Kansas City: America's Barbecue Capitol
Note: I plan a major rewrite of this article with more detail and photos. I'll let you know in Smoke Signals when it is done.
Kansas City is Mecca for barbecue lovers. Barbecue is to KC what pizza is to Chicago. It's been years since I was there last, so I put together a road trip that took me there to judge at the Great American Barbecue cookoff with stops along the way in the growing Downstate Illinois wine region, St. Louis barbecue joints, and Hawgeye's Barbecue in Iowa on the way back.
I started at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago at which I had a really informative chat with Stuart of Cookshack. Such a knowledgeable and candid fellow. He confirmed my conclusion that the electrics are best for large meats like shoulders and briskets. He cooks his ribs on a Fast Eddy (FEC) pellet smoker.
I then went downstate to Murphysboro, IL where I had lunch with Mike "The Legend" Mills at his 17th Street Bar and Grill. Mike is outgoing pres of the NBBQA and three time Memphis in May Grand Champ. He serves some excellent food and really knows his stuff. We were joined by a man with a BBQ joint in Australia! A lively afternoon of tales!
I hit a wine fest at Alto Vineyards. There are more than a dozen wineries in the hills of southern IL, and they make some nice wines. No threat to Napa yet, but good Vins de Pays. The star was Pomona Vineyards, all fruit wines. Best apple and strawberry wines I've ever tasted (and yes, I like fruit wines in the right context). Along the way I photographed the world's largest ketchup bottle in Collinsville, IL.
Then I hit Super Smokers in St. Louis. They use a FEC and made some of the best ribs I had on the trip. They used to have several locations but they're down to the original chicken barn. Got some nice pix of a 2 year old girl chowing on a bone.
In KC I hit Arthur Bryant's (they let me behind the counter to shoot - I'm proud of my shots there), and had lunch with Ardie Davis and Paul Kirk. They really know their stuff. Bryant's had a new mustard sauce that I much preferred over their original. The food was great and the feeling of being on hallowed ground was ethereal.
Then I hit Gates (shiny, corporate), LCs (slimy, gritty), BBs (Rockin' with live music), and Jack Stacks by the train station (elegant and upscale). All very different experiences, all good ribs, but sadly, not as good as you and I can make at home. I suppose that's because they have to make so many and hold them so long, that they are almost always overcooked by the time we get them. This is one case when home made is better than restaurant made.
Other highlights were: The friendly people at LCs who turned it into a communal experience with all the tables arguing about their favorite barbecue joints. The bluegrass and party atmosphere at BBs, the baked beans and cheesy corn at Jack's as well as the knowledgeable bartender.
Perhaps the best meal was the KC strip steak (BEEF!!!) at the Golden Ox, a classic steakhouse built on the site of the stockyards in 1949. Got some nice shots there too. I went there with Myron Mixon and his Jack's Old South (Vienna GA) cooking team. Now there's someone who can cook.
The Great American Barbecue is a good cookoff. Teams from across the nation and some fine Q. I had a chance to visit with some, including Ray Lampe (Dr. Barbecue) and Dave Klose of Klose Cookers. I took a balloon ride and got some aerial shots.
There were many more places I wanted to visit, but after judging at the Great American Barbecue, frankly I was sick of smoked meat. But not so smoked that I didn't make time to hit Hawgeyes in Alkeny and Claxon's in Altoona. Hawgeyes has a nice retail store with a great selection of hard to find rubs and sauces from across the nation.
You may want to look at the pix I took. I haven't had a chance to write detailed captions, but the titles tell you the place they were shot.