Let’s start this off with a fight. Kansas City has the best BBQ in the world. Apologies to Texas, South Carolina, and Memphis, but it’s true.
What makes Kansas City BBQ so great? Some people may say it’s the sauce, others may claim it’s the variety of meat served. People on the competition circuit may make note of its lively competition scene, while locals may note that it’s because we have more restaurants per-capita than anywhere else in the world, meaning that great BBQ is always a short walk or drive away. Whatever the reason, Kansas City has earned its place as the BBQ capital of the world.
So let’s talk about what makes it unique. Like other regional foods, BBQ has distinct characteristics based on what part of the country you are in. The Carolinas specialize in pork, which is usually accompanied by a tangy sauce. Memphis style is characterized by dry rub and heavy smoking, usually with ribs. Texas BBQ focuses on beef, and they may shoot you if you try to put sauce on it. Kansas City, because of its centralized location, became a melting pot of all these different styles, mixing different influences to create something new and unique.
The Sauce is Boss…
At its most basic, Kansas City Style BBQ is typically characterized by a sweeter tomato-based sauce and an open-mind about what meats can be used in BBQ.
When people think of Kansas City BBQ Sauce, they often think of a thick, sweet sauce, and they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. However, like most aspects of Kansas City BBQ, you will find plenty of variations on this theme. In fact, two of Kansas City’s most famous BBQ restaurants, Arthur Bryant’s and Gates’, use sauces that are far more savory than sweet. As you travel from restaurant to restaurant in Kansas City, you will find that no two BBQ sauces taste quite the same, each displaying varying degrees of sweetness, savoriness and spiciness.
…But Meat is King
Because of its history as a railway hub and its location, Kansas City has never lacked for livestock from which to source its BBQ. As a result, Kansas City does not specialize in any one type of meat like the other major three BBQ regions of the country. When you visit a BBQ restaurant in Kansas City, it’s common to see beef, chicken, pork, turkey and sometimes even more unique meats like fish or lamb on the menu.