, transportation and service industry jobs in cities such as Chicago, St. Louis and Kansas City during several waves of migration.
Burnt ends evolved as a Kansas City specialty during the 1970s. Although pit masters throughout the city routinely trimmed and discarded fat-marbled meat off pit-smoked briskets, celebrated journalist and Kansas City native Calvin Trillin called international attention to the culinary value of those trimmings. He named his favorite dish at Arthur Bryant’s the free “burned edges.” They are no longer free. Gary Berbiglia, former co-owner of Arthur Bryant’s after Bryant passed away, is credited with coining “burnt ends.” I am a purist about burnt ends, limiting the designation to beef brisket trimmings, but these days people are serving cuts of pork, sausage and other meats, typically cubed, as burnt ends. True burnt ends are the trimmed thinner “point” portion of brisket.
While it’s true that Kansas City’s barbecue culture reflects the influence of other regions, over the years our barbecue has become a great influence to others. Signature Kansas City barbecue used to be meaty, gristly fat-marbled rib tips and burnt ends. While burnt ends and rib tips are still popular, neatly trimmed and glazed, competition-style barbecue is sharing the spotlight.
There is also a trend toward gourmet/competition-style barbecue exemplified by Rob Magee at Q39. Magee’s Culinary Institute of America (CIA) credentials and his success at competition barbecue are evident on every plate at Q39. His daughter, Katie, a recent CIA graduate, has joined the Q39 culinary vanguard.
When people now think of KC sauce, they think sweet, molasses and tomato, but it wasn’t so sweet originally. Arthur Bryant’s original sauce is vinegar-based and grainy, similar to early Memphis-style sauce. The original Gates sauce isn’t sweet, nor is the original Rosedale sauce. Now Kansas City has a complete rainbow of sauce offerings, from sweet and sticky to sour and runny.
Although Perry initiated barbecue as a product in 1908 and later opened a restaurant that evolved into today’s Arthur Bryant’s, Rosedale Bar-B-Q, founded in 1934, is the oldest continuously operated family-owned barbecue restaurant in Kansas City. Many barbecue restaurant proprietors throughout the city got their start at Arthur Bryant’s or Rosedale.
Lately, as Kansas City’s barbecue becomes more heavily influenced by competition barbecue, you’ll see higher-end cuts of meat. You’ll see more going to smaller, meatier babyback/loin ribs instead of or in addition to spareribs. Pricier meat can give an edge in competition barbecue. Babybacks have been favored in Memphis barbecue restaurants and contests for years.
I attribute Kansas City’s reputation for sweet sauce to the nationwide popularity of KC Masterpiece and to the influence of certified Kansas City Barbeque Society judges in the contest network. Although sweetness is not an official judging requirement, competition cooks have learned that sweet meat wins contests.
While training certified barbecue judges plays an important role in leveling the playing field at contests, a small number of judges — called “Super Judges” in the contest network — get a bit carried away with their certification. Super Judges are reminiscent of the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. When he was given a paper diploma, he took it as proof that he had a brain. Most of the thousands of certified barbecue judges worldwide recognize that there is always more to learn and that their training doesn’t make them sole authorities on barbecue quality.
When it comes to the rub, it was pretty basic beginnings in Kansas City: salt and pepper. Rubs got more complicated when the contest network developed. Cooks added more seasonings, such as celery seed, oregano, powdered cumin, brown sugar and cayenne. Some, especially when used in moderation, add a fantastic complement to barbecue meat. Rubs are a big deal in the contest network and in today’s barbecue restaurants.
In the industry, sauce is right up there with meat. You have some pit masters claiming it’s all about the sauce because they say, hey, anybody can cook the meat, so for them, it all comes down to the sauce. And it is true you can change and enhance flavors quite a bit with sauce, but if the sauce covers up the meat flavor, I’m not interested.
When talking about pitting one local restaurant against another to identify the most popular KC barbecue restaurants, we have two basic options: traditional or contest-style barbecue.
