There's no shortage of barbecue restaurants in the Kansas City area. And there's no shortage of what items they will put on a grill or smoker, from USDA-certified beef, pulled pork or brisket, to Polish and house-made chipotle sausage, and even lamb ribs, mutton or trout. No barbecue meal would be complete without savory baked beans and creamy coleslaw. Kansas City barbecue enthusiasts also like to enjoy cheesy corn bakes as a barbecue accompaniment. More unusual finds at top local barbecue restaurants include gumbo, jambalaya and Louisiana boudin balls. Kansas City's best restaurants for 'cue operate in re-purposed gas stations, a renovated Freight House, and classic dives where seating is at a premium and lines often snake out the front door. You may even enjoy barbecue with a side of live music. Trying to find the metro's best barbecue? 10Best has you covered. We search the city and suburbs for the top places. Then we showcase popular restaurants and highlight eateries that users have ranked highly. Whether you prefer the old-school ambiance of urban barbecue eateries or prefer a suburban destination, we've got you covered. With so many choices, you're bound to find just the right spot for a taste of Kansas City's legendary barbecue history.
One of Gladstone's favorite restaurants, the family-owned Smokehouse Bar-B-Que is known for its mouthwatering burnt ends, and hickory-smoked beef brisket served with fries, Texas toast, and coleslaw. Meaty, smoky and well-seasoned beans are a great side dish; the sweet corn nuggets or Battered Mushrooms served with ranch dip also get high marks. If you want to go another route, consider the sliced smoked Polish sausage, a rib plate, hickory-smoked chicken, or Smokehouse Special barbecue sandwich. Kids enjoy a menu just for them and parents will appreciate the $5 price tag. Whether they order a cheeseburger, a sliced meat sandwich or a BBQ Chicken Dinner, each meal includes a side dish, pickles and a small beverage. Additional locations operate in the area. (816-454-4500)
Located near Kansas City, Missouri's sports stadiums, L.C.'s is a no frills dive that operates inside a one-time gas station, with disposable tableware and limited tables. Customers order and pay at the counter, while getting a look at and whiff of the legendary smoker. Often crowded, LC's is a place where you should decide on your order quickly, after arriving. This is classic barbecue, from enormous sauce-doused burnt end sandwiches served on white bread to tender brisket with complex smoky flavor and crisp yet chewy burnt ends. Crisp-tender fries come in huge portions and there's cold, cheap beer in the refrigerator. Zesty sauce delivers sweetness and spice that isn't overly hot. Spicy fried green beans and baked beans are customer favorites too. Service can be uneven but devoted customers say the food is still worth a trip. (816-923-4484)
BB's Lawnside Barbecue
Start with good barbecue. Add beer and live blues, for a one-of-a-kind Kansas City barbecue destination that has even received some love from the Food Network. Opened by blues lovers Lindsay and Jo Shannon, BB's showcases their combined music collection of more than 5,000 blues recordings amid bare-bones surroundings. A diner's delight, this place is known for their pork ribs and other succulent meats prepared on a 1950s smoker, as well as battered fries, baked beans. There are also numerous Louisiana favorites, including Dirty Red's Jambalaya, Smokey Jo's Gumbo or Louisiana Swampman Boudin Balls (deep-fried battered rice balls). Great service and large portions complement great blues music to create a real Kansas City landmark for 'que and entertainment. (816-822-7427)
It doesn't get much better than Woodyard BBQ for classic old-school authenticity. Begun as a wood yard, the business has evolved into a no-frills, easy-going joint near two major highways that has appeared in Food Network's On the Road. Wood piles abound out back, where three large brick-encased smokers work their magic Monday through Saturday (everybody's got to rest sometime!). Customers have called their barbecued chicken the best in the metro. The ribs at Woodyard were voted Kansas City's best by local alternative weekly, The Pitch, and Food & Wine has called their chili some of America's best. Mouthwatering ribs, lip-smacking jumbo wings and the massive Merriam Mixer (eight meats including pulled pork, brisket, turkey, sausage, ham, and burnt ends) are several choices. Specialty sandwiches are served on ultra-thick bread. Savor your favorite meat alongside freshly prepared sides such as coleslaw, smoky and savory baked beans, or cheesy corn. (913-362-8000)
A crimson roof and sculpture of a dapper man in a top hat announce that you've arrived at Gates Bar-B-Q. Long lines are also common at this cafeteria-style restaurant (particularly on Saturday nights), where guest should be prepared to order almost immediately upon entering the restaurant. Founded by the Gates family in 1946, their hickory wood fire is a key ingredient. But Gates barbecue sauce is what really put this restaurant on the map, beginning in the 1940s. There are now two versions – the tangy classic version or a sweeter option. Customers give beef brisket, luscious French fries or onion rings, and beef on bun sandwiches high marks. Mutton is an unusual offering and this location offers chili as a specialty item, served with or without beans, or combined with cheese and fries. Purchase ham, pork, beef or turkey by the half-pound or pound; or order a boxed lunch for under $10. (816-483-3880)
