When you explore the different American BBQ styles, the one style that closely represents that of mainstream or classic American BBQ is the Kansas City BBQ Style. Perhaps due to its iconic sauce, Kansas City is what mainstream America usually envisions when the word BBQ is mentioned. From fast food restaurants to your local grocery store, you’ll find a watered-down version of KC BBQ sauce available. It is, in a way, an unfair representation because Kansas City is a town full of rich BBQ history and culinary complexities. BBQ in Kansas City is diverse, expressive, and inventive, deserving more recognition and honor than the dressed-up ketchup sauces and generic BBQ themed restaurants that try to emulate the iconic style. In this article, we aim to explore the rich history, subtleties, and sauces that make the Kansas City BBQ Style renowned throughout the backyard culinary world.
BBQ first emerged in Kansas City back in the 1920’s when Henry Perry started barbecuing in an outdoor pit next to his streetcar barn. He was known for serving slabs of slow cooked pork ribs for $0.25 wrapped in newspaper. His streetcar soon became the epicenter for the city’s culture during the 20’s and 30’s.
After Henry passed away, his loyal cook, Charlie Bryant took over the restaurant. In 1946, Charlie’s brother Arthur Bryant took over the business and soon became an American BBQ legend. Dubbed the “King of Ribs”, Arthur moved the business to 1727 Brooklyn, near Municipal Stadium in the 1950’s where athletes and celebrities would visit and rave about Arthur’s authentic Kansas City BBQ.
Meanwhile, other families started to cement Kansas City as an iconic American BBQ region by opening their own successful restaurants. It was an ideal location for fertile BBQ ground because of Kansas City’s reputation as a renowned stockyard and meat packing city. This attracted pit masters from all over the country who were looking for work.
Today Kansas City is well known as the BBQ capital of the Midwest and one of the most iconic BBQ styles in the country. It is even home to the American Royal’s World Series of BBQ, an event that hosts BBQ enthusiasts and experts from all over the world to compete for the crown of best BBQ Pit Master.
In the world of American BBQ, the sauce is a key factor in determining the variances between styles. Kansas City’s sauce is perhaps the most famous BBQ sauce in the world.
Standard versions that are featured in fast food restaurants and supermarkets across the country usually involve a ketchup and molasses base, with a mix of the following ingredients:
This style of sauce was made popular in 1977 by Dr. Richard Davis who developed the sauce before ever opening a restaurant. When he did, the restaurants eventually failed, but his KC Masterpiece Sauce is one of the most famous in the country.
While not as well known nationally, many locals would name Arthur Bryant’s or Gates’ BBQ Sauce as the sauces that define Kansas City. Gates’ sauce which was made popular in the famous Gates and Sons Restaurant, does not contain molasses or ketchup and features tomatoes, vinegar, salt, sugar, celery, garlic, spices, and pepper.
Bryant’s sauce, meanwhile, features secret ingredients that bring out savory flavors versus the more traditional sweet flavors that KC BBQ is known for. Which is ironic since Arthur Bryant’s is one of the most famous BBQ joints in the town. While the ingredients are a secret, we do know that the sauce is a vinegar base and contains no molasses.
A variety of different meats and cuts make up the Kansas City style. Ribs are usually baby back while burnt ends are a must if you’re visiting as it’s a town staple. Once given away for free to people waiting in line at Arthur Bryant’s restaurant, they are now a Kansas City BBQ delicacy. Other popular meats and cuts include whole chicken, lamb, pork shoulder, ham and brisket.
In the world of BBQ, sides can be just as important as the main dish for defining the BBQ style. In Kansas City French fries, BBQ baked beans, dirty rice, and onion rings are amongst the local favorites.
Essential to Kansas City BBQ is the wood fired flavor from meat cooked low and slow. Whereas the original KC pit masters had to cook their BBQ over coals in a traditional pit, a Pit Boss Wood Pellet Grill simplifies the process so you can make flavorful, tender, and juicy smoked KC Style BBQ at home.
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