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2023 Kansas City BBQ Draft: Breaking down best from Barbecue Capital of America

KC BBQ Draft 1920x1080.jpg
Posted at 1:28 PM, Apr 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-26 21:56:13-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It took hours of tedious research, eating Kansas City barbecue from 17 different joints most of the team had never tried, but the results are in.

Five KSHB 41 news staffers undertook a deep dive into the BBQ Capital of America’s world-renowned barbecue scene.

None of us — content producers Dre Bradley, Tod Palmer and Wilson Truong; graphic designer Melissa Mairs-King and producer Tillman McClunie — are devout foodies or claim to be barbecue experts.

But we all share a love for smoked meats and killer sides, so if you’re looking for an everyman review of dozens of Kansas City barbecue restaurants — whether you’re coming to town for the NFL draft or some other event or, like us, live in town but haven’t sampled enough BBQ — you’ve come to the right place.

With the 2023 NFL Draft in town, it just made sense to present it as our own fantasy BBQ restaurant snake draft.

We occasionally disagreed about the best BBQ spots, so we know you will too, but we hope you find a new place to try or gain a deeper appreciation of the KC BBQ scene from our selfless efforts.

At each of the 17 locations we sampled as a group, which are indicated by an asterisk below, we ordered up to seven meats — ribs, brisket, pulled pork, turkey, burnt ends, sausage and ham — to the extent they were available. We also tried the sides offered — including fries, beans, mac-and-cheese, potato salad and coleslaw.

We steered clear of the standard and legacy places — like Joe’s Kansas City and Gates, et al — as a group, since most of us had been to those places before. There's a helpful map at the bottom of this page, if you want to see the places closest to you.

One more caveat: With the exception of Chef J BBQ, our group orders were to-go, so our reviews and opinions don't reflect the dine-in experience. It's all about the food, with the understanding that not all food travels well and ambiance is a big part of the experience for many places, like BB’s Lawnside Blues & BBQ.

Links to each restaurant are posted, so be sure to check the hours of operation as it can vary wildly.

Without further ado, here are the results of the draft (with apologies to the places we didn’t have time to get to or maybe don’t even know about). Remember, it’s supposed to be fun, so be nice, because there are no losers when it comes to Kansas City barbecue:

2023 Kansas City BBQ Draft

First round

1. Meat Mitch* — Tillman McClunie
Locations: Leawood — 3620 W. 95th St., Leawood, KS; Inside KCI

Meat Mitch BBQ might be an upset for some people as the No. 1 pick, but there’s nothing upsetting about what Mitch Benjamin and crew have to offer out of this barbecue spot.

Fairly new to the Kansas City BBQ scene, you can’t go wrong with the options on their menu, which features award-winning barbecue and good vibes throughout this place.

There’s a bar and outdoor patio for those days when the temperature is just right. The portion sizes that come with each platter are packed with smoky flavor to the point sauce is an afterthought.

The thick-cut brisket, lean burnt ends and glazed ribs are finger-licking good — and don’t be afraid to throw some Whomp Sauce on there! It just makes things a whole lot sweeter or spicy, your choice.

You can’t go wrong with their sides including the beans, which are elite.

There are other options that could have definitely gone first overall in this draft, but Meat Mitch set the tone from the first bite and will have you coming back for more.

Consistency and availability are important, and Meat Mitch is open every day stocked and ready to go. No wonder they’re sitting in Kansas City’s new airport terminal ready to welcome everyone to the city. They’re doing KC BBQ culture with style.

Meat Mitch
Meat Mitch BBQ down in Leawood, Kansas

2. Chef J BBQ* — Wilson Truong
Location: 1401 W. 13th St., Suite G, Kansas City, MO

It was very tempting to draft Joe’s Kansas City here, being a weekly customer at the "Original Gas Station” restaurant, but Chef J BBQ was too good to pass up. No restaurant’s BBQ was more enjoyable than going to Chef J’s.

All of the main barbecue meats — from burnt ends to sausage, and ribs to brisket — arguably are second to none in Kansas City.

The rubs on the meat was top notch. It probably should have been the No. 1 overall pick.

