In honor of National Barbecue Month, we set out to find Kansas City’s best ’cue.
Armed with insider tips from local barbecue lovers, we made pilgrimages to the great institutions — Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, Jack Stack — and scoped out newcomers such as Jon Russell’s Kansas City Barbeque in Overland Park and Plowboys BBQ in Blue Springs.
We watched slabs smoke in the hickory-fired pit at LC’s and heard the thwack of rib tips chopped to order at Arthur Bryant’s. We inhaled the sweet scent of smoldering Missouri white oak while waiting in a long line at Oklahoma Joe’s for a portobello Z-Man sandwich, and chilled out at Q39’s bar with an ice-cold IPA and a plate of what the bold new barbecue restaurant calls “the best wings on the planet.”
We discovered barbecue orders we never knew existed — BBQ Sundaes, Hillbilly Bowls, burnt ends burritos and a monstrosity of a sandwich called the Big Pig — and convinced a few pitmasters to spill top-secret techniques and sauce ingredients.
Sometimes the scenery was as good as the food. Imagine eating a smoky bowl of burnt ends chili on the tree-lined patio at Woodyard Bar-B-Que. Devouring the messy burnt ends sandwich next to the railroad tracks at Danny Edwards. Tearing into white bread-wrapped ribs at the Quick’s Bar-B-Q counter.
Between the ribs and burnt ends and pulled pork, there were baked beans, golden slabs of cornbread, and cups of coleslaw and cheesy corn. Then there was the sauce: traditional sweet and smoky, tangy tomato-based, mustard, chipotle-cilantro, and even blueberry-habanero.
Confession: Many napkins were harmed (OK, destroyed) in the making of this issue.
The hunt for Kansas City’s best ’cue taught us that every barbecue joint — whether it’s a hole in the wall or an internationally known establishment — has its own flavor, and all of those flavors combined make Kansas City the barbecue capital of the world.
Follow the links to the best of our quest. Consider it a Kansas City barbecue bucket list to savor all summer long.