Toto. We are in Kansas. And we're here to eat all your barbecue!
Kansas City actually straddles two states: Kansas and Missouri. Its distinctive barbecue style is what brought us to Kansas City.
What's the difference between Kansas City and Texas-style barbecue? Everything. It's said that Texas barbecue has a heavy focus on beef, particularly brisket, whereas Kansas City natives are happy to barbecue everything. Both use a dry rub to marinade their meat - Kansas City barbecue tends to use brown sugar dry rubs whereas Texans omit the sugar and prefer to use variations of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper or even coffee grounds.
Because of the high sugar content in the rub, Kansas City barbecue is usually cooked at lower temperatures to avoid burning the meat. It's said that Kansas City barbecue has only a faint smokiness after cooking, whereas Texans love it heavily laced with smoke.
The barbecue sauces are a key differentiator. Texans usually prefer to serve their meat unadorned - any sauce is served on the side. The sauce is thin and tangy but often kicked up with chilli powder, Worcestershire or cumin. In Kansas City, their barbecue sauce is extra thick, sticky and sweet with molasses or sugar, slathered generously over your meat when served.
This is the final post in the series on our eats in the US of A (it's also the 16th, but who's counting?). Ready for the meat sweats? Let's go!
Gates Barb-B-Q, Kansas City
Gates Barb-B-Q is one of the original barbecue houses of this city. First established in 1946, there are now six outlets in Kansas and Missouri.
Brisket on the slicer with whole smoked briskets in the oven behind
Like most barbecue houses across the States, it's counter service only. Line up at the counter, tell 'em which meats you're after, and then watch your plate get assembled to order. At Gates I'm excited to spy the whole smoked briskets in the oven behind the slicer, massive hunks of meat covered in a blackened crust.
Ribs, brisket and turkey with chips $US19.75
They mean business here. Protein and carbs are piled on a plate with a couple of pickle slices for crunch. Salad comes in coleslaw form or you can get a tub of steamed vegetables on the side.
Burnt end hoagie US$6.95
The burnt end hoagie is mindblowingly huge. You could feed a family of paleo eaters and still have enough for leftovers with the amount of meat piled in this bun. It's a mountain of burnt ends, shredded into a beef eating orgy. Burnt ends are what you get at either end of the brisket, appreciated for its intense smokiness, but they can be a little drier and chewier.
Relax. That's what the barbecue sauce is for. Unlike the barbecue sauce we encountered in Austin, Texas which was thin and tangy, Kansas City-style barbecue sauce is dark, thick, sweet and vinegary.
Small soft drink vs large!
The soft drink sizes here also continued to astound us. The large soft drink must have been about a litre!
Yammer pie US$3.75
Afterwards we squeeze in the signature yammer pie, a sweet potato pie that tastes like spiced pumpkin soup in dessert form. No need for a spoon!
Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue
Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue at the Shamrock gas station
You'll find the original Oklahoma's Joe's Barbecue inside a petrol station. Sure there's a service attendant who'll take your money for gas, but there's an even bigger queue of people lining up for the dining room alongside the confectionery aisle.
Oklahoma Joe's dining room
Oklahoma Joe's has its roots in competition barbecue. Jeff Stehney and his wife Joy attended a barbecue contest in 1990 and enjoyed it so much they bought their own smoker and created a barbecue team known as Slaughterhouse Five. They entered their first competition in 1991 and blazed an impressive series of victories. Their current tally includes more than 25 Grand and Reserve Grand Championships. In 1993 the Kansas City Barbecue Society crowned them Team of the Year.
Friends convinced them to open their own restaurant. In 1996 they took over the vacated tenancy at a petrol station near their home (the space used to house a fried chicken outlet). There are now three outlets across Kansas.
Pulled pork sandwich US$5.39
At 11.30am there's already a line of about forty people but it moves reasonably quickly, and much of the wait is inside the store. There ain't no hipsters around these parts. It's a sea of families, workers, couples and a lot of men.
Beef brisket sandwich US$5.69
Brisket in Kansas City, we discover, is much leaner than in Austin. There's barely a skerrick of fat running through the meat. We hoe into a pulled pork sandwich, livened by a crunchy coleslaw, as well as ribs, baked beans, battered onion rings and more.
Half slab rib dinner with bbq beans US$13.99 and onion rings US$4.79
Arthur Bryant's Barbecue
And to round out the barbecue trifecta we stop by Arthur Bryant's, one of the most famous barbecue houses in the United States. The restaurant originally started as a business run by Henry Perry, regarded as one of the founding fathers of barbecue in Kansas City, who first started selling ribs from a trolley in 1908.