To me, Gates, Arthur Bryant’s, Rosedale, Johnny’s, Jones and LC’s are good examples of traditional Kansas City barbecue. Joe’s, SLAP’s, Plowboys and Q39 exemplify contest-style barbecue. It isn’t a question of either/or. In Kansas City, we love and support both traditional and contest-style barbecue.
We are fortunate to have so many great barbecue places in Kansas City. Here’s a thumbnail selection of just a few:
Pit master/proprietor Dan Janssen at The Rub Bar-B-Que in Olathe is a gifted chef. I think of his cuisine as competition/gourmet-style barbecue. The restaurant, on the outskirts of Olathe, is a worthwhile destination for some great barbecue.
Stephen “Smokey” Schwartz at Burnt End BBQ is really important, too. He helped the PB&J chain open a Burnt End in Denver. There are plans to expand to the UK and elsewhere. Smokey still competes at the Lenexa contest every year.
Big players in the contest network such as SLAP’s, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, Plowboys Barbeque and Q39 were inspired to enter the barbecue restaurant business after their success at winning contests and encouragement from fans of their barbecue. That has been a trend in Kansas City recently. Most of the newer places have come out of the contest network, and they are doing very well. Q39 is already opening a second location in Overland Park this fall. Plowboys has opened a second restaurant at 12th and Main streets downtown.
Crazy Good Eats in Olathe comes from the contest network, too. Dan Isbell, pit master, is an experienced competition cook. His father-in-law, Bruce Lemay, is a veteran of the restaurant industry and competition barbecue. Success at catering was a catalyst for opening the restaurant. Their menu is deliciously creative.
Gary Berbiglia recently opened the newest barbecue restaurant in town, Berbiglia’s Roost near 87th Street and Metcalf Avenue. Berbiglia, former co-owner of Arthur Bryant’s and the ever-popular former Joe’s Barn, is a walking encyclopedia of Kansas City restaurant history. His new restaurant features barbecue, fried chicken and other top-quality comfort foods, along with a full-service bar.
Danny Edwards, son of the legendary Jake Edwards, serves up some of the best traditional barbecue in town, tweaked with Danny’s signature flavors and creative flair. To make room for the Power & Light District, he shuttered his popular Lil’ Jake’s Eat It & Beat It. His many fans were elated when he opened Danny Edward’s Boulevard BBQ on Southwest Boulevard. Same great food, more space.
Phil and Linda Hopkins, veterans of the contest network and winners of prestigious contests such as the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue, serve excellent competition-style barbecue at their Smokin’ Guns BBQ restaurant in North KC. They razed the original smaller place and built a much larger venue to accommodate their many fans.
Wabash BBQ and Blues Garden in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, is a less well-known secret converted train station that’s definitely worth the drive. They are really good, and I like the small train station ambiance.
Zarda Bar-B-Q serves top-notch traditional barbecue in Blue Springs on the Missouri side and Lenexa on the Kansas side. Their enormous fan base thrives on their ribs, sandwiches, burnt ends and sides — especially the beans. Zarda is consistently good barbecue that won’t disappoint.
Tim and Georgia Mae Clark at Back Porch Bar-B-Q are sticklers for freshness and quality. KC native Tim and Mississippi native Georgia Mae serve up flavorful meat feasts lightly sauced and gently kissed with smoke, along with delicious greens, barbecue beans, mac and cheese, and other sides. Catfish, tenderloins and burritos are also a treat.
Brobecks Barbeque owner Doug Brobeck comes from East Tennessee, a designated region of the state with a capital E. There it’s mostly about pork, but Brobecks features all of the traditional meats we expect in Kansas City, including burnt ends. The Overland Park joint’s ham salad is so popular that it’s a good idea to reserve an order ahead when you’re planning a party. Although Brobeck’s barbecue is great without sauce, you can try his sauce if you wish, or you are welcome to bring your favorite sauce. Brobecks is about the meat, not the sauce.
Johnny White at Johnny’s BBQ in Mission learned the barbecue business from working for Kansas City barbecue legend Anthony Rieke at Rosedale. White learned all aspects of the business, from bussing tables, washing dishes, plating orders, and of course, smoking the meat. White and staff serve quality traditional Kansas City barbecue to packed crowds for lunch and dinner. His son, Eric, runs a second Johnny’s in Olathe.
