KC Masterpieces: 5 barbecue joints to try in Kansas City

Kansas City, one of the Meccas of barbecue in the United States. Their style focuses on wood smoking meat and tomato-based sauces that accent the flavor. There are too many barbecue restaurants to try them all while you are visiting, but here are a couple that are worth a visit.

Arthur Bryant’s

Arthur Bryant’s has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best barbecue restaurants in Kansas City. Three Presidents have eaten there: Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama. The restaurant is one of the oldest in the city, and traces its heritage back to Henry Perry, the “father of Kansas City barbecue.” Arthur took over the restaurant in 1946.

Arthur Bryant’s is simple, in decor and offerings. Ribs and meat trays are available, but the menu consists mostly of sandwiches. In an effort to try multiple meats, I went with the combo sandwich made with sliced pork and brisket. A side of onion rings was also ordered.

Arthur Bryant’s is known for their sauces, and they did not disappoint. The original was my garnish of choice, but the spicy was also delicious. The sandwich was broken into two layers, one with each meat ordered. The brisket was the best I had in Kansas City, and the pork was also tasty. It’s easy to see why Presidents make the stop.

Gates Bar-B-Q

Gates is another signature barbecue joint in Kansas City. Founded in 1946, there are now six locations scattered around the city. Each has the distinguished cartoon gentleman wearing a tuxedo and top hat, carrying a walking stick in one hand and a bag of BBQ in the other.

Despite the opulent character on the outside of the building, Gates is a simple, family owned company that feels more like a local Pizza Hut than high-end dining. The menu consists of various sandwiches, plates, and meat by the pound. Gates also has one of the best lunch specials around, a sandwich called the “nooner.” This sandwich consists of burnt ends and one other meat of your choice, comes with fries and costs $6. Since I arrived shortly before noon, the choice was obvious.

I ordered the nooner with brisket and a side of baked beans to accompany the fries. The sandwich was delightful. The burnt ends were tasty and mixed well with the brisket. Sauces were not available at the table, and needed to be pumped into cups. After trying all three, I went back for more of the sweet and mild. The baked beans and fries were both solid, but the sandwich was the real star, and a bargain.

LC’s BBQ

You may question your GPS trying to find this hidden gem as it sends you past a junk yard. At some point, you’ll see smoke billowing up in one corner past the lifeless automobiles. That’s not a tire fire, it’s LC’s Bar-B-Q.

Outside the building is not the only place you’l become accustom to smoke.

In one corner of the small restaurant, a patron sat in desk chair, his Royals gear spread across the table as he watched the game. A peg board on the opposite side lists the menu. The burnt ends are renowned, so it was my choice. Add in a side of fried okra and a soda.

Served on a couple of slices of bread, the meat is smoky and tender. It’s also dripping in their fantastic sauce. Not the best in town, but probably a close second, and worth the trip.

When the place gets busy, the small space filled with a gray haze from the smoker, as it is constantly opened. During my visit, a quick thinking customer propped open the door to allow the smoke to slowly dissipate. Apparently our food was not the only thing being smoked at LC’s. Taking the aroma home with you is just one of the joys of this diner. You will likely have enough food to bring some with you as well.

Kansas City Joe’s

A place often mentioned by many as the best BBQ in the area, Joe’s is across the border, in Kansas City, Kansas. It is worth the short drive.

Joe’s originally started in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and some locals still refer to it as “Oklahoma Joe’s.” In the mid-1990’s, the owners had an opportunity to open in a Shamrock gas station in Kansas City, when a fried chicken restaurant there closed. They seized the opportunity and opened two other locations in the area since. You can even order Joe’s online and have it shipped within the United States.

Arriving at the gas station location, the line wraps through the establishment, and seating can be hard to find. Joe’s offers a number of plates that includes various meats, along with daily specials. I went with one of the later – a cowboy plate which included ribs, brisket and sausage. Spicy slaw and BBQ beans completed my order.

The slaw lived up to its name, providing a nice sharp bite. The ribs highlighted the meal, as the meat fell off in the bone. The sausage was a tasty compliment. The brisket was simple, and the spicy sauce helped give it some flavor.

Q39

Q39 bucks the trend of the casual barbecue joint. It’s trendy, offers a lot of good local beers, and has incredible food to back it up. Barbecue is big business, and this place is proof. On a packed Sunday night, most people dressed for a night on the town.

Finding a seat at the bar, I chatted with the server about what to order. He recommended getting the brisket plate, as it was the only combo that came with burnt ends. Add on a couple of the spare ribs to get the best of all worlds. I took his advice and didn’t regret it.

The ribs were phenomenal, and the burnt ends were the best meat I had in Kansas City. The brisket itself was somewhat disappointing with no discernible taste, but the rest of the meal made up for it. The apple coleslaw and baked beans as sides were both solid, with the beans being the better choice.

Overall, Q39 was my choice for the best barbecue in Kansas City, but there were no bad choices. It proved that while the best barbecue still lives in Austin, there are enjoyable choices that aren’t that far away.

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Jason is a writer and photographer. He has been published on Madison.com, Beloit Daily News, The Capital Times Mashable and CNN. You can follow him on Twitter @The_Dean.

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