The first thing people tell you when you arrive in Kansas City, Missouri, is that there is more to the city than just the great barbecue they’re known for. Kansas City is a vibrant hub for fine art, world-class jazz, baseball and innovative cuisine.
The second thing they tell you is you can’t come to Kansas City and not taste the BBQ.
The locals are right on both counts. The museums and other locations are easy to find. But if, like most tourists, you have a tight schedule and limited time to drive from place to place, and you have no idea where to find the good stuff, how do you taste the best smoky meats the city has to offer? The answer is simple. Just hop on the bus. The KC Barbecue tour bus.
It’s hard to believe that before Bethanie and Karl Schemel, Kansas City locals, saw the opportunity for a business and started KC Barbecue Tours in 2013, there wasn’t any kind of dedicated barbecue tour. Tasters were on their own. Now, all you have to do is board one of the company’s air-conditioned buses and sit back and enjoy the ride while Bethanie fills you in on the colorful lore of KC barbecue, serving it up with a side of the city’s history.
Arthur Bryant’s BBQ
The stream of people going in and out during the lunchtime rush never stops. Once we’re in, I look around at the other diners. Men in dress shirts try to protect their ties as they eat and a group of women, obviously old friends, burst into loud laughter as they power down the ribs and sliced sausage. At a table in the corner, a pair of Highway Patrol officers tuck into the biggest sandwiches I’ve ever seen. I promised myself I would take it slow but I break that promise within minutes, devouring the tender ribs and sausage and hearty beans. It’s the first stop of the day and I’m already a KC Barbecue fan.
Our next stop on the tour was LC’s and this hole-in-the wall, genuine BBQ joint, shouldn’t be missed. What you see is what you get. With only a handful of tables, finding a seat at LC’s can be a challenge, but don’t let that discourage you. The line snakes around the corner as people line up for food, especially the famous “burnt ends” and fries. Men and women hustle, pulling slabs of meat out of the big smoker and diners navigate the greasy floors, all under the watchful eye of the big man at a table near the counter. That’s L.C. and he sees everything. The meat was tender, perfectly charred and delicious, and the signature fries were impossible to resist.
Just as Bethanie promised, we opened the doors and immediately a greeter called out “Hi, may I help you?” We sat down to a platter of ribs, tender smoked turkey, and slices of out-of-this-world brisket. Where Bryant’s sauce has the classic KC peppery tang, Gates sauce is sweet and savory and was a big hit on our tour. Gates is also known for their individual peach and “yammer” (sweet potato) pies and a few of us gave in to temptation and ordered one. Members of the Gates family are usually on hand. Like Bryant’s, Gates bottles their signature sauce and fans order it from all around the country.
So, it turns out the locals were right. There’s a whole lot more to Kansas City than its famous barbecue. But, oh man, that barbecue is good. If you’re in the area you ought to catch the bus and give it a taste.
KC Barbecue also offers the following private tours:
The Riblet Tour: A 2.5- hour tour of two barbecue restaurants in the Kansas City area.
The Half Slab Tour:A 3-hour tour of three barbecue restaurants in the Kansas City area.
The Full Slab Tour: A 4-hour tour of four barbecue restaurants in the Kansas City area.
For more information about KC Barbecue Tours go to kcbarbecuetours.com.