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Kansas City barbecue refers to the specific style of slow smoked meat that evolved from the pit of Henry Perry in the early 1900s in Kansas City, Missouri. Kansas City barbecue is slow smoked over a variety of woods and then covered with a thick tomato- and molasses-based sauce.
The Kansas City metropolitan area is renowned for barbecue. Kansas City, Missouri, has more than 100 barbecue restaurants. The area is home to several large, well attended barbecue cooking contests, the two most notable being in nearby Lenexa, Kansas and at the American Royal.
Kansas City barbecue is characterized by its use of a wide variety of meat – pork, beef, chicken, turkey, mutton and sometimes fish – and an equally wide variety of methods of preparation. Slow-smoking – traditional barbecue – is the most common method, but dishes cooked by other means, such as grilled chicken, also can be found on the menus of local barbecue restaurants. Just about any type of barbecued meat served in the country's other barbecue capitals, from Carolina pulled pork to Texas brisket, is served here, though burnt ends – the crusty tips of a brisket of beef or pork – are distinctive to the city.
As in St. Louis, barbecue sauce is an integral part of Kansas City barbecue. The sauces found in the region are tomato-based, with sweet, spicy and tangy flavor profiles. Most local restaurants offer several sauce varieties but the staple sauce tends to be both spicy and sweet. Ribs are mostly pork, but also come in beef varieties and can come in a number of different cuts. Burnt ends, the flavorful pieces of meat cut from the ends of a smoked beef or pork brisket, are a popular dish in many Kansas City-area barbecue restaurants. Kansas City barbecue is also known for its many side dishes, including a unique style of baked beans, French fries, cole slaw, and other soul food staples.
In 2000, Kansas City restaurant chain Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue began shipping their barbecue nationwide. Efforts by Arthur Bryant's to export Kansas City barbecue beyond the metro area have not been as commercially successful.
Perry served slow-cooked ribs on pages of newsprint for 25 cents a slab. Perry came from Shelby County, Tennessee, near Memphis, and began serving barbecue in 1908. Kansas City and Memphis barbecue styles are very similar, although Kansas City tends to use more sauce and a wider variety of meats. Perry's sauce had a somewhat harsh, peppery flavor.
Working for Henry Perry was Charlie Bryant, who, in turn, brought his brother, Arthur Bryant, into the business. Charlie took over the Perry restaurant in 1940 after Perry died. Arthur then took over his brother's business in 1946, and the restaurant was renamed Arthur Bryant's.
Arthur Bryant's, which eventually moved to 1727 Brooklyn in the same neighborhood, became a stomping ground for baseball fans and players in the 1950s and 1960s, because of its close proximity to Municipal Stadium, where the Athletics or A's played their home games during that period.
Despite new-found fame, Bryant did not change the restaurant's very simple decor, which consisted of fluorescent lighting, formica tables, and five-gallon jars of sauce displayed in the windows, even as Presidents Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan stopped by.
Bryant died of a heart attack, in a bed that he kept at the restaurant, shortly after Christmas of 1982. The restaurant is still open. The sauce and restaurant continue their success.
Along the main inner wall of the restaurant is photographic history of many famous politicians, actors, actresses and sports figures and other tribute pictures of military personnel displaying Arthur Bryant's memorabilia such as shirts or bottles of sauce.
In 1946 Arthur Pinkard, who was a cook for Perry, joined with George Gates to form Gates and Sons Bar-B-Q. The restaurant was situated initially in the same neighborhood.
Gates barbecue sauce does not contain molasses; the ingredients, as listed on the bottle, are: "Tomatoes, vinegar, salt, sugar, celery, garlic, spices, and pepper. 1/10 of 1% potassium sorbate preservative added." It is available in Original Classic, Mild, Sweet & Mild, and Extra Hot varieties.
Gates also expanded its footprint in a more conventional way, with restaurants all displaying certain trademarks – red-roofed buildings, a recognizable logo (a strutting man clad in tuxedo and top hat) and the customary "Hi, May I Help You?" greeting belted out by its employees as patrons enter.
