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What Is Kansas City BBQ? Learn Its History, Meats, and More

  • Henry Perry is the "father of Kansas City BBQ"
  • Kansas City BBQ incorporates a wide array of spice-rubbed American staple BBQ meats (pulled pork, brisket, pork ribs, turkey, etc.)
  • Brisket burnt ends are the meat Kansas City BBQ is best known for
  • Kansas City BBQ has a wide variety of classic BBQ sides such as fries, coleslaw, mac n' cheese, and baked beans
  • Kansas City BBQ sauce is a thick, sweet, and spicy tomato-based sauce that defines this regional BBQ style

What is Kansas City BBQ and what foods does it consist of? Let's dig in!

The History

It's said that Kansas City BBQ originated in 1908, when Henry Perry opened a food stand that sold smoked meats to factory workers in Kansas City's Garment District. The self-proclaimed "Barbecue King," Perry smoked presently popular meats such as beef, pork, and mutton as well as some meats that probably wouldn't sell too well nowadays — opossum and raccoon, to name two. He had a barbecue sauce as well, but it's been described as a "harsh, peppery sauce" that doesn't in any way resemble the tomato and molasses based offering you'll find in most modern Kansas City barbecue restaurants today.

Though Henry Perry passed away in 1940, his legacy lives on. In fact, two of the most renowned Kansas City barbecue restaurants can trace their roots right back to Perry: Gates Bar-B-Q was founded with the help of Arthur Pinkard, who'd worked with Perry, and Arthur Bryant's Barbecue is actually the current iteration of Perry's business (having been passed down from Perry to Charlie Bryant, then from Charlie Bryant to his brother Arthur Bryant).

Thanks to Henry Perry, the Kansas City bar-b-q scene is one of the largest in the country with numerous famous barbecue joints such as the aforementioned Gates and Bryant's, Slap's BBQ, and Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que (which started out of a gas station).

joe's kansas city bbq

Credit: Flickr, Shelby L. Bell (unmodified - license)

The Food

Unlike Texas BBQ with its beef obsession or North Carolina BBQ which is famous for pulled pork, pork shoulder, pork ribs, and pretty much anything else pork related, Kansas City BBQ is a style of barbecue that doesn't just focus on one animal. 

A typical Kansas City BBQ restaurant features a wide variety of dry rubbed meats slow cooked in a smoker that's fed such woods as hickory and Missouri white oak. It's not out of the ordinary to fine pulled pork, brisket, pork ribs, smoked chicken, chopped beef, smoked turkey, and more all served under one roof. 

When it comes to the meat Kansas City BBQ is best known for, though, it's their delicious burnt ends. Burnt ends are cubed, rub-heavy pieces of smoked brisket point typically caramelized in a mixture of butter and BBQ sauce. They're about as close to "meat candy" as it gets and one of the most decadent BBQ menu items you'll find anywhere in the world. It's okay — my mouth is watering too.

kansas city bbq burnt ends

    Credit: Flickr, The Hungry Dudes (unmodified - license)

     As far as sides go, Kansas City style BBQ incorporates a VERY wide array of American staple BBQ sides. Barbecue beans are arguably Kansas City's favorite BBQ side, but french fries, mac n cheese, coleslaw, onion rings, and potato salad are up there as well.

    The Sauce

    Along with burnt ends, Kansas City's sauce is its most distinctive characteristic. Kansas City gets credited with having "the" barbecue sauce — the sweet, tomatoey, red-brown sauce your brain most likely pictures when it thinks "barbecue sauce." Thick. Sweet. Spicy. Smoky. Enough sugar content to achieve that caramelization you're looking for, but not enough to where you feel like you're eating dessert. Again, it's okay — my mouth is still watering. 

    kansas city bbq plate

    Credit: Flickr, Shelby L. Bell (unmodified - license)

    With Kansas City playing in the Big Game this weekend, there's no better time to grab your Made In Saucepan and celebrate Kansas City BBQ by whipping up a batch of Kansas City BBQ sauce to pair with meatballs, pulled pork, shredded chicken, or, of course, burnt ends!

    The great thing about Kansas City BBQ sauce is that as long as you follow some very general guidelines, you really can't mess it up. Most recipes use prepared ketchup as the base, mix in brown sugar, powdered spices (typically chili powder, garlic powder, and onion powder), some form of vinegar, a little water, salt and pepper to taste, and call it a day! From there, it's on the creator to find a combination that's a winner to them.

    Don't want to craft your own recipe? We get it! Nothing wrong with starting out with some structure and getting creative from there. Food & Wine's Kansas City Barbecue Sauce recipe is a great recipe to begin your Kansas City BBQ sauce journey with. Don't yet have a Made In saucepan to make it in? With its high walls, stay-cool handle, helper handle, and easy-pour rim, Made In's premium 5-ply saucepan will quickly change the way you make sauce!

    made in cookware saucepan

    Shop Made In's line of saucepans now!

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