Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The best Kansas City BBQ

A few weeks ago I went to Kansas City for work. I was not very happy about this because it meant being separated from Shea for two weeks which, well…. sucks.

The one bright spot of the trip, however, was that I would get to try Kansas City BBQ.

With that idea in mind I asked around even before leaving. There were many suggestions, and I could already tell that narrowing it down was not going to be easy. So, I decided to ask the locals (those who had lived in KC). Between their recommendations and those got on-line and from out-of-towners; I narrowed it down to 4.

I now had Four BBQ joints that I had to try… but with my tight schedule it was a slightly harder task than I expected. See working 12 hour days 11 out of the 12 days I was in KC allowed only time for a late breakfast/early lunch before heading into work. But Heck, who says you can’t have ribs for breakfast. So I did.

12 days later and 7 pounds heavier I had had my fill of burnt ends, ribs, brisket, French Fries, Cheesy corn, Baked Beans and Strawberry Soda. I had had the best BBQ that Kansas City, and arguably the World, had to offer and now was ready to write about it.

Here is what I thought. (in order of my least favorite to my favorite)

Jack Stack
13441 Holmes Rd
Kansas City, Missouri

I should have realized that Jack Stack was not the best BBQ in Kansas City when every time I brought the place up in conversation people would tell me how amazing the cheesy corn was. *Pause with me for a second… Cheesy Corn! What?! Shouldn’t they be talking about the Ribs, or the Brisket or debating which is better the original or spicy sauce!! Please explain why cheesy corn could possibly be more memorable than the BBQ?* The problem was I did not make the connection before sitting down for lunch. If I had I would have probably skipped the place all together.

Upon entering I could tell that this was not going to be my favorite spot. The commercialized menus and the mail order catalogs just did not sit right in a BBQ joint.

After getting recommendations from the server I decided on a Rib/burnt ends combo with baked beans. Oh and of course the touted Cheesy Corn.

The ribs were good, and the Burnt ends, despite being on the dry side were very flavorful- but neither were better than any other BBQ place you might find in any other city across the country.

The beans on the other hand were out of this world. Perfectly cooked; sweet, smoky and salty with delicious chunks of brisket hidden beneath a bubbling surface. Yum.

As far as the Cheesy Corn goes? If you like soggy corn out of a can mixed with Velveeta and heavy cream then it might be worth going over to jack stack to try. If not, go somewhere else.

So a lesson learned. If a side item, and a bad one at that, is what people are talking about, don’t go there to eat.

1325 East Emanuel Cleaver Blvd.
Kansas City, Missouri

If you find yourself in Kansas City you should probably check out Gates, if not for the BBQ (it is really good) then for the experience.

I went about 10 min after they opened on a rainy afternoon. As I opened the door, before I could take my first step in I heard…

“Hi! may I Help you!!” I looked around, again “Hi may I help you.” Seeing that I was the only person the girl at the counter could have been possibly been talking to I yelled back “yeah, one sec” even though I was still at least 30 feet away. After weaving through the empty queue I stared up at the Fast Food type menu with its white plastic letters stuck between the parallel black lines. The girl behind the counter, clearly irritated that I looked lost, was not offering any assistance. I quickly decided on the combo plate, not really having any idea what was on it.

The girl started yelling what I could only assume was English, (her accent was so strong, it was hard to understand her yelling, which is odd becasue no one else in KC seemed to have strong accents except for those working at gates?) to the gruff looking man in the back and before I knew it I had a plate of beef ribs, pork, and brisket all laid out on a platter, with a side of French Fries just for good measure.

I sat at a table near the front and watched the mayhem ensue. Within minutes a line formed, wrapping through the queue, out the door and into the sprinkling rain.

“Hi, may I help you” was heard over and over as patrons rattled of their orders in some sort of code that I did not catch onto.

