Category Archives: BBQ

The Stack BBQ

Since I’m nearing the end of my stay in Kansas, I am determined as ever to eat as much BBQ as I can. My current plan is to survey the best BBQ joints in KC by the end of June, tally up the results, and revisit the top three as many times as I can before I leave at the end of July.

I tried quite a few at this point. I went to the best known BBQ joints of Gates, Arthur Bryants, Oklahoma Joe’s, and Jack Stack. I have also gone to a slew of less known but well regarded joints such as LC’s, Woodyard, Biggs, Jon Russell’s, RJ’s, and Smokestack. There have been good moments, even great moments, but I never really experienced an affection as intense as the one that was brought by Stack BBQ.

Before my visit, nothing really drew me to that place. It doesn’t have the fun ambience of Woodyard, the fame of OK Joe’s, or the originality of RJ’s. I mean, even the name of the place is evokative of the best known BBQ joint in KC.

However, since I did give myself the mission of trying as much BBQ as I can, I decided to give it a try. I got the for two people Lunch option thing, which included 3 meats, ribs, toast, coleslaw, fries, and beans for 19 bucks.

I knew that sounded like a lot, but I was ready to be disappointed. I often approach dining with extremely low expectations, so that I would not be depressed. Expectedly or unexpectedly, the mound of food that came to our table was huge.

So here’s the meat. A pile of burnt ends, sliced beef, and sausage.

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The meat was simply wonderful. The smell of smoke was almost overwhelming, bringing with the dish an intensity that stood out even in an establishment that already smelled like smoke.  The sausage had a fine texture, with the bouncy feel that told you that this was not just some ground meat in casing, but carefully salted and mixed sausage meat. The burnt ends were fine. I categorize burnt ends into two camps: the byproduct ends that are inconsistent, chewy bits merely cut off from bbq meat, such  as those from Arthur Bryants (don’t get me wrong, these are desirable features and have a charm by itself) and the “burnt ends” that seems to be not a byproduct but is meticulously prepared, with more consistent and often tender results (such as those from Jack Stack and Smokehouse). The Stack’s ends were more of the latter. Wonderful texture and bark, but for somebody like me who believes that the beauty of burnt ends is in its inconsistency and combination of tough, smoked out bits and tender, juicy parts, it was not ideal.

The beef was just beautiful. Unbelievably moist, fatty (but not grisly) and smokey, these were probably the best sliced beef that I had at a BBQ joint.

Then here’s the sides. Beans, slaw, potatoes, and four carefully buttered pieces of bread.

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The sides tell you a lot abou the place. There’s really no half-assed attempts at the Stack. BBQ beans were similar to the meats: rich and intensely smokey. Slaw and fries didn’t really stand out, but in a good way. They were just good standard sides that supported the BBQ without overt presence. The toast was symbolic of the Stack itself. The bread is the product that are often the saddest elements of BBQ meals, with stale bits of commercial white bread that are salvaged only by being doused by meat juices and sauce. The Stack is so thorough that the bread was eatable by itself, toasted to perfection and with a healthy slab of butter.

If you haven’t noticed yet, this place has become my favorite BBQ joint. I have always scoffed at intense loyalty to specific establishments, but I might have to start rethinking my past actions.

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RJ’s Bob-be-cue

A week of having two young Japanese college kids crashing at my small 1 bedroom house has left me exhausted. I could not believe how much they ate. Basically, I spent all day preparing lunch, playing video games with them, preparing dinner, and then providing them with beer while we played more video games. After the week, I was left alone with a tired liver, a devastated stomach and an addiction for an old snowboard game. I recovered a couple days ago, so I decided to go to one of the few famous BBQ joints that I haven’t explored yet, which was RJ’s Bob-be-cue.

The reviews by serious BBQ bloggers that I checked were all somewhat favorable without being extremely enthusiastic, so I didn’t have high hopes for the place. I went there around 11:00am on a weekday, and while I was there, I only saw one regular who kept talking to whom I presume was Bob, and an old guy who came in who was enraged by the treatment he received at the place yesterday.

Within my half hour there, I gathered that the guy complained about the brightness of the lighting (since I could only get a decent photo by setting the camera at 1/4 shutter speed with 3.8 aperture with 3200 ISO, this was an exaggeration) which the waitress responded to by giving him a choice of seating. He refused, asked the waitress to dim the lights, or possibly turn off them altogether. When she expressed difficulties in doing so, he left. By the way, while he was talking about this, he ordered a glass of iced tea, which he told the staff to cancel at the last minute. This made wonderful entertainment while I dined.