Anthony Rieke’s granddaughter, Marisha Brown-Smith, her husband, Bill, and Marisha’s mother run Rosedale Bar-B-Q in KCK. After 82 years and counting, Rosedale is still owned and operated by Rieke family descendants. Rosedale has occupied several buildings over the years, always on Southwest Boulevard. It grew from a small shack featuring beer and hot dogs to a major longtime Kansas City favorite. The 25-cent lunch special is long gone, but you still get generous portions of traditional barbecue at Rosedale.
Bates City Bar-B-Que in Shawnee is one of the best bargains for ribs in Kansas City. Nothing fancy, these big, tender spareribs — untrimmed, meaty and somewhat fatty — will take your hunger head-on and force it to surrender. The fries are some of the best in town. You either love it, like me, or you don’t. More meat for the money, like Rosedale.
Roscoe and Mariann Davis have raised the bar for barbecue excellence since they first opened Roscoe’s Barbeque, a casual, busy, family-run business of hard-working folks for hard-working folks.
Their hickory/apple/cherry smoke combo fuels and flavors a full menu of traditional Kansas City barbecue meats. Roscoe’s palate-pleasing chicken, beef, ham, turkey, burnt ends and ribs are consistently delicious.
Charlie Browne’s All Slabbed Up is the place to go in Leavenworth for traditional smoked meats so good they would put a smile on the late John Wayne’s cowboy persona. It’s worth a day trip to Leavenworth, but behave yourself: Corrections facilities are near at hand.
When people think of Kansas City, they think of barbecue and blues, and I tell them, good luck! Within the city limits, there’s BB’s Lawnside Blues & BBQ, and that’s about it. BB’s pit, for me, has a romantic touch that adds a special magic to traditional Kansas City barbecue meats. The pit is made of granite pavers from old Kansas City streets. I imagine blues and jazz greats walking on those old pavers. The romance of Kansas City barbecue is exemplified in that pit, which makes the meat really special — that, the blues performers they host and the Louisiana-style sides. Mike Nickle, pit master, is also a competition cook, but the barbecue is closer to traditional with a little more emphasis on presentation.
At A Little BBQ Joint in Independence, proprietor Fabian Bauer is using Cookshack Fast Eddy pellet cookers to turn out contest-quality barbecue meats. The unique ambiance of the place reflects Bauer’s multi-talented expertise in auto body painting and repair. He has taken the seats from old trucks and cars to make booth seating, and some of his lighting fixtures are old professional spray paint guns. He has expanded outdoors, too, to accommodate a real beer garden with more space than the clever “beer garden” at the front of the restaurant: a planter with empty beer bottles stuck in the soil. And, since it’s in Harry Truman’s hometown, Bauer has a Harry S. sandwich composed of a quarter-pound hot dog with barbecue pulled pork and melted pepper jack cheese on a bun.Cookshack Fast Eddy pellet cookers to turn out contest-quality barbecue meats. The unique ambiance of the place reflects Bauer’s multi-talented expertise in auto body painting and repair. He has taken the seats from old trucks and cars to make booth seating, and some of his lighting fixtures are old professional spray paint guns. He has expanded outdoors, too, to accommodate a real beer garden with more space than the clever “beer garden” at the front of the restaurant: a planter with empty beer bottles stuck in the soil. And, since it’s in Harry Truman’s hometown, Bauer has a Harry S. sandwich composed of a quarter-pound hot dog with barbecue pulled pork and melted pepper jack cheese on a bun.