I sat and ate, paying more attention to the spectacle that was the service than to the food I was eating. The sliced pork and brisket were disappointing but tasty. The Ribs were moist and tender but the sauce seemed to take away from them rather than add to the experience.

All in all it was good but again I’m pretty sure I could find food to match if I looked hard enough in the Phoenix area.

Arthur Bryant’s
1727 Brooklyn Avenue
Kansas City, Missouri

Now this is BBQ. And barbecue worth flying cross country to taste. This is a place famous not for its cheesy side dishes nor its spectacle. This is a place where the food speaks for itself, even if it does it in a slightly different way than you might expect.

Bryant’s if off the beaten path for sure. Located about 10min from downtown in a semi-rundown industrial area. The building itself is probably the nicest within miles and that’s not saying a whole lot.

The small rectangular room’s walls are plastered with pictures of presidents, celebrities and more than a few blue ribbons from the multitude of BBQ competitions they had won.

But what captured my attention most as I approached the counter was the huge black and white brick smoker. Its doors were open and I could see hunks of meat sitting on metal racks basked in wafts of smoke.

There was a guy chopping meat on a cutting board with a cleaver, and another awaiting my order. I ordered ribs… The short end, and french fries.

Now- I’m happy to say that the French Fries were soggy, brown and horrible. Not because I like bad fries, but because clearly at this place the Barbecue is king.

The ribs came out almost completely dry (no sauce added), rubbed with spices, and smoky. They were fantastic; but what really did it for me was their unusual sauces.

Three to be exact. Sweet, Spicy and Original. The first two were good, but nothing that I hadn't tasted before. The original, however, was special.

The first bite of it took me by surprise. There was really no sweetness to it. It was so smokey and thick with paprika that I thought, initially, I was not going to like it. It was like when you pick up the wrong glass and take a sip of what you thought was going to be water but is actually something else. My palette was shocked and took a minute to respond... But, as the taste lingered in my mouth and I settled in on the flavor, I couldn’t help go go back for more.

It was delicious.

Oklahoma Joes
3002 W 47th
Kansas City, Kansas

Ok, now this is it.

If I ever find a better barbecue restaurant I'll be very surprised. No matter where you are in the United States, whether you're at work or at home. If you got in your car or on a plane and came here, no matter how far the trip (or the job that you might lose), it would be worth it.

It's that good.

To say that Oklahoma Joes is an unassuming, unpretentious, inconspicuous, restaurant would be understating it. To say that you could drive right by and not know its there would be exactly right. You might even be pumping gas in its parking lot and have no idea that inside the gas station your car was fueling up at was, possibly, the worlds best BBQ.

Yes, Oklahoma Joes is in a gas station. Its not very well marked but if you're lucky enough to be directed there, you will live a happier life because of it.

Inside in the back corner of the Gas station is a decent size dining room. Undoubtedly filled with CEO’s, lawyers, doctors, contraction works, college students and foodies alike. Diners sit at community tables, taking about their company mergers, the latest Chiefs game, or their STATS 220 class professor who just can't figure out how to match his clothes, as they tear off of the large rolls of paper towels provided as napkins.

The barbecue is amazing. I had the ½ slab and fries. It was… well… perfect. The ribs fell off the bone as you tore at them. The crusty, exterior gave way to the juiciest, most flavorful meat I have ever had. The light brushing of sauce gave the ribs just the right amount of tang, sweetness and spice.

After finishing, reaching for a paper towel seemed like a bad idea. I did not want any of that deliciousness on my fingers to go to waste… I know, I know- bad form, but seeing that just about everyone else was doing it I figured it was ok; I didn’t really care anyway. It was finger licking good!

All in all I can’t say that any one of the four were bad. They were all very good. Jack Stack and Gates were both worth going back to, and Author Bryant’s was a close second, its just that Oklahoma Joes, in my mind at least, hit on all cylinders. I could not find anything thing I did not like about it. It was the Kansas City BBQ I was looking for.


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