I should start out by disclaiming that, despite my Kansas City roots, I haven’t always been barbecue’s biggest fan. I grew up an extremely picky eater, despite being ribbed by my various family members, so it wasn’t until fairly recently that I really started to develop a taste for KC’s different flavors. After a particularly scarring childhood experience at Arthur Bryant’s, in which there was chewed food on my fork and I refused to touch my meal (which my uncle still makes fun of me for to this day, by the way), I swore off barbecue for life—despite it being the meal of choice at every, and I do mean every, family reunion.
If I’d grown up in a place with less tasty barbecue, I maybe never would’ve developed a liking for it. But being surrounded by the country’s best barbecue joints, I consider myself lucky enough to guide my non-local friends on their paths to discovering the food my city is most loved and well-known for. I’ve come to associate even the perpetual smell of barbecue in the city air with the most poignant sense of nostalgia, and if you ask any local native, they’ll probably tell you that barbecue is an unspoken part of Kansas City life.
With that introduction, I have a few recommendations. Whether you’re headed down south for a Chiefs game or road-tripping for a night out on the Plaza, here are four of Kansas City’s top barbecue restaurants you don’t want to miss the next time you’re in town.
Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que
(now Joe’s Kansas City)
Top pick: There seems to be an ongoing debate about whether the ribs, pulled pork, or brisket is the Joe’s must-try. No harm in trying all of them.
Opinion: Voted by critics as Kansas City’s best barbecue restaurant this year, the newly christened Joe’s Kansas City has yet to receive a poor Yelp review from BBQ fanatics.
Top pick: A meaty slab of ribs is most commonly ordered in my house, and always with extra helpings of sauce.
Opinion: They’ll give you their famously enthusiastic “Hi, may I help you” shout-out the very moment you cross the threshold—but rare are the times you’ll leave
Jack Stack Barbecue
Top pick: My personal favorite is the pulled pork sandwich, but the lamb ribs are perhaps more famed.
Opinion: Jack Stack is always my first choice when introducing non-Missouri natives to the realm of KC barbecue. I have yet to hear a complaint.
Top pick: Although Arthur Bryant may have been the King of Ribs, the pulled pork sandwich is a prime second best.
Opinion: Even though you may have to root around to locate a clean fork, the full experience of both good barbecue and an environment rife with KC history