Go for the barbecue and become steeped in Kansas City's barbecue history. An antique red and white awning, and barbecue smoke wafting through the neighborhood, mark Arthur Bryant's original location. President Harry Truman, Steven Spielberg, Wilt Chamberlain and President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalind are only a few celebrities who have dined here throughout more than 80 years of operation. Customers order at the counter amid no-frills, weathered surroundings, where service is sometimes uneven. Burnt ends, pulled pork sandwiches, whole slabs and beef brisket are especially popular. Be sure to try a barbecue side, including baked beans, coleslaw or potato salad. Nice smoke rings on the meat and tangy sauce with plenty of vinegar are hallmarks at this legendary joint (although there are now three sauces available). Gargantuan servings extend to the fries, which could serve two or more people; and long lines sometimes snake out the door. (816-231-1123)
Danny Edwards BLVD Barbecue
Barbecue has been a family tradition for Danny Edwards since his father opened Jake's Barbecue during the Depression. Decades after the business relocated to Kansas City, Edwards opened Lil' Jakes, which had several locations and a name change before arriving at its current address. This fixture in Kansas City's industrial district offers no-frills surroundings with red checked tablecloths and serve-yourself beverages; an exceptionally friendly staff; and an owner who personally cuts the meat. Sweet potato fries, spicy jambalaya and brownies are other big plusses. Favorite fall-off-the-bone meat options include the tender pulled pork and brisket sandwich featured on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. Danny Edwards sauce trends sweet with nice spice. If you like sweet (iced) tea you'll love the version at Danny Edwards. Serving only from 11-3 and closed on Sundays, the restaurant is often packed and parking can be challenging. (816-283-0880)
Led by national barbeque champion, Rob Magee, Q39 has become well-known for pushing the boundaries of barbecue during less than two years of operation. Competition BBQ Plates showcase Magee's three decades of expertise, from Certified Black Angus Beef Brisket to smoke and char-grilled chicken or House-Made Chipotle Sausage. Fresh rolls, apple coleslaw and a choice of potato salad or beans are standard issue with these hefty plates. Three varieties of ground brisket burgers are crafted from USDA-certified Black Angus beef, oak-wood grilled, and served on toasted buns. Smoke and fire also infuse Cobb or salmon salad and a Mexican chicken wrap. Wood-Fired Grilled Plates showcase steak, salmon and smoked fried chicken, accompanied by house-made sauce, fresh vegetables or Magee's singular white bean cassoulet. The restaurant's modern, yet rustic ambiance includes a large communal table, as well as smaller tables and a patio with urban views; or sip a craft cocktail at the bar. (816-255-3753)
Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue
Consistent quality for more than five decades and a diverse menu are two great reasons to visit Jack Stack Barbecue. Tasty and tender meats cooked over hickory wood include popular burnt ends and ribs. For something different, try their nationally-acclaimed Lamb Ribs, trout entrees or vegetable kabob. Sandwich lovers can choose from beef brisket, roasted ham, smoked turkey or pork and Polish Sausage, while specialty soups, available on set days, include hearty Wood-Fired Chicken & Sausage Gumbo or savory Burnt End Stew. Cheesy Corn Bake, Cajun-spiced barbecue shrimp appetizer, hearty Hickory Pit Beans and Mom's Carrot Cake also get kudos. So do the polite and knowledgeable servers. With 25-foot ceilings, antique brick, natural wood and rustic décor accents, the upscale Freight House location offers the added cache of operating in a historical Kansas City building near Union Station. Gluten-free options are also available, on request. (816-942-9141)
Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que
Anthony Bourdain has named this wildly popular barbecue destination inside an old gas station, 'One of Thirteen Places to Eat Before You Die.' National and regional publications have piled on more kudos and Joe's was Zagat Rated #1 Barbecue in Kansas City, 2004-2013. Previously called 'Oklahoma Joe's,' Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que serves contest-quality pulled pork, burnt ends, smoked chicken and much more. Composed of sliced smoked brisket, smoked provolone, onion rings, and barbecue sauce served inside a Kaiser roll, the Z-Man sandwich has an enormous following. Joe's serves dynamite French fries too.. Barbecue champs many times over, owners, Jeff and Joy Stehney, have won big at the American Royal Barbecue, the Jack Daniel's World BBQ Championship and the World Brisket Open. Smoked chicken gumbo or classic red beans and rice are warm and satisfying accompaniments or choose from two slaw varieties. Eating at 'Joe's' is a one-of-a-kind experience. Additional locations in the area. (913-722-3366)
About Lisa Waterman Gray
Lisa Waterman Gray moved to the Kansas City area 35 years ago and has written professionally for 20+ years. A member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association, she's excited about the recent local explosion of great food and drink.
Childhood moves and living with international students created Lisa's insatiable interest in travel. She has shared her passion with Midwest Living, msn.com, offbeattravel.com, and AAA Midwest Traveler - to name a few.
When Lisa's not on the road or computer, she sells olive oil and balsamic vinegar and makes dynamite desserts. In October 2014 she'll attend Slow Food International's Terre Madre conference, in Turin, Italy.
Read more about Lisa Waterman Gray here.
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