Holy smokes: The winner of our March Madness-style BBQ burnt ends tournament is ...
The people have spoken.
After tallying an astounding 92,000 votes over four weeks, we're ready to reveal the bracket-busting results of our March Madness-style barbecue burnt ends tournament.
Zarda beat Jack Stack with an astonishing 90 percent of the popular vote to win the tournament, which started with 16 restaurants chosen by readers. Round 4 racked up more than 50,000 votes.
Zarda stoked the enthusiasm of its loyal customers by sharing the tournament on social media, in email blasts and on signs behind the counters of both locations. Over the weekend, they promoted the contest by selling burnt end sandwiches for $4.99, a discount of $2.50.
Chief operations officer Terry Hyer says Zarda smoked three times its typical amount of burnt ends on Saturday. The Lenexa location still sold out by 6:30 p.m.
"It was insane," he said on Monday. "We were overwhelmed with the amount of people coming in to try them and then vote in the contest."
Ultimately, Zarda fans carried the smokehouse to hickory-scented victory.
When Hyer found out Zarda had won, he said he was thrilled and that he'd been dreaming about winning the contest the night before.
"I feel like the kid that gets to go to Disneyland," he said.
Zarda overhauled its burnt ends recipe a year and a half ago when both locations increased their smoking capacity by adding two new pits. That allowed the family-owned business to start offering the specialty daily, which is important, Hyer said, because "burnt ends are the new rib."
Zarda used to serve saucy burnt ends, but the Limited Reserve burnt ends are coated in a sweet and spicy dry rub and served sans sauce. The beef nuggets are made the traditional way from the point end of the brisket. They're smoked until tender and charred, with smoky black bark around the edges.
Customers can order Zarda's Limited Reserve burnt ends on a toasted Roma bun ($7.49) or on a plate ($13.79) with two slabs of white bread with fries and two classic sides.
Hyer said Zarda's Limited Reserve burnt ends have inspired a "passionate following" among customers. They're smoked fresh every morning, wrapped and held warm, then sliced to order.
Zarda was founded in 1976. Back then, the business was known for hamburger stands, but now the name is synonymous with barbecue, and you can find Zarda sauce and beans in most local grocery stores.
Hyer has worked at Zarda for 38 years, since he was 15 years old.
"I have a lot of friends in this industry," he said. "There are so many great burnt ends in Kansas City. It is a humongous honor for us to be in this contest."
Zarda will celebrate its win with discounts on burnt ends through April 30. Starting Thursday, Limited Reserve burnt end sandwiches will cost $4.99 each (limit four per customer) and burnt end plates will cost $9.99.
Tune in to The Star's Facebook page at 10:30 a.m. Friday for a live broadcast from Zarda's Lenexa location. We'll hand over the winner's certificate, talk to Hyer about Zarda's history, sample some saucy menu items and hear how those championship-winning Limited Reserve burnt ends are made.