Photo by Jason Dailey
Courtesy of 3Halves Brewing Co.
At 3Halves Brewing, you can pair session beers with a burnt ends sandwich from Jousting Pigs BBQ.
Pair burnt ends with craft beers for a delicious way to experience KC.
For as long as anyone can remember, Kansas City has been synonymous with smoked meats. In fact, the city’s reputation for great barbecue dates all the way back to the early 1900s, when chef and restaurateur Henry Perry started slow-smoking a wide variety of meat and ended up launching a distinct regional style, now characterized by a thick, sometimes sweet tomato- or molasses-based sauce.
More recently, however, KC has also become known for its craft breweries. A wave of openings began in 2010, building on the foundation established by regional powerhouse Boulevard Brewing, which has been around since the 1980s. Today, these dozens of breweries serve beer drinkers throughout the city and suburbs with classic styles and creative interpretations of IPAs, lagers, goses, and more.
The best way to experience Kansas City’s two famous food groups is to pair them on a barbecue-and-beer tour of the town. Read on for a guide to the city’s best barbecue joints and nearby breweries for washing down your burnt ends.
When in Kansas City, you’re practically compelled to make a pilgrimage to Arthur Bryant’s in the East Crossroads. The city’s first official barbecue restaurant, it started as a food cart in 1908 and morphed into a brick-and-mortar “eat shop” two years later. It’s here that KC’s famous burnt ends first became a big deal. The restaurant used to offer the charred scraps—cut from the “point” half of a smoked brisket—for free at the counter, but after local journalist Calvin Trillin mentioned them in a 1972 article for Playboy (which also declared Bryant’s the “single greatest restaurant in the world”), they became a sought-after delicacy. Plan to arrive at Bryant’s prior to 11 a.m., before the burnt ends sell out, or opt for the saucy baby back ribs.
Afterward, head a mile west to Torn Label Public House, located within Torn Label Brewing Co., where you’ll find a selection of refined Belgian-inspired beers and hoppy brews. Must-tries include the Alpha pale ale, Monk and Honey Belgian ale, House Brew coffee-wheat stout, and any of the Hang ’em High IPAs.
Other barbecue in the area: Gates Bar-B-Q
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Danny “Lil Jake” Edwards hails from Kansas City barbecue royalty. Inspired by his father, who operated a barbecue restaurant for more than 40 years, he opened his own 18-seat shop on Grand Boulevard in 1980 using his family’s recipes and the gruff slogan, “Eat it, and beat it.” In 2007, he relocated to his current space on Southwest Boulevard. When visiting, be sure to order the Big D sandwich, featuring burnt ends on rye bread with Swiss cheese and a pair of onion rings on top. Also grab a burnt ends plate or the ribs sandwich with spicy jambalaya.
Then go straight to Boulevard Brewing, which launched Kansas City’s craft brew scene when it opened in 1989. Sample an array of IPAs, sour ales, stouts, saisons, low-ABV options, and imperial powerhouses in the Beer Hall, or take your suds to the Rec Deck, where you can enjoy them alongside a game of shuffleboard or foosball.
Hawg Jaw Que and Brew uses cherry wood to smoke its meat and rib racks, imparting a lighter—and some would say sweeter—flavor than traditional hickory-smoked barbecue. Come here for the Irish Hawg, a towering sandwich composed of smoked corned beef, smoked sausage, Swiss cheese, spicy sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing on toasted marble rye. Also popular is the rib dinner, available in a half or full rack and served with your choice of a side, like beans, cheesy corn, or smoked mac-and-cheese.
When you’re done feasting, roll next door to the Big Rip Brewing, where the beers are often named for sci-fi or horror films. Some of the tastiest options include the balanced IPAs, the 237 milk stout, the Hefe the Killer hefeweizen, and even the gluten-free Satine Raspberry beer, brewed with sorghum, Belgian candy syrup, and raspberry puree.
