Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, were stops on our Fire Smoke & Flavor tour, and the region did not disappoint with its mishmash of styles, burnt ends and spicy-sweet sauce. Here’s what makes Kansas City barbecue unique from the other places we visited:
1. A Blend of Styles
Kansas City represents barbecue at its most democratic, where a variety of styles meet. The first recorded commercial barbecue operation dates back to 1907, when a steamboat cook started selling ribs out of an old trolley barn. Kansas City’s “inner-city” barbecue style became quite diverse, thanks in large part to location: the city was the hub of Midwest agricultural transportation and the primary meatpacking center. Everyone who came through imparted their own barbecue preferences and knowledge.
Numerous meat processing plants in the area provide nearly every cut of meat you can imagine. As a result, Kansas City has it all: pork, ribs, brisket and chicken.
2. Odds and Ends
“Burnt ends,” as they’re called, are a tradition of Kansas City barbecue. Pit masters used to set aside the tough, drier end pieces of brisket as they sliced it, and they’d offer customers these scraps while they waited for their food. As it turns out, the pieces were packed with flavor, and diners couldn’t get enough of them. Now it’s common practice for pit masters to cut chunks of brisket exclusively to be smoked again into burnt ends.
3. All About the Sauce
Kansas City barbecue is served heavy on the sauce, which is medium-spicy and tomato-based, with molasses added for body and a bit of sweetness. Modern sauces from the region can be incredibly thick and sweet, but they make a perfect coating for burnt ends.
4. The Wood
Kansas City was equipped with the natural resources needed to build a barbecue hub. Hardwoods are prevalent in the surrounding areas, including oak and hickory, the types of wood many local pit masters swear by.
Along with pulled pork sandwiches and the spicy-sweet sauce, you can expect some classic sides from Kansas City. Locals don’t shy away from anything battered and fried, like french fries and onion rings. White bread, coleslaw and baked beans with bits of ham and turkey round out a traditional, soul food-style meal.