Saturday, October 31, 2009

BBQ Headlines

Texas barbeque has been making headlines in the past month, especially in the Dallas area. Nancy Nichols got a conversation started asking folks to weigh in on their preference bewteen beef and pork ribs. In the readers' opinion, pork was the big winner, and I have to agree.

Texas Monthly's Pat Sharpe announced that the London Observer had placed Snow's BBQ at #10 in their list of the fifty best things to eat in the world...yes the world.

Andy Ivey over at Metroplex BBQ has gotten back into the game serving up two new reviews this week for Sonny Bryan's and Off the Bone in Dallas. We agree on Off the Bone, but he must have hit SB's on a great day.

The Dallas Observer has gome out their way to feature some good BBQ. A good review of the new guy, Dr. Bell's, in downtown was coupled with a profile of the owners of Smoke, although the article had little to say about 'cue. In their Best of Dallas edition, they liked Off the Bone much more than either Metroplex BBQ or the BBQ Snob. Then on Wednesday, they did a great profile of Corey Toney at CT's Real Deal Bar-B-Que along with some good pics. They ate some great 'cue and had a good conversation with Toney who's frustrated with South Dallas politics.

Altogether, BBQ is making some headlines.

- BBQ Snob

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Bluebonnet Bar-B-Q

DALLAS: Bluebonnet Bar-B-Q (Whole Foods)
2118 Abrams Road
Dallas, TX 75214
Open Daily 8-10

Update: A quick trip to grab some groceries quickly turned into a smoked meat feast when I passed by the Bluebonnet Bar-B-Q counter inside Whole Foods. A variety of smoked meats from their Southern Pride smoker are available at this counter, and as I waited for my order, I noticed the other delicacies at the seafood counter that are also smoked in house.

Hungry for beef, I started with the brisket. Each slice was thick and loaded with poorly rendered fat. A full third of each slice found its way to the trash, but what remained was very good. A black crust surrounded richly flavored smokey meat, It could have been more tender, but the flavor was great.

Monstrously thick beef ribs are also well smoked. While the smokey flavor didn't penetrate the full thickness, it was evident in the meat just beneath the crust. That crust had gotten a bit tough from too much time under the heat lamp, but the meat inside was tender, moist and bursting with beefy flavor.

I can't ever get enough smoked protein, so I opted for three choices from the seafood counter. "Smoked Green Chili Habanero Salmon Jerky" was dry as expected with a concentrated fishiness that wasn't pleasing. Their was lingering heat, but nothing could stand up against that fishy flavor. Smoking brought out a more mild flavor in the oysters which were meltingly tender despite their looks.

The best option from the seafood counter had to be the "Smoked Salmon Candy". Thick filet of salmon had been smoked with a thick sugary rub. The fishiness was more mild, and the sweet and smokey flavor complimented this tender fish well.

Given the plethora of quality smoked meat options at this Whole Foods location, it's not just a place for groceries anymore.

Rating ***

March 2009: The newest Whole Foods Market has opened in the Lakewood Neighborhood of Dallas, and inside they offer 'cue in their Bluebonnet BBQ Smokehouse. The meat is smoked with hickory on the premises, and they offer quite a variety.

On the day I visited, I could choose from sliced and chopped brisket, beef ribs, baby back pork ribs, St. Louis pork ribs, pulled pork, and sausage. I ordered a three meat plate with the sliced brisket, beef ribs and St. Louis ribs alongside cole slaw and beans. The server was not quite comfortable wielding the carving knife, but I have to cut him some slack given that the store has now been open for two days. He inexplicably removed the bone from my beef ribs and sliced it. I prefer to use the bone as a handle rather than eating my ribs with a knife and fork. The pork rib bones were left intact. The brisket was sliced from the point, so they were loaded with fat. I asked for some crusty edge slices that were a bit leaner.