Gates has opened restaurants throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area. The chain currently consists of 6 area Gates Bar-B-Q restaurants: 4 in Missouri, 2 in Kansas. Gates also has sold barbecue sandwiches at Kauffman Stadium during Kansas City Royals home games, and currently at Arrowhead Stadium during Kansas City Chiefs home games.
Before focusing solely on barbeque, Russ Fiorella, Sr. worked as a butcher for a number of neighborhood grocery stores in Kansas City, Missouri that were owned by his family. In 1957, Russ sold his family's 23-room home in Brookside and opened Smokestack Barbeque at 8129 South U.S. 71 in Kansas City, Missouri. Russ moved with his wife and seven children into a six-room apartment above the restaurant. Smokestack began as a traditional storefront restaurant, offering a small selection of five to six items. Russ Fiorella's eldest son Jack worked with his father until 1974, when he decided to at the age of 32 to branch off and open his own Smokestack location at 135th St and Holmes Rd in South Kansas City. Jack Fiorella later rebranded his location in Martin City as Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbeque. Jack's sister Mary also opened her own Smokestack Barbeque restaurant at 8920 Wornall Road in the mid-1980s. Russell Fiorella, Jr. opened a Smokestack Barbeque location at 8250 N. Church Road on the north side of Kansas City. The original Smokestack Barbeque location on U.S. 71 closed in 2006.
In December 2012, the last remaining Smokestack location at 8920 Wornall Road closed. Two of its former employees, best friends Ricky McPheron and Bobby Johnson, reopened the restaurant as The Stack with a new streamlined menu in January 2012.
Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue was originally opened in 1974 as the second location in the Fiorella family-owned chain of Smokestack Barbecue restaurants. Located at 135th St and Holmes Road in the Martin City neighborhood, the restaurant was opened by Russ Fiorella's eldest son Jack Fiorella and his wife Delores.
In 1979, Jack Fiorella set out to expand his concept by opening a second restaurant. The new restaurant was known as Hatfield & McCoy's, and it was located in downtown Overland Park, Kansas. Faced with high inflation, high costs of financing, and a struggling economy, Hatfield & McCoy's was faced with trouble from the time it opened. Jack closed the restaurant just two years later and returned his focus completely on Smokehouse Barbeque in Martin City. Jack, along with his wife and children, decided to expand their menu selections, adding non-traditional barbecue menu items like hickory-grilled steaks, lamb ribs, Crown Prime Beef Short Ribs, and fresh, hickory-grilled seafood, along with an extensive wine and bar selection. They also began offering a higher level of comfort and service than most people were accustomed to at a barbecue restaurant. Smokestack Barbeque of Martin City soon became one of the most successful and popular restaurants in Kansas City. In 1996, Jack Fiorella was named Restauranteur of the Year by the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association.
Jack Fiorella was ready to expand again by the mid-1990s, but this time instead of a new restaurant concept, the plan was to replicate the success of his Martin City Smokestack Barbeque restaurant. Other members of the Fiorella family told Jack that he was not permitted to use the Smokestack name for his new restaurant, so both the new restaurant and Jack's existing restaurant in Martin City dropped the Smokestack name and were rebranded as Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbeque. The new restaurant was opened in 1997 at 9520 Metcalf Ave in Overland Park, Kansas. They also opened a full-service catering operation in Martin City and their third location in the historic Freight House building in the Crossroads Arts District. They began shipping their barbecue nationwide in 2000, and in October 2006 they opened a fourth location on The Country Club Plaza.
Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue has been featured on The Food Network and The History Channel, and has been rated as among the best barbecue in the United States by several national organizations and magazines. Most notably, the Zagat Survey has named it the "#1 Barbecue House in the Country."
Joe's Kansas City Barbecue can be traced to competition barbecue and the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS). Accompanying friends at the American Royal and The Great Lenexa BBQ Battle inspired Jeff Stehney to start cooking on his own. The first smoker purchased was an Oklahoma Joe’s 24” smoker, christened in April 1991.