Char Bar Smoked Meats & Amusements in Westport is upscale and inventive. They are in step with the changing culinary preferences of millennials. You can go to Char Bar as a vegetarian or vegan and find something on the menu that will not disappoint. Their smoked/pulled jackfruit is very close to pulled pork. The cheesy grits are fantastic, as are the cheesy hush puppies and fried green tomatoes. The Roots & Fruits salad with beets, parsnips, sliced orange and goat cheese could make a generous entree. Also, don’t miss Char Bar’s fried chicken, served only on Sundays. I especially love the Grilled Pimento Cheese sandwich, the Naked Burger and the CBGB Burger. Their full-service bar tuned to current sports on big-screen TVs is a popular watering hole. millennials. You can go to Char Bar as a vegetarian or vegan and find something on the menu that will not disappoint. Their smoked/pulled jackfruit is very close to pulled pork. The cheesy grits are fantastic, as are the cheesy hush puppies and fried green tomatoes. The Roots & Fruits salad with beets, parsnips, sliced orange and goat cheese could make a generous entree. Also, don’t miss Char Bar’s fried chicken, served only on Sundays. I especially love the Grilled Pimento Cheese sandwich, the Naked Burger and the CBGB Burger. Their full-service bar tuned to current sports on big-screen TVs is a popular watering hole.
Speaking of fried chicken, Rob Magee at Q39 smokes chicken then batters and deep-fries it. This is something you have to try — it’s fantastically good with a touch of chipotle sauce.
Ken and Michelle Kinler pack hungry customers in at their bustling K&M Bar-B-Q in Spring Hill, Kansas. K&M’s traditional barbecue and sides are so popular that they had to build a larger restaurant to keep up with demand. They’ve been around for more than 20 years and are known for generous portions and reasonable prices.
Co-owner siblings Nick and Sam Silvio, along with their sister, Gina, bought Hawg Jaw Que & Brew several years ago from founders Bud and Marley Laub. The Riverside, Missouri, joint was originally named after an infamous lady who lived in the Bootheel region of Missouri. Try a sampler of beef, ribs, pulled pork, sausage and burnt ends with some Boss Man Sauce. The pit beans and crispy fries are fantastic sides.
I love the ambiance at Woodyard Bar-B-Que in KCK. Nothing fancy, just a red brick outdoor pit, stacks of various hardwoods everywhere, outdoor brick patio and indoor dining with a hodgepodge of tables and chairs. My favorites are the burnt end chili and the smoked chicken. Sometimes it’s smokier than I prefer, but that’s just my opinion. Many people love it.
Snead’s Bar-B-Q, a historic KC barbecue landmark in Belton, Missouri, is still going strong after 60 years. The current owner, Sherry Siscoe, makes sure Bill Snead’s reputation for quality traditional barbecue is fully maintained. Try the four-meat combo platter with pulled pork, sausage, turkey and brownies (burnt ends), with a half order of ribs and some pit beans and hand-cut fries on the side. Try saving room for Debbie Masterson’s bread pudding for dessert.
Rusty Quick and Gary Wright, co-owner pit masters at Big Q Barbecue, come out of Anthony Rieke’s Rosedale barbecue tradition. They use 100 percent hickory in a brick pit. My Big Q favorites are the beef and ribs. The restaurant, in the Kansas City, Kansas, Maple Hill area, is near a cemetery. With barbecue this good, heaven can wait.
RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack features exceptionally good ribs and beef, along with creative starters such as bison empanadas and jalapeno sausage smoked in dry corn husks. Their Saturday and Sunday barbecue brunch is a treat not to be missed. My favorite brunch dish is the burnt end hash, and if you’re up for it, order a Sunday morning bloody mary. Co-owner Bob Palmgren’s French-trained chef background lends a special expertise to RJ’s cuisine. Their in-house smoked bacon is outstanding. Co-owner Denise Palmgren’s many hats at RJ’s include business management, quality control and exemplary hospitality.
My favorite place to eat Wyandot BBQ is at the original KCK location where owner Ron Williams often holds court. Famous native son Eric Stonestreet often makes Wyandot his first stop when he comes home for visits. Stonestreet’s autographed framed photo near the cash register reads, “Ronnie – Ham and a fry. Best wishes.” Wyandot exudes a friendly redneck ambiance. Beef, ribs and fries are my favorites. Wyandot II is in Overland Park at 75th Street and Metcalf Avenue. If you’re brave enough, try a hot pickle.