The best and freshest meat on the plate were the deboned beef ribs. Moist and tender meat was hidden below an excellent crust from the salt and black pepper rub, and the fat that remained was well rendered. The pork ribs held little smoke flavor, and had dried out a bit under the heat lamp. The rub added a good peppery flavor, but the crust had not held up well during storage. All the fat had been trimmed from the meat, so it also lacked the moistness that liquid collagen can add. Crust was trimmed from the slices of fatty brisket, so the smokiness was completely missing. The fat was not well rendered, and there was just too much to work around. The leaner crusty slices were a bit smokier, but these briskets needed more time being bathed in hickory smoke. For those who like sauce, Whole Foods has chosen wisely. Each of the meats benefited greatly from a slather of Austin's Own brand sauce that was served on the side. The cole slaw was an sweet and tangy variety with fresh cabbage, carrots and onions. The beans tasted more like you'd expect from a Mexican restaurant than from a BBQ joint. This may not be the best 'cue in town, but it's nice to have a solid option just down the street.

Rating **

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Ohio BBQ

A trip to visit family in Ohio was the perfect excuse to get some meat smoking done. A big pile of protien always brings the family together, so my brother and I decided on a wide menu. In addition to the requisite brisket we tried a pork shoulder, baby back ribs, various cuts of chicken, venison roasts and sausage.

My sister's hungry gaze.

My brother has a barrel smoker with a detached firebox and a big pile of cherry wood. I got into town after midnight on a Friday night, so he got things started on his own. Leaves on the ground and smoke in the air greeted me as I drove up to check on the brisket at 9:30.

We quickly got some chicken and sausage on for lunch. I'm now convinced that chicken thighs are the best option for smoking. With plenty of fat, the thighs stayed moist while taking on plenty of smokey flavor. They would have been perfect if I hadn't overseasoned them.

In the evening it was time to start pulling the pork. After a rub of vinegar, mustard, brown sugar, salt and pepper along with 8 hours of smoking, this pork came apart with ease. The only downside was that too much fat had been trimmed off by the butcher, so it was bit dry, but very flavorful. The smallish shoulder allowed for plenty of surface area for a good crust to meat mixture in the final product.

Smoked chicken breasts were also good, but are just so hard to keep moist. Those in the crowd not favoring beef, were happy they were included.

These baby back ribs had plenty of meat left on the bone and a thin layer of fat. After slow smoking the fat had rendered perfectly and the meat was tender and moist. The flavor from the brown sugar rub created a nice crust on the meat. The venison roasts got a layer of bacon over them while smoking since they have almost no fat. This gamey meat was tamed by the smoke, but like the chicken, dryness was an issue. The flavor was better than expected by everyone in the crowd familiar with venison.

Of course the brisket was really why my brother got a fire going at 6:30. Slicing into it, I could tell that it needed a little more time on the smoker, and a little longer time resting. We took it off the fire an hour before serving, then wrapped it in foil and placed it in a cooler. The residual heat continued to cook it slowly, but didn't really allow it to rest. Precious juice spilled out with every slice, but we all ate it immediately so it wasn't allowed to dry out. The slices had a good smoke ring with plenty of thick black crust. Each bite was moist, but the flat could have been a little more tender. The point was the better portion with very well rendered fat within the meat. It wasn't the best brisket I've had, but it ranks right up there. It just goes to show how much has to go right to get this most challenging of meats smoked perfectly. No matter the final product, an excuse to be outside drinking High Life all day is good enough for me. the fine smoked meat was just a good way to end it.

- BBQ Snob

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue

KANSAS CITY: Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue
3002 W 47th Ave
Kansas City, KS 66103
Open M-Thur 11-8:30, F-Sat 11-9:30

Oklahoma Joe’s makes up about 75% of the interior of a large gas station on the south side of Kansas City, Kansas. The area is largely residential but I would guess from the clientele during our visit that they draw from a lot farther away. The owner, Jeff Stehney, got his first taste of big-time barbecue as a visitor to the American Royal. From there, he became a regular champion and grand-champion on the competition circuit running the Slaughterhouse Five team. Oklahoma Joe’s was born in 1995 in Stillwater, OK as a joint venture with the smoker manufacturer of the same name. Jeff opened the KC location a year later and it has remained in operation as the rest of the Oklahoma Joe’s empire went into retirement with the original partner.

The menu has some items not in lock step with the rest of the KC crowd. Burnt ends are nowhere to be found, but gumbo, red beans & rice and some other cajun favorites are well represented. A side of richly flavored red beans was a welcome change to the loads of french fried already consumed elsewhere.

