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Cruising down Ward Parkway, fellow staffer Ellis Nepstad and I simultaneously got a hankering for lunch one day over spring break. As we contemplated where to get our lunch, the song “O.G.” by Kansas City native Tech N9ne came on the radio. The song is basically a shout out to Gates barbecue, playing off the rap term “OG” (original gangster), but using it in terms of Gates’ owner, Ollie Gates. The song is off the album “The Gates Mixed Plate,” and after listening for about 30 seconds, we decided to head to Gates, and thus our quest was born.
Most of these six Kansas City barbecue restaurants are regarded as some of the best in KC. These six are our personal favorites.
Our quest started at the legendary Gates Barbecue. We walked into an average 3 p.m. line, which was about 10 people long, and were then greeted by a loud “HI, HOW MAY I HELP YOU?” holler from the lady behind the counter. Kraske and I, caught off guard by the sudden shriek, responded timidly by ordering the Mixed Plate.
When our food and strawberry cream soda arrived, we chowed down. Three pieces of bread cut into six halves were stationed next to sliced ham with pulled pork, which bridged over to a stack of ribs.
With the white bread and meat, Kraske and I both crafted a triple decker sandwich. The taste was incredibly tender after the first bite. Like the sandwich, the ribs were also very meaty and crispy. The meat was cooked perfectly, but Kraske and I were still hungry for more barbecue.
After our quest began, Kraske and I devised a list. At the top was Joe’s Kansas City. We arrived one Saturday afternoon, and waited in the out-the-door line with plenty of other barbecue lovers.
Once at the counter, I ordered the original Z-man sandwich, but I substituted sliced beef with pulled pork. This is the classic Oklahoma Joe’s sandwich. It is a bun loaded with a choice of pulled pork or sliced beef with melted swiss cheese and an onion ring on top. The Z-man is the best barbecue item I have ever put in my mouth.
Along with the Z-man, I ordered three ribs and an order of fries. The fries were seasoned, adding a flavor that can only be found in the little six ounce shakers filled with the mystery seasoning. The ribs of Joe’s Kansas City are the best of Kansas City in my mind. They cook the ribs with a special seasoning, which results in the most delicious ribs I’ve ever had. The meat on the ribs stays compact and in a rectangular shape, but once bitten into, the meat comes off effortlessly.
The journey to Arthur Bryant’s may have been the most unique. It’s tucked right outside the “Murder Factory,”– the neighborhood has a very high murder rate. In fact, the Kansas City Star gave it the name “Murder Factory” because it’s the neighborhood with the 18th highest murder rate in the U.S., according to the Kansas City Star. But nevertheless, the barbecue was killer.
Walking in, we first noticed a bodyguard standing outside the restaurant. An overwhelming scent of smoky
barbeque began to fill our nostrils. On the walls hung pictures of celebrities ordering at Bryant’s, including Barack Obama. The menu was displayed overhead, and the kitchen was behind a window that we ordered through. The wait in line flew by, due to a random customer in line who kept trying to convince us to pick up women. By the time it was our turn to order, the smell of barbecue deepened the pit in my stomach.
I ordered a burnt ends and pulled pork combo sandwich, with fries and a strawberry cream soda. The sandwich was so enormous and soggy that I could hardly pick it up, and there was so much meat packed onto the sandwich that I couldn’t finish. The burnt ends were huge, and drenched in sauce, and the pork was moist and flavorful. Alas, I wasn’t a fan of the vinegar-based sauce. Luckily, I was able to scrape most of the sauce off the sandwich, and finish what I could.
McGonigle’s may not always be included in the best barbecue in KC, but for us, it’s up there. The grocery/meat store has a food truck outside, which fills the parking lot with the savory smell of smoking meat over the summer. I ordered a pulled pork sandwich, and Ellis ordered a burnt end sandwich. After getting our sandwiches and seasoning our fries with delicious special parmesan cheese, the chef kindly granted us with one free sausage.
We sat at picnic tables outside. Although the barbecue was delicious, compared to other places we had gone, it was far more mediocre. The sandwiches didn’t have much going on besides just meat and bread, and the meat wasn’t as savory as the likes of some of Kansas City’s top barbecue restaurants. The seasoned fries may have even outshined the barbeque. That being said, the meal was still tasty enough to make me want to go back.
LC’s epitomizes the term “BBQ shack.” This small, smoky shack of a restaurant is a hotspot for Royals fans on their way to games, but isn’t as notorious in town. Walking in, you may see LC himself, sitting in a chair chatting with his customers while they enjoy his barbeque, or counting his stacks of cash, like we did.
After a short wait in line, I ordered a long-end ribs with fries. They were very tender, and more smoked than some places. I finished my rack within a few quick minutes of sitting down. Ellis ordered the burnt ends, which were so chewy and fat that they were almost hard to eat, but we devoured them regardless. They made for great sandwiches with the brea
d provided. We also ordered a side of jalapeno poppers, which had a golden crispy exterior, with jalapenos inside, coated in hot, stringy cheese. The only other con of the meal was the sauce, which was kind of watered down, so it didn’t add much to the meal. Overall the ribs were my second favorite, only behind Joe’s, but they may have been tied with Gates.
Jack Stack made its way on to our list because it was on everybody else’s list. Jack Stack was the only place on the quest that I had not previously been to, and it is also the only sit-down restaurant.
In my eyes, Jack Stack is the furthest from a traditional barbecue joint. It is not your old-fashioned, loud and long-lined barbecue joint, but it has a more casual, sit down restaurant vibe.
With that being said, the food was pretty good. Kraske and I split the Kansas City Combo, which was a choice of three meats and a side. We chose brisket, lamb ribs and chicken. I had never had lamb before, but the meat came off the bone much easier than the pork ribs, and I was pleased with the less dense taste. The chicken was too dry and mediocre, and the brisket was just about average. Overall, the amount of food did not match the price. The Kansas City combo was about the same price as the Gates mixed plate, but far from it. It lacked quantity and culture.