I was recently in Kansas City for the wedding of my close friends, Taly and Bradley. Taly and I grew up together in Seattle, but she now lives in Kansas City with her husband, a KC-native. Prior to our visit, we told Bradley of our big expectations in terms of the much-talked-about Kansas City barbeque. Needless to say, when we rolled into town, he was ready.
According to our conversations with various locals throughout the weekend, there is a fair amount of debate as to where the best barbeque can be found in KC, but Bradley and Taly remain steadfast in their stance that Oklahoma Joe’s is tops. The newlyweds personally escorted our group of childhood friends on the day after their wedding (talk about great hosts) and even on a Monday, there was a line wrapping through the restaurant and almost out the door.
Oklahoma Joe’s is located inside of a gas station, and aside from the restaurant, they also sell more types of barbeque sauce than I knew existed. The walls are adorned with countless rave reviews from national publications, pictures of Anthony Bourdain and other culinary celebrities dining at the restaurant, and numerous local barbeque competition awards. It’s obvious — these people aren’t messing around.
I was introduced to what are known as burnt ends, a Kansas City signature delicacy, at Taly and Bradley’s rehearsal dinner and quickly fell in love. For those of you who love to eat the charred, crispy ends of a flank steak or a brisket, meet your new favorite treat. Bradley had warned me that Oklahoma Joe’s doesn’t always have burnt ends on the menu, but ALAS there they were on the Specials Board when we walked in. It’s like they knew we were coming.
Kansas City-style barbeque is more or less what I’ve grown up knowing as just ‘barbeque.’ Unlike some of its regional rivals who don’t use sauce, Kansas City-style barbeque focuses on various types of slow-cooked meat with tomato or molasses based sauces.
Approaching the counter, I had a bit of Seinfeld Soup Nazi anxiety because these people move FAST. When you get up there, you better know what you want because there are fifty ravenous locals behind you. Three of us split the burnt ends special, along with the ribs and pulled pork combination plate, which was served with Texas toast and bread and butter pickles. We also ordered both the fries and the onion rings, as Bradley assured us they were the best sides. A few of our friends ordered one of Oklahoma Joe’s signature items, The Z-Man, which is an epic sandwich made with smoked beef brisket, melted provolone, and onion rings.
My absolute favorite dish was the burnt ends. We tried them with a couple of different sauces and they were just delish. The ribs were perfect and we cleaned our little bones dry. There wasn’t a single one of us who wasn’t covered in barbeque sauce towards the end — our faces, fingers, and even some articles of clothing were sacrificed during this hands-on meal. I have to also say, the onion rings were some of the best I’ve ever had. I hate the type of onion ring where when you bite into it, the onion pulls out of it’s battered shell. These were the opposite. The coating was flaky and crispy and clung to each sweet slice of onion so that you could stretch each one out over several bites if you wanted to. After washing everything down with a cold root beer, our barbeque adventure was complete.
Lunch at Oklahoma Joe’s was our final meal in Kansas City and it felt like a very fitting sendoff (and allowed for a very restful, food-induced nap on the plane ride home.) I might be a total amateur when it comes to the religion that is barbeque, but I do know what tastes good and Oklahoma Joe’s was awesome. Should you be passing through Kansas City, it’s a definite must-stop. Maybe you, too, will get lucky and they’ll be serving burnt ends.
Oklahoma Joe’s, 3002 West 47th Avenue, Kansas City, Kansas, (913) 722-3366, http://oklahomajoesbbq.com, Open Monday – Saturday for Lunch and Dinner, Closed Sundays