Oklahoma Joe’s provided the trial meats for the Certified Barbecue Judge class that we had attended the day before our visit to their shop. We ran through samples of chicken, pork shoulder, ribs and brisket in the mock-judging portion of the class. These had been held in warmers for several hours. While they weren’t bad, we were hopeful they did not represent the best ‘Joe’ had to offer. Fresh samples of the brisket and ribs were far more rewarding. The brisket was the best of our trip. It was moist and tender with a distinct smoke flavor that worked well with their judicious (i.e. light) application of sauce. They provided several styles of rib for the class. Our favorites were St. Louis. They did not disappoint the second time around; moist, tender and full of flavor. Again, the mild sauce was well calibrated to harmonize with the meat. They also keep a hot variety of sauce on the tables called "Night of the Living Dead". It did not deliver enough heat to be worthy of that distinction. All told, Oklahoma Joe’s can hold its own against most competition, regardless of the city or state.

Rating ***
Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue (Kansas City) on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Woodyard Bar-B-Que

KANSAS CITY: Woodyard Bar-B-Que
3001 Merriam Ln
Kansas City, KS 66106
Open M 10:30-6, Tues-Sat 10:30-8

The Woodyard's quaint atmosphere was as inviting as it was promising. You must walk right past the brisk pit to get into the front door of this converted house. Ordering is done at a small counter, then you're free to take your plate to any of the rooms for dining. We chose the back room with a small television in one corner, and church pew running the length of the opposite wall serving as seating for two tables.

Digging into the basket of meat, it was obvious they were on to something with the chicken and beans. The beans had a combination of sweetness and smokiness with bits of meat throughout. As for the chicken, the skin was crisp and flavorful while the meat beneath was smoky and moist. The rest of the meats weren't so good. Brisket tasted of deli cold cuts, sausage was Eckrich grade, and the ribs were shy on meat and moisture. These dry bones had little flavor or smokiness either.

The burnt ends had decent flavor, but much like we sampled at Gates, these weren't true burnt ends, but rather the carved off crust from many briskets. Needless to say, the Woodyard failed to deliver on its potential.

Rating **
Woodyard Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Ziggy's Bar-B-Q

DALLAS: Ziggy's Bar-B-Q
600 N Pearl St

Dallas, TX 75201

Open M-F 7-7

Not that I was expecting much from BBQ in a food court in the Plaza of the Americas in downtown Dallas, but I just had to grab a bite when I saw it. No ribs were on the menu, so I opted for a sliced beef sandwich.

I don't need to say much more than the photo below, but I will anyway. While the warm bun was nicely buttered and crisp, the meat tasted of fatty sliced roast beef slathered in Manwich sauce.

No additional bites were needed after the double thumbs down.

Rating *
Ziggys Barbeque on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

LC's Bar-B-Q

5800 Blue Pkwy

Kansas City, MO 64129


Open M-Thur 11:30-9:30, F-Sat 11:30-11

Plumes of smoke were visible from the back of this little joint on the east side of KC. The joint was packed when we entered, but that gave me plenty of time to peruse the menu while I waited in line. Service here is curt and efficient, and you're expected to have your order ready when you reach the front of the line. After my Gates experience, I was nervous about ordering the "mixed plate", but was happy to hear "which meats?". I opted for ribs, sliced brisket and sliced ham along with fries and rings. This wasn't quite enough meat, so I opted for a plate of burnt ends and the homemade sausage.

We were ready for a feast while hoping for some great 'cue after reading so many positive reviews. Digging into the burnt ends first proved a perfect start. Each chunk of meat had great smokey bark and well rendered fat. These were definitely more defined pieces of protein than what we found at Gates. The sauce added a sweet counterpoint, but did not overwhelm the meat. I was happy to see that LC offers only one sauce rather than playing to the crowd by making an entire line of flavors.

Sliced beef and ham were both tender due to the thin slices, and both had a mildly smokey flavor. The flavor of both was somewhat overwhelmed by the amount of sauce, but the plate was enjoyable. Ribs were better with an excellent crust untainted by the sauce since the slab is turned crust side down on slices of white bread before being sauced. The meat was perfectly tender, plenty moist and very flavorful on its own.

The homemade sausage was unexpectedly casing free. Bulk sausage had been spiced and formed into an elongated football shape. The smoke penetrated this meat more than any other, and the flavor was reminiscent of the Bacon Explosion from back in February. Each "link" was sliced lengthwise making for easy dipping.

