Why Kansas City needs to start celebrating its own BBQ as much as Texas does
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this literary and visual feast of all things Kansas City barbecue.
Before you leave this figurative table, I offer a benediction — really, a rallying cry. Calvin Trillin, one of the biggest fanboys that Kansas City has ever had, once famously compared the “City of Fountains” to Rome. In that spirit, I proclaim with a loud voice: “Friends, Kansas Citians, barbecue enthusiasts, lend me your platforms! I have come to praise your regional barbecue style, not to bury it.”
You have one of the greatest regional barbecue styles in the United States, yet you’ve ceded ground to barbecue traditions in other parts of the country. This gives me the blues. As a Coloradan who admires your barbecue scene from afar, I beg you to up your game.
Just look to Texas for inspiration — not for how to cook barbecue but for how to celebrate it.
Texans have bragged about their barbecue for more than a century. That’s what Texans do. But, they’ve been smart about it. Every five years, Texas Monthly makes a list, checks it thrice and seeks out the 50 people who are best at smoking with spice.
Even with that popular and highly anticipated list, the magazine hired Daniel Vaughn as a full-time barbecue editor to cover the state’s bustling barbecue scene. In addition to Texas, Vaughn travels the country — check that, the world — looking for signs of intelligent Texas barbecue life among presumed culinary apostates and heathens. When Vaughn reports back to his readers, he informs them if the gospel of Texas barbecue has successfully spread to that far off locale.
Kansas City has as much, maybe even more, to celebrate as other regional barbecue styles. Your barbecue style is a welcoming melting pit. You’ve embraced meat-smoking migrants from Memphis, the Deep South and Texas, regardless of their creed, gender, nationality, race or how they spell “barbecue.” You don’t adhere to extreme orthodoxy about meat and sauce. Beef, chicken, lamb, pork, possum, racoon, woodchucks and other game have appeared on your barbecue trays. All you require is that whatever is served on one’s plate be delicious.
You’re the originator of burnt ends — the trendiest item on barbecue menus. You’ve expanded the world of barbecue side dishes by adding French fries. Arthur Bryant, a native Texan and arguably the most famous barbecue man of the 20th century, claimed you as home. You host the Kansas City Barbeque Society (of which I am a member), the American Royal Barbecue Competition and the Diddy-Wa-Diddy Barbecue Sauce Contest. The Barbecue Hall of Fame has also planted its virtual flag in your town.
With this issue, 435 Magazine has taken a bold step toward reclaiming your heritage, but this cannot be a lonely endeavor. Texas barbecue has become wildly popular because it has legions of fans who have made their voices heard and their social media posts known. Shoot, when Texans get homesick for their native barbecue, they don’t just travel back to Texas. They open Texas-style barbecue joints where they live. In the last year alone, Denver has had five notable barbecue restaurant openings. Four of those restaurants were Texas-style barbecue. Only one self-proclaimed “Kansas City-style” barbecue joint has opened up here in the past few years. What’s up with that?
There was a time when entrepreneurs from coast to coast were eager to include “Kansas City” in their restaurant’s name. Those days can easily return.
Dearest Kansas Citians: You can no longer be content with the self-confidence of knowing that you live in a place with superlative barbecue. You have a gift that must be shared with the world, and the world is never going to know unless you fervently post in social media, sing, talk, video and write about it. Hopefully, you will help speed up that day when, with apologies to songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, a new version of the song “Kansas City” will spread across the land:
Well, I might take a train, might take a plane, but if I have to walk, I’m going just the same, Yeah, Kansas City here I come. They got some crazy good barbecue there, and I’m going to get me some!