By 1993, Jeff, his wife and business partner Joy, and Jim "Thurston" Howell were ready to make their mark on the KCBS competition circuit. Their competition team, Slaughterhouse Five, ended up winning eight Grand Championships, including the prestigious American Royal BBQ, three Reserve Grand Championships, and the KCBS’s Grand Champion “Team of the Year” in 1993. Over the next several seasons Slaughterhouse Five won dozens more awards and was generally recognized as one of the top competition BBQ teams in the Country.
Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain listed Oklahoma Joe's original Kansas City, Kansas location as one of "13 Places You Must Eat Before You Die". Men's Health magazine named it America's manliest restaurant. Oklahoma Joe's was featured on Season 3 of Man v. Food in August 2010. It was also named "Kansas City's Best Barbecue" by Zagat.
Mississippi born L.C. Richardson took early retirement as a company chef for Farmland Industries and opened LC's Bar-B-Q near the Truman Sports Complex in 1986. LC's specializes in burnt ends and ribs, and utilizes a sauce similar to Gates' but with substantially less sugar and more vinegar. LC's also sauces the meat prior to smoking and continually saucing throughout the cooking process. This technique forms a thin, chewy and extremely flavorful layer on the outside of the meat and effectively seals the ribs, resulting in a remarkably tender and juicy finished product. LC's side dishes, especially the baked beans and the fresh-cut fries, are almost as notable as the meats. LC's Bar-B-Q has also been featured on the Travel Channel's, " Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations".
In October 1990, after leaving a sales job, Lindsay Shannon and his wife Jo opened B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ in south Kansas City. The main focus of B.B.'s is Kansas City style barbecue and Louisiana dishes. The menu includes Kansas City favorites like ribs, sausage and pulled pork, which are slow-smoked in a 60 year old pit with apple wood. The Louisiana dishes include gumbo, jambalaya, and goulash. Not long after opening in October 1990, owner Lindsay Shannon decided to add another one of his passions: blues music. Local and national blues bands perform at B.B.'s six nights a week. B.B.'s is known as "where barbecue meets the blues" in Kansas City. B.B.'s has been featured in the New York Times, and USA Today. About.com lists B.B.'s in the Top 5 Barbeque Restaurants in Kansas City.
In 1977, Rich Davis capitalized on the reputation of Kansas City barbecue to form KC Masterpiece, which evolved from his "K.C. Soul Style Barbecue Sauce." KC Masterpiece is sweeter and thicker than many of the traditional Kansas City sauces served in the region. The KC Masterpiece recipe uses extra molasses to achieve its thick, sweet character.
KC Masterpiece was sold to the Kingsford division of Clorox in 1986 and now claims to be the number one premium barbecue brand in the U.S. When Davis sold the rights to his sauce to Clorox, he announced plans to build a franchise of barbecue restaurants. The franchises were successful for many years, but eventually they declined in popularity and are now all closed.
Curt's Famous Meats is a meat market founded in 1947 by Curtis Jones and sold to Donna Pittman in 1989. With clientele from all across America, Curt's specializes in barbecue prepared with Kansas City rub. It has a long history of award winning barbecue, having won eight times the American Royal barbecue competition, the largest in the world. Curt's is located on East Truman Road in the Maywood neighborhood of Independence, Missouri. Although not in Kansas City proper, Curt's has been a large competitor in many local competitions in barbecue. Curt's Famous Meats is also known for its predominantly female staff that Donna Pittman has hired. They are known locally as the Lady Meat Cutters.
The Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS) was founded in 1986. With over 13,000 members worldwide, it is the world’s largest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts. KCBS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "promoting barbecue as America's cuisine and having fun while doing so."
KCBS sanctions nearly 300 barbecue contests across the U.S. each year and offers assistance to civic and charitable organizations with producing these events. The KCBS has developed a set of rules and regulations that govern all official KCBS competitions.
KCBS offers educational programs, consultation services and civic organization presentations to help spread the gospel of barbecue. The mission of the Kansas City Barbeque Society is to celebrate, teach, preserve and promote barbecue as a culinary technique, sport and art form.