We get the dish on five tasty Kansas City barbecue joints.
Photos by Steve Puppe
In Kansas City, the classic list of controversial topics best not discussed—politics and religion—has an addition: barbecue. Where to eat our city’s best-known style of food is passionately debated, and while a few spots are widely accepted as go-tos—Gates, Arthur Bryant’s, Jack Stack and Joe’s Kansas City—they’re far from the only options worth investigating. Grab a stack of paper napkins as we explore five of the city’s other saucy spots; things are about to get messy.
553 Central Ave. | 913-213-3736
Trophies sitting in the windows of Slap’s BBQ serve as a reminder of the restaurant’s roots: It opened two years ago as an offshoot of the Squeal Like a Pig BBQ competitive cooking team. Helmed by brothers Mike and Joe Pearce, the team is still actively competing and as those trophies show, it cooks up winners. The same is true of the barbecue served at their unassuming KCK spot. The doors open at 11 a.m. Monday-Saturday, and diners don’t wait to start lining up—there’s even a hand-drawn map on the door to show patrons how to form an efficient queue.
Order: The perfectly fatty brisket, moist and satisfying, especially alongside the hearty baked beans and well-seasoned potato casserole. Top the meat with Slap’s sauce, which deviates from KC norms: Flecked with red pepper flakes, it calls to mind Asian chili sauce and cuts through the richness of the melt-in-your-mouth brisket. Also well-worth sampling: Slap’s sandwiches, ribs (referred to as bones, available in quantities of one, two or three, plus half and full slabs) and plates.
2900 SW. Boulevard | 816-283-0880
The lunch service-only restaurant’s namesake learned the barbecue trade from his father, who ran Jake’s Barbecue in KC from 1938 until 1981. Edwards opened up a location of his own in 1980, and after a few moves and a name change, Danny Edwards was born. Signs from the former incarnations as well as press clippings and old photos decorate the walls above the tables clad in red and white checked tablecloths—but let’s be honest, decor is not the draw here. That honor goes to the pork spare ribs.
Order: Ribs come in various forms—a sandwich, long end (the longer bones in the rack), short end (the shorter, meatier bones) and a full slab. Delivered to your table splashed with Danny Edward’s peppery sauce, they’re so flavorful on their own you might not need to add any extra. Also available are sandwiches piled with your choice of beef, ham, pork, turkey, burnt ends or rib tips; combo plates; and sides.
3001 Merriam Lane | 913-362-8000
We’ll start with the obvious question: Yes, Woodyard does feature an actual woodyard out back where you can purchase oak, hickory, pecan, cherry and other types of wood. But while the Merriam Lane restaurant started as a wood-selling operation, these days most visitors are stopping by for the food from the smoker, which greets guests on the brick patio you walk through to get to the entrance.
Order: The three-bean chili topped with burnt ends balances textures and flavors for a bowl (or cup) of food so good it’s been recognized by Food & Wine. Woodyard’s rich cheesy corn also proves itself an irresistible side. (Pro tip from Pitmaster Mark O’Bryan: Mix them together with a little jalapeno for a profoundly tasty bite.) The two can and should be enjoyed alongside the jumbo smoked chicken wings, cooked until they’re almost bronze, crisping them up while keeping the meat juicy. O’Bryan also pumps out baby back and spare ribs, pulled pork, brisket, turkey, ham and sausage available on sandwiches or plates with fries, slaw or beans.
4050 Pennsylvania Ave. | 816-389-8600
For relative newcomer Char Bar, the guys behind McCoy’s, The Foundry and Beer Kitchen teamed up with competitive barbecue veteran and Meat Mitch sauce creator Mitch Benjamin to pay homage to KC’s barbecuing tradition with a twist. The menu is infused with Southern flair and aims to top the entertainment at your family barbecue with a beer garden featuring croquet, bocce, ping pong and cornhole.
Order: It’s hard to go wrong with any of Char Bar’s smoked offerings, but the hand-cranked sausage, bursting with flavor, is a particular treat. Vegetarians can get their barbecue fix with Char Bar’s smoked jackfruit, seasoned and substantial, on a sandwich or BBQ tray, as well as The Jackknife, a sandwich of the fruit, melted provolone, sliced avocado and fried jalapenos on an egg bun. (The restaurant also boasts a lengthy gluten-free menu.)
Unlike many of KC’s barbecue joints, Char Bar is a sit-down establishment, so give yourself a little extra time for food to
Burnt End BBQ
11831 Metcalf Ave. | 913-451-8888
Burnt ends are serious business in Kansas City, so it’s hard to resist a restaurant bold enough to make them its namesake. Overland Park’s Burnt End BBQ, a fast-casual style eatery, is no-frills but attracts a passionate Johnson County fan base—even at 4 p.m. on a weekday—with its titular meat and other barbecue mainstays, plus steak burgers and wings.
Order: The Burnt End Bowl, the signature dish, isn’t something you come across every day. Atop a pile of smoky and sweet hickory pit beans sits a generous serving of burnt ends, charred on the outside and cut into tender, bite-sized cubes arranged around a slice of sweet cornbread and finished with crispy onion straws.
Lest the attractiveness of the dish dissuade you, rest assured that you’re expected to get messy while eating if the roll of paper towels perched on each table is any indication. A selection of sauces are also available tableside, and even more options await at a self-serve sauce bar, including American Royal Blue Ribbon-winning Honey Glaze and Sweet Chipotle Glaze.