I spent most of last week in the Kansas City area visiting my family for Christmas. And since neither kin nor Claus left me a slab of ribs or a plate of burnt ends under the tree, I had to go fend for myself. My friend Andy, who smokes meat as part of a local KC barbecue team, accompanied me to three joints he said were currently the "holy trinity" of KC 'cue. Here, in words and pictures, a belated gift for you.
We tried to start at Kansas City institution Arthur Bryant's, but the line was out the door and down the blocka queue of such a length neither Andy nor I had ever seen at Bryant's. We chalked it up to barbecue-starved out-of-towners getting their fix (like me) and drove on to LC's Bar-B-Q, on the southern edge of the city and a little more hidden from tourists.
As usual, LC himself sat at a table in the small and spartan dining room while his pit masters tended the smoker and its meaty contents. We ordered a short end of ribs and a pulled-pork sandwich to split. (Yeah, yeah, so our order was modestwe had to pace ourselves for the day's eating.)
Oklahoma Joe's is, hands down, the best gas station I've ever had the pleasure of eating in. Having only been to Joe's suburban location in Olathe, Kansas, a more upscale affair in a megastrip mall, I'd assumed that the original restaurant I'd heard about had taken up residence in some sort of decommissioned art deco gas station in Kansas City, Kansas. Not the case. Along with your world-class 'cue, you also have the option of purchasing gas, motor oil, lottery tickets, and, oddly enough, an absurdly large selection of specialized disc-golf equipment.
The following day, Andy and I resumed our tour with the one place we had to hit: Arthur Bryant's. The place is legend in Kansas City and beyond, with Calvin Trillin famously proclaiming it the "best restaurant in the world."
But I've never gone to Arthur's for ribs. Here, at least for me, it's all about the burnt-end s. And they live up to the accolades. A plate with an open-face burnt-ends sandwich at Arthur's is a terrain of rich variety, both in texture and flavor. One nugget may be succulent and tender, with distinct notes of vinegar alongside juicy bursts of fat. Another may be satisfyingly chewy and ultra smokythey are, after all, the trimmed outer edges of a smoked brisket, the pieces that would otherwise dry out if left on the cut of meat.
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