[Last Updated: 7/18/17]
In 2016 I decided that I needed to get to as many Kansas City BBQ joints as possible as a service to America and attempt to give a proper guide, complete with a rating system. I originally was going to number them all, but many of these are so close that I decided to take more of a sports approach and will group them in tiers of greatness. I do have to note that you could go to the 10th best of these and it’s still better than the best BBQ places in many parts of the country, so don’t let that dissuade you from trying them! I’ll also try to highlight what I’ve had or what they are known for when applicable. Now let’s get to it:
NOTE: This list is subject to change due to trying additional places or having additional experiences. Obviously, I haven’t tried everything at these places so there are likely hidden gems to still find. Be sure this isn’t the only time you visit this list!
The Hall of Famers
These are the restaurants that you just HAVE to get to at some point. They are the cream of the crop and typically are the contenders for any Top 10 list in America.
A newer player on the scene but they burst on with an MVP performance. I have yet to find anything to criticize. Second and third locations are being considered, but until then make sure you get a reservation so you can get right in.
- Onion Straws – The BEST onion straws anywhere and the BBQ aoli is so good I could drink it
- Sandwiches – The Triple Threat & No Jackin’ Around are as good as it gets
- Staples – You will love the burnt ends or ribs
Just go. It’s the best.
A tiny little shack with only about 4 parking spots out front, these guys recently won the KC Food Guys’ BBQ bracket. I like a sweeter sauce and they nail it.
- Burnt Ends – Just fantastic
- Warm Potato Salad – I don’t know that I’ve ever ordered warm potato salad anywhere and I didn’t plan on it there, but it was suggested and it was surprisingly excellent.
The best collection of side dishes in town. Hit the location by Union Station for the best ambiance. And here’s a key… don’t go for a sliced meat plate of any kind or you could be left wanting a bit more. Go for the bigger things like the Ribs or some of the bigger sandwiches.
- Beans – THE BEST beans in America
- Spare Ribs – The spare ribs beat out the baby backs and deliver every time
- Poor Russ – This chopped burnt end sandwich has all the flavor and plenty of meat
- Sausage – Some of the best sausage in town
- Cheesy Corn – A city favorite
Joe’s KC (formerly Oklahoma Joe’s)
Often considered the best in KC, they are definitely a Hall of Famer at least. You have to hit the original location in the gas station to truly say you’ve been to Joe’s.
- The Z-Man – This is the sandwich that everyone talks about, but I’ll tell you a secret. If you go on a day that they have their burnt ends, you can order a Burnt End Z-Man (not on the menu) and it is even better than the regular.
- Fries – Some of the best fries in town, bar none
- Smokie Joe – Nice combo of chunked beef and pork hanging out all day in the sauce
- Hog Heaven – Pork + Sausage = BBQ Goodness
Just a note, you can feel free to skip the beans here and go for the fries and other sides.
I’ve gone back and forth on these guys. They are borderline Hall of Famers. The new location on Main Street downtown makes them a more frequent stop for me than most of the others and I’m not mad about it, that’s for sure. The Pitch rated their nachos as a bucket list item and I cannot argue.
- BBQ Nachos – Seriously amazing. I’m a big fan of the pulled pork version, but the beef ones also get rave reviews. It may sound weird but the sour cream plays a key role in tying everything together with the cheese, the sauce, & the smoked meat. Virtually everyone I have introduced these nachos to were skeptics initially and huge fans afterward.
- Burnt ends – Their burnt ends are good, I just struggle to skip the nachos.
I first saw this place on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives (which can be said of many of these joints) and finally went one day. The smells when you arrive are second to none. It’s an actual wood yard and the smells of the different types of wood that are all ideal for smoking mix perfectly with the smells of their meats in the smoker.
- Burnt End Buster – This Burnt End & slaw sandwich is absolutely fantastic. The day we went there was a delay due to a random issue, but when it came out, there was no doubt it was worth the wait.
- Burnt End Chili – One of their house specialties.
One of the many excellent sportswriters from KC had mentioned this place on Twitter a few times so I figured I needed to try it. I did so over lunch from work so I didn’t get to take in some of the outdoor entertainment, but it’s highly recommended. There are many yard games and such on the patio that make for a fun atmosphere. They have more non-traditional options on the menu so you may want to check them out for a little something different.
- Burnt Heaven – This is the sandwich I had and it was absolutely outstanding.