Winslow’s BBQ in the River Market was originally owned by the late Don Winslow, “Sultan of Smoke,” and his mother, Addie, in 1972. After Don’s untimely death, his brother, David, took over, eventually selling the business to current owner Gerry Heldrich. My usual favorites at Winslow’s are burnt ends and chicken wings with beans and fries. The quality, however, has varied from excellent to, on rare occasions, disappointing. Winslow’s is especially popular on weekends, featuring live music with the barbecue.
Fritz’s Meats & Superior Sausage in Leawood is hands down the best bargain for lunch. Order at the counter, then sit down and enjoy. It’s not fancy, but it’s one of those little-known places you have to try. If you’re up for hosting a pig pickin’ party, you can buy a whole hog, and they’ll smoke it for you. Don’t miss the Bette Rogers sandwich: brisket, ham, bacon, with artichoke mayo, spicy mustard and roasted red peppers — decadent and delicious!
Ardie's Wish List
Although we are by no means barbecue-deprived in Kansas City, there is always an incentive to do better.
Here’s my current wish list for Kansas City barbecue:
- Pinto beans like Tootsie Tomanetz cooks at Snow’s BBQ in Lexington, Texas.
- Raw onion slices with dill pickle chips and soda crackers. We have the pickles, but not the onions and, for the most part, the soda crackers.
- Barbecue tacos, including barbecue breakfast tacos.
- Barbecue tamales. They are popular in Memphis, Tennessee, and in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Why not here?
- Barbecue burritos. As far as I know, Back Porch is the only place in KC that serves them.
- Beef short ribs. They are too rare in KC barbecue joints.
- Meat pies. Thankfully we have RJ’s bison empanadas, but we need a variety of traditional barbecue meat pies.
- Fried pies. These delicious morsels need not be limited to Memphis, Tennessee, and the Mississippi Delta.
- Mutton. It used to be available in a few places, notably Boyd ‘n Son Barbecue and Gates. Now I can only find it at Gates. Fortunately we have lamb ribs at Jack Stack and RJ’s.
Iced tea, soda or water are standard beverages in barbecue joints. The next thing we’ll see is pairing beverages, especially craft beers, wines and cocktails, with meat. Craft beer selections are booming in popularity. Although I have yet to find a KC barbecue joint with a Certified Cicerone or sommelier on the premises, this may become routine at high-end barbecue restaurants in the future. Q39, Char Bar, Blind Box and Weston’s Tin Kitchen seem to be trending in that direction.
Also, millennials like to spend money on experiences like dining out and trying new beverages. To stay on trend, restaurants with full-service bars are developing signature craft cocktails to complement the barbecue dining experience.millennials like to spend money on experiences like dining out and trying new beverages. To stay on trend, restaurants with full-service bars are developing signature craft cocktails to complement the barbecue dining experience.
Barbecue Bucket List
The 10 most important barbecue joints every Kansas Citian must try before they die.
The Kansas City great barbecue debate may rage on, but these 10 spots need to be experienced firsthand to enjoy the history, diversity and complexity of our city’s most important food product.
Arthur Bryant's (Brooklyn Avenue location)
Crowned “the best damn restaurant in the world” by The New Yorker columnist and KC native Calvin Trillin, Arthur Bryant’s is Barbecue Heaven. Order the world-famous beef and fries or beef/ribs combo with fries, and wash it down with a Boulevard Wheat. Slather that ‘cue with original or Sweet Heat sauce to kiss your feast. Two area locations, arthurbryantsbbq.com
Beef, burnt ends, mutton, beans, fries and yammer pies — You are struttin’ with some legendary Kansas City barbecue at Gates. Just be sure you know your order when you walk through the door; this fast-paced joint doesn’t mess around. Six area locations, gatesbbq.com
Get naked burnt ends, ribs and sausage, with sauce and pit beans on the side. None better anywhere, period. 5800 Blue Parkway, Kansas City, Mo., (816) 923-4484, lcsbarbq.com
Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que
The Z-Man Sandwich rules here, original (brisket, provolone, onion rings) or customized. Burnt ends, when available, usually Wednesday and Saturday, are outstanding. Ribs and Carolina pork sandwich (pulled pork, spicy cole slaw Bubba’s sauce, toasted bun) with seasoned fries. All great and worth the wait. Three area locations, joeskc.com
One-time dine? Forget it. You couldn’t possibly try all these smoky treats in one visit: white bean cassoulet, superb chicken wings, Mr. Burns burnt ends sandwich; Ball Park Pork sandwich with white cheddar, pickles, mustard and pretzel bun; brisket burgers; Judges Plate with your choice of spare ribs, brisket, pulled pork, chicken or sausage; and smoked fried chicken dinner — all with fries. Plus, Q39 has the best craft beers, pit-kissed cocktails and Q-pairing wines in town. 1000 W. 39th St., Kansas City, Mo., (816) 255-3753, q39kc.com
Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue (Martin City or Freight House)
Jack Stack has a historic ambiance fit for a king and the best wood-fired steaks in KC to boot. You can’t go wrong with the Poor Russ burnt ends sandwich, lamb ribs, crown prime rib, spareribs or brisket, with the onion rings rack, fries, cheesy corn bake or loaded baked potato — or celebrate with the Ultimate Rib Dinner for a sampling of all the meaty bones. Five area locations, jackstackbbq.com
The Sampler Plate includes brisket, pork, turkey, sausage, two large sides (get the beans, cheesy corn or hush puppies), bread, sauce and pickles. Ribs and sausage are mandatory. Slap’s is central Texas-style stick burner barbecue with sweet KC kisses. Squeal Like A Pig! 553 Central Ave., Kansas City, Kan., (913) 213-3736, slapsbbqkc.com
Rosedale is the home of authentic KC-style barbecue: beef, ribs, pork, sausage, fries, beans, fried pickles and a brew. Just like old times, it’s more meat for the money. 600 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, Kan., (913) 262-0343, rosedalebarbeque.com
BB's Lawnside Blues & BBQ
BB’s has a roadhouse ambiance, complete with seat-yourself picnic tables, neon signs and rustic decor. The full-service bar, live music almost every night and legendary barbecue pit made of granite pavers from KC’s early days are worth the trip to an odd corner of town. The tender smoked meats will cure any funk. Try the smoked catfish or Italian sausage with the to-die-for pit beans. The menu also heads south (in a good way!) with jambalaya, gumbo and other Louisiana favorites. Here’s where barbecue marries the blues! 1205 E. 85th St., Kansas City, Mo., (816) 822-7427, bbslawnsidebbq.com
The tender, smoky, traditional KC-style meat, from spareribs, beef and burnt ends to pulled pork, smoked/deep-fried chicken and turkey, has Johnny White’s special magic. This barbecue destination, which was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, is home of The Remus: divine pulled pork, pimento cheese and cole slaw on a bun! Two area locations, johnnysbbqkc.com
Ardie Davis, aka Remus Powers PhB, smokes, grills, eats and judges barbecue everywhere. He writes about barbecue people, places and all aspects for the art, science and sport of barbecue. Davis is a 2016 Barbecue Hall of Fame inductee at the 37th Annual American Royal World Series of Barbecue.
words Allyson Wilson
Blind Box BBQ
It’s a running joke in Kansas City that once you’ve won a few championship titles, the next step is to open a barbecue joint of your own.
Newcomer Joe Tulipana skipped the recipe to ‘cue success, opting to open his restaurant, Blind Box BBQ, without a single title under his belt.
Named for the anonymous boxes of smoked goodness submitted to judges in barbecue competitions, the year-old Shawnee eatery tips its tongs to Kansas City’s heritage while upping the ante with its modern take.
Blind Box’s classic-meets-modern mantra can be found in every aspect of the experience, from its slightly upscale rustic charm featuring traditional cement floors, to its pristine plating and reimagined barbecue offerings. Here, traditional smoked meat sandwiches become creations like the Notorious P.I.G. — a piled-high presentation of smoked sausage, lean and flavorful pulled pork, graciously topped with thick and creamy mac and cheese, crunchy onion straws and drizzled with house-made molasses and ketchup-based barbecue sauce — or the signature smoked and shaved steak, caramelized onions and Swiss cheese stunner, the Lil’ Juicy.
