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Kansas City is renowned nationwide for its savory ribs and smoked burnt ends, with dozens of restaurants across the metro boasting of the best dishes.
But which Kansas City barbecue restaurant is actually the best? The answer has proven to be complicated and can often be a point of contention among diehard barbecue fans and pitmasters.
Saturday, Kansas Citians and out-of-towners alike gathered in a corner of the NFL Draft Experience in hopes of deciding for themselves, with the help of judges and a few celebrities.
The Kansas City Smoke Show kicked off early at 9:30 a.m. and served samples of beef, pork and chicken from different local restaurants all day, with several cooking demonstrations and activities along the way.
‘Rib Rumble’ names champion
In the early afternoon, 10 contestants took to a stage to shovel as much meat into their mouths as possible in 5 minutes. The winner of the “Rib Rumble” event was Ryan McCluskey from Kansas City, though he was closely rivaled by several other competitors from other cities.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and actor Eric Stonestreet even made a brief appearance on stage during the contest to watch the contestants.
Each chowed down on the ribs, dripping in sauce, until time ran out and the emcee announced that McCluskey reigned supreme. He was awarded a signed Chiefs jersey that declared him the “rib champ.”
What’s the best barbecue in Kansas City?
The smoke show featured food from several different restaurants — including Slap’s BBQ, Jack Stack Barbecue and Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que. While some represented their business through pit demonstrations, others went head-to-head and battled each other in different categories.
Assistant pitmaster Chris Kent of Chef J BBQ was ecstatic when his chicken was crowned best in show by a panel of judges. He said the cooking process makes them distinct from other local restaurants, and he thinks customers can taste the difference.
“They go crazy for the brisket,” he said.
On stage, pitmaster Wayne Garrett with Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue showed a crowd how to prepare the perfect burn ends while explaining that Arthur Bryant himself was the creator of the famous dish, which has been widely popularized and is now a staple in the city.
Garrett has been with the restaurant for 20 years and says the lines spilling out the door daily speak to Arthur Bryant’s success.
“When people come back three times a week … you know you’re doing something right,” he said.
Throughout the day, hungry visitors rushed in and out of the event to try whatever the pitmasters were serving, lining up for brisket, wings and even their portion of a whole pig, which was roasted in front of an audience.
Despite their shared enthusiasm, Kansas City barbecue aficionados seem to have very different opinions on what restaurant is actually the best.
Cody Atkinson of Odessa, Missouri, said Big T’s BBQ in southeast Kansas City “doesn’t get the love it deserves.” He orders a large plate of burnt ends every time he visits.
“That mustard sauce, they can keep it in Carolina,” he said. “We got the sweet heat here.”
Francisco Martin lives in Charlotte, but his dad is from Kansas City. He said he prefers Gates BBQ and always orders their sandwiches.
“It’s old-fashioned,” he said. “It’s straight to the bone — no frills to it.”
Despite his time trying barbecue from different states, he contends that nowhere else does it like the city of fountains.
“I’ve been all over,” he said. “Nothing compares to Kansas City.”