There’s plenty of competition in Kansas City among barbecue joints for the most succulent, fall-off-the-bone slab of ribs. Our Food Wars gives you the chance to crown the winner. So ready your appetite and grab a napkin: This will be one messy, delicious ride.
How to participate
Eat: Mention KC Magazine to purchase a half slab of ribs and receive a FREE entrée of equal or lesser value
Review: Follow the link at the end of each post and leave a review for your favorite stop. Your post could be quoted in our August issue!
Repeat: Hit all five tour stops June 1–30, 2012, and tell us which slab is your favorite
Stop 1: Johnny’s BBQ
War order: Short End ($10.49) Long End ($9.49)
Before the ribs enter the smoker, they are marinated in a dry rub and refrigerated for a day. There’s another step in the process before the ribs eventually find their way onto a plate, but owner Johnny White is not inclined to reveal that secret. “Our ribs are tender,” he says. “It’s what we do after we smoke the ribs that makes them so tender.” The ribs typically are served with sauce, but customers can request the kitchen to hold the sauce as desired. Johnny’s mild original sauce, hot version and a hickory-based sweet sauce are perfect complements to any rack.
Clearly, the man is serious about his craft. In another claim to barbecue fame, Johnny’s was featured on Food Network show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” hosted by Guy Fieri. When hunger strikes, Johnny’s is ready to serve up ribs galore or any other plate on the menu that strikes your fancy.
Stop 2: Quick’s Bar-B-Q & Catering
War order: Half slab ($9.99)
Founded by Earl Quick, Quick’s Bar-B-Q & Catering has held court since 1964 in the same Kansas City, Kansas, location. Just behind the kitchen, the pit is as smoky and dark as a dragon’s maw. The scent of hickory leads to racks of tender St. Louis-style ribs––no dry rub here––smoked up to six hours. It’s old-fashioned preparation with classic results.
The menu lists an impressive range of sides, salads, and sandwiches for barbecue lovers and lighter appetites too. Janet tends to tables and customer in the dining room. Nearby, a cooler keeps mugs and pint glasses frosty and primed for beer, soda or tea. Nothing beats a cold beverage to quench thirst after polishing off a platter of barbecue ribs.
Stop 3: The Rub
War order: Half slab with two sides ($13.99)
When The Rub Bar-B-Que and Catering opened last year in Olathe, the owners wanted to differentiate their award-winning food and business from the rest. Co-owner Dan Janssen, who has eaten at 50 or so barbecue restaurants around town, prefers using St. Louis-style ribs. “When we developed the menu, we thought outside of the box. Many places serve spare ribs with the fatty portion of the meat. It’s chewy,” he says. “With our ribs, you eat everything but the bone.”
The ribs are smoked using hickory wood for four hours. The dry rub on the ribs is full of zest and spice, imparting heat to each bite. The homemade original sauce is a Kansas City base with cayenne and cumin added for a Southwestern kick. The fast-casual restaurant is clean and crisp looking compared to the rustic feel of some traditional barbeque joints. These subtle touches make The Rub a one-of-a-kind and welcome addition to the local barbecue scene.
Stop 4: Winslow’s BBQ
War order: Half slab ($12.99)
Holding court in the historic City Market since 1971, Winslow’s BBQ has a longstanding tradition of smoking and serving pork spare ribs and other cuts of smoked meat. The magic begins with slabs of ribs sourced from a regional butcher. After the ribs are dry rubbed with a house blend of herbs and spices, they are smoked over green hickory wood for seven hours. The mouth-watering ribs display all of the characteristics of world-class barbecue. The outer smoke ring and light char yields to meaty portions of tender pork. Ribs are served with Winslow’s original sweet and slightly tangy 71 Sauce on the side. “We don’t serve our ribs slathered in sauce,” says general manager Kurt Rajala. “Our ribs stand on their own.”
Over the past 41 years, tourists and locals visiting the barbecue joint in the City Market have eaten somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 slabs of ribs. The patio seats 300 for casual dining or large parties, which often get the added bonus of live music.
Stop 5: Zarda Bar-B-Q
War order: Short Ends ($13.95)
Building on the Zarda family’s success with Zarda Dairy and Zarda Drive-In over decades of business, brothers Jerry and Mike Zarda extended the family food empire in 1976 by opening the first Zarda Bar-B-Q in Blue Springs and a second location in Lenexa three years later. The restaurants serve full slabs, short end, long end, rib snacks, and, when available, rib trimmings. “We use meaty pork spare ribs unlike the smaller St. Louis style rib cut some restaurants serve,” says business developer Jennifer Zarda Binkley, which means the servings are as big as the hunger pains that come through Zarda’s doors.
The locally sourced ribs are smoked for 17 hours over Ozark hickory brought in especially for Zarda’s. Swathed in Zarda’s famous sauce, a slab of ribs or rib plate consisting of 4–5 ribs served with bread, pickles, and two sides will conquer the heartiest appetite.