And don’t forget the libations, which include domestic and specialty beers, wine, flights and a sophisticatedly crafted whiskey and bourbon-centric cocktail listing that enhance the whole menu — burnt ends, brisket and ribs alike.
13214 W. 62nd Terrace, Shawnee, Kan., (913) 268-4227, blindboxbbq.com
After spending 50-plus years in Kansas City’s restaurant scene and lending his passion and wealth of good food know-how to the beloveds (think Joe’s Barn, Joe’s Restaurant and Barbeque and Arthur Bryant’s), veteran Gary Berbiglia has opened a restaurant of his own. Enter Berbiglia’s Roost, a family-friendly Overland Park eatery that marries KC’s love for fried chicken and “wood-fired Q” and features a full-service bar and an extensive roster of stick-to-your-ribs dishes. Though its menu is heavy on comfort foods and home-cooked favorites like Salisbury steak, fried catfish and burgers, it’s evident that barbecue is still very much in Berbiglia’s veins. Alongside crunchy-battered fried chicken are classic ‘cue musts like thick chunks of Kansas City gold (burnt ends), brisket, pulled pork and sliced sausage that are all available in smoked meat sandwiches and platters, plus succulent St. Louis-cut spare ribs. And no restaurant would be complete without its own barbecue sauce, which comes in original and the smoky-sweet heat ‘n’ honey. Newly opened and loaded with options for all, Berbiglia’s is the place to roost.
8725 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, Kan., (913) 222-1400, berbigliasroost.com
Great ‘cue on the outskirts of KC
words Lysa Allman-Baldwin
Widen your geographic and gastronomic boundaries, and you’ll find a wealth of finger-licking barbecue joints within an hour’s drive of Kansas City, each offering its own unique flavor and flair.
Tin Kitchen Southern Smokehouse
Situated in historic downtown Weston, Missouri, Tin Kitchen Southern Smokehouse has been an instant hit since opening in 2014.
The “Tin” in Tin Kitchen honors its former iteration, the Rumpel Hardware store, which featured beautiful, original, 1842 pressed-tin ceilings and walls that have been lovingly preserved by the current owners.
What sets Tin Kitchen apart is its preparation methods. The meats are smoked “low and slow” for up to 16 hours over pecan wood. And the 24-Hour Slaw is a distinctive combination of crispy and slightly wilted shredded cabbage marinated for a day to bring out the flavors.
Meat options include brisket chosen exclusively from certified Angus beef, contest-style barbecue ribs, pulled pork and chicken. Hand-held eats include The Carolina pulled pork sandwich topped with the 24-Hour Slaw; St. Louis-cut pork ribs; and The Q sandwich, layered with brisket, cheddar and onion straws.
If you're more of a pork fan, opt for the Pulled Pork Nachos: tortilla chips piled high with tender meat, cheese sauce, sour cream and jalapenos.
Non-‘cue specialty items include the Cajun Chicken Sandwich; the Salmon Club; and the TK Burger, a combination of a quarter pound of meat topped with cheese, pulled pork and onion straws on a toasted bun. For a lighter lunch, opt for the grilled salmon salad with a cucumber relish and balsamic vinaigrette.
509 Main St., Weston, Mo., (816) 640-0100, tin-kitchen.com
We B Smokin’ Sweet Smoked BBQ
Long gone are the pre-TSA screening days when you could simply walk right up to an airline gate and enjoy the rush of tarmac activity. At We B Smokin' Sweet Smoked BBQ, located at the Miami County Airport in Paola, Kansas, anyone can enjoy the thrill of flight up-close-and-personal — and enjoy some great barbecue too!
It’s hard to tell who gets a bigger kick — the adults or the kids — out of pressing their noses against the soaring floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the small private planes take off, land and taxi right up to the building.
Once you settle in for breakfast, lunch or dinner, pay attention to the “sweet” in their name, as most everything, from the meats (smoked over apple wood) to the sauces and rubs, have a little sweetness to the taste. Yet that in part is what makes their signature baby back ribs one of the most popular items. The thick, slow-cooked, fall-off-the bone short- and long-end ribs, and barbecue meat on a bun or bread are other fan favorites.
