The Best Barbecue in Kansas City
What is Kansas City Barbecue?
Kansas City BBQ is characterized as smoked and saturated with BBQ sauce. It's smoked for a long time, very slowly, over several different types of woods. It's then covered in sauce which is usually thick and molasses/tomato based.
Kansas City has a long tradition of BBQ, and people come from all over the US to attend the biggest BBQ contest in America, which is the American Royal. The American Royal is known as the World Series of BBQ, and it's held in Kansas City in the early fall each year. Hundreds of BBQ connoisseurs gather to smoke meat and let the town taste their sauce. There are several other events that lure people to the American Royal as well.
BBQ in Kansas City dates back to 1908, when Henry Perry and Charlie Bryant would sell their smoked meat near the historic 18th and Vine or 'The Jazz District.' Arthur Bryant was Charlie's brother, so Arthur Bryant's BBQ was technically the very first Kansas City BBQ joint, spawning hundreds more around the Metro.
BBQ in Kansas City comes in several different meats including port, brisket, burnt ends, chicken, turkey, sausage and sometimes fish. It's typically served on a slice of white bread, accompanied by sliced dill pickles and baked beans and fries, and smothered in sauce. Some restaurants serve the meats with no sauce and allow you to choose your own, as they have more than one kind. It's almost always the same base (thick or mop sauce), but a lot of places will have a more spicy blend for those who like hot sauce.
Almost all BBQ joints in Kansas City are hold-in-the-wall type of places with minimal décor and simple furnishings. This is meant to be looked upon as traditional and charming.
So Many BBQ Joints, So Little Time
Here's What You Have to Choose From
Bandanas BBQ Independence
Bates City BBQ of Shawnee
B.'s Lawnside BarB-Q
The BBQ SHACK
Bee Cee's Authentic Barbecue
Benny's Bar BQ
Big Poppa's Bar-B-Que
Big Q Barbeque
Big T's Bar BQ
Buffalo Bob's Smokehouse
Danny Edwards BBQ Depot
Saloon Dickey's Barbecue Pit
Dickey's Barbecue Pit
Filling Station BBQ
Jack Stack Barbecue Martin City
Fiorella's Jack Stack BBQ
Jack Stack Barbecue - Overland Park
Gates & Sons Bar-B-Q
Gates Bbq State Ave
Gates & Sons Bar-B-Q
Greedy Man's BBQ & Grill
Hawg Shed Bar-B-Q
Hayward's Pit Bbq & Bar
Hickory Creek BBQ
Hickory Log Bar-B-Q
Hillsdale Bank B-B-Q
Hog Wild Pig Crazy BBQ
Holy Smoke BBQ
KC MasterpieceK & M Bar-B-Q
L C's Bar-B-Q
Mama Jo's Bbq
Oden's Family BBQ
Oklahoma Joe's BBQ & Catering
Papa Bob's Bar-B-Que
Ribs N Stuff Bbq
Pork N Pit BBQ
Porkys Blazin Bar BQ
Quick's Seventh Street Bar-B-Q
Rib Crib BBQ & GrillRicky's Bar B Que
Ricky's Bar B Que
R.J.'s Bob-Be-Que Shack
Smokebox BBQ Cafe
Smokey's Bbq And Cafe
Smokin Guns BBQ & Catering
SMOKIN JOE'S BBQ
Snead's Bar B-Q
Summit Hickory Pit BBQ.
Three Little Pigs Barbeque
Two Men and A Barbie Q
We B Smokin Inc
Winslow's KC-Style City Market Barbecue
Zarda Bbq & Catering
Johnny's BBQ Olathe
Adam's Rib BBQ
Gregory G's BBQ
Big Q Barbeque
Johnny's Hickory House Bar-B-Q
Twisted Brisket BBQ
Smokehouse Bar-B-Que - OP, KS
R & J Barbeque
Santa FE Trail Bar-b-que
Brodies Backyard Bbq
Benny's Bar BQ
Joe's of Kansas City (Formerly Oklahoma Joe's)
Joe's of Kansas City/Oklahoma Joe's- Best BBQ In the World! Seriously!
