Kansas City has come into its own as a center for culture and entertainment, rivalling the Chicagos and Austins of America. But that’s a more recent development. The one thing KC has had On Lock for over a hundred years is its BBQ, arguably the best in the country.
In the early 1900s, Henry Perry moved from Memphis to Kansas City. He’d been a steamboat cook on the Mississippi River, but in KC he started cooking huge slabs of meat in a pit over oak and hickory, and wrapping the meat in newspaper for customers. For upwards of twenty-five cents, people were devouring Perry’s meats, which were known for their harsh, peppery flavors -- Some of that harshness may have come from the type of meats Perry was using, which included beef, but also possum, woodchuck, and racoon. Look, KC will put BBQ sauce on anything ... though you won’t find those more gamey meats in any BBQ joints here.
After Perry’s death in 1940, his business passed to Charlie and Arthur Bryant, one of Perry’s former workers founded the competing Gates Bar-B-Q and a whole generation of Kansas City BBQ institutions established themselves. Collectively, they moved towards a flavor palette that is equal parts sweet, spicy, and tangy, often based in a thick sauces that use ample tomatoes and molasses. KC BBQ is defined by its wide variety of meats. While the Carolinas are famous for pulled pork, Memphis for its ribs and Texas for its brisket and sausage, all of them are part of the fold in Kansas City.
With that said, Burnt Ends, flavorful, fatty cuts from the end of a brisket, have a special place in the city’s heart.
And that’s the, uh, rub here: KC BBQ is your best bet when you want to try incredible cooking from across the flavor spectrum. That’s also why side-dishes are just as important to the KC experience as the meat itself.
There are more than 100 BBQ joints in the Kansas City metro area alone, so we tried to cut through some of that noise and highlight the absolute best: