When it comes to barbecue, Kansas City is in a league of its own. The city happens to lie right at the juncture of great meat and great wood, and over the years the "low and slow" technique — letting meat smoke for sometimes upward of 18 hours — has become a way of life. There are more than 100 barbecue joints in the city, according to the Wall Street Journal, and it seems as if nearly everyone there owns a smoker, or has access to one. Ribs and "burnt ends" (when meat trimmed off the ribs goes through the smoker for a second time) are the city’s claims to fame, but that doesn’t mean that brisket and other barbecue classics aren’t world-class.
Kansas City barbecue sauce also has a unique style. Whereas most Southern sauces incorporate high doses of vinegar and/or mustard (and most places in Texas frown upon adding any sauce at all), in Kansas City the sauce is sweet, molasses-y, and basted onto meat before, during, and after the cooking process. The city’s most famous sauce export, KC Masterpiece, is a quality, if mass-produced, example of the style.
The most famous of all of Kansas City’s barbecue joints, and for good reason. There are currently three outposts of this legendary institution, but you’re going to want to check out the original, which moved to this location in 1958 (the restaurant traces its roots all the way back to the 1920s, though). It’s an old-school, no-frills dining room with counter service, and honestly, no frills are necessary. The fries are cooked in lard and the ribs are outrageously delicious, but you can’t go wrong with a two-meat combo sandwich, with chopped pork and beef on white bread divided by a third slice.
Anthony Bourdain included this place in his list of 13 places to eat before you die (in the company of The French Laundry), so you know it’s got to be good. Folks line up early in the morning to snag a spot in the dining room, which is located inside a gas station, where they’re treated to some truly innovative barbecue, with dishes like a brisket sandwich with provolone and onion rings (the Z-Man), burnt ends, and chicken gumbo among the standouts. Owner Jeff Stehney says that the secret’s in the rub.
Even though there are currently a bunch of locations in the city, that doesn’t mean that quality has taken a hit. As opposed to the indirect heat that most smokehouses use, founder George Gates II swears by direct heat: meat starts its cooking process right over the fire before moving farther away, imparting a legendary smokiness. It’s known not only for great barbecue (go for a full slab of ribs), but the attentiveness of the staff; they’re all trained at Gates College of Bar-B-Que Knowledge, better known as Rib Tech.
Danny Edwards Barbecue
Danny Edwards’ barbecue restaurant is only open for lunch, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., so look for the big concrete pig statue and get there early. It’s clean and bright (a bit of a rarity around these parts), and your odds of meeting Danny himself are pretty good. Order the dry-rub ribs with sauce on the side at the counter, fill up your paper cup with soda from the dispenser, grab a seat, and wait for magic to arrive.
Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue
Jack Stack, with four locations and a bustling mail-order service, is one of the country’s most successful barbecue restaurants, and it’s also one of the best. You really can’t go wrong here, but make sure you try the ribs (pork and lamb), burnt ends, and, yes, the turkey. The beans are also world-class, if on the sweet end. The overall vibe might be a little "chain-y," but don’t let that put you off: this place is the real deal.