Brothers Charlie and Arthur Bryant both worked in Perry's restaurant, eventually taking over the restaurant when he died and renaming it Bryant's.
Arthur Bryant's barbecue sauces: original, sweet and rich & spicy
The decor here is unchanged from the 1970s - a no-nonsense cafeteria set-up with formica tables, red vinyl padded chairs and fluorescent lighting overhead. The queue to the serving window is predominantly filled with blokes, young and old.
Burnt ends and pulled pork with fries US$11.70
There's a lot of meat here: beef, ham, pork sliced or pulled, turkey, chicken, sausage, burnt ends and ribs short or long. Sop up all the goodness with two slices of soft supermarket bread or go for broke and get the handcut fries as well.
Short end ribs US$12.95
The ribs aren't overly fatty but they have a yielding softness to them, with a satisfying char along the edges.
Burnt ends with ribs US$9.95
Large drink US$3.10 (44oz!)
The burnt ends are cut into chunky pieces and smothered in barbecue sauce. I went for the large soft drink too, not realising that 44 ounces equals about 1.2 litres! Relax, it was diet, but sometimes you need that acid to cut through the meats, ya know?
Sacks of fresh potatoes at Five Guys
We also checked out Five Guys while we were in town, regarded by some as one of the best hamburgers in America.
The coolest thing about Five Guys is that all toppings are free. There are four burger price tiers: hamburger, bacon hamburger, cheese burger and bacon cheeseburger. Any or all additional toppings can be added as you please for no extra fee.
If you want to order yours "all the way", you'll get mayonnaise, lettuce, pickles, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, ketchup and mustard. If you want the complete list, ask for "everything" and you'll get all of the above plus relish, onions, jalapeno peppers, green peppers, A1 steak sauce, barbecue sauce and hot sauce. Phew.
Complimentary help-yourself peanuts in the shell
While you're waiting for your order number pick-up, you can help yourself to as many complimentary unshelled peanuts as you like. It's a small gesture but free snacks seem to instantly put everyone in a good mood.
Self-serve unlimited soft drink dispenser with 127 different flavours US$2.09 regular
And then there's the drink dispenser. I didn't quite believe the menu board when it said there was a choice of over 100 soft drinks, but the touchscreen menu options are endless. There are actually 127 different kinds of post-mix coma - probably a third of these are diet. Soft drinks are unlimited too. Diabetes ahoy.
Cheeseburger with grilled onions US$6.79
The burgers are served wrapped in foil, with buns that are said to be sweeter and eggier than usual buns.
Bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions, tomato, lettuce and barbecue sauce US$6.79
They're not a pretty sight, missing the neatly assembled prettiness of In-N-Out or Shake Shack. The salad is a little fridge-cold too but it's messy and fun eating regardless. My favourite burger in the USA still belongs to In-N-Out followed by Shake Shack and then Five Guys.
Cheeseburger with grilled mushroom, pickles, lettuce and mayonnaise US$5.99
and fries Five Guys style and Cajun style US$2.99 each
And fries are an essential accompaniment to any burger. We can't really tell much of a difference between the Five Guys style and Cajun style except perhaps a touch of cayenne.
Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits
Three piece bonafide meal with biscuit and drink US$6.99
And while we're on the subject of fast food, here's a snap of the pre-boarding breakfast we had at Louis Armstrong airport when we flew from New Orleans to New York.
Let it be said that Popeye's fried chicken is life-changing. You may even see rainbows. The biscuit is like a soft and buttery scone. But that juicy chicken with a corrugated armour of batter is so darn crunchy it will make you weep.
The Boiling Crab
The Boiling Crab, Koreatown
We flew in and out of Los Angeles so had to return to the city of angels for our flight home. How to make use of a single night in LA? Stay next door to a factory outlet mall. We did, and waking up and walking across the car park to go sale shopping was our best idea yet.
Here's another tip. Make sure you go to The Boiling Crab in Koreatown for your final hurrah.
The Boiling Crab is phenomenally popular. They don't take reservations so turn up early or be prepared to queue. We ended up waiting over an hour for a table but we didn't care. We needed crab. We did notice, however, that the cafe next door seemed happy to accept customers with bags of Boiling Crab takeaway orders as long as they ordered a drink.
