Feasting At 5 Tasty K.C. BBQ Joints

a man eating meat at a restaurant

Earlier in the summer, Kim, Lucas and I went on a Mid-West Mini Roadtrip, visiting parts of 4 states in around 5 days. (Find out all about our trip planning details here.)

One of the main purposes (and highlights) of our visit was getting to sample some of the world-famous Kansas City barbecue. With (from what I’ve read) over 100 BBQ restaurants to choose from, we had some difficult decisions to make.

All along I knew that we had to try two of the oldest and most famous of the BBQ restaurants, Arthur Bryant’s and Gates. I had first heard of them on the Travel Channel show Food Wars. Otherwise, we did a bit of reading before deciding which other places we wanted to try out.

Here is where we chowed down (in the order we visited):

  1. Gates Bar B.Q.
  2. Oklahoma Joe’s
  3. Arthur Bryant’s BBQ
  4. Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue
  5. LC’s Bar-B-Q

To get a fair comparison of the barbecue served at each place, we decided to order the same two dishes at all of them, ribs and burnt ends. (We also ordered other dishes in a few of the places.)

Overall we really enjoyed sampling Kansas City barbecue. Of the five places that we tried, Kim would agree that we loved two of them, really liked two others and were disappointed with one.

Here are some thoughts on each of the restaurants:

Gates Bar B.Q.:

IMG_4188 IMG_4189Gates Bar B.Q. was our first stop. We dined at the location on East Emanuel Cleaver II Boulevard. (There are a total of 6 Gates restaurants in Missouri and Kansas.)

When we arrived there was a couple of people on line before us but it wasn’t all too busy. The restaurant had a very interesting, fun design inside and the staff were extremely friendly.

We ordered the short end ribs and burnt ends sandwich.

The burnt ends were very impressive. The meat seemed to be tender and juicy but not really fatty. Gates chops the ends up into tiny pieces and covers them generously in their delicious sauce.  This was definitely top-notch!

After first trying the burnt ends I couldn’t imagine the ribs being nearly as good. Boy was I wrong. The ribs were wet from sauce but not drenched in it. Before Gates, I never knew that the bones could get so clean. We’re talking about meat falling off the bone good!

Gates is a place that we loved. Maybe it was a bit of luck loving the first place we stopped at. Either way, I’d love to go back some day.

Oklahoma Joe’s:

a plate of food with a pickle a plate of ribs and picklesWhen I read that Oklahoma Joe’s was located in a gas station I automatically added it to my list of places to go. If its weird or bizarre I usually like it so this certainly fit that bill. Combine that with Anthony Bourdain loving it and it seems like a must-visit.

We arrived for lunch and the line was close to the door. I had read that it could be out into the parking lot so this didn’t really seem so bad. While waiting on line, you could feel the buzz and excitement in the air.

Luckily we visited during one of the 3 times per week burnt ends are served. We also got a short end of ribs.

The burnt ends came in cubes and other small pieces on top of a slice of bread. While the meat was moist it wasn’t covered in sauce. The sauce was delicious and I dipped and added it as needed. This was one of two places that Lucas tried BBQ at and he loved the burnt ends!

The ribs were meaty, full of flavor and had a nice brushing of sauce on them. They also (pretty much) fell off the bone but not as easily as at Gates.

We loved everything about Oklahoma Joe’s, the food was great and we really enjoyed the vibe and odd location!

a child sitting at a table with food on it
Lucas loved Oklahoma Joe’s

Arthur Bryant’s:

a plate of meat and a forkWe were lucky to arrive at Arthur Bryant’s (possibly KC’s most famous barbecue joint) having to only wait for a couple of people in front of us to order. I had heard that at times the lines could stretch into the street.

Since I wasn’t starving, I ordered a combo of burnt ends and short end ribs. While I love sauce on my food, the burnt ends had a bit too much on it. To make things worse, the meat was chewy and fatty. This wasn’t the same dish that I loved during our first couple of stops. Apparently the third time wasn’t the charm when it came to Arthur Bryant’s BBQ.

The ribs don’t really stand out as much at this point but I recall that work was needed to get the meat off the bone. They were nothing to write home about and I’ve had better at an excellent BBQ joint in Brooklyn.

I wanted to like Arthur Bryant’s but it was a major disappointment.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue:

a plate of food on a table a plate of ribs and a bowl of soupWe stopped at Fiorella’s Jack Stack after driving back from Omaha, Nebraska. The smell in the parking lot alone was worth standing around and breathing in.

We dined at the amazing Freight House location. When we stepped inside, I felt like we were at a high-end steakhouse more than a BBQ joint. Of the 5 places that we tried, this was the only one with waiter service.

We ordered a side of beef burnt ends and a KC combo featuring beef ribs and chicken.

