Regional Barbecue Road Trip: Kansas City

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Here are 5 must-try spots for an ultimate Kansas City barbecue tour, plus where to find great Kansas City 'cue outside of Kansas City.

Best known for: a mix of meat (BBQ chicken, ribs, burnt ends)

Wood choice: a variety, including hickory and pecan

Sauce style: tomato-based, with sweetness from molasses

Expert take: “The strictest definition of what makes KC barbecue KC barbecue are two main factors: slow-smoked and served with a tomato-based and spicy yet sweet sauce,” says Ciaran Molloy, owner and general manager of Woodyard BBQ in Kansas City. “What makes ours KC-style is the fact we have three outdoor brick pits — (the last in KC) — that we smoke all our meats in. We predominantly use pecan wood in ours; it is a member of the hickory family, but it is a less-harsh smoke that extrapolates the gentler nuances of our pork, beef and chicken. While Woodyard has been around for a few years, the wood company has been in operation since 1913.”
Ciaran Molloy, General Manager/Owner, Woodyard BBQ

Woodyard BBQ
What began as a wood supply company in 1913, serving local Kansas City BBQ restaurants and pit masters, later turned into a joint of its own. Almost a decade ago, owner Frank Schloegel decided that Woodyard might as well produce something more than wood, and today the brisket, burnt ends, smoked chicken and pork ribs feed hungry and appreciative crowds. Don’t miss the Cheesy Corn, a signature favorite.
Woodyard BBQ, 3001 Merriam Ln., Kansas City, KS; (913) 362-8000

Gates Bar-B-Q
This small barbecue chain's locations around the city and beyond, along with its famous barbecue sauce sold in grocery stores since the 1970s, have made Gates a local institution. Yet this family-run business shouldn’t be overlooked for its food, no matter how lauded its sauce is. All of Gates’ locations still slow-cook their meat in pits (not ovens) and are best known for their pork ribs and burnt ends. To please all palates, their legendary sauce is available in a variety of heat levels, from mild to sweet to extra-hot.
Gates Bar-B-Q, multiple locations

17th Street Bar & Grill
Mike Mills may have celebrity status in the BBQ world — he’s a world and national championship winner and an inductee into the National Barbecue Hall of Fame — but this pit master and restaurant owner lets the food speak for itself. At his three Illinois 17th Street Grill restaurants, Mills makes the most of his top-secret Magic Dust dry-rub seasoning, which he puts on everything from his (much-heralded) baby back ribs to smoked chicken wings to nachos and pork rinds. Fortunately for those not in Illinois, 17th Street Grill offers mail-order service.
17th Street Bar & Grill, 32 N. 17th St., Murphysboro, IL; 618-684-3722

PM BBQ
Well-known in the region for their peppered, smoked half-chicken dinners and accompanying side dishes (namely the sweet-corn spoon bread), owners Paul Lamers and Mark Ruck (P and M) also get a nod for their beef brisket (smoked for half a day and tender) and their baby back ribs. Even if their chicken gets all the glory, PM’s sauces — which range from spicy to sweet to Carolina to mustard-based — pack a healthy kick and some heat, and deserve a nod.
PM BBQ, 161 Long Rd., #103, Chesterfield, MO; (636) 536-1966

Bogart's Smokehouse
Before opening his own place, Bogart’s owner Skip Steele worked at local St. Louis institution Pappy’s Smokehouse, no doubt perfecting his ribs and brisket, and continues to make his mark on barbecue, bringing traditional specialties and new takes on it to locals and visitors alike. Aside from ribs and brisket, Steele also serves melt-in-your-mouth pastrami sandwiches at Bogart’s, and his baked beans are almost as popular as the ribs, which are bruleed with apricot glaze.
Bogart’s Smokehouse, 1627 S. 9th Street, St. Louis, MO; (314) 621-3107

Plus: Where to Find Kansas City-Style BBQ Outside of Kansas City

It's hard to pinpoint just one particular regional style of cooking at New York City’s Blue Smoke, but Kansas City is certainly represented. At this restaurant/jazz club (and other locations, including one at JFK International Airport), one need not look further than the sweet, KC-style spare ribs, the creation of original executive chef/pit master Kenny Callaghan. Find them alongside baby backs from Memphis, Texas brisket and assorted Southern cocktails.
Blue Smoke, multiple locations in NYC

Continue the road trip: Check out Memphis, Texas and Carolina 'cue