These Are Actually the Best Barbecue Restaurants in Kansas City (Don't Hate Us!)
Kansas City's barbecue history stretches back to the early 1900s, when meat was in plentiful supply from the massive local stockyards (pictured above in 1936) and hickory was cut in Missouri’s lush forests. Black entrepreneurs smoked meat and sold lunches from streetside carts, and their success led them to open restaurants near the city’s baseball stadium and famous jazz clubs, which attracted visitors from around the country.
Back then, the barbecue restaurants were near hotels that were listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book, so they became known as safe havens for Black travelers who could safely stop to eat. So spread the legend of Kansas City barbecue. Then President Harry S. Truman stopped by for lunch and a photo op, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Joe's Kansas City sets the standard for KC barbecue with its smoked meats and sweet barbecue sauce. The beef brisket is sliced thin, so it should be eaten as a sandwich. The Z Man sandwich, which has brisket, smoked provolone cheese, and onion rings, is a Kansas City legend: Actor and KC native Paul Rudd has them delivered to New York for parties.
The original Joe’s began in 1996 in a gas station, which is still open for business, although it has been renovated into a full restaurant. A second branch was opened at the Country Road Ice House in the Power & Light entertainment district, where giant screens broadcast sporting events to 8,000 screaming fans.
Lines to get into Joe's can stretch into the parking lot, but if you order from the To Go window, you can get your food in 5 minutes, and if you eat in your car, at least you’ll have a place to sit.
Original location: 3002 W. 47th Ave.; Country Road Ice House location: 100 E. 14th St. #2919; JoesKC.com
Arthur Bryant's is part of barbecue folklore in Kansas City, dating back in the early 1900s when the young Arthur Bryant ran a lunch cart in downtown Kansas City. The current location has been open since 1949 and hasn’t seen many interior design updates since then.
The Original barbecue sauce has an aggressive wallop with lots of vinegar and paprika, which pairs well with big flavors like the savory sausage. For a more gentle seasoning, try the Rich & Spicy sauce, which has just a tingle of heat.
Burnt ends are a mainstay on any KC barbecue menu, and they became famous at Arthur Bryant's, where cooks would chop off the "burnt ends” of slabs of brisket and give them away for free. These little morsels became so popular they ended up on every menu in town. The problem is: Supply is always limited.
To keep up with demand, many KC barbecue restaurants serve burnt ends that are imposters: cubes of regular brisket, with two strips of meat and a fatty center, similar to pork belly, that are still tasty. But for the true burnt ends experience, try Arthur Bryant's 3 B Sandwich, with chunks of actual “brisket-tip burnt ends,” marbled and juicy, and covered in delicately charred spice rub. The 3 B is served on a bun, but leave the bread aside to soak up the grease and eat the big bites of meat with a fork. Consume this more than once a year and your heart may never recover. But it would be a glorious way to go.
1727 Brooklyn Ave.; ArthurBryantsBBQ.com
LC's does not have the fame of Arthur Bryant's or Gates (which is coming up on this list), but this little blip on the KC barbecue map has some of the most loyal fans in town.
The centerpiece of the restaurant is the giant iron pit (pictured above), which emits plumes of smoke each time the cooks tend to the precious meats inside. The house sauce is smooth, zesty, and just slightly tart, which complements the meat without overwhelming the robust smoky flavor.
LC's is one of the few restaurants in Kansas City to serve pork as a sliced sandwich, as if it's brisket, instead of the usual "pulled pork" bits that come drowned in sauce. The result is a velvety smooth, juicy sandwich, layered so high that each bite requires a little planning.
5800 Blue Parkway; LCsBarBQ.com
Shawnee’s Bates looks like a barbecue restaurant that was designed by a fraternity: wood furniture, lots of Kansas City Chiefs memorabilia, and neon beer signs on every wall. The staff is comprised mainly of the owner’s sons, who enthusiastically dump piles of meat and fries on plates with big smiles on their faces (get the fries, they’re thin and snappy and fantastic).
The best deal in town is the Bates Weekend Ribs, served on Thursdays and Sundays when full slabs are only $15. The ribs have merely a slight smoky flavor, which complements the savory spice rub. The brisket and pork sandwich is also a flavor bomb, especially when doused with the smoky sauce, which has a vinegary piquant kick that makes it stand out from its competition.
6493 Quivira Rd.; ShawneesBatesCityBBQ.com
"Q39 is yuppie barbecue," snarked a long-established restaurant owner in Kansas City who shall remain nameless. Q39 was conceived by what it calls a "classically trained chef," although in the world of self-taught barbecue experts, that title isn't always accepted with respect.
