Kansas City BBQ: Thick & Sweet
Kansas City has a long, storied history with two of our great national pastimes: baseball and BBQ. Today, they are home to the Royals, 2015 world champions and lays claim to possibly the most identifiable and commonly portrayed style of American regional BBQ. The KC style started to evolve in the early 1900’s at the hands of a talented pit master, Henry Perry. Perry, commonly referred to as the grandfather of Kansas City BBQ, came from Memphis, home of BBQ cooking. He modified his hometown sauce for the various types of meat that were available to him locally.
The Kansas City BBQ style is characterized by its thick, rich sweet tomato-based sauce. A lot of southern states playfully refer to it as ketchup, but in reality, it is the most versatile of all the BBQ sauces. Each region’s sauce was developed over time to play to the strengths of their meats varieties. Kansas City was and is a meat packing powerhouse and so the region’s sauce was developed to go with a wide variety of meat, not just one particular type.
Another second differentiating characteristic is that Kansas City BBQ focuses primarily on the meat and sauce. Side dishes are not as prominent as in the southern states. In KC, it is very common to see as few options as French fries, creamy coleslaw, beans, pickles and the occasional corn.
At last count, there are more than one hundred BBQ restaurants in the city. They all help play a role in the steep history I am proud present that is Kansas City style BBQ.
Danny Edward Boulevard BBQ
ADDRESS: 2900 SW Blvd., Kansas City
NOTES: This establishment has moved around a bit since 1938 when it opened its doors. But other than the location, not much has changed over the last 78 plus years. This down-home joint still serves some of the best KC BBQ around, but you need to get here early as it’s only open four hours a day and closes the doors by 3 p.m.
- SAUCE: Rich, sweet, tomato-based sauce, much thinner than most KC BBQ, but thicker than even Memphis style.
- WHAT TO GET: BURNT ENDS, BURNT ENDS and BURNT ENDS.
- Homemade Coleslaw
- Creamy Potato Salad
- Fresh Pasta Salad
- Smoky Baked Beans
- Spicy Jambalaya
- Cottage Cheese
- Homemade Pickles
Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue (Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ)
ADDRESS: 3002 West 47th Ave., Kansas City
NOTES: This location is a must visit. It got its start in a gas station, and up until 2014 was called Oklahoma Joe’s. There are a couple locations, but I recommend going to the gas station. Get there early and expect to wait for around an hour to get your food; it may be the best BBQ, Kansas City BBQ or other, I have ever had and well worth the wait. Try the ribs and their famous sandwich, the Z-Man.
- SAUCE: In my opinion, some of the best sauce in the city (actually just outside of the city).
- WHAT TO GET: RIBS, and the Z-man. Also ask for the burnt ends, but ask early because half-way through lunch they WILL be gone for the day.
- BBQ Beans
- Potato Salad
- Creamy Cole Slaw
- Dirty Rice
- Spicy Slaw
- Red Beans & Rice
Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue
ADDRESS: 1727 Brooklyn Ave., Kansas City
NOTES: A Kansas City BBQ classic and a direct experience descendant from Perry, Arthur Bryant’s delivers on the atmosphere and overall feel. Located in a red brick building in a rougher part of KC, this is a pilgrimage for many KC residents and Kansas City BBQ lovers alike. The joint is old and worn, but that is part of the fabric that makes Bryant’s part of the BBQ folklore.
- SAUCE: Thick, sweet tomato-based. Heavy on the brown spice, notes specifically cinnamon.
- WHAT TO GET: Ribs and the sliced brisket sandwich. Also, try the fries – they are hand cut and fried in lard. Yes, you read that right.
- Baked Beans
Jack Stack Barbecue
ADDRESS: 101 W 22nd St. #300, Kansas City
NOTES: I heard so many great things about this place and found it high on a few lists. While it was good, the cloth napkins, ramekins of sauce (small cups that you have to ask for) and wall of wine options take you out of the BBQ mojo. With all the fancy embellishments to the inside, it has lost the BBQ soul of the other places. I wouldn’t steer anyone away, but I’m not going to run back.
- SAUCE: Traditional Kansas City BBQ sauce.
- WHAT TO GET: Crown Prime Rib, Burnt Ends.
- Hickory pit beans
- Cheesy corn bake
- Potato salad
- Creamy coleslaw
- French fries
- Cheesy potato bake
- Loaded baked potato
- Vegetable kabob
- Broccoli with roasted garlic butter
- Roasted carrots with honey dijon glaze
Can’t get enough BBQ? Check out our last BBQ culinary exploration: South Carolina BBQ or sign up below to receive the latest posts.
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