The picture above shows a restaurant called 'Oklahoma Joe's' which has now been changed to just 'Joe's' and yes- your eyes do not deceive you. The first (and most popular) location was inside a gas station. It's still there today, and yes- you will see a line up out the door pretty much at every time of day. The other restaurant is not in a gas station but you will find a very long line there as well.
World famous food critic Anthony Bourdain came to Kansas City and here's what he had to say:
"People may disagree on who has the best barbecue," he writes. "Here, the brisket (particularly the burnt ends), pulled pork, and ribs are all of a quality that meet the high standards even of Kansas City natives. It's the best barbecue in Kansas City, which makes it the best barbecue in the world."
Well, I completely agree. Everyone should eat at Oklahoma Joe's at least once! The burnt ends are the best, but I always get the sausage. The lines are long but they go quickly, and the sauce to me is what makes it worth waiting for. I also highly recommend the sausage and the beans- they put their burnt ends in their beans and it makes them so good!
Fiorella's Jack Stack- Fancy BBQ
Fiorella's- Expensive but Very Good
When you think of BBQ joints in Kansas City, think of dumpy, run down places with lots of grease, sauce and the need for napkins. Fiorella's has two places in Kansas City, one on Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park (subdivision of KCK), and one in Crossroads (KCMO). Fiorella's is a different animal. It's a fancy place, there is always a very long wait, and it's BBQ served with flair. It's much more expensive than your average BBQ joint and the ambiance is sort of formal and very nice.
Jack Stack is famous for it's cheesy corn. If you're a local in KC, you'll want to have that at Jack Stack because no other place in KC serves it that I know of. Personally, I prefer the BBQ dumps where I can get great food for much less, but Fiorella's is definitely a place than may out-of-towners want to go first.
Gates BBQ- 'Can I help you??'
Gates BBQ Downtown KC MO
Each BBQ in Kansas City has a shtick. At Gates, when you walk in the door, someone will holler 'Can I help you?' very loudly with a sort of Southern accent. Located in the heart of downtown Kansas City, Gates in an old building that is verging on 'dump' status. Gates was one of the original BBQ joints in Kansas City, as it was located by the old baseball stadium. The ribs are fantastic but my favourite thing about Gates is the sauce.
You can buy the sauce in any grocery store in Kansas City. It's the perfect blend of spice and tang- and it's the perfect consistency. It won't come out slow, it's a light BBQ sauce that doesn't have a thick pour- but it's by far the best- especially for those of us who like some spice. You can buy it in hot flavour too, but it's too hot for me!
Gates is a Kansas City landmark, and it's a wonderful place to try authentic KC BBQ- but don't say I didn't warn you when you go in- you will be yelled at! 'Can I help you??'
Inside Arthur Bryant's BBQ Joint
Arthur Bryant's- First and Maybe Best
Arthur Bryant's is considered by many people to be the best BBQ joint in the world. Located in the downtown area, like Gates BBQ it used to be near the old baseball stadium in Kansas City. Arthur Bryant's BBQ can be traced back to 1908! The sauce isn't sweet- it's got a vinegar and paprika base.
The restaurant itself is in complete 'dump status.' It's always maintained the 'modest' look. You will see (as pictured above) formica tables, old red chairs with vinyl covers, and giant jugs of Arthur Bryant's BBQ sauce in the front windows.
When you line up to get your BBQ, the line works very fast- and you better have your order ready to place. If you're familiar with Seinfeld's 'The Soup Nazi,' Arthur Bryant's ordering process is sort of like that- but in a funny way. You order, and take about three steps to the left. You pick up your food and you hope there's a place to sit. Often times, there is not.
Despite the dumpy interior, Arthur Bryant's continues to be one of the most popular 'must visit' places in Kansas City. Their open faces brisket sandwich is most popular, with their burnt ends coming in a close second.
