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History of Kansas City Barbecue



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Kansas City barbecue refers to the specific inner city style of barbecue that evolved from the pit of Henry Perry in the early 1900s in Kansas City, Missouri, Missouri. The Kansas City Metropolitan Area is renowned for barbecue. Kansas City, Missouri has more than 100 barbecue restaurants and is known in Missouri as "world's barbecue capital." There are large, well attended barbecue cooking contests, the two most notable being in nearby Lenexa, Kansas and at the American Royal.


Kansas City barbecue is characterized by its use of different types of meat (including pulled pork, pork ribs, burnt ends, smoked sausage, beef brisket, beef ribs, smoked/grilled chicken, smoked turkey, and sometimes fish) along with its sweet and tangy sauces which are generally intended for liberal use. A majority of restaurants also offer a spicy variety of the staple sauce. Ribs are mostly pork, but also come in beef varieties and can come in a number of different cuts.  Burnt ends, the flavorful pieces of meat cut from the ends of a smoked beef or pork brisket, are a popular dish in many Kansas City area barbecue restaurants. Kansas City barbecue is also known for its many side dishes, including a unique style of baked beans, french fries, cole slaw, and other soul food staples.


In 1977, Rich Davis  began the efforts to nationally market a more suburban version of barbecue sauce called KC Masterpiece (which is now owned by a division of Clorox). Efforts by Arthur Bryant's and Gates to export Kansas City barbecue beyond the metro area have not been as commercially successful, although the two do market their sauces to travelers at Kansas City International Airport.


Henry Perry


Kansas City traces its barbecue history to  Henry Perry, who operated out of a trolley barn at 19th and Highland in the legendary African-American neighborhood around  18th & Vine.


Perry served slow-cooked ribs on pages of newsprint for 25 cents a slab. Perry came from Shelby County, Tennessee near Memphis and began serving barbecue in 1908. The style of Kansas City and Memphis barbecue are very similar, although Kansas City tends to use more sauce and a wider variety of meats, including pork, beef, chicken, sausage, and turkey. Perry's sauce had a somewhat harsh, peppery flavor.


Perry's restaurant became a major cultural point during the heyday of Kansas City Jazz during the "wide-open" days of  Tom Pendergast in the 1920s and 1930s.


Arthur Bryant


Working for Henry Perry was Charlie Bryant, who, in turn, brought his brother, Arthur Bryant, into the business. Charlie took over the Perry restaurant in 1940 after Perry died. Arthur then took over his brother's business in 1946, and the restaurant was renamed Arthur Bryant's.


Arthur Bryant's, which eventually moved to 1727 Brooklyn in the same neighborhood, became a stomping ground for baseball fans and players in the 1950s and 1960s, because of its close proximity toMunicipal Stadium, where the Kansas City A's played their home games during that period.


In 1974, Kansas City native Calvin Trillin wrote an article in New Yorker Magazine proclaiming Bryant's to be the best restaurant on the planet.


Despite new-found fame, Bryant did not change the restaurant's very simple decor, which consisted of fluorescent lighting, formica tables, and five-gallon jars of sauce displayed in the windows, even as Presidents Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan stopped by.


Bryant died of a heart attack, in a bed that he kept at the restaurant, shortly after Christmas of 1982. The restaurant is still open. The sauce and restaurant continue their success.


Republican Presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, ate at Arthur Bryant's in the days leading up to the 2008 Presidential Election.


Gates & Sons


In 1946 Arthur Pinkard, who was a cook for Perry, joined with George Gates to form Gates and Sons Bar-B-Q. The restaurant was situated initially in the same neighborhood.


Gates barbecue sauce does not contain molasses, and the ingredients, as listed on the bottle, are: "Tomatoes, vinegar, salt, sugar, celery, garlic, spices, and pepper. 1/10th of 1% potassium sorbate preservative added." It is available in "Original," "Hot," or "Sweet and Mild" varieties.


Gates also expanded its footprint in a more conventional way, with restaurants all displaying certain trademarks -- red-roofed buildings, a recognizable logo (a strutting man clad in tuxedo and top hat) and the customary "Hi, May I Help You?" greeting belted out by its employees as patrons enter.


Gates has opened restaurants throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area. Gates also sold barbecue sandwiches at Kauffman Stadium during  Kansas City Royals home games and currently at Arrowhead Stadium during Kansas City Chiefs home games.


KC Masterpiece


In 1977,  Rich Davis capitalized on the inner city reputation of Kansas City barbecue to form KC Masterpiece, which evolved from his "K.C. Soul Style Barbecue Sauce."


KC Masterpiece was sold to the Kingsford division of Clorox in 1986 and now claims to be the number one premium barbecue brand in the U.S. The KC Masterpiece brand tastes actually sweeter than the classic Bryant's and Gates sauces.


Davis has held KC Masterpiece barbecues on the White House lawn for Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.


According to the History Channel, Dr. Davis bucked the trend of KC BBQ restaurants by developing his sauce first, then creating a restaurant. The History Channel states that the usual trend is to develop the restaurant first, then develop the sauce (as with Bryant's and Gates). The History Channel also states that KC is the crossroads of the BBQ community (due to the early influence of railroads), and also states that the sauce of the restaurant is the most important feature of KC BBQ.

When Davis sold the rights to his sauce to Clorox, he announced plans to build a franchise of barbecue restaurants. Although new restaurants were indeed built in major metropolitan centers across the country, all of the KC Masterpiece restaurants have since closed, with the Overland Park, KS location being the last to close in 2009.


Kansas City Barbeque Society


The Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS), with over 10,000 members worldwide, is the world’s largest organization of barbecue and grilling enthusiasts. KCBS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "promoting barbecue as America's cuisine and having fun while doing so."


KCBS sanctions nearly 300 barbecue contests across the U.S. each year and offers assistance to civic and charitable organizations with producing these events. The KCBS has developed a set of rules and regulations that govern all official KCBS competitions.


KCBS offers educational programs, consultation services and civic organization presentations to help spread the gospel of barbecue. The mission of the Kansas City Barbeque Society is to celebrate, teach, preserve and promote barbecue as a culinary technique, sport and art form.


  Barbecue terminology 

for the barbecue novice

 and connoisseur:




To slow cook meats over the heat of hardwood and/or charcoal at a temperature of 200 to 375 degrees


Barbecue Sauce


A liquid mixture, usually tomato-based, sweet and sour, with spices. Apply to meats during the final minutes of cooking. Can be served on the side as a dipping sauce or condiment.


Baby Back Ribs / or Loin Back Ribs


A cut of ribs from the pork loin, usually weighing around 2 pounds per slab.


Burnt Ends


The blackened, somewhat charred pieces of brisket ends that cannot be sliced. A prized menu item from some area restaurants. Also referred to as "brownies."




A finishing sauce applied to meats during the final minutes of barbecuing.


Long End Spare Ribs


The first six ribs from the breast bone on back.




 A liquid mixture (usually an acid, oil, and spices) used to soak meats prior to cooking.




A cotton mop used to baste meats while cooking.




The cooking unit used to barbecue. May be a closed container, cement or brick structure, or even a hole dug in the ground.


Rib Tips


The breast bone at the top of a slab of spare ribs.




A dry marinade; a mixture of dry spices added to meats to impart flavor.


Short End Spare Ribs


The last seven or eight ribs in a slab of spare ribs.


Wood Chips


Small chips of wood, usually fruit wood or hard wood used to impart smoke flavor to barbecued meats. Soak in water before using.


*Source: Kansas City Barbeque Society, copyright 1997








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