How to Do the Kansas City BBQ Tour

The ultimate smoky and sweet way to do this Midwestern meat mecca.

Texas has its brisket. South Carolina has its vinegar sauce. But Kansas City, which boasts the most barbecue restaurants per capita in the U.S., is where you go for low and slow smoked pork, beef, chicken, turkey, mutton—they literally do it all—slathered in a tangy, tomato-based molasses sauce. (Ever heard of KC Masterpiece?) But the most legendary item on the menu is their burnt ends, those crispy, fatty scraps cut from the corners of brisket that pitmasters once saved as a cook’s snack—but now are a total KC barbecue staple. Here’s where to devour them.

The Classic: Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que

The original location of the now three-strong chain is at a gas station, and there will almost always be a wait, so hop in line a half hour before the doors open. Especially if it’s Wednesday night or a Monday or Saturday lunch, the only times they serve up burnt ends—and they go quickly. You also come here for the pulled pork and perfectly-smoked ribs that they churn out on the regular with tried-and-true sides like baked beans and “Kansas caviar,” a tangy salsa of fresh veggies.

The New Kid In Town: Q39

Even Kansas City’s harshest BBQ loyalists will admit that this newish-to-the-scene spot has got the sauce. Sure, it’s on the fancier side, and you’ll probably need a reservation, but all hassle is forgotten the moment you sit down to their spiced onion straws to share. Then you’ll dig into the pit master brisket sandwich, which is slathered in their homemade sauce and topped with provolone cheese. Though no one will judge you for getting the burger topped with burnt ends and spicy pickle slaw, either.

The No-Frills Fave: Woodyard BBQ

Grab a beer and a wooden table on the patio at this ambience-free woodyard that supplies the cherry and walnut lumber for other smoky meat joints in town. (The Black Keys are reportedly fans.) It’s all about the rub here, which includes turmeric, cardamom, and clove, and makes their baby back ribs the most flavorful…ever? Don’t sleep on the three bean chili though, which is deliciously topped with burnt ends.

The Chain with Soul: Jack Stack

There may be five locations spread throughout KC, but that doesn’t make their signature sandwich—a half pound choice of two barbequed meats—any less mouthwatering. Or their cheesy corn bake any less cheesy or corny or insanely addictive. Plus, the lamb ribs are a must-order, no matter the location. When you have meat fever dreams about it back at home, no fear: they ship their ribs, burnt ends, anywhere in the country

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