You can find mighty fine BBQ in Kansas City any day of the year, but the best of the best show up the first weekend of October. It’s the American Royal Barbecue Contest, known universally as the World Series of BBQ competitions.
That’s when 500 of the best teams in North America are invited to compete in this prestigious event. Another 500 amateur teams may also join in the open division.
World Series of BBQ
The resulting aroma of BBQ smokers that fills the air over Kansas City causes tummies to rumble and mouths to water for miles. It’s serious business with hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money offered each year along with bragging rights that could turn a quiet mom-and-pop barbecue shack into a global destination.
But there’s more than just barbecue teams tending their meat and beans this weekend. There are cooking demonstrations, a BBQ expo, a Kid’s Cue contest, music, a Texas Hold ’em tournament, and the induction ceremony into the Barbecue Hall of Fame, which is located in Kansas City.
Why Kansas City BBQ?
So why is the American Royal Barbecue Contest such a big deal? It’s because of the Kansas City Barbeque Society, the final word in barbecue competitions.
“Certainly there are other sanctioning organizations, but we were the first to put in place a scoring system that is reliable and fair,” says Carolyn Wells, executive director of the KCBS. “Competition cooks prefer a tried and true system that levels the playing field, and that’s what the KCBS provides.”
With more than 14,000 members around the world, the Kansas City Barbeque Society is the world’s largest organization devoted to the art of barbeque and grilling. It sanctions about 300 annual barbeque contests in the United States, as well as a few in Canada, the UK and now in Belgium.
KC BBQ History
Kansas City as a barbecue Mecca started in the 1920s with a guy named Henry Perry who began smoking slabs of ribs outside a barn that housed street cars at 19th and Highland. He wrapped ’em up in old newspaper and business was booming. A guy named Charlie Bryant worked with Henry Perry and later opened his own restaurant. Charlie’s brother Arthur came into the business, and there you go.
George Gates is another one who learned Henry Perry’s style and the competition was on. Ollie Gates now runs the family business that is as renowned for his friendly greetings as it is for good BBQ.
Kansas City barbecue started building a serious reputation and national following in the 1950s when radio broadcasts of the Kansas City Athletics baseball games, just a few blocks down the street from Bryant’s, always included a mention of the good smell of barbecue filling the air. Folks around the country came to Kansas City for baseball and barbecue.
Best BBQ in KC
So where is the best barbecue in Kansas City? Well that’s a question that has been argued about since Charlie Bryant first tossed a slab of ribs over a pile of slow-burning hickory. The answer is – it depends on what you like. Atmosphere is important in a barbecue joint, as is sauce and beans and cole slaw and pickles. And each BBQ joint in KC has something different to offer.
Try ’em all. Don’t visit the just the big names, like Bryant’s and Gates, and think you know KC BBQ. Until you’ve tried at least a dozen or more places, like Hayward’s and Rosedale’s and Q-39 and Little Danny Edwards’, well, you just can’t make any assumptions about what Kansas City barbecue is all about.