When the meal was completed, we had a hunch that the guy talking with all the regular customers might be LC. We introduced ourselves and thanked him for a great meal. He was glad to hear we enjoyed our trip, and I assured him we'd be back if we made our way to KC again. I'm already craving those burnt ends.

Rating ****
LC's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

BBQ Book Review - Cooking the Cowboy Way

Title: Cooking the Cowboy Way
Author: Grady Spears with June Naylor
Published: 2009 by Andrews McMeel Publishing

When a copy of this book showed up in my mailbox, I thought here's another cookbook that's going to take great cooking methods that produce tremendous food and break them down into something you can cook on any given Wednesday night. As I made my way through the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find a recipe for baby back ribs that starts out, "If you don't have a smoker, get one." Those are my kind of directions.

Meat is obviously the feature. Sure, there are plenty of salads, desserts and spinach dishes, but any cookbook that works chicken fried steak in for breakfast is alright with me. What isn't heavily featured is Texas BBQ. Besides the aforementioned ribs, smoke braised short ribs, and an abomination entitled "oven brisket", Texas 'cue is left out. A large section on Kansas City BBQ helps to fill that void, and it brought back some very recent memories. You can learn to make the cheesy corn bake and hickory pit beans from Jack Stack, or try your hand at some lamb ribs. Top it all of with yammers from Gates Bar-B-Q. Unfortunately no short cuts were given on how to create burnt ends.

If all this sounds good, you may want to make your way over to Mr. Spears' restaurant in Fort Worth on 10/27 for "An Evening with Grady Spears" to chat with the authors and get a behind the scenes look at the kitchen.

- BBQ Snob

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Gates Bar-B-Q

1026 State Ave
Kansas City, KS 66102
Open Sun-Thur 10-12am, F-Sat 10-1am

The smokey smell wafting over the parking lot was appetizing as we walked up to the door. Upon entering, the cashier yells "Hi, may I help you" in a gesture that's meant to be hospitable but ends up sounding more like an impatient command. We had to order quickly before we were passed over for more experienced customers.

I've ordered BBQ from hundreds of menus, so I was confident I could handle it here. One thing I was ignorant of at Gates is that a "mixed plate" contains three types of predetermined meat (brisket, ribs and ham), so when I asked for burnt ends, brisket and ribs, what I got was an order of each along with the mixed plate.

Ham was processed and salty. The ribs were better, but the salty rub combined with the incredibly salty sauce worked together to form an efficient dehydrating concoction. My lips were actually chapped after eating here. The beef here was thinly sliced, as is the KC norm. It had little flavor because all of the crust had been removed to create an imitation version of burnt ends. You see burnt ends are actually the fatty ends of the brisket that has received a considerable crust. These ends are cubed up and sauced to create burnt ends. The dish at Gates was really just the entire crust of the brisket shaved off, mixed with fatty chucks of meat and chopped together. This made for a salty mixture of flavorful meat that had a mealy texture rather than the preferred crispiness. All of this sat atop a cold flavorless bun.

Only a side of fries was sampled, and they were hot and crispy with plenty of salt. The fries were great, but not much else was including their three versions of sauce - original, hot, and sweet. They were all, you guessed it, too salty. Hopefully, Gates was just a meager introduction to the KC style. If not, we were in for a long and dreadful weekend for our palettes.

Rating **
Gates Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Official KCBS Certificate

I received my official KCBS Certificate in the mail over the weekend along with my official nametag, so I'm now an official Certified BBQ Judge. It's all very official.

Now I need to find some competitions around Texas to judge.

- BBQ Snob

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Republic of Barbecue

The Republic of Barbecue book is available for purchase, so get your copy soon. This incredible collection of stories chronicles the history of Texas BBQ. If you can make it to the Central Market in Austin, then be sure to attend the official book release event. From the Central Market website:

On Thursday, October 22, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., join us as we welcome author Elizabeth Engelhardt and featured Barbecue Pitmasters from all over the state of Texas! Elizabeth will be available to sign your copy of the newly, released Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket. You'll also have the opportunity to meet her team of 11 University of Texas graduate student researchers, along with some of the barbecue pitmasters featured in her book.

Republic of Barbecue explores the bond between barbecue and Texas culture. Prizes will be given away throughout the evening, including gift certificates to The Salt Lick, Artz Rib House and House Park Barbecue. Sweet Leaf Tea will provide complimentary tea and the Central Market Café will feature special barbecue menu items.