The burnt ends came without sauce and seemed more like small chunks of  steak. The flavor and quality of the meat was really impressive. Jack Stack also has an incredible BBQ sauce. Rather than leave a bottle on the table, they bring a small dish of it. It was so good, that I had to ask for more at least two times to dip the ends into.

I’m only  going to talk about the ribs from the combo (although the chicken was also very good). The ribs were pretty massive and tasty although not as tender as I would’ve liked. I’m not saying that they weren’t good but the meat didn’t simply fall off the bone. After my first two rib tastings these were good but not amazing.

Overall, we liked Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ but it was much pricier than all of the other places. If you’re looking for fancy BBQ then this is the place for you. I’m more a fan of the order at the counter and seat yourself kind of BBQ joints.

LC’s Bar-B-Q:

a close-up of a barbecue a piece of meat on a styrofoam containerPicking our last stop was the hardest. Our list was narrowed down to 2-3 places but we decided to go with LC’s. While visiting a museum, the tour guide mentioned it to us and said she used to run BBQ tours and this was a favorite. That was the deciding factor for us.

LC’s feels a bit grittier than the other places but it is totally safe. (We were told this by the guide from the museum…) The owner, LC has a makeshift office at one of the tables with a file cabinet next to it. He is a really nice guy and Lucas had fun chatting with him. LC kept giving Lucas quarters to put into the little candy & toy machines so they were instant friends!

The prices here seemed to be a bit cheaper than other restaurants we visited. We ordered a combo which came with our choice of meats. We went with burnt ends, short-end ribs and sliced beef.

The burnt ends and beef were boxed up together and the ribs were in a separate container. The beef was really good, possibly the best thing we ate here. The burnt ends seemed great at first. I liked how they were chopped up and not just huge chunks of meat. The problem I started to have after a few bites was the amount of sauce the meat was bathing in. Besides there being too much sauce, the ends were good but I wouldn’t say they were a favorite.

As for the ribs, they don’t really stand out in my mind. They weren’t as meaty as some of the other ribs we tried but were still good and tasty. They also were partially covered in sauce, probably more than the other restaurants.

We liked LC’s but I’m not sure that I’d rush back. The food was good, not amazing and my fondest memory of the place was how nice LC was to Lucas. That alone makes me want to be a big fan and give it another try!

This wraps up my Kansas City Barbecue review. After thinking about all of this BBQ, I could really go for some now!

If you’ve had a chance to sample some of KC’s fine barbecue, let us know which was your favorite. Hopefully we’ll visit again some day and get to try out some other places.

5 thoughts on “Feasting At 5 Tasty K.C. BBQ Joints

  1. I love reading about what visitors think of our barbecue. Bryant’s is known mostly for “beef & fries” (brisket sandwich) which is quite good. I agree with you on the rest of it. Having lived in KC for 37 years, I’ve learned to ALWAYS order ribs “dry” with sauce on the side. First of all, you get to actually taste the meat. Then you can add sauce if you want to. Oklahoma Joe’s ribs are terrific without sauce. It’s a personal preference but I noticed that the amount of sauce was an issue in every place you tried. “Dry” solves that problem. Quick’s was mentioned above but they closed this week after 50 years and now have only a food truck & catering operation but they are really good. Others that we really like are Zarda’s (best barbecue beans in the world), Rosedale (terrific fries and side items), Danny Edwards (burnt ends), BB’s Lawnside Blues & Barbecue, RJ’s Bob-B-Que (owner’s name is Bob) and many more. When you tire of barbecue, check out the best pan fried chicken anywhere at Stroud’s and the finest steaks at Jess & Jim’s! Hope you make it back!

  2. Dustin- Q39 sounds awesome. Thanks for the rec!

    Barry M- That does sound like a great welcome home meal! We noticed the curbside delivery option at the location we went to also. Jack Stack was really good but for me it just wasn’t the same in terms of style as all of the others.

    DaninMCI- Thanks, glad that you liked my review! We would’ve liked to have tried some more places but there just wasn’t enough time plus I may have gained lots of weight if I ate any more BBQ! One of these days I need to come back!

  3. You hit some good places and nailed the reviews very well. Bryant’s is the most famous in the area but I have no idea why. It’s overrated in my opinion. OK Joes is OK BBQ not KC BBQ but everyone ends up going there. Obviously you missed a ton of places. There are a ton in the area. Broebeck’s is good, Smokey’s in Wellsville, KS. is my favorite but a bit out of town. Quick’s is good as well.
    Nice review, ya’ll come back 🙂

  4. Glad you tried Jack Stack. It is our favorite. Often after travel we place a to go order by phone while at the airport and stop by The Plaza location on our way home. You pull up to the curb and they bring your order to you. A great welcome home meal.

  5. You have to hit Q39. New to the KC scene but flat out amazing. Rob won best wings in the world and they are wonderful and the best brisket in town!

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