A Local’s Guide to the Best Kansas City BBQ Restaurants
Are we in Kansas? Are we in Missouri? There are many important questions to ponder when visiting Kansas City, but as a local, the one most frequently heard revolves around finding great Kansas City style barbeque. Between Kansas City, Kansas (“KCK”), Kansas City, Missouri (“KC”), and the surrounding area, there are more barbeque restaurants per capita than anywhere in the U.S.!
Living in Kansas City and eating my way around the metropolitan area has opened up my taste buds to an entirely new understanding and love of barbeque and a sharper, more opinionated palate. But keep in mind, in Kansas City, barbeque and the joints that serve it up are a lot like extended family members; locals generally like them all but they always have a few favorites that they love particularly more than the rest.
So, while the restaurants I’ve listed here are neither the biggest nor the flashiest in and around Kansas City, I happen to love each one of them because they all offer something unique, something special, and something distinctively local.
KANSAS CITY BBQ
Kansas City style barbeque is a culinary art practiced on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border, and the area’s unique delicacy is the “burnt end.” Burnt ends are the slightly crispy portions that are made from the “point” end of a brisket that has been smoked for many hours and then returned to the smoker to render out even more flavor and develop its delicious crust called “bark.” The remainder of the brisket, called the “flat,” is uniformly sliced away into the beautiful rectangles what we all envision when we think of smoked brisket.
After a little extra BBQ rub or slatherings of sauce and a few more hours in the smoker, the “point” end is finally cut up into tasty little chunks of beef that when done well, have small bits of bark on parts of the outside yet are tender and juicy on the inside. Honestly, they are like little tender delicious pieces of heaven…crispy on the outside and indulgently luscious and warm on the inside…and they can only be found in Kansas City.
Sure, you can probably find them on a BBQ menu elsewhere, but I promise you, they are not the same. My taste buds have been tempted more times than I can count with the promise of real burnt ends only to end up sorely disappointed by nothing short of shoddy imposters. If you have never tasted the delicacy that is the succulent Kansas City burnt end, you are doing yourself a disservice by not trying them at least once. You won’t regret it.
Best KANSAS CITY BBQ RESTAURANTS IN THE DOWNTOWN AREA
Smokin’ Guns BBQ
Our family’s all-time favorite location for burnt ends is Smokin’ Guns BBQ, located in an industrial area just north of downtown proper (in KCK). But don’t take my word for it, Smokin’ Guns has won a Grand Champion title at the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue contest.
So not only do they have major street cred, they also do things right. They only use high quality meats and hard woods, and they smoke their burnt ends for 15 hours (you read that right!) so there’s absolutely no skimping on the quality or smoking process. And unlike many other barbeque places around the area, Smokin’ Guns serves their burnt ends un-sauced. They have nothing to hide, so the sauce is up to you.
We have had every single thing on the menu, but my favorite is still their Burnt Ends plate with sweet potato waffle fries, onion rings, sauce, bread, and a pickle. Each bite of burnt ends is sumptuous and worth every single calorie and every extra mile of running.
Due to recent renovations, Smokin’ Guns has expanded their dining area to accommodate locals and visitors alike, going from 50 seats to over 180. While dining used to be counter service only, the new expansion now allows for table service and servers. Although the building has quadrupled in size, the food remains exactly the same delectable goodness that it was when the line to get in wrapped around the Fastenal building next door. If given an option for my last meal before dying, Smokin’ Guns’ Burnt Ends plate might top the list. Really. It’s that dang good.
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que
Another unique Kansas City landmark is the original Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que located in an old Shamrock gas station. This establishment recently underwent a name change dropping “Oklahoma” from their moniker, but the food is still sensational.
All of their smoked barbeque is tasty, but I recommend a nice change of pace by ordering their smoked chicken gumbo. It is fantastic as an appetizer, side or meal by itself. I always order extra to take away, as it really is that delicious and unique.
Finally, our last stop near downtown is Woodyard Bar-B-Que. Although this is still an operational wood yard where you can buy a wide assortment of wood to smoke your own meat at home, I recommend you leave the barbeque to the professionals.
Definitely order the Burnt End chili here and enjoy it sitting on the porch of this old-house-turned-restaurant. Seriously, having bites of my favorite cut of BBQ perched atop an award winning scratch-made three-bean chili: it doesn’t get any better. Both Anthony Bourdain and Guy Fieri recommend Woodyard, so you have no excuses for not stopping by when in town.
All of these locations are popular with locals and tourists alike, so don’t be surprised if there is a line waiting for entry. Also, don’t forget to check each restaurant’s hours of operation, as all of these Kansas City BBQ restaurants are closed on Sundays. No place listed above is farther than a 10-minute drive from Hilton President Kansas City located in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Enjoy!
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Amy grew up in Southern California but has lived all over the globe. Her latest move brought her to Panama City, Florida, where she lives with her…