Best BBQ in Kansas City: The Top 12

Last updated: October 23rd, 2023 | Originally published: September 3, 2023
Best BBQ in Kansas City

This is an unpaid review of the 12 best BBQ restaurants in Kansas City.

Kansas City is known for BBQ as much as any other US city — which is why we made it our mission to eat all of it. During a three-month work contract in Topeka, Kansas we visited a dozen highly-rated Kansas City BBQ restaurants. I reckon we spent the better part of $900 on KC BBQ when all’s said and done.

As you can imagine, it was a glorious, life-changing event.

The BBQ in Kansas City prevails over anywhere else we’ve traveled. That list would include Saint Louis, Memphis, Charleston S.C., and San Antonio. For those of you rolling up your sleeves in Austin, Texas — my apologies — your BBQ is every bit as good. No offense, my fellow Texans.

Best BBQ in Kansas City

We read ten different Kansas City BBQ articles from various internet publications to get an idea of the best places around town. Many restaurants showed on multiple lists; some showed on every list. It didn’t take long to compile a list of 12 well-respected BBQ restaurants in Kansas City.

Funny thing is, very few publications got it right. Therefore, it is with apparent arrogance that we present the ACTUAL list of who has the best BBQ in Kansas City. The list has been broken into tiers because not all KC BBQ is created equal. We would advise anyone who loves barbecue and finds themselves in Kansas City to indulge the top two tiers (repeatedly) before visiting the others.

This is our honest report. We hope you enjoy.

Best BBQ in Kansas City
Chef J — Best BBQ in Kansas City

A Brief History of BBQ in Kansas City

In 1908, Henry Perry began selling smoked meats in Kansas City. He is known as KC’s father of BBQ.

In 1940, one of Perry’s cooks, Charlie Bryant, took over the restaurant upon Henry’s passing. Six years later, in 1946, Charlie’s brother, Arthur Bryant, assumed control and renamed the restaurant Arthur Bryant’s. Also in 1946, another one of Perry’s cooks, Arthur Pinkard, joined with George Gates to form Gates and Sons BBQ.

Gates and Arthur Bryant’s are legendary establishments, considered the original Kansas City barbecue restaurants. Jack Stack BBQ and BB’s Lawnside BBQ came along shortly after in the 1950’s.

But not all BBQ in Kansas City is historic. Some of the most popular joints arrived in the past thirty years.

Best BBQ in Kansas City
Joe’s — Best BBQ in Kansas City

Tier One: World Class Bar-B-Que

If you’re not on a BBQ march of your own, and require only one or two barbecue experiences, these three restaurants have the very best BBQ in Kansas City. And not just Kansas City, but the entire USA. There’s no need to bother with any other KC BBQ restaurants until you’ve dined here (except for those in tier two).


KC BBQ Restaurants
Not our photo — Best BBQ in Kansas City

It is this writer’s opinion that the best tasting BBQ in Kansas City belongs to Q39 Barbecue. They have close competition from a handful of others, no doubt. However, every single thing they serve (that we have tasted), is superlative. Best ribs and best burnt-ends for openers. The brisket was competitive with the best of them. The sides were delicious. Even though our dining experience felt rushed, the prices were high, and the ambience was just ok, we cannot deny the magnitude of their meats.

Joe’s BBQ — Best BBQ in Kansas City

KC BBQ Restaurants
Not our photo

If anyone could claim better barbecue than Q39 it would be Joe’s Kansas City BBQ. We actually prefer Joe’s for the non-food components. The ribs were incredible — I’m thinking about them now. The brisket, burnt-ends and sides were all top drawer. Joe’s also has the best BBQ sauce in Kansas City — which is important — and we have 15 little cups of it in our RV.

Be warned: Joe’s Kansas City BBQ has lines that wrap around the restaurant and out the door. It is absolutely, without a doubt, the most popular BBQ restaurant in town.

Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ

KC BBQ Restaurants
Not our photo

Jack Stack has the best dining experience among the KC BBQ restaurants. First off, the interior is beautiful. Secondly, you’ll have an actual server who takes your order — this is not typical of BBQ in Kansas City. Thirdly, the pricing was much lower than expected. Most importantly, all of the the food is delectable. Jack Stack has an exceptional selection of side dishes, too — lots of vegetables not typically served with BBQ. From our dialogue with locals, everyone loves Jack Stack.

Tier Two: Strongly Recommended

This tier of restaurants serve incredible Kansas City BBQ and zero disrespect is intended by not including them in the top group. There is a small, but perceptible difference in the food or dining experience which is why we’ve created a distinction. Regardless, the flavors and textures are amazing here. These four restaurants will satisfy any afficinado in search of the Best BBQ in Kansas City.

Chef J BBQ

Best BBQ in Kansas City
Best BBQ in Kansas City

We wanted to put Chef J BBQ in the first tier and perhaps that is where it belongs. This was arguably the best brisket we had in Kansas City. The sides were second-to-none (cheesy corn, blue potato salad, Mac-n-cheese, and best pickles in town). The sausage and pulled pork were very good. Location and ambience were on-point as well. Our only complaint is they were sold out of ribs and burnt ends, which are two of our primary criteria.

If you’re in the Kansas City area, why not check out Topeka? There’s an assortment of fun and interesting things to do there. Here’s our Complete Guide to Topeka!

Slaps BBQ — Best BBQ in Kansas City

Best BBQ in Kansas City
Everybody loves Slap’s BBQ

Slaps hasn’t been around as long as some of the others (ten years), but they have developed a crowd pleasing reputation nonetheless. The ribs were fantastic. The brisket, sauces, and sides were all above average. The sausage was probably the best we had anywhere. Every single item was delicious. It is impressive that Slap’s BBQ in Kansas City has earned universal appeal in such a short amount of time and it is easy to see why.

BB’s Lawnside Barbecue

Best BBQ in Kansas City
BB King’s Combo — — Best BBQ in Kansas City

BB’s Lawnside Barbecue has a bluesy, roadhouse ambience that is reminiscent of Memphis. But this is not Memphis BBQ; this is some of the best Kansas City BBQ you’re going to find. The brisket, burnt-ends, and ribs were delightful. The pit beans were the best we had anywhere in town. And somebody stop me from gushing about the battered fries. Good grief. For about $40 I was staring down a tray full of most everything you could want out of BBQ in Kansas City… and it was all on point.

Harp Barbecue — Best BBQ in Kansas City

KC BBQ Restaurants
Harp BBQ — Brisket, Burnt Ends, Sausage

We read in one publication that Harp Barbecue was the best BBQ in Kansas City, which was a generous assessment but not too far off. Our meal consisted of brisket, burnt ends, sausage, and a couple of sides; unfortunately ribs were only available on the weekend. Everything was very good — the sausage and sauce stood out — but the ambience was lacking. We debated whether Harp belonged in Tier Two or Tier Three.

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Tier Three: If You Love BBQ

BBQ is delicious and these five restaurants serve some very good items. There are multiple reasons why a restaurant lands in tier three: Flavor, Pricing, Location, Ambience, to name a few. While we would visit any of these establishments for ease of proximity, we wouldn’t drive out of our way.

Buck Tui BBQ

KC BBQ Restaurants
Worst Value, but great taste.

Buck Tui serves the most interesting plate of BBQ in Kansas City. Imagine all your favorite Thai food dishes infused into your favorite barbecue dishes. Think burnt-end red curry and ribs served over rice with Tiger Cry sauce. Some of the flavors were quite delicious! Problem is, Buck Tui’s food was overpriced and the ambience was strip-mall trendy. The ring of “burnt-end red curry” suckered us into paying $30 (and it wasn’t that good). We left Buck Tui BBQ feeling gouged.

Danny Edwards Boulevard BBQ

Best BBQ in Kansas City

Danny Edwards BLVD Barbecue is near West Bottoms in Kansas, an industrial part of the city. For $20 we enjoyed a heaving plate of the typical fare: Ribs, Brisket, Sausage, even some chicken. The meats were good but nothing stood out (except maybe the sausage). The sides were ordinary, but good. All in all, Danny’s BLVD Barbecue was a terrific value. Nice people, too.