Wyandot BBQ off 75th and Metcalf Ave
The 'Dot'- All About Those Fries
I used to live very close to Wyandot BBQ and we would visit there every once in a while. It's an official 'dump' restaurant as well. The BBQ is average, and the best meat they have going for them is their sausage. Their bread isn't very fresh, and their meats are just okay. The people who take your order are fairly rude like other BBQ joints, but it's just part of the tradition.
The thing about Wyandot is- they have the best fries in the city. Even people who think very poorly of the restaurant agree that Wyandot has the crispiest, most delicious fries. I am not sure what they do with them to make them so delicious, but they certainly are.
The other thing about Wyandot is their mop sauce. In other words, it's a thinner sauce which really isn't all that great- BUT- everyone I know who frequents the joint gets a craving for it once in awhile.
The portions are huge! If you order take out, they'll fill your styrofoam take out box until it almost can't close. However, the problem with getting their ribs is that they are mostly bones, and the problem with getting the brisket is that it has a lot of fat. If you're going to 'The Dot'- I recommend sticking with the sausage- and of course- the irresistible fries!
The Rub- New BBQ Joint in Olathe
The Rub- Best Ribs I've Ever Tasted
The Rub has, hands down, the most delicious ribs I've ever tasted before. I know others feel the same, because for the past four years, I've had to sell racks of ribs to people to raise money for my son's football team. One of the parents from the team owns a share in the restaurant, so we would sell the racks for $20 each and then The Rub would give the team $10 for each rack.
After the first year of selling the ribs, my friends were literally calling me to ask if I could get them more ribs. The last year I was selling them, I sold one hundred racks and I ran out. People would eat the first rack and then call me and ask me if I had more. I had one of the owners quite upset with me because I kept calling to change my order!
I am not sure what they do with these ribs- but they are to die for. They are smoked, and their recipe for their rub meshes a little dry rub and a little saucey BBQ- so it's the perfect blend of Memphis and Kansas City. With a little spicy flare, the ribs are so tender they fall off the bone.
The problem with The Rub is that it's located in Olathe. Olathe is located in the southwestern part of the Kansas City Metro. It's a sprawling suburb that keeps adding new homes and apartments. The Rub itself is only five years old and it's located in a new strip mall. Enough people just don't know about it, and it's really out of the way for most people who live inside 'the loop,' or closer to Overland Park/Kansas City MO.
If you ever find yourself in Olathe Kansas, going to The Rub and ordering a rack of ribs will be completely worth it. Definitely the best ribs I've ever had in my life.
Zarda's- The Pride of Lenexa
Zarda's- All About Those Beans!
The second biggest BBQ event in KC is the Lenexa BBQ. It's not quite as big as the American Royal of course, but it's the pride of the suburb of Lenexa, KS. Zarda's was founded in Lenexa and if you go to someone's home in Lenexa for BBQ, chances are they've ordered from Zarda's.
I don't find Zarda's all that great. First of all, you have to order when you walk in and then you have to wait for your meal and pick it up when they call your number. Second, the cheesy corn is a ripoff from Jack Stack- but they do have these fried corn nibbles that are quite good. And lastly, the meats are prepared in a weird manner. Their sausage is cut in very thin slices and their burnt ends look like perfect cubes. Some people might like it this way, but I like it more.. sloppy.
I don't find Zarda's to be all that fresh either. However- I will say- they DO have the best baked beans in the city. I always eat my BBQ with a side of beans and I absolutely LOVE the beans at Zarda's. The bean sauce is very thick and the burnt ends in the beans are giant. They use black beans and pinto beans, and the sauce is just the right mixture of spice and tang.
I guess the way to describe Zarda's is that it doesn't seem like 'real' KC BBQ.
How To Make KC BBQ
Kansas City is famous for it's BBQ among other things. If you come to town for a Royal's game, or a Chief's game, or maybe to visit the KC Speedway or Sporting KC for a soccer game- or maybe you just want to have a summer visit to Oceans and Worlds of Fun- eating BBQ is something that you will probably do. There are hundreds of restaurants around the city with their own particular way of preparation and their own sauces. I have outlined some of the more popular places and I hope that this article helps you to get a feel for what KC BBQ is all about.
Thanks so much for reading!