Chef J's Brisket

3. Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que — Dre Bradley
Locations: Original “Gas Station” — 3002 W. 47th Ave., Kansas City, KS; Olathe — 11950 S. Strang Line Road, Olathe, KS; Leawood — 11723 Roe Ave.; Leawood, KS

For my first pick, I chose Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. There are three locations but the most iconic is the original in the gas station at 3002 W. 47th Ave. in Kansas City, Kansas.

I go to that spot the most — and not for the gas to fill up my car. From meats to sides to sauces, this place is elite.

Simply put, it’s the Patrick Mahomes of barbecue. Even on its off days, to the extent there are any, it’s still better than most barbecue places in the Kansas City area.

joe's kansas city.jpg
Barbecue restaurants across the metro, like Joe's Kansas City BBQ, predict large numbers of customers during the event and have been preparing for weeks ahead of time.

4. Harp Barbecue — Tod Palmer
Location: 6633 Raytown Road, Raytown, MO
Harp Barbecue owner Tyler Harp embodies the friendly, warm and welcoming spirit of Kansas City barbecue. There’s a good chance he’ll chat you up Wednesday through Saturday when the joint’s open — and his smoked meats are a delight for the palette.

I had the greatest ribs of my life at Harp, and the chopped brisket sandwich was utter joy to chow down on.

The beans and cheesy corn would fit the menu at a Mexican restaurant, a nod to Harp’s time working in kitchens across the South.

But the highlight among the sides was the twice-baked potato salad, a nod to his time in steakhouse kitchens, that is a must-try. You can thank me later.

Harp BBQ

5. Q39 — Melissa Mairs-King
Locations: Midtown — 1000 W. 39th St., Kansas City, MO; South — 11051 Antioch Road, Overland Park, KS

Founded by Chef Rob Magee, Q39 was born out of the BBQ competition circuit. In 2014, his award-winning BBQ moved indoors when the original Q39 in Midtown was opened and grew a second location in Overland Park.

Sadly, "Chef Rob" passed away in 2021, but his amazing BBQ lives on, including some dynamite brisket and burnt ends.

Rob Q39 South.jpg

Second round

6. Jack Stack Barbecue — Melissa Mairs-King
Locations: Martin City — 13441 Holmes Road, Kansas City, MO; Freight House — 101 W. 22nd St. #300, Kansas City, MO; Country Club Plaza — 4747 Wyandotte St., Kansas City, MO; Lee’s Summit — 1840 Chipman Road, Lee’s Summit, MO; Overland Park — 9520 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park, KS; Lenexa — 8721 Ryckert St., Lenexa, KS

Russ Fiorela opened the first Jack Stack in 1957. His son, Jack, expanded the family business by opening Fiorella's Jack Stack of Martin City in the 1970s.

Today, there are five additional locations — the Freight House, which is closest to the NFL Draft site, along with locations the Country Club Plaza, Lee's Summit, Overland Park and Lenexa.

Jack Stack is a Kansas City tradition, serving a menu full of excellent barbecue, but its cheesy corn is the gold standard of sides and a must-try.

Jack Stack fire 2.jpg
A small fire in the kitchen exhaust system at Jack Stack Barbecue's location on the Country Club Plaza during lunchtime Saturday forced the restaurant’s closure for the remainder of the day.

7. LC’s Bar-B-Q — Tod Palmer
Location: 5800 Blue Parkway, Kansas City, MO
Long a standard in my barbecue rotation, LC’s Bar-B-Q is a hidden gem in Kansas City. It’s not enough talked about the city’s best BBQ joints, unless you’re talking to locals from the area or the legion of Chiefs and Royals fans who stop by on game days.

The late LC Richardson was a KC BBQ icon and his family is carrying on the tradition.

My personal favorite are the burnt ends — a Kansas City special and some of the best in town.

LC's Bar-B-Q
LC's Bar-B-Q

8. Hayward’s Pit BBQ* — Dre Bradley
Location: 10901 W. 75th St., Shawnee, KS

Hayward’s Pit BBQ is closer to the suburbs than downtown for those staying away from the city center.

