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72 Hours in Kansas City, Day 2: On the Barbecue Trail

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: May 13, 2009 2:50am ET

“When was the last time you had barbecue for breakfast?” Pete Seghesio asked as we drove into the parking lot of Oklahoma Joe’s, an eatery that shares space with a gas station. You could smell the smoke from the meat and beans cooking the moment we climbed out of the car.

In Kansas City barbecue is practically a religion.

Saturday’s game plan: visit as many BBQs and taste as many entrées as we could. Pete and I had run into each other the night before. I was in town to visit friends; he was hosting a dinner featuring his wines at Jasper’s restaurant. So we agreed to spend some of our free time exploring the local food scene together, splitting the bills along the way.

We were among the first in at Joe’s when the doors opened at 11 am. Soon the place began to fill up with locals, and a line formed at the counter.

We were joined by one of Pete’s friends from K.C., Stan Peterson, his son and one of his son’s friends, making us a BBQ jury of five.

I figured Pete could order, but Stan had already taken care of that. Soon we were headed for our table, carrying ribs, beans, beef brisket, pulled pork sandwiches, French fries, coleslaw, pickles, bread and a pitcher of Boulevard beer, a local favorite.

Pete and Stan began to dissect the entrées and it soon became apparent that Stan knew his BBQ, probably better than Pete. After about 15 minutes, and eating more than we should have, we boxed up the leftovers into six carry-out plates and later handed them out to the homeless we encountered. We did the same thing at each of the next five stops, ending with about 30 boxed lunches. We liked Joe’s but expected better things to come.

Arthur Bryant’s was the next spot—more BBQ, fries, beans, beer and a hat and a t-shirt. You can see the Arthur Bryant chef chopping up and plating our ribs in the video below. Then on to Gates & Sons, and then Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, which was the first place where we could drink wine. I had been looking for a wine angle, figuring wine would be perfect with the spicy BBQ sauces. But most places only served soft drinks and beer. At Jack Stack, Pete uncorked a 2007 Seghesio Zin. We were also served onion rings, bowls of a cheesy corn dish and au gratin potatoes. By then I had located my Tums.

LC's smoker earned it the distinction of "smokiest barbecue" on James Laube's whirlwind BBQ tour.  
Stan began to explain the different cooking techniques, including the decision of whether to par-boil the ribs (a no-no, according to both Stan and Pete), and the various merits of different kinds of woods. Some smoke their ribs with hickory; others use oak, apple wood or pecan. Stan could tell. I mostly smelled heavy smoke. “It’s just like winemakers, choosing different oak barrels,” he said.

We passed a concealed weapons shooting range and training camp on the way to LC’s, a funky but soulful spot. We agreed LC’s had the smokiest BBQ.

I thought we were done, but no. On our way back to the hotel we passed out the boxed lunches and Pete suggested we go to Winstead’s Drive-in, a local favorite, for a double cheeseburger and a vanilla shake that was as thick as ice cream.

At the end of the BBQ, it turned out that Oklahoma Joe's had the best overall food, followed by Jack Stack. Many of the entrées elsewhere were too dry; some bordered on a beef jerky texture.

Earlier in the day, Stan had invited me to his place for BBQ on Sunday. By then I knew he was a BBQ master and one of the best in the U.S. He had recently been invited to prepare BBQ for President Obama at the White House. I hadn't been invited for that. But a trip to Stan’s place to see his gear and new wine cellar sounded good, even after a grueling day that had me swearing I wouldn’t eat another rib.

Jesse Salazar
New York, New York —  May 13, 2009 11:27am ET
I'm ruined for lunch now...I wonder if I can sneak away for a quick flight to KC. Great notes James; I'll use these to make an eating map for my next trip down there...
Ryan Wilhite
May 13, 2009 12:28pm ET
James, you hit the best spots in town for BBQ. I agree with you on your top two picks. I prefer Oklahoma Joe's if I want a sandwich, but if I want burnt ends or ribs, I am headed to Jack Stack. Glad to see you had a great time in Kansas City.
John Skupny
St. Helena —  May 13, 2009 2:14pm ET
As it always seems, "everything is up to date in Kansas City"... glad you tried the Boulevard!
Horacio Campana / Butler Me
Monterrey, Mexico —  May 13, 2009 10:29pm ET
Boulevard Pale Ale is the best Pale Ale I have tasted. Hoppy, full bodied and refreshing despite the weight.
David Tietz
Columbus, OH —  May 14, 2009 1:37am ET
It's a bit out of the way, but if you ever get the chance to head to Lexington, NC the BBQ across the city can't be beat! Also be sure to drink the Cheerwine- actually a pop, not wine, but darned good; unlike any we have in Ohio.
Trey Rolofson
Overland Park, KS —  May 14, 2009 1:12pm ET
Its noon here and we're 5 minutes from OK Joe's South......guess where I'm goin for lunch! James, glad you had a great time BBQ hoppin, can't wait to hear about Sunday! Got wine?
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  May 14, 2009 1:27pm ET
Jim - I'm glad you made it to LC's. It is a funky spot! Jim Coley turned me onto LC's a few years ago and it's now a must visit whenever I'm in KC. The burnt-ends are killer!
Robert Osborne
New York —  May 14, 2009 8:09pm ET
OK Joe's for pulled pork, LC's for Ribs
Eric A Wickersham
San Francisco —  May 15, 2009 9:02am ET
How does "the bay areas finest" Napa's own BarbersQ, stand up to the St Louis tradition? All I know is that after hiking Bothe-Napa and the Silverado trail, it was some of the best that I've ever had, didn't hurt that we washed down lunch with B. Kosuge's Bennett Valley Syrah, amazing!
Mark Neustrom
Overland Park, KS —  July 16, 2009 9:53am ET
Oklahoma Joe's is my favorite place in KC. I love their pulled pork Carolina sandwich- awesome!

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