Another event where the book we be available is the 1st Annual BBQ Bowl in Elgin. The Elgin Wildcats will host the Lockhart Lions, and a BBQ dinner for the winner from the losing Chamber of Commerce is on the line.

I'll keep you updated here for any other Republic of Barbecue events.

- BBQ Snob

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Billy Rattler's Bar-B-Q

5441 Rufe Snow Drive
North Richland Hills, TX 76180
Open Daily 10-10

Update: This joint is CLOSED.

2009: Although this joint does have a drive-thru, it doesn't fully explain why I was the only patron on a Saturday at noon. I think they were expecting a slow day because the ribs tasted like yesterday's. They had a strong stored flavor, little crust and little smoke. The meat was adequately tender, but the flavors were bland. The sliced beef had nearly been rendered into pot roast. The flavor of the overcooked meat was terrific, but it tasted only mildly of smoke and more like roast beef than BBQ.

Each Plate is served with three sides, so I opted for some oddly pink hued slaw that was serviceable, onion rings straight from the freezer to the fryer and some mildly flavored pintos. Overall it was a lonely and mediocre experience.

Rating **
Billy Rattlers on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Up N Smoke BBQ House

KELLER: Up N Smoke BBQ House
134 South Main Street

Keller, TX 76248


Open M-Thur 11-9, F-Sat 11-10, Sun 11-8:30

This place is showing its age. Not because it's run down, but because the edge of the six lane Highway 377 is just a few feet from the edge of the building. When this place was built in the thirties, the road was nothing more than two lanes. Phil Dansby bought the building, and opened this joint in 1997. He's been smoking meat over mesquite wood ever since.

On this visit, I settled in to watch some football on the flat screens scattered about the dining room while I sipped and ice cold beer from a frozen schooner. It was hard to decide between the many draught options, but the Spaten Optimator proved a good choice. The menu is extensive but I was focused on the smoked items. Outside of the usual brisket and ribs, they also offer smoked corn on the cob and a smoked sweet potato. My order was set.

As the food arrived, I could already catch the smokey aroma. Lightly glazed ribs were piled high atop beautiful thick slices of brisket. Each slice had a thick smoke ring beneath a black crust. The slices were slightly dry, but they were tender with incredible flavor. The ribs had a rub heavy with black pepper and a sweet glaze. The moist meat had a hint of smokiness, and pulled easily from the bone. They had a good flavor, but could have been fresher. The smoked corn was some of the best corn I've eaten even though it's out of season. The sweet potato took on very little smoke flavor, and was underdone.

Just when I thought I was done, the amiable server, Paula, suggested that I try the stuffed jalapenos, and I'm glad she did. These hollowed out jalapenos are stuffed with chopped brisket and cheese, then wrapped in bacon and smoked. Each bite was a fiery piece of heaven. They alone are worth returning for.

Rating ***
Up 'n Smoke BBQ on Urbanspoon

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kansas City BBQ

BBQ Snob and Smokemasterone had the priviledge to judge some great barbeque at the American Royal BBQ Competition in Kansas City this year. We decided to bring the whole FCGBBQ family as well, and of course we had to see what the rest of Kansas City had to offer. Most importantly, we had to sample the fine smoked meats to get a feel for the KC style, and to see how it stacks up against Texas BBQ.

BBQ Snob family

The first order of business was to become a certified BBQ judge (CBJ) in a class sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society (KCBS). They have competitions all over the country, and becoming a CBJ will allow us to be judges at any one of these competitions. We went straight from the airport on this rainy Thursday morning to the class. Mike Lake was our instructor on this day, and he gave his no nonsense version of proper judging procedures. In addition to tales of the great parsley ban of early 2009, we also learned that a garnish of red tipped lettuce would cause a disqualification, while a human hair on the other hand, was fair game.

Some humorous terms were discussed. Some of the jewels include "integrity in the mouth", "pooling & puddling", "the money muscle" and "moulding your meat". On the serious side, judging rules are strict, but it's all done in the spirit of giving each competitor a level playing field.

