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Food recs: The best BBQ in Kansas City

It’s no secret that Kansas Citians love to talk — and argue — about barbecue. That hasn’t changed over the decades.
Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que
Kansas City has long been considered a ribs and brisket town when it comes to barbecue, but enthusiasts and food writers alike say chicken is an underappreciated star.

Up To Date’s food panelists and barbecue enthusiasts from around Kansas City recommend their favorite places to get ribs, brisket, pork, chicken and sides in the metro.

It’s no secret that Kansas Citians love to talk — and argue — about barbecue. That hasn’t changed over the decades.

But according to Carlton Logan, who’s lived in Kansas City all his life and co-administrates the popular Facebook page Kansas City Eats, barbecue has changed a lot, especially when it comes to sides.

“It used to be what I call the kind of trilogy: baked beans, potato salad and coleslaw. And now we've expanded to things like elotes and and other side dishes,” he told KCUR’s Up To Date on Friday.

Of course, it’s not all about the sides.

While most Kansas Citians will tell you we’re a ribs and brisket town, Rod Gray, CEO of the Kansas City Barbeque Society, says chicken is a pretty big deal, too.

“Chicken is the unsung hero in barbecue, for sure,” he said. “There's a lot of great chicken in Kansas City.”

Logan, Gray and Jill Silva, a contributor to Flatland, all agree that the best barbecue chicken in town is at Q39.

Below they recommend their favorite offerings at Kansas City barbecue establishments, including many that fit into the local barbecue society’s top four judging categories: ribs, brisket, pork and chicken.

We added sides and sauces too, because why wouldn’t we?

Carlton Logan, Kansas City Eats:

  • Arthur Bryant's Barbeque — Baby Back Ribs & sauce. My first memory of barbecue is ribs, and my father's favorite was always Arthur Bryant's. They now have two sauces to choose from. The original, which has a stronger vinegar flavor and high seasoning content, and a sweeter sauce.
  • Gates Bar-B-Q — ribs and sauce. My mother's favorite since I was a child. They have three sauces to choose from: Original Classic, Extra Spicy, and Sweet & Mild. Rod Gray calls the original version a true "eating" sauce from a barbecue O.G.
  • Blind Box BBQ — Pulled Pork and BBQ Street Corn. I love The Carolina Q sandwich with pulled pork topped with house slaw and onion straws. The street corn is essentially Mexican corn on the cob, smeared with butter, and seasoned with cotija cheese.
  • RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack — Jalapeño Sausage. RJ’s is nestled in the heart of Mission. My favorite dish there is listed on the menu as a starter, but I’ve ordered it as part of my meal. Ground pork butt is mixed with jalapeños, rolled in corn husks and smoked.
  • Burnt End BBQ — Onion Rings. I love onion rings thick and thin, but sometimes a nice, thin and crispy onion string works well as a side, or even on a sandwich to add texture. Get your fill at either location, in Overland Park or Crown Center.
  • Brobecks Barbecue — Smoked Ham Salad. They call themselves the best little smokehouse in Kansas City, which is quite the claim, but I fell in love with the mix of ground smoked ham and turkey in this appetizer. It’s great with crackers or their house-made potato chips.

Rod Gray, Kansas City Barbeque Society

  • Meat Mitch — Smo’ Fried Chicken and ribs. For the Smo’ Fried, two chicken breasts are brined in pickle juice and buttermilk, then slow smoked, breaded, and finally deep fried. They also have big, meaty ribs that are both moist and tender, with a perfect balance between sweet and savory.
  • Slap’s BBQ — brisket. Many places can get their brisket tender, and many can get it moist. These guys are one of only a few who turn out brisket that is both moist and tender day in and day out. It’s not to be missed.
  • Jousting Pigs Craft BBQ — pork. The Fit for a King sandwich with bacon jam and pickled red onions is the perfect balance of sweet and acid, with a mound of tender pulled pork. Looking for pure comfort food? The pulled pork mac and cheese has your name all over it. Don’t walk, run!
  • Zarda Bar-B-Q — Bar-B-Q Beans. Their sausage sandwich is the best in town, and, when I’m there to get that sandwich, I always get their beans — they’re so popular they’re sold in groceries and big box warehouse stores around Kansas City.
  • Chef J BBQ — pickles. Talk about a level of detail seldom seen in barbeque, this place makes their own pickles. Did I mention they remind me of the pickles my parents made when I was a kid? I always ask for extra pickles, every time I go. You should too.
  • Rosedale Bar-B-Q — sauce. I sometimes get looks when I dine in because I pick up half a sandwich with one hand, and always have a bottle of their sauce at the ready in the other. The celery seed in it pairs masterfully with their beef.

Jill Silva, Flatland:

  • Q39 — Smoked & Charred Half Chicken and sides. The late owner and pitmaster Rob McGee opened Q39 with competition-style dinner plates. One still on the menu is Smoked & Charred Half Chicken. My favorite sides include the white bean cassoulet with chipotle sausage, and the thyme and apple slaw.
  • LC’s Bar-B-Q — ribs. Nothing fancy here, just traditional and delicious! Choose slab, long, or short end, which usually has an extra rib or two, plus rib tips (the chewy trim), a favorite of my friend Bill Chaney, a brick pit builder for LC’s and Jack Stack restaurants.
  • Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que — Carolina Pork Sandwich. Joe’s always has solid pulled pork, and this sandwich has slaw on top. Now, if they’d just add an onion ring to this one I’d be in hog heaven!
  • Harp Barbecue — brisket. I love the way Harp and other young craft pitmasters have started cutting brisket thick, sometimes known as Texas style, which retains the juiciness. Other restaurants serving a similar style include Night Goat Barbecue, Chef J BBQ, Fox&Fire Barbecue, Scott’s Kitchen and Wolfepack BBQ.
  • Jack Stack Barbecue — Cheesy Corn Bake. Their cheesy corn is reputed to be one of the first recipes out there, and it continues to be one of my favorites. It’s basically a cheese and corn casserole concoction. The giant breaded onion rings are served on a spike, a good runner-up side dish.
  • Buck Tui BBQ has Thai barbecue sides, including Jasmine rice, papaya slaw, pulled pork hot and sour soup and pulled pork egg rolls. Also try the addictive Butterscotch Wings, smoked and served in fish and butterscotch sauce with spicy cucumbers.
  • Jones Bar-B-Q — Coconut Pineapple Sauce. For eaters who are up for experimentation and pushing the envelope on convention, this Jones condiment is a twist on a solid, slightly sweet Kansas City-style sauce, with a few South Pacific notes. It’s perfect for pulled pork sandwiches.

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As a host and contributor at KCUR, I seek to create a more informed citizenry and richer community. I want to enlighten and inspire our audience by delivering the information they need with accuracy and urgency, clarifying what’s complicated and teasing out the complexities of what seems simple. I work to craft conversations that reveal realities in our midst and model civil discourse in a divided world. Follow me on Twitter @ptsbrian or email me at brian@kcur.org.
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