© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rich Davis, Creator Of Kansas City Masterpiece Barbecue Sauce, Dies

American Royal

His barbecue sauce brought a taste of Kansas City into kitchens across the world.

Rich Davis of Kansas City Masterpiece fame died Tuesday. He was 89.

Davis was a child psychiatrist and avid home cook whose family and friends urged him to market his unique sauce.

“And of course, we all know how that turned out. This sauce is the most famous barbecue sauce in the world,” says Joe’s Kansas City marketing manager Doug Worgul.

Worgul wrote about Davis in his book, “The Grand Barbecue,” a history of Kansas City’s famous meal.

“He put the name Kansas City Masterpiece out there on the bottle,” Worgul says, “The name ‘Kansas City’ and the word ‘barbecue’ are forever associated with one another in the minds of customers who have bought that sauce around the world.”

Worgul says Davis’ involvement with the American Royal – he won the coveted “Best Sauce on the Planet” award at the inaugural World Series of Barbecue in 1980 – helped grow Kansas City’s reputation as a barbecue destination.

“It’s just a really good sauce, and it’s just kind of served as the base sauce, or the prototype, or archetype if you will, of almost all Kansas City barbecue sauces that came after,” Worgul says.

Before the debut of KC Masterpiece in the 1970s, Worgul says just two sauces stand out – Gates and Arthur Bryant’s.

“Bryant’s is an entirely different recipe, an entirely different sauce. It’s gritty, it’s not very tomato-y, it’s not very smooth, there’s no molasses in it that I can tell. And it’s very polarizing. People either love it or hate it,” he says. Whereas Gates sauce “has a lot of tang to it. It’s more acidic than KC Masterpiece-style sauces. It’s also extraordinarily popular, as it should be. But the KC Masterpiece sauce that Dr. Davis created really became the model for barbecue sauces that followed.”

What makes KC Masterpiece so appealing?

“It’s got a very rich and deep molasses component to it. It’s got some zip-a-dee-doo-dah, it’s got some spice and some acid and it’s nice and lively,” Worgul says.

Worgul posted his condolences to Davis’ family on the Joe’s Kansas City Facebook page Wednesday night. The post had been shared nearly 1,000 times by Thursday morning, with folks chiming in that KC Masterpiece was the only sauce they bought.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.