It’s not an accident that the unofficial cuisine of Kansas City , a city born out of the stockyards, is barbecue — saucy, smoky, and infused with a signature flavor found only in Cowtown. The phenomenon began in the 1920s when the city’s first grill master, Henry Perry, set up shop inside a streetcar barn at 19th and Highland Streets and began grilling slabs of barbecue ribs in an outdoor pit.
Wrapped in newspaper, the tangy cuts of meat were wildly popular, and in time, some of the city’s founding fathers of barbecue like Charlie and Arthur Bryant, George Gates, Otis Boyd, John Harris, and Sherman Thompson learned Perry’s technique before branching out to create their own carefully nuanced lines of sauces and rubs.
The only real problem when it comes to barbecue in Kansas City is deciding where to go — with barbecue restaurants seemingly around every corner, choosing just one is a difficult task. Start at Arthur Bryant’s , proclaimed by many to be the best barbecue in Kansas City. Or try Gates Bar-B-Q , where you’ll be greeted with the restaurant’s signature “May I help you?” as soon as you walk in the door.
If you don’t mind a short drive, head to the state line — 47th Street and Mission Road, to be exact — to Oklahoma Joe’s (913/722-3366), a local favorite that serves plates of steaming-hot barbecue out of a gas station. The line to order is often out the door, an indication of just how much people in Kansas City love barbecue.
And in October, the granddaddy of all barbecue events, the American Royal , washes a wave of hickory smoke over the city as barbecue competitors come from around the country to take home the grand prize in a number of categories. For the mere barbecue enthusiast, the American Royal is a weekend-long buffet filled with tender pork, sauce-slathered ribs, and other delicacies that, together, combine to create one of Kansas City ’s best traditions. Grab a napkin and dive in!