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I have to admit, I don’t usually read, or think good things about the Los Angeles Times – but I have to give huge credit to Catharine Hamm, who really seems very wise.  At Pork Barrel BBQ, as two guys from Missouri, we love Kansas City BBQ and the KC Style of BBQ – especially Oklahoma Joes, Arthur Bryant’s. Gates and Jack Stacks – read this article to understand her brilliance!

Kansas City barbecue, the art of the heartland

By Catharine Hamm

Los Angeles Times

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Please don’t tell the family this, but they’re not the only reason I return to Kansas City whenever I can. I love them, of course, but I can talk to them on the phone. We can e-mail. We can Twitter, for crying out loud.

But barbecue is something you have to do in person. And it is best done here in the heartland. Sorry, Santa Maria, Calif. No disrespect to your juicy tri-tip. Forgive me, Lexington, N.C. Your pulled pork is fabulous. And a tip of the hat to you, Memphis, Tenn. Ribs at the Rendezvous are always memorable.

But Kansas City has made an art of this science of slow-smoked meats. So when business brought me back for 36 hours, I knew I could partake at least five times – if I didn’t mind barbecue for a late breakfast. And I didn’t, mostly. But I’ll explain that in a minute.

What I want to explain now is how Kansas City became a barbecue mecca and why you’re not going to hear me talk extensively about Arthur Bryant’s or Gates.

The barbecue legend started with Henry Perry, who is said to have opened a barbecue shack in the early 1900s in downtown Kansas City, Mo. Perry had an employee, Charlie Bryant, who eventually bought him out. Bryant had a brother, Arthur, who took over, opening what writer Calvin Trillin called the best restaurant in the world: the self-named barbecue apex that’s been at 18th and Brooklyn for a half-century or so.

Bryant’s has it all: the feel of a joint that’s just this side of grubby, the ribs that are just this side of heaven, which is where Arthur Bryant (and his brother and his brother’s former boss) now reside, I am certain. Taste the ribs or the sliced meats (or get them to go in the butcher paper) and you cannot help but believe.

Gates, meanwhile, traces its roots to George Gates, who also is said to have worked with Henry Perry. When you enter any Gates restaurant (there are six, including one up the street from Bryant’s), you’re greeted with, “Hi, may I help you?” which always unnerves me because I’m usually having a mental tussle: ribs? Burnt ends? Sliced beef sandwich?

There’s really no wrong answer. In nearly 20 years of Gates-going, I have never had anything less than fabulous, smoky, rich, and tender.

So in this discussion of barbecue, let’s put aside Bryant’s and Gates, because you cannot top perfection.

But you can compete with it. And in this last trip (and two before it), I ate my approximate weight in barbecue just to see if I could find a contender or two.

If you’re K.C.-bound this year – and you’ll find plenty to love about it if you are, including that prices for these feasts often run less than $15 a plate – I offer these suggestions, old and new, fancy and not. My list is by no means complete, because there are said to be about 80 barbecue places here, although recent news reports suggest the economy may have finished off a few of them.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack

If you’re in the mood for Spanish Moorish architecture and many of the city’s 200 fountains, choose the Jack Stack on the Country Club Plaza.

Up till this trip, I’d eaten at the Stack’s at 95th Street and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park, Kan., and I loved the food. But this time, I chose the Country Club Plaza location in Kansas City, Mo., for a dinner with my cousins and my adopted aunt.

For every meal on this trip, I ordered burnt ends, which are a tribute to Arthur Bryant, who is credited with figuring out that chopping off and serving the crispy parts of the brisket could delight the masses.

Burnt ends aren’t incinerated the way a burger gets when it’s too close to the flame. The best ones are tender in the right spots and chewy-charred in spots. Jack Stack’s were right on. (The Poor Russ sandwich is made of burnt ends, and previous encounters with that gets my stamp of approval.)

Stack’s also has ribs: pork and beef, of course, and also crown prime rib and lamb, which I’ve not tried. The sides are stupendous: The beans have a wonderful smoky flavor, and the cheesy corn bake side dish is so good I’d go just for that.

Stack’s Plaza location is the kind of place you’d take out-of-town guests if you were trying to show them everything that’s right with Kansas City. The decor is rich and warm and unobtrusive.

The Plaza is also close to my new favorite place to stay (next to Chez Cousin, of course). Southmoreland on the Plaza, 116 E. 46th St., 816-531-7979, www.southmoreland.com, is a 12-room (plus Carriage House) B&B full of antiques.

I stayed in the Satchel Paige room. With a business rate of $109 and a breakfast worth getting out of bed for (great muffins, pastries and quiche), I found it more than satisfactory.

Danny Edwards

I’d regret my full breakfast only slightly upon arriving at Danny Edwards a little after 11 a.m. Every one of the 70 or so seats was taken, and when a table opened, my college friend Cindy and I grabbed it.