I ordered a jumbo beef brisket sandwich with fries, 7.95.

RJ's Bob-b-que: Beef brisket sandwich with fries

The lean and very thin sliced beef was chewy and was just a bit dry, resembling the dish I got from Smokin’ Guns BBQ. However, the sweetness of the fat came through just enough to keep things enjoyable. The rub didn’t impart a strong flavor on the meat, which actually worked in its favor, since you were able to focus on the flavor of the meat and smoke. The flavor of the meat was somewhat delicate, which creates a stark contrast against joints such as Arthur Bryants, which is all about strong, assertive flavors. The sauce was a wonderful accompaniment to this meat. The rather thin and untraditional sauce added a bit of fruitiness and sweetness to the meat without overwhelming it. While the meat and sauce were not what you would expect from a KC BBQ joint, the flavors were very well balanced and a joy to consume.

The only thing I had trouble with was the bun. The large bun for the Jumbo sandwich may have been a tad too substantial for the delicately sliced and flavored meat.

Anyway, solid bbq, well-thought flavorings, and great entertainment.

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Pain and Smokin’ Guns BBQ

In making some new york style pizza sauce, I broke one of the most rudimentary culinary rules and grabbed my junk immediately after crushing whole red peppers in my hand.

I feel the heat.

Last week I visited Smokin’ Guns BBQ as a part of my quest to eat as much BBQ in KC as possible. The place seems to get pretty mixed reviews. I got the brisket with fries (I ordered sweet potato, but it came with regular fries, and I was too lazy to argue) and BBQ beans. Briskets were good and smoky, but were rather dry and flaky. Slices were thin, so while it was good as a vehicle for sauce that you can push large amounts in your mouth, it was not up to par with the great BBQ places in KC.

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However, the side dishes were all really consistent. Fries were uniformly cooked and crisp, BBQ beans were well balanced in their flavor, and I imagine it would be easy to go through a whole bowl of it. A friend of mine who is on a quest to find the coleslaw of his dreams (he somehow developed an idea of what a coleslaw should taste like, which no coleslaw ever have lived up to) said that while it did not taste “like a coleslaw should,” he kept remembering about it through the week. Great thing was single meat with two sides were 7.25, which is quite cheap for KC BBQ.

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KC BBQ #1: Woodyard BBQ

For a man who grew up in a metropolitan area in Japan, I have an intense affection for the midwest, and disdain for those who do not appreciate it. The fact that I live close to one of the cities known for their excellent smoked meats continuously support my views. I was drawn to smoked products from an early age. As a teenager, I often bought smoked eggs from the convenience store as a snack, to my friends’ disgust. Also, the product name of the smoke eggs (kuntama) was very similar to the Japanese term for testicles (kintama) which lead to stimulating conversations such as “Would you like to put my kuntama in your mouth?” which was an added bonus.

Anyway, since I realized that my time in Kansas is running out, I decided to visit as many BBQ establishments as possible. This was also motivated by the fact that a lot of the institutions are not discussed too much on the internet, so I wanted to contribute by throwing in my two cents on some of the places. I have to thank No Bull BBQ and KC BBQ Reviews blog for their extended coverage of BBQ joints, which made choosing places to visit much easier.

So I visited Woodyard about half an year ago, and the constant intake of Hamm’s have somewhat weakened my abilities in remembering, so I would not say that this review is too reliable.

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Woodyard is wonderful for its ambiance, which gives you a sense of authenticity or sincerity. Anyway, the place is not a flashy modern joint. Its a charming establishment, but I would have to say being there in the summer heat amidst the flies was a challenging experience.

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The pulled pork was either unmemorable or just swept away by cheap beer. It had somewhat of a wet mop consistency, and although the smoke flavor was there, it was not too prominent. A little more bark thrown in the mix would have improved things considerably. However, it is partly my fault for ordering pulled pork, when pulled pork is usually the weakest item in any BBQ joint. Texture becomes pretty much indiscernible when the pork is pulled to thin strands.

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And then there’s the burnt ends chili. Burnt bits of meat in a lukewarm chili sauce does not sound too appetizing, but the novelty of the combination of deeply caramelized meat and tangy chili kept me going. The quality of the dish itself is not fascinating, but I find myself thinking about it from time to time, wishing I could have a couple spoonfuls of that burnt end chili.

Anyway, I should probably go back to the place. Next time, I’ll be sure to order some burnt end chili with something other than pulled pork.

One last thing about BBQ. At the end of the day, its all smoked meat, so even in a mid-level joint, there’s no way you feel cheated.

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