American Royal Barbecue Is World Series of BBQ Competitions
Memphis BBQ, North Carolina BBQ, Texas BBQ all claim to be the best, but Kansas City is home to the American Royal Barbecue contest and more than 100 barbecue restaurants
Kansas City has more than 100 barbecue restaurants registered with the American Barbecue Society, with the most popular being Arthur Bryant’s and Gates Barbecue. The American Royal Barbecue Contest is considered the World Series of BBQ competitions, drawing 500 competitive teams from around the world.
What is Kansas City BBQ
The legend that is Kansas City barbecue began in the early 1900s in an old trolley barn at 19th and Highland. William Perry created an aroma that attracted daily crowds to the back of the barn where he slow-smoked ribs and sold them, wrapped in newspaper, for 25-cents a slab.
“The beauty of Kansas City barbecue,” says Carolyn Wells, executive director of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, “is that you can ask ten different people to define Kansas City barbecue and you get ten different answers and they are all correct.”
That’s because in the nearly 100 barbecue joints smoking in Kansas City, there is a melding of flavors and styles from across the country that results in award-winning, mouth-watering, tummy-stuffing flavors that defy conventional adjectives.
A dish unique to Kansas City is called “burnt ends.” These are basically the crispy tips of brisket after the beef has been slow-smoked over hickory for a dozen hours or so. Slather it with molasses-sweetened sauce, and it’s a little slice of heaven.
A Tour of KC’s famous Barbecue Restaurants
Are you a barbecue aficionado? (a.) Do you know all the sauces at Bandanas by heart? (b.) Do you have to explain to friends what burnt ends are? (c.) Are you the first person to put on the plastic bib at a barbecue restaurant while everyone else at your table is hesitating?
If you answered yes to these questions, congratulations! You are unofficially a barbecue connoisseur. And now you need to visit Kansas City, the undisputed barbecue capital of the world. Here are the restaurants that should be on your list:
- Arthur Bryants 1727 Brooklyn Avenue 816-231-1123 You’ll join movie stars and former presidents who have dined here. Founder Arthur Bryant was anointed the “king of ribs.” His famous sauce is legendary. If you can’t make it to the restaurant you can now buy the original barbecue sauce at ArthurBryantsbbq.com.
- Danny Edwards Famous Kansas City Barbecue 1227 Grand Blvd. 816-283-0880 You’ve got to eat and run here. People line up to get in this tiny eatery. It doesn’t hold a lot of people, but once you get in the door, prepare your pallet. The hickory-smoked brisket sandwich and burnt ends are must-haves.
- Gates Barbecue 1221 Brooklyn Avenue 816-483-3880 They call this place “Rib Tech.” Maybe because cooking barbecue is considered a science here. If you can’t decide between a slab, a short end or long end chicken, or mutton, you can have them all. Just order the mixed plate. And if you’re really hungry, they’ll serve you meat by the pound. Gates even divulges their recipes for everything from Spanish omelet with Gates barbecue sauce, to Gates barbecue pizza, at gatesbbq.com
- Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue 3002 West 47th Street 913-722-3366 If you think you measure up, Oklahoma Joe’s holds a contest to determine which amateur barbecuer has the chops. It’s called the “World Brisket Open,” and its held at the Kansas City Speedway every spring. Or you could just eat at the restaurant. Try the “hog heaven” or the open-faced “lean and mean.”
- BB’s Lawnside Barbecue 1205 East 85th Street 816-822-7427 BB’s secret is in the stones. They use granite stones during the cooking process, which they say, holds heat longer. Briskets are smoked for fourteen to sixteen hours. And ribs ten to twelve hours. Start out with Big Bertha’s onion rings. And if you’re hungry, move on to Big Walter’s mixed meat sandwich. A combination of chopped beef, ham, turkey, pulled pork, italian sausage and burnt ends marinaded in their home-made sweet barbecue sauce.
- Fiorella’s Jack Stack 13441 Holmes Road 816-942-9141 It’s gotten so big, Fiorella’s Jack Stack now has four locations and an online grocery store. But the old staples are still the same. The Crown Prime beef ribs and the hickory seared rack of pork are local favorites.
KC Barbecue for Breakfast
Kansas City’s premier bed and breakfast inn is The Southmoreland, a 12 room inn just blocks from the Country Club Plaza and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Each Saturday morning during barbecue season, roughly May until the conclusion of the American Royal Barbecue competition in October, breakfast is served outdoors and includes barbecued salmon, sausages, bacon along with grilled fruits and bread toasted on the grill.
Then there are the originals – Arthur Bryant’s and Ollie Gates’. Numerous presidents and heads of state have dined at these legendary spots when visiting Kansas City, and locally, Kansas Citians debate quite enthusiastically their preference for either or both. But places like Jack Stack’s, Oklahoma Joe’s, and Smokehouse have a strong following.
American Royal Barbecue Contest
The American Royal Barbecue Contest is known as the World Series of Barbecue. It is the world’s largest barbecue competition with more than 500 teams in the open and/or Invitational contests. The two-day event includes an Innovation Expo of barbecue grills and smokers, rubs and sauces, and other odds and ends for sale. There’s music, a Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament, a children’s barbecue contest,
There are five categories of meat in the competition: Brisket, Pork Ribs, Chicken, Pork Shoulder/Butt, Sausage – plus a side dish, and dessert categories.
Friday night is reserved for corporate and team parties, and has been referred to as the “Mardi Gras of Barbecue.” It is not a family-friendly event and includes a large amount of alcohol.
Saturday is the big day with lots of food for tasting, music and just lots of people watching. A popular activity is simply walking the rows and rows of tents filled with barbecue teams and talk with them about their technique. Most people are willing to share their barbecue secrets and even though they are not supposed to do so, according to health department regulations, many teams offer samples.
The American Royal Barbecue Contest is always the first weekend in October.