Best Spots Around Kansas City For BBQ

With over 100 barbecue restaurants to choose from, a visit to Kansas City, Missouri, is a meat-lover's dream come true. Barbecue's roots in the city can be traced all the way back to Henry Perry, who began selling barbecue there in the early 1900s and created the local style, cooking over oak and hickory wood. Now, though, barbecue is a diverse cuisine in Kansas City, and establishments are in hot competition to be named the best.

From the joint with the crispiest burnt ends to the restaurant with the tastiest sauces, the Z-Man sandwich vs. the 3 B sandwich, it's hard to choose the best place to visit in what is one of the U.S.'s barbecue capitals. We've picked five spots that will satisfy any foodie's cravings for smoky, succulent meat. So get your napkins and elasticated pants at the ready, and head to Kansas City for some mouth-wateringly good BBQ.

Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que

We have to start with what might be the most famous barbecue restaurant in Kansas City: Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que. The original gas station location, which opened in 1996, is the most well-known, though there are now two more locales in the city. Joe's has won tons of awards over the years, but the restaurant is not just critically acclaimed; it's locally beloved too, and made it onto the Kansas City Star's list of the best BBQ joints, as voted for by Kansas City residents (and got a shout out by none other than Anthony Bourdain, back when the spot was called Oklahoma Joe's).

It's here that you can find the famous Z-Man sandwich, with its slow-smoked beef brisket and provolone cheese, and the Ribs & Burnt End Dinner, which one Redditor in the forum r/kansascity applauded as being "freaking amazing." Other posters in the same forum praised the fries, pulled pork and onion rings, and potato salad ... basically, everything on the menu came highly recommended, so you can't go wrong here.

Slap's BBQ

When Slap's BBQ opened in 2014, they ran out of meat in just a few hours. And though they have increased their capacity a ton since then, they still sell out every day so they can start afresh the day after. They serve all the classics you expect from a barbecue joint, including brisket, sandwiches, and ribs. On top of their regular menu, Slap's has daily specials from Tuesday through Thursday, with their Burnt End Street Tacos on Tuesday being the most popular.

In the Reddit r/kansascity forum, posters love Slap's spicy sauce and smoked turkey and rave about the baked potato casserole. If you visit Slap's, you'll be sitting outdoors year-round, though the heaters in the winter mean it's still a pleasant experience. To make sure they stay on the cutting edge of BBQ, Slap's competes between 25 and 35 times per year on the Kansas City Barbecue Society circuit.

Arthur Bryant's Barbecue

When a barbecue joint can attract U.S. presidents like Harry Truman and Barack Obama and Hollywood stars like Steven Spielberg, you know it's going to be good. Arthur Bryant's Barbecue has been serving up tender and delicious meats since the early 1900s, with the current location having opened in 1949. It's a staple on the city's barbecue scene. The decor inside will transport you back to earlier days as it's changed little since it was opened.

The recommendation from locals is to get down there early and grab a 3 B sandwich. The sandwich serves up authentic burnt ends, which Arthur Bryant's first made famous in the city. If the 3 B isn't available, try the lean brisket sandwich, another top pick. The restaurant's original sauce is polarizing, but many true devotees love the vinegary flavor, preferring it over sweeter sauces at other BBQ restaurants.

Harp Barbecue

A relative newcomer to the barbecue scene in Kansas City, Harp Barbecue has made a splash in the best possible way. Harp only opened in 2019, and the operation started with a wood-fired pit out of the back of Crane Brewery in Raytown. Recently, Harp opened its own restaurant just minutes away from the original location and the incredible reviews of its delectable food have kept on coming.

Posters in the r/kansascity forum on Reddit love the brisket, with user Philo_T_Farnsworth writing that it's the best they've ever had. Tyler Harp, the owner, traveled all over the U.S. to bring an amalgam of BBQ styles back to Missouri and has also been innovative on the barbecue scene in other ways, having started a podcast and a local barbecue festival. Harp's Instagram showcases the delightful-looking dishes and is a great place to learn about any upcoming events they have.

Gates Bar-B-Q

Our final pick is one that has been around since 1946. Gates Bar-B-Q has moved locations several times in its long history, and now has five restaurants around the Kansas City area. Whichever one you choose to visit, prepare to get shouted at when you walk in the door. "Hi, may I help you?" is the standard greeting, so you'd better be ready to order quickly. The history and the atmosphere are a big part of the fun of eating at Gates.

Prepare for the experience by browsing the online menu before you go in. The Burnt Ends sandwich is a favorite, as is the brisket. If you want to try something a bit different, get the mutton, or if you're just looking for a lot of meat, go for the Center-Cut ribs. Those of you who want to take a little bit of Gates home with you should pick up one of the sauces or seasonings, too.