“When you get your head out of your ass, come up to Kansas City”
That was my favorite comment I received when I posted my first barbecue tour in 2009. I knew I was going to upset some people by leaving out K.C.. I just didn’t know the extent.
You’d have thought that I had told some of these people that their baby was ugly or that their mom’s mustache was a little thick.
While I could have nicely pointed out that at the beginning of my original posts I noted that I had already been to K.C. and that logistically I couldn’t fit it into my trip, I instead vowed to make my second pilgrimage to K.C., this time with pen in hand to take notes.
Joining me on the tour was my faithful bbq tour companion, John Purcell (J.P.).
The plan was aggressive. Six meals in two days. Arthur Bryant’s and Gates on Friday night. L.C.’s and Oklahoma Joe’s for lunch on Saturday. Fiorella’s Jack Stack and a sixth to be named later for Saturday dinner.
Before making the trip, I interviewed Kansas City Barbecue Society(KCBS) founder and Executive Director, Carolyn Wells. The KCBS is the largest barbecue competition organizing body in the country, putting on over 300 events a year.
I had read Carolyn’s book on Memphis barbecue ten years ago, so it was pretty cool to get to talk with someone I’d admired for a while (yes, I am a tremendous bbq dork). Carolyn gave me a brief history lesson on K.C. bbq and talked about the differences in their style. Kansas City is the Melting Pot of BBQ. They do all the major cuts well (beef, ribs, pork, sausage) and they also have delicacy called “burnt ends.” In addition, K.C. is known for having a thicker, sweeter red sauce than any other region.
A Brief Lesson in K.C. Barbecue History
Kansas City owes its bbq fame to a Memphis man. Now don’t get your panties in a wad K.C. fans…Kansas City’s bbq trail starts with a man named Henry Perry, who was born in Shelby County, Tennessee, just outside of Memphis.
Henry Perry is the Abraham of K.C. BBQ. After learning how to bbq on the riverboats of the Mississippi, Perry moved to Kansas City to start what would become the 4th main region/style of bbq in the U.S.(Texas, Memphis, Carolina being the first three). In1908 he started selling smoked meat out of a cart in the garment district of K.C. He eventually opened a restaurant, and two of his apprentices, Charlie Bryant and Arthur Pinkard, would go on to start two different K.C. barbecue empires each worthy of a religious-cult following.
Charlie Bryant was the first disciple of Henry Perry. He we would take over Henry Perry’s restaurant in 1941 before selling it to his brother Arthur Bryant in 1946. That restaurant, which Arthur named Arthur Bryant’s, is arguably the most famous barbecue restaurant in the world, thanks in large part to journalist Calvin Trillin’s 1974 declaration that “the best restaurant in the world is Arthur Bryant’s.”
The second disciple of Henry Perry was a man named Arthur Pinkard. Arthur became the first pit master for George Gates. Using the techniques learned from Perry, Pinkard and Gates would turn Gates Bar-B-Q into a K.C. institution.
In Alabama, the question is “Roll Tide or War Eagle?” In Kansas City, it’s “Bryant’s or Gates?”
JP and I set out to answer that question for ourselves on our first night in K.C.