Kansas City BBQ, tailgating at Arrowhead and more


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Kansas City BBQ, tailgating at Arrowhead and more
Kansas City BBQ, tailgating at Arrowhead and more

AP Photo/Chuck France

You really can’t go wrong with any BBQ in town. There’s something for everyone, and if you asked 20 people to rank their top spots, you’ll probably get 20 different lists.

Personally, I’ve had plenty of BBQ in my day. So I’ll offer up my top five, plus a handful of honorable mentions.

Gates Bar-B-Q

One of the classics. There are six locations across the metro — my go-to is the location on Emanuel Cleaver Boulevard, but it’s worth venturing to the one on State Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas if you’re in the mood for some chicken wings.

As far as the menu goes, the absolute best BBQ bang for your buck in K.C. is the “Nooner.” This magical meal is chopped burnt ends and your choice of sliced meat on a bun with a side of fries at the price of $5.99 (price may vary since last time I’ve been) on weekdays between 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. You can still get the Nooner outside of lunch hours and on weekends but the price goes up a bit — but trust me, it’s still worth it.

Outside of the Nooner, I like a mixed plate — a generous combo of ribs, beef, ham and fries — if I’m feeling extra hungry, plus a side order of beans. Many love a classic “beef on bun” sandwich, and you can’t forget a strawberry soda or a nice local beer.

Above all, just prepare for “hi, may I help you?” to be shouted at Arrowhead-level decibels upon arrival.

Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que

A favorite for many, Joe’s K.C. — formerly Oklahoma Joe’s — is the most well-rounded and consistent BBQ joint in town in this writer’s opinion. Their three locations (all located on the Kansas side) offer tasty meats that are cooked to perfection — there’s no wonder why the line often pushes outside of the door and sometimes wraps around the building during peak hours. Still, the line is worth the wait and moves faster than you’d expect.

My go-to at Joe’s is the jumbo Z-Man, fries, mac-n-cheese and a sweet tea. What’s the Z-Man, you ask? Per Joe’s menu, it’s “slow-smoked beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese, topped with two crispy onion rings, on a toasted Kaiser roll.” There are variations, too, with chicken, pulled pork, or even portobello mushrooms for non-meat eaters.

I’m also partial to the Rocket Pig when it’s time to switch things up, and I know many who are in love with the Carolina Pork Sandwich. Some just go straight for the ribs and/or burnt ends. That’s okay, too — like I said, everything is amazing.

Jousting Pigs BBQ

This underrated joint is a bit out of the way, with locations in Liberty, Missouri (original) and the Legends in KCK (right next to Children’s Mercy Park where Sporting Kansas City plays). I’d suggest the Liberty location if possible as that one has a wonderful brewery attached called 3Halves Brewing.

Jousting is special for their, well, specials. Each day they have an exclusive menu item, whether it’s the rib tips on Wednesday, smash burger on Thursdays or the Brisket Philly on Saturdays. These specials can change, so make sure to call ahead or check their social media pages to find out what they’re having.

My personal favorite at Jousting is the aforementioned Brisket Philly. It’s exactly how it sounds plus more — chopped brisket, peppers, onions and jalapeño cream cheese on a toasted baguette. It’s one of the best specialty BBQ sandwiches in K.C.

If you’re looking for something more traditional, grab their pork belly burnt ends or The Jester, the latter of which is a brisket sandwich with Texas toothpicks and smoked gouda. Don’t forget the cheesy corn — it’s on the spicier side but complements each dish nicely. Oh, and the banana pudding. Get the banana pudding.


One of the fancier BBQ joints in K.C., Q39 is young but became a staple rather quickly. You’ll drop a bill here, for sure, but it’s worth it if you’re looking for a relaxed sit-down experience.

If you get anything at Q39, please, please get the “Best Wings on the Planet.” No, seriously, that’s what they’re called, and they live up to the title if you ask me. The perfect amount of crisp and tenderness with a sweet chipotle BBQ glaze that carries a hint of spice. Just perfection.

What else you get is up to you. I personally enjoy the Burnt End Burger, although it can be a challenge to fit in your mouth. The Judge’s Plate is nice if you want to try a bit of everything, and it’s shareable (unless you’re a big eater like me). I have a friend who’s absolutely obsessed with the Smoked Beef Brisket Poutine. Really, it’s an embarrassment of (BBQ) riches.

Slap’s BBQ

Also relatively new to the game, Slap’s has a lovely combination of quality and quantity, and their prices aren’t too out of hand. Make sure to get there by early afternoon — they stay open until 7 p.m. but will often sell out of many menu items a few hours short of that time.

I feel like a broken record when I say you can’t go wrong with any of their food, but it’s true. I’ll usually get a burnt end and sausage combo or The Mike Johnson Sandwich, the latter of which includes jalapeño cheddar sausage, brisket, lettuce, BBQ sauce and white sauce on a pretzel bun. Wait, white sauce, you say? Heresy, surely! Nope. It’s legit, and you should ask for more on the side.

Speaking of sides, Slap’s features my favorite side dish in K.C.: the baked potato casserole. Please, please get this if you go to Slap’s. Thank me later.

Honorable mentions

  • Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque: Another classic, Bryant’s BBQ has a loyal following inside and outside of K.C. I personally love a beef and pork combo sandwich with a side of beans. Their sauce is on the harsher side with a vinegar base instead of tomato, but offers a different, unique style that many enjoy, myself included.
  • Buck Tui BBQ: New on the BBQ scene, this Thai-K.C. BBQ fusion offers some of the best and most unique flavors in K.C. Get the brisket rangoons as an appetizer — they’re a must. My favorite dishes include the X Man sandwich or the pineapple rib fried rice with a side of mac & cheese.
  • Char Bar: A sit-down spot in Westport with one of the best patios among K.C. BBQ joints, this spot has tasty sandwiches, unique apps and great sides. I love the jalapeño cheesy-corn bake.
  • Harp Barbecue: Tucked inside Crane Brewing in Raytown, Missouri, this joint is only open Fridays and Saturdays and runs until sellout. Get there early (like 30 minutes before opening) if you want a good spot in line. It’s worth it — Harp has some of the best meats in town.
  • Jack Stack BBQ: For many folks in K.C., this is the No. 1 spot. It’s worth visiting one of their six locations if you’re in the mood for some sit-down ‘que and some of the best sides K.C. has to offer. I’d suggest any appetizer, a sandwich and/or the lamb ribs. Wait, lamb? Trust me, they’re tender and legit.
  • LC’s Bar-B-Q: Yet another classic mainstay, LC’s has the best darn burnt ends in town. Don’t expect to see anything fancy on this menu. It’s not needed — they let their meats do the talking.

Heard great things, but haven’t visited yet

  • Technically I have visited BB’s Lawnside Blues & BBQ, but I was a small child so I only remember the atmosphere, not the food. That said, if you enjoy some jams while you eat, this is the spot. They do charge a cover on nights with bands, but it’s reasonable.
  • I’ve heard wonderful things about Chef J BBQ, a craft BBQ spot that is similar to Harp with its limited hours and open-’til-sellout menu.
  • The same goes for Night Goat Barbecue which is only open Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Fox and Pearl.

By Harriet