The turkey and brisket were elite level and the beans were close to that territory. The only misses were the sausage and we were split on the fries.

Overall, we got lots of food for a good price, so try this spot if you want great value and food.

Haywards BBQ

9. Big T’s Bar-B-Q* — Wilson Truong
Location: 6201 Blue Parkway, Kansas City, MO

Big T’s Bar-B-Q is a little far from the NFL Draft Experience and they don’t do phone or online ordering, but it's worth the 18-minute trip to get the barbecue.

While not the prettiest looking BBQ in the world, it is absolutely delicious. The ribs and brisket, in particular, were tasty.

Honestly, it’s an extremely underrated barbecue spot in the Kansas City Area. Shout-out to the pitmaster there, who knows exactly what he’s doing.

Big T's BBQ
While not a relatively well known bbq join compared to Joe's and Gates, Big T's was a BBQ restaurant that received very good grades from tasters.

10. Gates Bar-B-Q — Tillman McClunie
Locations: Emanuel Cleaver Boulevard — 1325 Emanuel Cleaver Blvd., Kansas City, MO; State Line — 2001 W. 103rd Terrace, Leawood, KS; Main Street — 3205 Main St.; Kansas City, MO; Brooklyn Avenue — 1221 Brooklyn Ave., Kansas City, MO; East 40 Highway — 10440 US 40, Independence, MO

Gates Bar-B-Q, a family-owned Kansas City barbecue staple, had to be on my team.

This legacy barbecue establishment holds a place in the hearts of many Kansas Citians dating back to the 1940s.

While their sauce stays at the top of the game and on store shelves, some say that the quality of the food has scaled back a bit. But on their best day, the flavor that comes with a Gates slab of ribs or beef on bun rivals the flavor of any BBQ place in Kansas City.

I’m a firm believer that good barbecue needs no sauce and that’s exactly what the pitmasters in these restaurants are striving for.

When you walk in and hear the ear-piercing and sassy “Hi, how may I help you!,” just know that it’s a friendly, welcoming and (for KC natives) familiar greeting. It means great BBQ is in store.

Gates Bar-B-Que
Gates Bar-B-Que

Third round

11. Slaps BBQ* — Tillman McClunie
Location: 553 Central Ave., Kansas City, KS

Three words changed everything — Alabama White Sauce. Be sure to try this signature Slaps BBQ sauce on the side with a few slices of bread even. It’s heaven sent.

The name of this BBQ joint does not lie. Quite a few things at this place slap.

It set the tone with its consistency across the meats, sides and desserts. It all slaps!

From the ribs and turkey to the sandwiches and sauces, Slaps BBQ is a nice little spot tucked away in Kansas City, Kansas, just west of downtown.

It may not be mentioned among the mainstream BBQ places out-of-towners know in Kansas City, but it’s very well known among locals for what they bring to the BBQ scene.

You could say this place kind of started the fire in our KC BBQ expedition, which kicked off when Tod and Melissa mentioned needing to try the joint and we all were immediately hooked and wanted to explore even more.

The flavor is all there and might make you want to slap your mama!

Slaps BBQ

12. A Little BBQ Joint* — Wilson Truong
Location: 1101 W. US 24, Independence, MO

Like my previous pick, Big T’s, A Little BBQ Joint in Independence is an extremely underrated barbecue gem in the Kansas City area.

It’s worth the trip for a rock-solid lineup of smoked meats and some of the best baked beans in the city.

You’ll be sad when there’s no more bites on your plate.

A Little BBQ Joint

13. Wyandot BBQ* — Dre Bradley
Locations: KCK — 8441 State Ave., Kansas City, KS; Overland Park — 7215 W. 75th St. Overland Park, KS

Wyandot BBQ has two locations, the original in Kansas City, Kansas, and a second in Overland Park.

We ordered from their Overland Park location shortly after owner Ron Williams’ death in February as a sort of tribute and weren’t disappointed.

Just like Hayward’s Pit BBQ, this spot had great value. Plus, there were all hits and no misses with the meats and side.