Other barbecue in the area: Smokin’ Guns BBQ
At B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ, you can indulge in a rib tip platter or hefty slab of pork ribs while being serenaded by live blues. Owners Lindsay and Jo Shannon opened the beloved spot in 1990, replete with a barbecue pit from the 1950s, and offer Kansas City ’cue paired with Louisiana-inspired dishes like deep-fried boudin rice balls.
When you’ve had your fill, head to Kansas City Bier Co. for German-style classics, such as dunkel, helles, pils, kölsch, and hefeweizen, all made with malts and hops imported from Germany. The bierhalle and biergarten here offer a truly Bavarian cultural experience, complete with pretzels, sausages, and live polka music on select dates.
Other breweries in the area: BKS Artisan Ales
Visit Jack Stack BBQ in Martin City for burnt ends, pork spareribs, and the Big Pig, a mountain of a sandwich that comes with pulled pork, smoked ham, bacon, smoked provolone, a fried onion ring, and mustard barbecue sauce. Equally delicious is the Smokin’ Russ, which unites chopped burnt ends with jalapeños, spicy sauce, cheddar, and jack cheese.
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Jack Stack has several locations, but the Martin City outpost is less than a quarter mile from the cold beer at Martin City Brewing Co. Pizza and Taproom. Favorite brews here include the Hard Way IPA, the Belgian-style Abbey Ale, and the Operation Yoga Pants gluten-free ale, as well as limited releases like the summery Double Berry sour and the Donut Stout flavored with maple and vanilla.
Other breweries in the area: Transparent Brewing
Just 16 miles north of Kansas City, Jousting Pigs BBQ is actually located inside 3Halves Brewing. It’s run by Liberty natives John and Brandi Atwell, who got their start competing together in barbecue competitions and snagged multiple awards over a five-year span, along with their friend and fellow competitor Rod Blackburn. Order the burnt-end sandwich and brisket-loaded mac-and-cheese, take it outside to the spacious patio, and pair it with one of 3Halves’ unfussy session beers, like the Stick’em Up Stout (named after Jesse James’ 1886 daylight bank robbery in the surrounding neighborhood) or the lighter Civic Duty ale.
You’ll find another barbecue-at-a-brewery situation in Lee’s Summit, 22 miles east of Kansas City. Burn Theory Fire Kitchen offers hickory-smoked barbecue (St. Louis–style ribs) and international pub fare (a Cubano sandwich with smoked pulled pork, a Mexican street food–inspired corn casserole baked directly on the smoker), while Diametric Brewing is beloved for its TD Tossin Patrick MaHazy NEIPA and Baby Mahazy hibiscus pale ale (both named for Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes) as well as its Pond Side pale ale and sour-fruited gose.
Other barbecue in the area: Jazzy B’s Diner
Place an advance order online with Harp Barbecue for Texas-style sliced brisket, whole pork butt, and party platters of assorted meats, then pick it up on Saturdays at next-door Crane Brewing. There, pitmaster Tyler Harp also hawks weekend specials (Cajun shrimp poutine, sausage stuffed with blueberries and sharp white cheddar) until they sell out.
Just 20 minutes southeast of Kansas City, right next to the Rock Island bike trail, Crane Brewing is known for its sour fruit–forward gose, Tea Weiss, and Farmhouse IPA. You should also ask about their limited releases and collaborations, which have included a coffee stout made with Missouri-roasted Oleo Coffee and the Waldo Thai-PA (a NEIPA brewed with lemongrass, lime leaf, coconut, and galangal).
A family-run operation, Zarda Bar-B-Q in Blue Springs uses only Ozark hickory to smoke the finest cuts of meat. The menu features everything from burnt ends, brisket, and ribs to turkey, ham, and smoked Italian sausage, but the Pitmaster special—complete with pulled pork, ribs, pit-charred burnt ends, beans, and fries—is the must-order meal.
Less than a three-minute drive away is East Forty Brewing, one of the better suburban craft breweries that has opened around Kansas City in recent years. Come here to savor the crisp Jackson County Common ale, refreshing Blue Springer Weisse, or Sunrise Saison, accented with ginger and lime.
>>Next: The AFAR Guide to Kansas City
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