The combination platters feature beef, pork, turkey, ham or sausage and your choice of two sides: We-B beans, fries, potato salad, cole slaw, cottage cheese, a pickle spear or a jalapeno. Non-barbecue options include tenderloins, burgers, chicken strips, We-B salads and a variety of sandwiches. Stop in for a Southern breakfast of biscuits and gravy, three-egg omelets, pancakes, or eggs any style with your choice of meat plus hashbrowns or grits and toast.
Adding to their street cred, not only has We Be Smokin’ been named among the top 10 places in the U.S. for pilots to fly into for a bite, but President Barack Obama even stopped by (not in Air Force One, of course) during one of his KC-area visits. Now that’s smokin’!
32580 Airport Road, Paola, Kan., (913) 256-6802, websmokin.com
Who can argue with a place that has its own ringtone? And the tune is catchy, too, enticing you to “smell that smoke.”
That smolder is actually the enveloping aromas wafting 24/7 from their award-winning, Southern barbecue slow-roasting over hickory hardwood in St. Joseph, Missouri, one of 20 locations in Missouri (there are several more in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa). And although Bandana’s is also in Independence, the St. Joseph, Missouri, location has its own unique feel and is worth the trip.
After carefully hand-seasoning succulent pork, beef, turkey, sausage, ribs and chicken with a special dry rub made with savory herbs and spices, they are smoked — without sauce so the taste is “all meat” — anywhere from 5 to 14 hours, then hand-cut to order.
Bandana’s Bar-B-Q Platters — smoked rope sausage made from seasoned cuts of pork and beef and smoked in a natural casing, breaded fried chicken breast tenders, and USDA Choice Midwestern beef, just to name a few — come in 6- and 9-ounce sizes for lunch and dinner, respectively, served with your choice of two sides and two pieces of garlic bread.
The Pork Lovers Feast for Three comes with a pound of pork, a slab of ribs, two sides and two pieces of garlic bread. The BAR-B-Q for Four is loaded with a slab of ribs; a whole chicken; three-quarters of a pound of pork, beef, turkey or sausage; choice of four sides; and eight pieces of garlic bread. Holy smokes!
The sides (15 in all) are carefully crafted as well. The Bar-B-Q beans are slow-cooked in Bandana’s special sauce with chunks of smoked meat; the cole slaw and potato salad are made from scratch; the okra is lightly breaded and fried; and the green beans are flavored with celery salt, white pepper and onion.
Want to dress up a baked potato or side salad? Then top it with chicken tenders, pork, pulled chicken, beef or turkey.
Although all of this barbecue goodness might not do much for your waistline, it can still benefit your other bottom line, as Bandana’s also offers several Budget Busters with only 3 ounces of their signature barbecue, two sides and one piece of garlic bread, the final tally ranging from only 115 to 279 calories!
4225 Frederick Ave., St. Joseph, Mo., (816) 671-1166, bandanasbbq.com
All Slabbed Up Bar-B-Q Restaurant & Bar
“This is the best BBQ in Leavenworth. It is your classic greasy spoon, with good food, large portions, and old-school ambiance.”
“They have some of the best ribs I've ever had. I love the char and the flavor.”
“I've lived in Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, and now Kansas, so I've tasted a few different kinds of BBQ. This is probably my favorite style.”
These are just a few of the lofty accolades bestowed upon All Slabbed Up Bar-B-Q, a rustic wooden shack barbecue joint and bar with a big following, boosted primarily via word of mouth and with only an unofficial Facebook page.
In addition to the moist and tender ribs, All Slabbed Up is hailed for its sandwiches — a pulled pork, ham and bacon combo with cheddar cheese on Texas toast among them — succulent brisket, savory baked beans, crunchy fried pickles and fries which are akin to skillet-fried potatoes.
The portions here are sizeable and reasonably priced, making All Slabbed Up a great barbecue option off the beaten path.
405 Muncie Road, Leavenworth, Kan., (913) 727-5227, facebook.com/pages/All-Slabbed-Up-BBQ/133956499981904