Seafood being packed for takeaway
The Boiling Crab is just that. You order your crab, lobster, crawfish, shrimp, clams and/or mussels by the pound and then it's boiled in a bag with your choice of seasoning (Cajun, lemon pepper, garlic sauce or all of them at once) and level of heat. The spice-o-meter runs from non-spicy to XXX, helpfully described as "I can't feel my mouth".
The Boiling Crab dining room with aprons for all
The decor is low-key and no nonsense. Tables are set simply with butchers paper and a serviette dispenser. There are no plates. There is no cutlery. This is a hands-only affair.
Lower your head and accept the the plastic bib. You'll need it.
Crawfish with corn and potato US$13
Barely ten minutes pass before our order starts hitting the table. Steaming bags of blistering hot seafood envelope the table with steam. We accepted our server's suggestion of adding corn and potatoes to the crawfish, all deliciously spiced up and soaking up the seafood juices.
Clams with rajun cajun sauce US$10 per pound (450grams)
We rip open the crawfish critters with wild abandon, teasing out the sweet flesh from its shell. Our bag of clams is easy work, the chilli spiced molluscs easily prised from their shells with our teeth.
Sweet potato fries US$4
Not everything is boiled. They deep fry stuff too. The sweet potato fries are some of the best we've had, combining the best of sweetness, saltiness and crunch.
Fried oysters US$10
There are deep fried oysters, coated in a cornmeal batter and fried quickly so the oysters are still briny and raw in the middle.
Alaskan king crab US$25.46 for three legs (US$21 per pound/450grams)
But the main event is the crab. They only have Alaskan crab left on the menu - a shame, as we'd really been hoping for dungeness crab too.
Let's crack some legs
You'll be provided with nutcrackers and crab pickers but otherwise you're on your own.
Be prepared to get messy and have lots of fun.
And that's the final post of our USA eating adventures! Thanks America. You were awesome.
<< Read the first USA 2013 post: Cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery, NYC
Arthur Bryant's Barbecue
1727 Brooklyn Avenue, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Tel: +1 (816) 231 1123
Monday to Thursday 10am - 9.30pm
Friday and Saturday 10am - 10pm
Sunday 11am - 8pm
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
8600 Ward Parkway, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Tel: +1 (816) 333 4897
Open 7 days 11am - 10pm
1325 East Emanuel Cleaver Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Tel: +1 (816) 531 7522
Sunday to Thursday 10am - 12 midnight
Friday and Saturday 10am - 1am
3002 West 47th Avenue, Kansas City, Kansas, USA
Tel: +1 (913) 722 3366
Monday to Thursday 11am - 9pm
Friday and Saturday 11am - 10pm
Closed on Sundays
Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits
New Orleans Louis Armstrong Airport
8901 Airline Drive, Metairie, Louisiana, USA
Tel: +1 (504) 467 1647
Open 7 days 10am - 11pm
The Boiling Crab
3377 Wilshire Boulevard #115, Los Angeles, California, USA
Tel: +1 (213) 389 2722
Monday to Friday 3pm - 10pm
Saturday and Sunday 12pm - 10pm
<< Read the first USA 2013 post: Cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery, NYC
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Austin - BBQ tour - Franklin, Ruby's, Green Mesquite, Salt Lick & La Barbecue
Austin - Gourdough's bacon donut, Hoover's, Whole Foods and Biscuits + Groovy
Chicago - Deep pan pizza, Al's #1 Italian beef & Cheesecake Factory
Kansas City - BBQ: Gates, Oklahoma Joes & Arthur Bryant's
LA - Animal Restaurant
LA - Boiling Crab
LA - Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery
LA - Donut tour of LA's best: Randy's Donuts, Bob's Doughnuts & The Donut Man
LA - In-N-Out, Roscoe's Fried Chicken & Waffles, Kogi food truck & Pink's Hot Dogs
LA - Mexican: Loteria Grill, Tamales Liliana's & El Flamin Taco
New Orleans - Willy Mae's fried chicken, Felix's Oyster Bar & beignet
NYC - Cronuts at Dominique Ansel Bakery
NYC - Doughnut Plant, Carlo's Bakery, Baohaus, Lobster Joint & Clinton St Bakery
NYC - Jewish food tour: Katz's Deli, Russ & Daughters, knish and bagels
NYC - Momofuku Noodle Bar fried chicken, Ssam Bar & Milk Bar
NYC - Motorino brussels sprout pizza, Best Pizza and Big Gay Ice Cream
NYC - Shake Shack, Tom Colicchio's Craftbar and Union Square Greenmarket
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10/31/2013 01:25:00 a.m.