- Interesting options – Fried Green Tomatoes, Cheesy Hushpuppies, Brisket Cheesesteak, Grilled Pimento Cheese
(New Addition 7/18/17) An eephus is a rarely seen pitch that is an oddity even when you see it. It is a super-slow lobbed pitch that has a flight like a slow-pitch softball. This is relevant because it’s rarely seen and always garners a reaction. Kind of like when you mention the following menu item to folks: Burnt End Ice Cream
When the Kansas City Star ran an article about a local Ice Cream shop that was pairing with Joe’s KC to create a burnt end ice cream, I was taken aback…but somewhat intrigued. When the topic came up at work, I said that I’d be willing to try it. So I did. Here’s what you have to know… It tastes good. First, go with the hand made waffle cone (they’re fantastic). Second…do NOT put a scoop of anything else with it. It’s not a flavor to mix. The cream is excellent and the candied burnt ends and the sauce are actually delicious in the cream. So how do I rate it? Well, if offered, I would have it again and would enjoy it. Now, given all of the choices at Betty Rae’s, I don’t think it would be in my top 5, but there are some delightful flavors there. It’s only there for a limited time, so if you are a true BBQ junkie, you should hurry in and get it.
Like I said before, the places in this section are better than all but the top places in other cities around the country. They just aren’t quite living in the Hall of Fame
- Bates City BBQ [New Addition: 6/17/17] – These guys are flirting with All-Star status. The sauce is a very balanced effort of smoke, heat, and a hint of sweet. Additionally, their fries are all-star caliber and the flavor of their meats, both the ribs and the burnt ends, was fantastic. The one thing keeping them off the all-star list was that I would prefer the meat to be juicier. Additionally, the beans were pedestrian.
- Mudhole BBQ [New Addition: 6/17/17] – These folks are an interesting conundrum. The meat was juicy and good, but there wasn’t a great depth of flavor. However, what they do very well is creativity with regular things. A pork egg roll is nothing spectacular, but with a BBQ rub for seasoning and BBQ glaze drizzle, it turns out to be excellent. Tater tots aren’t special, but with a BBQ rub for seasoning, they are better and then a good vehicle for other things to be served on top. You won’t walk away disappointed, and it may inspire you to try new things. Oh, and it can’t be overstated that these folks actually fry everything long enough to make them fantastic. This is an underrated skill. Need to go back for the brisket grilled cheese.
- Smokehouse – Go to the original location on North Oak. The Zona Rosa location hasn’t been as dependable of late. 2nd best beans in KC. Has a lot of similarities to Jack Stack.
- Danny Edwards’ – The Big D sandwich is seriously on point. You will leave very happy. Avoid the sweet potato fries.
- Hawg Jaw Que & Brew – I had the Irish Hawg on my first trip and it was something very different but fantastic. Smoked Corned Beef is definitely worth your time. I had the burnt ends the second trip. They were super tender and juicy, though they could have had more smoke flavor for my taste. They also have a dessert that has garnered blue ribbons, if you can find room for it. [Updated: 9/7/17]
- Zarda – A solid and consistent KC place with the broadest assortment of sauces for you to choose from.
- Burnt End BBQ – One of those places where if you live close, it would not be a bad option to have in your local food rotation. Solidly satisfying.
- Smoking Guns – The pulled pork is excellent and my wife is a big fan of the chicken.
- Three Little Pigs – The meats are solidly average as the meat goes in KC, but the beans and sauce are both in the upper tier.
- LC’s – Go for the burnt end platter. A good portion of meat and they have the balance of the charred crust on the outside and juicy meat in the middle.
- B.B.’s Lawnside – If you want live music with your BBQ, then hit BB’s at the right times and your taste buds and ears will both be satisfied.
- KC Masterpiece – They are now defunct, but when we first got to town we ate there a few times and it was quite good. They had a very good onion string appetizer that beat most. Just not Q39.
- Gates – This is one of the KC originals. If you have the urge to get yelled at as soon as you walk in the door, this is your place. I like a sauce a bit sweeter than theirs, but if you drop off a chopped burnt end sandwich at my desk, I won’t be mad at you.
The Lightning Rod
Arthur Bryant’s – There are people who swear that Bryant’s is one of the top 2 places in KC. I, along with many other people I know, believe it’s fairly dreadful. I think their sauce tastes like dirt. There’s nothing wrong with their smoked meat flavor with no sauce, but their pre-sauced burnt ends left me irritated. Choose at your own risk.
*Note: I have heard there is an additional, newer sauce that is better, so take that for what it is worth
- RJ’s – Supposedly their BBQ nachos are good, but the burnt end sandwich was far from impressive.
- Smoke Box [New Addition: 6/17/17]– It was ok. The sauce was pretty good, but the burnt ends, beans, and fries were average at best. I also didn’t really like the flavor of the sausage.
- Lee’s Summit BBQ – I just went because it was close and we had to get back to a meeting. It was ok, but nothing special.
- Winslow’s – Definitely not up to par with anything above the minor leagues.
That’s the BBQ landscape as I see it now. I imagine this post will have more revisions than all of my others combined, so stay tuned for new additions and taste bud changes!