The only complaint was that we wanted more sauce, since carryout cups weren’t available — only what was already slathered on!

Wyandot BBQ
Wyandot BBQ.

14. Fox & Fire Barbecue — Tod Palmer
Location: 102 W. Lawrence St., Kearney , MO

Fox & Fire Barbecue is only open on Fridays and Saturdays, so good luck! But pitmaster Andy Fox’s Texas-style barbecue is so good it draws raves even from his competitors.

Fox & Fire Barbecue
Fox & Fire Barbecue

15. Brobecks Barbeque* — Melissa Mairs-King
Location: 4615 Indian Creek Parkway, Overland Park, KS

Doug Brobeck, the former owner of the Stilwell Smokehouse, opened Brobecks Barbecue in Overland Park in 2007.

A highlight of the menu is the smoked ham salad, which is really more of a dip or spread. It's served with chips and crackers and is definitely a fan favorite.


Fourth round

16. Zarda Bar-B-Q — Melissa Mairs-King
Locations: Blue Springs — 214 N. Missouri 7, Blue Springs, MO; Lenexa — 11931 W. 87th St., Lenexa, KS

The Zarda family opened the original Zarda Bar-B-Q location in 1976 in Blue Springs. The second location is in Lenexa.

Thanks to their Grandma Lucy's recipe, Zarda's baked beans are known to be among the best in Kansas City. Pair them with a turkey sandwich and you won't be disappointed.

Zarda BBQ Ribs
Ribs from Zarda's Bar B-Q in Lenexa, Kansas

17. Buck Tui BBQ — Tod Palmer
Location: 6737 W. 75th St., Overland Park, KS

If you like Thai food and barbecue, Buck Tui BBQ is a must-try spot.

It’s unique, even to the Kansas City scene, but it’s revered and the staff is welcoming and delightful.

I had The X Man on my first visit and will be back hoping to catch the brisket pho lunch special someday soon.

Buck Tui.jpg
Buck Tui BBQ

18. Rosedale Bar-B-Q* — Dre Bradley
Location: 600 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, KS

Rosedale Bar-B-Q is yet another joint that emphasizes value.

The ribs were a miss and we were 50/50 on the pulled pork and turkey as a group, but we were impressed with everything else.

Rosedale's BBQ
If your in a rush and some bang for your buck BBQ, Rosedale is a excellent choice for BBQ

19. Blind Box BBQ* — Wilson Truong
Location: 13214 W. 62nd Terrace, Shawnee, KS

Despite being on the Kansas side of the state line, Blind Box was still very good barbecue.

The meats were extremely solid and the house sauce was good. It tastes sweet at first, but it builds a unique kick to it.

Bonus points for the boxing-pig logo — honestly, my favorite logo for a BBQ joint in the area.

Blind Box BBQ

20. Char Bar* — Tillman McClunie
Location: 4050 Pennsylvania Ave., Kansas City, MO

Hiding out in the heart of the Westport area, pitmaster Mitch Benjamin continues to conquer territory in Kansas City with his smoked meats and award-winning sauces at Char Bar.

You could call Char Bar and Meat Mitch cousins for some key similarities. The meats are smoked to the bone with flavor and their sandwich selection will surprise you.

Grab yourself a Burnt Heaven or a CBGB Burger and you won’t be disappointed.

Both are competition BBQ tested overseas and add some southern culture to the scene in Kansas City.

Char Bar is the place to be for an entertaining night packed with flavor and excitement adjacent to one of Kansas City’s most active areas on the weekend.

Once you're done eating, enjoy a refreshing drink from their bar or head out to their patio and sit by the fire pit while waiting for your turn in a friendly game of cornhole.

Char Bar Ribs

Fifth round

21. BB’s Lawnside Blues & BBQ* — Tillman McClunie
Location: 1205 E. 85th St., Kansas City, MO

It’s always good when something besides the meat can surprise you at a barbecue restaurant, like the sides at BB’s Lawnside Blues & BBQ. They bring something different to the city’s barbecue scene.

The gumbo, red beans and rice, and jambalaya make this place stand out among the various spots in KC.