This Southwest Boulevard location in Kansas City, Mo., is new for Danny Edwards, whose father, Jake, was a barbecue legend. Danny (also known as Lil Jake) moved out of an 18-seat downtown shop a couple of years ago to this exposed-beam spot where “Gary B!” and “Mike W!” ring out as heaping plates of ribs and sandwiches come pouring out.

A bite of the burnt ends explained why Gary B and Mike W and, on this day, Cindy M and I were crowding the place: They were crispy-chewy with just the right amount of sauce. I think I am in love. Again.

Brobecks Barbeque

Please, purists, don’t hurt me. I tried Brobecks in Johnson County, which opened in November 2007, and I liked it. A lot. The problem: Brobecks is not, strictly speaking, Kansas City barbecue. Instead, it relies on rubs, not sauces (although it has sauces too).

So I strayed off the farm and tried this Tennessee barbecue. I had the Tennessee Porker – pulled pork – and it was worth every guilty mouthful. But I also did the burnt-end dinner (served dry, without sauce) and found it delicious.

We also loved the steak fries and, most of all, the homemade potato chips, and Cindy noted that Brobecks gets extra credit because it offers dessert. We had to skip it because we were headed to our next stop.

Hayward’s Pit Bar-B-Que

Minutes before the clock struck 9 p.m., we walked into Hayward’s, also in south Johnson County. I’m sure the folks would rather have stuck shards of glass in their eyes than serve one more customer, but we were on a mission, and they were gracious.

I’ve been a big Hayward’s fan almost since it opened in 1972 about two miles north of where it is now. I’ve never had a bad bit of barbecue there, but that night wasn’t the best I’ve ever had (though we did love the sweet potato fries). The 220-seat restaurant is not too jointy, not too snooty – you could take the in-laws and they’d feel comfortable.

We were near Gates (the Leawood location). I wanted to try it again. Or we could swing over to Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, Kan. Maybe we could make it to 85th Street and B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ in Kansas City, Mo., where the smoking pit is more than a half-century old. But I just couldn’t. One more mouthful and I was sure I was going to drop dead.

At least I would have died happy.


Know Your Barbecue Styles

The word “barbecue” is thought to have derived from the Taino and Carib peoples of the Caribbean and South America, who slowly roasted meats over a bed of coals called a barbricot, which the Spanish pronounced “barbacoa.”

In his book Savage Barbecue, author Andrew Warnes theorizes that Europeans who encountered this way of cooking mixed the word “barbacoa” with “barbarian,” and the word “barbecue” was born.

It’s not always easy to say what barbecue is, but purists will say what it is not: It is not grilling meat over an open flame. Barbecue is a slow method of cooking – low heat, lots of time, lots of patience. Sauce may play a part, but might not be part of the cooking process.

Here’s a look at some of the regional differences.

Kansas City Barbecue. The sauce tends to be tomato-based, with molasses or brown sugar. It doesn’t soak in; it sits on top. Meat may be beef, pork or poultry.

Texas Barbecue. Beef brisket is king, and the sauce is spicier and thinner than the K.C. version.

South Carolina Barbecue. This is pork (shredded or pulled), and the sauce might be yellow, because it’s mustard-based. Coleslaw is part of the picture.

North Carolina Barbecue. Sauce tends to be more vinegar-based, with pepper. In the western part of the state, it may have a hint of tomato.

Memphis Barbecue. Relies on spiced rubs; sauce may be an afterthought.

Kansas City-Area Spots

Fiorella’s Jack Stack
4747 Wyandotte St.
Kansas City, Mo.
816-531-7427
www.jackstackbbq.com

Other locations:

13441 Holmes Rd.
Kansas City, Mo.
816-942-9141

101 W. 22d St.
Kansas City, Mo.
816-472-7427

9520 Metcalf Ave.
Overland Park, Kan.
913-385-7427

Brobecks

4615 Indian Creek Parkway
Overland Park, Kan.
913-901-9700
www.brobecksbbq.com

Danny Edwards

2900 Southwest Blvd.
Kansas City, Mo.
816-283-0880

Haywards

11051 S. Antioch
Overland Park, Kan.
913-451-8080
www.haywardsbbq.com

Gates

1325 E. Emanuel Cleaver Blvd.
Kansas City, Mo.
816-531-7522
www.gatesbbq.com

Other locations:

1221 Brooklyn Ave.
Kansas City, Mo.
816-483-3880

10440 E. 40 Highway
Independence, Mo.
x816-353-5880

3205 Main St.
Kansas City, Mo.
816-753-0828

201 W. 103d
(103d and State Line)
Leawood, Kan.
913-383-1752

1026 State Ave.
Kansas City, Kan.
913-621-1134

Arthur Bryant’s

1727 Brooklyn Ave.
Kansas City, Mo.
816-231-1123
www.arthurbryantsbbq.com

Other locations:

1702 Village West Parkway
Kansas City, Kan.
913-788-7500

3200 N. Ameristar Dr.
Kansas City, Mo.
816-414-7474