CBJ class

After explanations of how to score meats on appearance, taste and texture, we were able to sample some meat to test our judging skills. The procedure is simple. The appointed table captain announces the entrant's number on each styrofoam bow of meat, then they display the meat to each judge for the appearance judging. The meats are then passed to each judge who takes a piece out of every box and places it on the cardboard "plate". Once all of the meat in that category has been distributed, the eating begins. Four categories - chicken, ribs, pork and brisket - are sanctioned by the KCBS, so each was sampled. All of the meat we enjoyed during the class came straight from Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue in southwest KC. Nothing was incredible, but most everything was satisfying. You can't really ask much for meat that's been stored for several hours awaiting our mock judging.

Judging plate

After judging class, we made our way to the hotel. A few minutes later, SM1 and I were on our way for our first bite official KC BBQ was Gates Bar-B-Q. This local chain of six restaurants had a location just down from our hotel in KCK. Gates is part of the Kansas City BBQ royalty, and is always mentioned alongside the likes of Fiorella's Jack Stack, Arthur Bryant's and Oklahoma Joe's. Upon entering, the cashier yells "Hi, may I help you" in a gesture that's meant to be hospitable but ends up sounding more like an impatient command.

One thing I was ignorant of at Gates is that a "mixed plate" contains three types of predetermined meat (brisket, ribs and ham), so when I asked for burnt ends, brisket and ribs, what I got was an order of each along with the mixed plate. Ham was processed and salty. The ribs were better, but the salty rub combined with the incredibly salty sauce worked together to form an efficient dehydrating concoction. The burnt ends at Gates were really just the entire crust of the brisket shaved off, mixed with fatty chucks of meat and chopped together. This made for a salty mixture of flavorful meat that had a mealy texture rather than the preferred crispiness. The fries were great, but not much else was including their three versions of sauce - original, hot, and sweet. They were all, you guessed it, too salty.

Gates mixed plate

Gates burnt ends

Hopefully, Gates was just a meager introduction to the KC style. If not, we were in for a long and dreadful weekend for our palettes. We had an aggressive BBQ itinerary planned for Friday. It all started with LC's Bar-B-Q, which is a local favorite. Here we ordered a mixed plate that contained ribs, sliced brisket and ham. We also went for some sausage and the burnt ends.

LC's spread

The sausage was odd in that it had no casing, but this smoked bulk sausage was well spiced and well smoked. The ribs had been sauced with the meaty side down, so the nice crust stayed dry. Each bite was better than the next, and this slightly sweet sauce was a great compliment. Brisket was better than Gates, but the thin slices lacked smokiness. At this point we were learning that the KC style allows the brisket to be tough and flavorless, while these deficiencies are taken care of with the thin slices and additional flavor from the sauce.

The best item at LC's was the burnt ends. They were true chunks of brisket with plenty of smoke flavor, and just the right amount of chew. I also admired that LC has one type of sauce, and if you don't like it...too bad.

LC's burnt ends

We dropped the ladies at the Plaza for some shopping and continued or BBQ quest alone. Our next stop was Woodyard BBQ in KCK. This converted house provides a unique dining experience with orders taken at the kitchen counter and what looked like a former bedroom serving as one of the many dining rooms. A sampler of brisket, ribs, chicken and sausage was on the menu, so we added a burnt end sandwich for a nice afternoon snack.

These burnt ends were similar in quality to Gates, but the sauce was better. Ribs needed more meat, but the flavor was passable, while the Eckrich like sausage was bad. Chicken was the best with a smoky flavor while brisket tasted more like deli roast beef than smoked meat.

Mixed plate at The Woodyard

Burnt ends at Woodyard

We passed Oklahoma Joe's on our way to Woodyard, so it wasn't hard to find our way back. We tried nearly every one of their offerings at the CBJ class, so we went straight for the standard ribs and sliced brisket. The brisket was the best on the trip. It was moist and tender while still having that smokey flavor. That flavor had the ability to shine through due to the light application of sauce. St. Louis style ribs were just as good as they were in class. Moist, tender and full of flavor that matched well with the sauce. A hot sauce is also available, but it needs much more heat to match the name.

Ribs and brisket at Oklahoma Joe's

After a walk around the Crossroads art district in the evening, we stopped for dinner at Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue in the Freight House. This is a white table cloth joint referred to by locals simply as Jack Stack. We ordered a wide variety of meats that are not pictured due to the poor lighting. An appetizer of a crown prime beef rib was an excellent piece of smoked beefiness, and a plate of sliced sausage was rich and flavorful.

