18 Hours of BBQ in Kansas City

A burnt end barbecue sandwich with a side of barbecue sauce.

One of the ways I like to cram in some extra exploring is by extending existing trips by a day or two, either to investigate the destination more thoroughly or check out a surrounding area.  In this case I was going to a weekend bachelor party at Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, to which the closest major airports are Kansas City and St. Louis.  I picked Kansas City, and flew in a day early to go on a tour de BBQ!

Priorities

  • BBQ
  • Bar-B-Q
  • Barbecue

Hour 1

I landed in KC around 5:30pm local time, and checked into my Airbnb, which was on a relatively quiet and picturesque street in the Midtown-Westport area.  A few of my fellow bachelor party attendees, including the bachelor, had caught wind of my idea and also flown in early, so we coordinated our Ubers to arrive at Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Q at 6:30pm.

A teal sign that says Joe's Kansas City, outside a gas station.
Joe’s Kansas City is located inside a gas station.

Previously known as Oklahoma Joe’s, Joe’s Kansas City patrons cram inside a gas station on the Kansas side of KC.  Anthony Bourdain has listed this joint as one of his “13 Places to Eat Before You Die.”  I have a hard time disagreeing with him.

I got their signature “Z-Man” sandwich – sliced brisket, with melted provolone cheese, fried onion rings, and their signature sauce.  Already in heaven, I was given a rib by one of my companions, and my head started spinning.  I thought that we have some good barbecue here in Rochester NY (which we do), but I have never had a rib this good and I don’t expect to ever again…unless I return to Joe’s.

Slab of barbecue ribs and a side of toast and potato salad.
These are the best ribs I have ever had.
A sandwich with barbecued meat, cheese, onion rings, and pickles.
The Z-Man Sandwich at Joe’s Kansas City BBQ.

Hour 2

The tour de BBQ started with a bang, but we were sure to leave enough room to try a at least one or two more smoked meats.  Next up was Q39 in Midtown – not really upscale by any means, but a bit less casual than Joe’s.  The inside was more modern and trendy, with a large full service bar and TVs to watch the games.

Wooden sign with two pink lights above it that says Q39 BBQ Wood Fired Grill
Q39 is a trendier BBQ joint, but don’t let the fancier vibe fool you. They still know how to Q it.

I had read that Kansas City smokers are judged by their burnt ends, which are regarded as a BBQ delicacy in some parts.  At Joe’s I had to try the Z-Man, so I opted to go with a basic burnt end sandwich at Q39.  The ends were super tender, and came slathered in a zesty sauce on perfectly toasted bun. 👌

A BBQ sandwich with meat, a taosted bun, and a side of sauce.
Love the simplicity of the Q39 burnt end sandwich. Nothin’ but great meat, great sauce, and toasty bread.

Hours 3 – 7

Despite our best efforts to save enough room for a third barbecue stop, we were full.  It was time to check out the bar scene, starting with Harry’s Bar and Tables.  Mind you, this was a Wednesday night, so the scene wasn’t too crazy, but it seemed like the kind of place (and surrounding area) that is probably very lively on the weekends.

After a drink on their large outdoor patio, we took an Uber over to the arcade bar Up-Down, in the Crossroads neighborhood.  At this lively spot there was a big crowd playing games, taking in some views on the top floor deck, and drinking very reasonably priced brews.

Green Lady Lounge was a short walk away, and we had another cocktail there as we watched some live jazz.  The old school jazz lounge offers free shows seven nights a week, and the bar does a solid job slingin’ tasty classic cocktails.

Hours 8 – 15

Sleep!

Hour 16

The group was up relatively early to pack up for Lake of the Ozarks, and the first stop on the way out was First Watch in North Kansas City.  After loading up on avocado toast, eggs, and maple bacon, we were off to the airport to pick up a few more people flying in for the bachelor party.

Hour 17

On the way out of the city heading south, I convinced my car mates to make one final stop for smoked meats at LC’s Bar-B-Q.

The sign outside LC's Bar-B-Q joint in Kansas City.
LC’s has more of the traditional shack vibe. My favorite kind of setting for a BBQ meal.
An open smoker with three racks of barbecued meat.
Where the magic happens at LC’s.

Here, again, I had to try the burnt ends.  While perhaps not quite as tender as Q39’s, they were still excellent, and LC’s sauce was definitely my favorite of the three places that we tried.  What I was more impressed with was the plate of rib tips that we ordered to share, which were amazing.

A plate of barbecued burnt ends.
Just meat and sauce on a Styrofoam plate. Don’t need much more than that.

And with that, at around 12:30pm we took our stuffed selves down to the lake to party.  My 18 hour Tour de BBQ was in the books.

Highlights

  • Joe’s Kansas City ribs
  • Q39 burnt ends
  • LC’s rib tips

Next Time

Looking forward to visiting more of the BBQ capitols of America!  What region or city does your favorite BBQ?  Let me know in the comments!

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