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Meat cooking at Woodyard Bar-B-Que in Kansas City
Photograph: Courtesy Woodyard Bar-B-Que

13 spots for the best BBQ in Kansas City

Arrive hungry and ready to devour prize-winning plates of the best BBQ in Kansas City, from brisket to pulled pork

Written by
Ellen Prinzi
Written by
Brock Wilbur
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Texas has brisket, Carolina has pulled pork and St. Louis has ribs, but the crown jewel of the Kansas City BBQ scene is a plate of burnt ends. We're talking about those wonderful bites of brisket that are caramelized and smokey on the outside and tender on the inside. Basically, they’re meat gold. Although plenty of butchers used to discard this meat because it was thought to be too chewy for sandwiches, today, the dish sells out on a daily basis all around town. That's because BBQ in Kansas City isn’t just the town’s most recognizable culinary offering (and one of the best things to do in Kansas City), it’s an institution that has shaped the entire country’s gastronomical landscape since the 1920s. (That's when Henry Perry fired up a smoker in an old streetcar barn and sold grilled meat in newspapers for customers to carry out.) Today, that tradition has expanded to more than 100 restaurants serving BBQ in the area—slathered in world-famous KC BBQ sauce (thick and sweet with a hint of spice), of course—and even BBQ-themed events and festivals. So what are you still waiting for? Put on that bib and get to these top spots for the best BBQ in Kansas City. 

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Kansas City

Best BBQ in Kansas City

If you’ve got time for a single meal in KC, this is where you’re going to have it. Joe’s isn’t just the best in Kansas City, it’s some of the best in the entire country and the original gas station location is the place to go. The line might be long, but it will still be worth it. But don’t take our word for it: the late Anthony Bourdain named Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que one of the 13 places to eat at before you die. You can’t go wrong with a pulled pork sandwich or opt to go big with a combo plate filled with ribs, plus your choice of pulled pork, brisket, turkey, ham, sausage or a quarter of a chicken. Just make sure the onion rings are at least one of your side dishes and don't go conservative when dressing your meat.

Your order at Arthur Bryant’s should begin and end with ribs. Known as “The King of Ribs,” the late Arthur Bryant was one of the city’s most famous pitmasters. His descendants still run the business today. In addition to the burnt ends sandwich piled high on delicious Wonder Bread, indulge in the rich and spicy sauces that have been recognized nationally by the likes of former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

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Slap’s is an acronym for “squeal like a pig” and the staff here has been delighting the city with delicious sauces, rubs and meats since 2014. Using the highest quality of locally sourced meats, the restaurant regularly sells out of their offerings. You’ll find it hard to choose between the ribs and the brisket – both are perfectly cooked and seasoned – but do make sure to always order the baked potato casserole and homemade hushpuppies as your side. 

Pitmaster Mitch Benjamin brings his smoke and magic as well as his award-winning sauces to the heart of historic Westport. The combination restaurant/playground/dog park is perfect in the summer, and weekend brunch is not to be missed. But stopping by absolutely any time is going to be rewarding. Most of Char Bars sandwiches and platters involve a pile of different meats, so it's a prime location for a quick stop-in that lets you sample a bit of everything. If you've only got a few minutes, we highly recommend the "Charred Bits & Grits" appetizer. You can also buy bottles of their signature sauces to share with friends back home—or hoard for yourself.

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Alongside Arthur’s, Gates is one of the two oldest BBQ joints in town. Despite the differences in atmosphere, all six locations boast a signature red roof, making them instantly recognizable. The burnt ends are a contender for the city’s best, as are the baked beans and ribs. Actually, just order everything – trust us.

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Jones is a grab-and-go window in a parking lot with great ‘que and even greater service from the only all-female pitmaster team in town. The Jones sisters, Deborah and Mary, grew up learning all the secrets to making great BBQ from their father and have taken their secret family sausage recipe to unparalleled levels of fame. First-timers, get the combo plate, which includes the famous sausage, rib tips and a delicious side dish.

B.B.’s Bar-B-Q pit is known for its innovative cooking process, built from the very foundation of the city. KC's streets were paved with granite stone back in the day, and in 1950 B.B.'s pulled up the stones to serve as the basis of their signature flavor. The granite channels heat that ignites hickory wood, and allows the restaurant to slow cook everything from brisket and ribs to chicken and sausage — for up to 16 hours every day. Nightly, you can find blues musicians in residence taking the bandstand to accompany your platters.

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Todd Johns and his brother in law Randy Hinck have been making competition-worthy barbeque since 2001. After a decade of winning almost every award imaginable, they opened their flagship restaurant Plowboys BBQ in Blue Springs, followed by a second location in downtown KC. Today, no visit to Kansas City is complete without a taste of their BBQ nachos: a heavenly platter of tortilla chips, sour cream, jalapeños, homemade cheese sauce and slow-smoked pulled pork or brisket.

Three words: Burnt. End. Chili. For over 50 years, Woodyard Bar-B-Que has been the only place in all of America that makes it acceptable to order chili even when it’s burning hot outside. Start your experience with a cup of the world-famous stuff and follow that with one of the amazing sandwich combinations, we suggest the Triple P (ham, pulled pork, smoked bacon and provolone) and the Burnt End Buster topped with yummy slaw. Go when the weather is nice and hang out on the lively patio: it gets pretty packed during the lunch and dinner rush, but the wait is never too bad.

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This roadside dive is as authentic as it gets, offering counter service, disposable tableware and no-frills decor. Why come here? The burnt ends, of course, and the enormous sandwiches packed with enough meat to feed two people each. Pro tip: order them dry, with the sauce on the side (the restaurant tends to make them a bit too heavily sauced). This is a great spot to hit up before or after a Royals baseball game. 

Opened in 1951, McGonigle’s Market has long been a Kansas City area tradition, well known for its fresh quality meat, local groceries and some of the best BBQ in town. Recently purchased by the midwestern chain Fareway, the store itself has seen some changes, but the meats, meals, and catering are still exactly the same. Order up from an extensive menu year round, or walk-up to their outdoor trailer — available from April through October. The market is closed on Sundays, so if you're just in town for the weekend, stop by early in your trip and get a sampler. 

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On the more modern and trendy spectrum of barbeque joints is Q39. This chef-driven spot has been around since 2014, with a made-from-scratch menu and wood-fired grilled plates. Deciding what to order is no easy feat, so let us help: Start with the smoked and grilled pork belly or the mac and cheese. If going the traditional route, order the judges plate or the burnt end burger. Branch out and delight your inner foodie with the pulled pork tacos or the no jackin' around sandwich.

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