For the main course, the famous lamb ribs were a bit fatty and gamey for my tastes, while the standard pork ribs and sliced brisket were both decent if not memorable. A variety of burnt ends were ofered, so we opted for the pork version which ended up being nothing more than chunks of pork subjected to an open flame until charred. It tasted more like charcoal than meat. The sides here a re really the winners. Cheesy corn, the aforementioned onion rings, baked beans and creamy coleslaw were all worth going back for.

Rib plate at Jack Stack

Saturday morning began with a trip to Arthur Bryant's to try and beat the rush. This place gets busy, and the line doesn't exactly move along briskly. Luckily our arrival at 10:10 allowed us to get through with no line to order a few huge sandwiches, including the open faced burnt end sandwich. In all we sampled sliced pork, beef, ham, rib and sausage.

Brisket had been sliced very thin with the grain, so it was still a bit chewy and cold, but no very flavorful. Sliced pork was great with (too much) well rendered fat and good smokiness. Sausage was from a bologna sized log and was thin sliced. It was odd, but had good seasoning. Ribs had a good crust and texture as well as great flavor, but the burnt ends were the best. Being the beginning of the day we got true bits of burnt brisket ends, and the flavor of the meat and the original sauce together was perfect. The other two sauces, a sweet version and a spicy version, had odd flavors that would take some getting used to.

Brisket sandwich, ribs and fries at Arthur Bryant's

Burnt ends at Arthur Bryant's

Thinking we were done for the day, we happened upon Winslow's Kansas City Barbecue while tooling around the City Market district, and we couldn't pass it up. A brisket and rib plate came unsauced, and for the first time we saw thick sliced brisket. Overall, this was closer to good Texas BQ rather than KC style, and the smokiness was there to match. Each slice of brisket had a good crust and they were moist and tender. The ribs also had a well formed crust with rosy meat beneath, but they had a stored flavor to them. Both sauces here were pretty bad with a perfumy flavor.

Winslow's ribs and brisket

We held off from eating more BBQ for the rest of the day as we had several pounds of meat in our near future that would be waiting for us on the judge's table.

We arrived at the Royal promptly at 10:00 am. A daunting line of judges stood before us, but we were assured by the veterans that the line would move quickly, and everyone would get a seat. With over 500 teams entering this day's competition, we would need every one of the nearly 600 judges present. As a newly certified judge, I was seated at a table with three other CBJ's and two civilians, while SM1 was seated one table away.

A sea of judges

Smokemasterone at his judging table

We trudged through six entries of chicken, seven ribs, six more entries each of pork and brisket, and three entries of the unsanctioned sausage competition. Since I signed up for the post, I had assumed that one this day I might have a chance to eat some of the best BQ I'd ever eaten, but it wasn't to be so. One of the chicken entries was great while others were so sticky sweet, I had to scrape the sugary rub from my lips. Some of the ribs had such a thick goo on top, they might as well have been coated with molasses. Two of the rib entries were worth finishing, but every brisket entry was bad to marginal. All of the pork entries were decent, but none were elevated to greatness, and the sausages were all downright bad.

I couldn't take photos of the entries while in the competition, but I took a shot of my doggy bag to give you a sense of what I was eating. That brisket slice on top has a god smoke ring and looks appetizing, but I promise you I've had dowzens of better slices in the Lone Star State.


So what id we learn in Kansas City? Competition BBQ is prepared to get the most bang out of a few bites rather than to create quality meat that could be enjoyed as a meal. KC brisket is almost always sliced thin, while each joint is judged mainly on their sauce. Most importantly, I learned that I live in the best state for BBQ. Texas BBQ is smokier, more flavorful, and much less dependent on sauce. I'll gladly choose the products of Texas pit masters over those in Kansas City, but they still put out some quality smoked meat in KC. If only we had burnt ends around here.

- BBQ Snob

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Each joint is judged on the essence of Texas 'cue...sliced brisket and pork ribs. Sausage is only considered if house made. Sauce is good, but good meat needs no adornment to satisfy. Each review can only be based on specific cuts of meat on that particular day. Finally, if the place fries up catfish or serves a caesar salad, then chances are they aren't paying enough attention to the pits, so we mostly steered clear.