Blues and good food are already a part of the BBQ culture, but a little cajun spice and Southern culture never hurt anyone.

BB’s also provides a family-friendly environment with live music on Saturdays and Sundays and enough space for everyone to join in.

Top all of that off with a nice helping of their bread pudding.

BB's Lawnside BBQ

22. Smoketown* — Wilson Truong
Location: 7702 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Overland Park, KS

Dubbed the “Kirk Cousins of Kansas City BBQ” by one member of our barbecue club, Smoketown was still a very solid choice.

It might seem like a knock on the restaurant comparing it to Cousins, but there’s value in getting a QB you can win with in the fifth round (or so I’m telling myself). Same thing applies with Smoketown, which offered great value for the price.

Smoketown BBQ

23. RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack* — Dre Bradley
Location: 5835 Lamar Ave.. Mission, KS

RJ’s Bob-Be-Que Shack was just average all around as far as Kansas City barbecue goes, but that might make it an elite joint for out-of-towners.

R.J's Bob-B-Que Shack

24. Jones Bar-B-Q — Tod Palmer
Location: 6706 Kaw Drive, Kansas City, KS

Famous for its episode of Netflix’s “Queer Eye,” the limited hours make it tricky to get your order in, but Jones Bar-B-Q has become a revered barbecue joint in Kansas City.

jones bbq food.jpeg

25. Porky’s Blazin Bar-B-Q — Melissa Mairs-King
Location: 9512 S. Buckner Tarsney Road, Grain Valley, MO

Owner Scott Robert credits his pitmaster skills to his father, Dennis. In 2016, Scott purchased Porky's Blazin Bar-B-Q in Grain Valley, where he serves up his award-winning barbecue.

Porky's Blazin Bar-B-Q
Porky's Blazin Bar-B-Q

Sixth round

26. Quentin’s BBQ & Sides — Melissa Mairs-King
Location: 611 W. 2nd St., Bonner Springs, KS

Owner Adam Nehring began with the Scout's BBQ food truck. Now, he has opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant under the name Quentin's BBQ & Sides in Bonner Springs.

Favorite food truck options like The Falcon and The Legend are available at their restaurant.

Quentin's BBQ & Sides
Quentin's BBQ & Sides

27. Three Pigs BBQ & Catering — Tod Palmer
Location: Northwest corner of East 39th Street and Noland Road, near the Subway

When I pull up at the Three Pigs BBQ & Catering truck, which is most often parked at East 39th Street and Noland Road in Independence, and know my day’s about to get better.

My go to is the burnt ends, but my teenager swears by the pulled pork and my wife loves the rib. I just love that it’s close to home!

Three Pigs BBQ & Catering
Three Pigs BBQ & Catering Truck

28. Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ* — Dre Bradley
Location: 2900 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, MO

For my last pick, I chose Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ, which was below-average barbecue but still worthy of being my final pick of this draft.

Danny Edwards

29. Woodyard Bar-B-Que — Wilson Truong
Location: 3001 Merriam Lane, Kansas City, KS

I went to Woodyard Bar-B-Que on my own and was very pleasantly surprised.

While not in the top tier of Kansas City barbecue, it still represents the Kansas City BBQ scene well and punches above its weight, especially if you try the burnt-ends sandwich.

Woodyard Bar-B-Que
Woodyard Bar-B-Que

30. Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque — Tillman McClunie
Location: 1727 Brooklyn Ave., Kansas City, MO

Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque is a cornerstone of Kansas City’s history of amazing smoked meats.

Bryant himself built a reputation across the country as one of the most renowned “barbequers” in history.

U.S. presidents who come through Kansas City often stop by for a taste.

Since the early 1900s this place has done slow-cooked meat and large portion sizes better than most others.

KC BBQ is all about the sauce and Bryant’s sauce stands apart from the thicker sauces you typically see. The thin and unique sauce isn’t for everyone, but it’s worth giving it a try.

This spot had to make the list for its impact on the city’s BBQ scene alone — and the recognition and history that comes along with it.

Arthur Bryant's Kansas City
People ordering at Arthur Bryant's Barbeque in Kansas City, Missouri.