Arthur Bryant’s

Best BBQ in Kansas City
Those are not burnt ends, Mr. Bryant.

This is the granddaddy of KC BBQ; the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue. They have what every restaurant dreams about: A renowned reputation, celebrity clientele (including Presidents Carter and Obama), and a long line of customers. So why is this legendary BBQ joint in tier three?

In a word… Overrated. Arthur Bryant’s served us pretty good ribs, peculiar sauces, decent french fries, and some of the worst burnt-ends we’ve had. The word of mouth is less sterling than the reviews.

What will you do after you eat the best Kansas City BBQ? Here’s a link to our article, The 20 Best Things to Do Near Kansas City.

Woodyard BBQ

Best BBQ in Kansas City

Woodyard Barbecue gets a fair amount of press for what it is: A no-frills smoker of meats that fills bellies and sells firewood. The flavors and textures of the ribs and burnt ends were good, not great. The cheesy corn was better than average. There was one sauce and it was tasty. The ambience was “don’t-give-a-damn rustic”. There is potential here for something better.

*Bonus Points for the fenced-in dog run with picnic tables.

Lonnie Q’s BBQ in Topeka, Kansas

KC BBQ Restaurants
Lonnie Q’s Cup of Heaven

We’re sneaking this one in before we wrap it up. If you happen to be driving through Topeka, Kansas and you’re still hankering for some of the best BBQ in Kansas City, Lonnie Q’s BBQ is a fantastic choice. Lonnie is open for lunch daily from 11:00-13:00, and open on Friday evenings 17:00-18:30. He typically has a line waiting before he opens and sells out in a little over an hour. Order the cup of heaven ($10) and cheesy potatoes ($3) and thank us in the comments.

And One to Skip:

Everything can’t be amazing all the time. Where’s the fun in that? Sometimes we walk away from a meal shaking our heads in disappointment.

And if we’re being perfectly honest, we have nothing good to say about this next restaurant.

Gates BBQ

KC BBQ Restaurants
Not the Best BBQ in Kansas City

If you like mediocre KC BBQ served by irritable employees in a smoke-filled, fast-food style chain restaurant, we’ve got just the place for you. Gates has the reputation of being an original KC barbecue establishment. They’re also frequently mentioned by publications that rate the best BBQ in Kansas City. But if you ask the fine people of Kansas and Missouri what they think… nobody recommends it.

No points awarded for historical purposes.

Best BBQ in Kansas City Awards

Best BBQ in Kansas City
$40 spread at Jack Stack

Burnt Ends: Q39, Jack Stack

Brisket: Q39, Chef J

Ribs: Q39, Joe’s, Slap’s

Sides: Joe’s, Chef J, BB’s Lawnside, Jack Stack

BBQ Sauce: Joe’s

Best Value: Jack Stack, Danny Edwards, BB’s Lawnside

Worst Value: Buck Tui

Atmosphere: Jack Stack

Our Top 5 Favorites (in order): Joe’s, Jack Stack, Chef J, BB’s Lawnside, Slap’s

An Honest Conclusion for Best BBQ in Kansas City

Best BBQ in Kansas City
Slap’s BBQ

I’ll tell you what: This family won’t be eating BBQ anytime soon. That’s what happens when you eat KC Barbecue eighteen times in thirteen weeks.

I donated blood the other day. It tested A-B-B-Q +.

But that’s the kind of people we are — Dedicated. And Satiated.

Please come to Kansas City and indulge all your BBQ fantasies. The reputation is deserved. And when you’re here, prioritize the restaurants in the first two tiers. Cause honestly, this article could be titled, The 7 Best BBQ Restaurants in Kansas City.

Now that you know where to eat, be sure to check out all the Things to Do in Kansas City!

And when you travel across the state to Saint Louis, check out all the Things to do in Saint Louis (including their best BBQ)!

Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages. In the meantime, God bless and travel happy!

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