“Memphis BBQ is better than Kansas City.” “Texas BBQ is the best.” “South Carolina BBQ is the only real BBQ.” These are all fighting words in KC. Within the four major BBQ regions of the country – Kansas City, Texas, Memphis, and South Carolina / Georgia – ‘Que aficionados take great pride in their culinary legacies. They all believe they’re the best, and they’re all right.
Let me explain. A South Carolina resident who visits Kansas City and orders Pulled Pork with mustard BBQ sauce, hash, and Brunswick Stew (South Carolina & Georgia specialties) will be disappointed at almost any restaurant. A Kansas City tourist visiting Texas’ BBQ Mecca in Lockhart who orders hickory smoked ribs will no doubt think Texans have no idea how to make barbeque. A Texan looking for tender mesquite smoked brisket and pinto beans in Memphis will come up empty handed. Someone from Memphis looking for dry rub… well, you get the picture. BBQ means different things to different people and you need to understand the specialty of each area if you want the best experience during your visit.
There is a variety of great BBQ in Kansas City and no doubt you can find a few local restaurants that can smoke brisket with the best of the Texas Que joints, there are a few places with noteworthy pulled pork, and you might find some dry rub someplace, but I recommend you try a different approach. When in Rome, do as the Romans. If you’re in Kansas City for an All Star visit, let go of your BBQ inhibitions and indulge in the local specialty. You absolutely must try the ribs.
Your first stop has to be the original Arthur Bryants at 17th and Brooklyn just a few blocks from the Negro Leagues Museum, one of John Madden’s favorite haunts, and the restaurant Calvin Trillin of the New Yorker famously called, “possibly the single best restaurant in the world.” The sandwiches of beef or ham or sausage are magnificent huge stacks of smoky meat, but don’t be swayed. The big thick long or short end ribs are the stuff that dreams are made of. So get in line, grab a plate, and be ready to order through the window while you watch the king-of-all-ribs chopped and wrapped in old school butcher paper. Be sure to get a side of fresh cut fries. And don’t forget to try the oh-so-vinegary original sauce, which is a bit of an acquired taste, but a must have for all visitors. No other restaurant has contributed more to the BBQ legacy of Kansas City than this one.
Another very popular heavy-weight of Kansas City BBQ is Oklahoma Joes, located in the sweetest smelling gas station on earth at 47th and Mission Rd. Named after the smoker the owners used in the American Royal BBQ competitions over 20 years ago, their ribs are the equal of Arthur Bryants and a proud representative of a KC tradition. Be prepared to wait in a long line, I promise you won’t be the only fans checking out Oklahoma Joes during All Star week.
If you are unable to travel far from the stadium during your All Star visit, consider checking out LC’s BBQ at 5800 Blue Parkway. With a 93% approval rating on Roadfood.com and 91% on Urbanspoon.com, this place is a little off the beaten path, but well worth the trouble to hunt it down. With mismatched tables and styrofoam boxes for plates, LC’s defines the expression “greasy spoon.” Their spoons may be greasy, but their BBQ pit is a little bit of heaven.
If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, you’ll want to try Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ at any of four locations complete with table clothes and actual waiters rather than a serving counter. How many BBQ joints have you visited that are highly rated by Zagat’s? In addition to the awesome ribs, you must try the delicious cheesy corn bake, and my favorite hickory pit beans. Just be sure you’re prepared for a little sticker shock when the bill arrives, Jack Stack is a tiny bit pricier than it’s downscale cousins in KC.
It would be virtually impossible to name all the great BBQ ribs in Kansas City in one short article, but I’ll at least mention a few of my honorable mention locations: Gate’s BBQ (my Dad’s personal favorite), BB’s Lawnside BBQ (check out the made from scratch raisin and vanilla bread pudding drizzled with sweet bourbon sauce – yummy!), Rosedale BBQ (my son’s favorite BBQ sauce), and Danny Edwards Boulevard BBQ (the successor to the legendary Jake’s Eat It and Beat It BBQ). One thing I can tell you for certain, no matter which one you choose, you’re sure to have an All Star BBQ experience.