The menu includes choices like Bacon Wrapped Shrimp, White Bean Cassoulet, and a Smoked Mozzarella Caprese Salad—nothing that would be on a typical barbecue menu. But anti-yuppie bias aside, one thing is undeniable: Q39's food is delicious. The ribs are toothsome with lots of meat, and the beef brisket is cut generously thick, with juicy slices that gently pull apart with each bite.
The Pit Master sandwich with beef brisket, topped with provolone cheese and crispy onions, is just lip-smacking delicious. Even skeptics must admit: The "choose your own mix-ins" for the macaroni and cheese (with roasted tomatoes, sausage, or other choices) is fun.
1000 W 39th St., Kansas City, and 11051 Antioch Rd., Overland Park; Q39KC.com
Fiorella's Jack Stack is great Kansas City barbecue, but elevated. The legacy began in 1957, when an Italian butcher named Russ Fiorella opened his first barbecue shack, but at the Jack Stack restaurants of today, there is no counter; there are no plastic trays. Along with traditional barbecue like ribs, brisket, and chicken, Jack Stack embellishes the genre with barbecue trout, prime rib, and a luxurious, buttery salmon.
The bar menu features craft cocktails, some made with locally distilled whiskey, and there’s also an expansive wine list, should you like a nice pinot with your pulled pork. Despite the vaulted ceilings and smiling servers, this is still a barbecue restaurant, and the plates can be big, so wear loose-fitting pants.
Flagship locations: Freight House near Union Station, 101 W 22nd St. and Country Club Plaza, 4747 Wyandotte St.; JackStackBBQ.com
Starting with its first restaurant in 1946, Gates is an icon of Kansas City, having helped shape the barbecue community. The local chain has grown to five locations as well as a barbecue academy for training employees on barbecue secrets.
But if you go to Gates, be prepared to get yelled at. Employees greet every customer with “Hi, may I help you?”—and it's both a greeting and a command to order. They shout it from across the room, which is kind of fun, but can also feel intense.
Here are a few pointers: 1) Be decisive. 2) When you order, politely yell back, and 3) Keep the line moving.
If you order brisket, ask for it “lean,” like locals do, and if you feel adventurous, try the mutton. To get the most meat, splurge and get the Center Cut Ribs. The tangy Gates sauce is among the most delectable in town, and it's perfect on the pulled pork sandwich. Pick up a bottle before you leave.
Flagship location: 1325 Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd., near the Country Club Plaza; GatesBBQ.com
Eating at Woodyard is about the experience, like going to a neighborhood party. The restaurant used to be a house; indoor seating areas are cozy, with a wood-burning stove, and the staff is remarkably informal.
Woodyard’s ribs are prepared with a love-it-or-hate-it dry rub, and it serves a Burnt End Chili that has a cult following. Behind the restaurant is an actual wood yard, which has supplied many Kansas City restaurants with their barbecue wood since the 1950s, so you could buy a bundle of fragrant cherry for your own fireplace.
In the summer months, bands perform on Woodyard’s backyard patio and locals bring their dogs and hang out while drinking beer.
3001 Merriam Lane; WoodyardBBQ.com
Fans of Slap’s proclaim that this little barbecue spot has the best beef brisket in Kansas City. They may be right, but the Slap’s experience is all about the details.
Bacon mac and cheese, warm potato salad, beans, sweet potato fries—Slap's' side dish game is a winner. All seating at Slap’s is outdoors, but the screened-in porch has heaters in the winter, so thats posh.
Locals line up out the door, especially for the burnt end street tacos on Taco Tuesdays and smoked chicken wings on Wing Wednesdays. Go early in the day, because it closes at 7 p.m., and sometimes earlier if they run out of food.
553 Central Ave.; SlapsBBQKC.com
Rosedale dates back to 1934, when it started as a roadside hot dog and beer stand in a tin shack. Times were tough during the Great Depression, but the ingenious owners installed a giant rotisserie that they built themselves, and that tin-sided stand grew into an actual barbecue restaurant. The current building was built in 1991, but they used some of the retro furnishings.
Typical Rosedale customers are good ol’ boys wearing dirty jeans and trucker hats, sitting at the retro bar and listening to Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers playing in the background while they shove giant sandwiches into their faces. The Rosedale's barbecue sauce is a unique experience, with a highly fragrant taste, that polarizes some customers. However, Rosedale is also famous in KC for having what may be the best rotisserie chicken in town, with juicy, gently smoked meat, and skin so crackly you can hear it with each bite.
And yes, it still serves hot dogs and beer.
600 Southwest Blvd.; RosedaleBarbeque.com