While Texas is known for its brisket and Alabama for its white sauce, Kansas City ’cue doesn’t focus on just one thing. It’s inclusive, and this practice can be traced back to its founding father Henry Perry. Known as “Father of Kansas City Barbecue,” he began smoking meats in 1907 and nothing was off limits; opossum, woodchuck, and raccoon were all available in addition to beef, and came wrapped in newspaper for just 25 cents. And he shared his smoking secrets with the next generation so barbecue in Kansas could live on long after he passed.
The meat: You won’t find much raccoon being smoked over oak and hickory anymore, but Kansas City doesn’t discriminate when it comes to meat and sides. Brisket, pork shoulder, pork ribs, chicken, and most importantly, burnt ends, make up just some of the mains. And don’t forget the sides like baked beans, fries, and of course, slaw.
The sauce: The most famous sauce in the city was developed by Arthur Bryant. The restaurateur began working for Perry and eventually took over the business in 1946, after Perry’s death and Arthur’s brother Charlie’s retirement. The vinegar-based sauce is so tart and tangy, no one’s been able to recreate it. The grainy texture is thanks to curry, cumin, cayenne, pit drippings, and god knows what else (anything that tastes that good, who cares).
The old school icons: Perry and the Bryant bros put the town on the map, but don’t dismiss Gates Bar-B-Q (multiple locations). Around the same time the younger Bryant took over, Arthur Pinkard (who also worked under Perry) joined forces with George Gates and opened Gates and Sons Bar-B-Q. Today, its multiple locations -- and iconic sauce -- are a reminder of the city’s storied past.
The new school favorites: National barbecue champ Rob Magee’s Q39 is just toddler-aged, but his 30-plus years as a classically-trained chef shine through in every plate. It’s upscale as far as ’cue goes, but who says it can’t be? (Well, some people do, but no matter.) Mike Nickle is the young pitmaster at BB’s Lawnside Bar-B-Que, where the burnt ends come with a side of live blues. The joint also serves up “BBQ sundaes” with slaw, pulled pork, sauce, and more (let’s skip the whipped cream and sprinkles though…).