Americans are passionate about baseball, https://www.koshka.net/tag/breweries/, and BBQ. And loyalty to one’s regional teams, hops, and ‘cue is legion. Barbeque especially. Smoked low and slow the major difference among the states is sauce. Tennessee is known for its spicy and sweet glazes; North Carolina’s cue is sharp with the tang of vinegar, Alabama’s sauces are mayo-based, which would be heresy in Missouri. In Kansas City, meat’s epicenter, the only kinda sauce you need is tomato-based, and hot-mopped on whatever protein is in the smoker. Once known for its stockyards, today, KC-town is a dining destination on the strength of its internationally-renowned barbecue restaurants. Planning a visit to Kansas City? After this article, if you have the heart and appetite of a carnivore, ya will be. Here, in no particular order, are our top picks for your dining pleasure:
Start you off with some old school. First thing you need to know is in KC, you get sides. Not just any sides, but corn with melted cheese, baked beans, and coleslaw. Thick bread is a must, ‘cuz Kansas City cue is sloppy. Heavily wood-smoked, just pick your protein, chicken, turkey wings, pulled pork, pork ribs, brisket, and chili. Dining is casual, bring the family. Don’t mind the smoke. Reasonably priced.
This is the restaurant that put KC barbecue on the map. For over 80 years at the same location, this no-frill, luncheonette-style restaurant does not offer table service. Just line up, give your order, pick it up and find a table. Their sauce is tangy and the portions gigantic. Burnt ends, beef brisket, and pulled pork sammies are the perennial menu favorites. Presidents Truman and Jimmy Carter have dined here as have many celebrities. Authenticity and tradition keep patrons coming back for more. Affordable, but do not be in a hurry.
As you may have guessed, barbecue restaurants began to proliferate in KC some 80 years back. BLVD Barbecue among them. Originally known as Lil’ Jakes, the restaurant is still in the Edwards family, entering its third generation. The owner is said to be on hand every day to carve meat’. Here the sauce is Southern: sweet and spicy; the burnt ends are very popular, and homemade desserts including brownies are another draw. Expect long lines as this is not a tourist destination- the locals keep it close to their hearts. Many items are not on the menu. So if you see something you like at another table, just point and ask for it. Budget-friendly.
Since the late 1960s, Jack Stack (no one seems to know why) has offered something different. Their menu owes more to fine dining than a ‘cue joint, but close your eyes and savor every bite. To begin with, proteins spend a few hours or even days over hickory wood in the smoker. This imparts a flavor like no other. Try Jack’s award-winning Lamb Ribs, Kielbasa, smoked turkey, Cajun Shrimp, Smoked Trout, and, would you believe, a gluten-free menu as well? You’ll find hearty soups and casseroles like mom used to make as well as her carrot cake here. Catering to commuters and tourists, the industrial Freight House building is historic with ultra-high ceilings, exposed brick, and rustic decor. You’ll like it. Features wine as well as a childrens’ menu. Pricey but perfect.
Lest you think all cue joints are ancient, here is one that is of recent coinage. It is one of those ‘when in Rome, make the pilgrimage’ joints. After all, the likes of Zagat, the Food Network, and Anthony Bourdain have! When not on the road winning the most prestigious barbecue contests including Jack Daniel’s World BBQ Championship, the owners preside over the kitchen which turns out stellar sides to accompany their pulled pork, smoked brisket, smoked chicken, and smoked chicken gumbo among other faves. Speaking of sides, the red beans and rice are a meal unto itself. Oh and forget about dressing up for dinner- you’ll find this cue palace tucked inside an old gas station. Can’t fill up your car’s tank while you fill up yours anymore, but the decor has not changed a bit! Family-friendly prices.
One for good measure:
Another relatively newly-minted barbecue restaurant, the name celebrates the fact that it was the 39th ‘cue stop in the City. With only 30 years of experience, here again, the owner is a national competition champion, known for next-level bbq’d meats. At Q39, the beef is only Certified Black Angus, the poultry organic, the salmon farm-raised, and the Chipotle sausage house-made. The portions are large, and the menu considers that not every guest is a fan of smoke and sauce. Details include Cobb lettuce in lieu of iceberg, toasted buns, and coleslaw with chopped Granny Smith apples. The bar offers crafted cocktails and regional brews. Latecomers can expect to be seated at a long communal table. Get there early if you want a private table or a seat on the patio. As you might expect from such an inclusive menu, the ambiance may be rustic, but the prices are strictly expense-account only.
Caveat: Bring cash. Many of these older restaurants do not cater to tourists nor accept credit cards. Enjoy your ‘cue dining experience in Kansas City!