Ah the best laid plans… as it would turn out, the BBQ crawl would begin sooner with 2 stops before even hitting KC.
The 2nd of these was our first meal stop in Kansas… in Salina as it were:
I noticed the place on the way to gas up and the radar went off. Definitely a good find… really good smoke to the meat, tasty sides, especially the sweet potato fries with their strangely sweet and cinnamony dipping sauce. Comfy place with friendly folks.
Turns out my co-pilot was both a BBQ virgin and a sweet potato fry virgin before this trip, so the Hickory Hut fries really made an impression on her. Her brisket sandwich compared favorably with her first-ever the day before in Wyoming.
My sandwich had both a spicy sausage link and chunks of beef and was totally smokey deliciousness. Especially given it's proximity to the interstate, I would say this is THE place for any Chowhound to hit when traveling I-70.
After stopping in Topeka for the night (including an amazing hang in the Ramada Inn lobby with Tommy Emmanuel, arguably the world's most amazing acoustic guitarist), it was on to Kansas City for a smoked meat parade. I had a bunch of suspects thanks to suggestions made here, and we wound up hitting 4 different spots:
R.J.'s Bob-Be-Que Shack
We went with a junior brisket sandwich and burnt ends. The meat-only plan for the day went out the window as soon as I saw "cheesy corn". My travel partner also got sweet potato fries after her revelation in Salina.
Good, solid Q, but nothing really transcendent. A good starting point on the Q tour. Service was really good.
LOVE the vibe. Service was friendly, but not as outgoing or "on top of it" as R.J.'s… part of the laid-back nature of the place. Ribs were totally killer… right up there with your most favorite, no matter where those might be from. Even better cheesy corn than R.J.'s. Would definitely return, just to try more meats and get more of that cheesy corn.
I wanted to see if it was good as I remembered, and my travel partner was a KC BBQ virgin, so this was a must. Same as it ever was, and that means still worth a visit in my book, especially for a Q fan who has never been. What's not to like about a heaping pile of smoked meat, a heaping pile of fresh fries and some singular sauces?
We stopped at Jack Stack, but driving around the complex I did not dig the huge number of staff members standing outside smoking and what I sensed to be a corporate vibe. That did not lessen as we walked towards the restaurant from our parking space, and, combined with naysayers around here we hopped back in the car and headed for LC's.
With the smoker right inside they definitely have the best aroma going on. Burnt ends were really good, when there was meat. My partner's least favorite because of the too-fatty bits. Sides were really good, especially the beans. But really pricey as it would turn out.
This was pretty much my reaction on my return visit, traveling solo a couple of weeks later on my way back to Utah.
I thought LC's had the best smoke of the all the above places, so they got another visit. I bit the bullet and bought a side of beans to go with my burnt ends just to see if they were as good as I recall. Beans are seriously top o' the list good, but seriously overpriced @ $4. Burnt ends were again nice and smokey, but again very inconsistent… some chunks were pure fat, others were sublime. I'd go back if I was in the area, but go with brisket and something fried… looks like they have a nice offering and what I saw coming out of the kitchen looked good.
Decided to take a slight detour north as they had received so many positive comments around here. I can certainly see why they have all those ribbons hanging on the wall. Very impressive. The burnt ends, while not as smokey as LC's, were very consistent. It's obvious someone took a lot of care trimming things. Each nugget was a near-perfect combination of crunch, chew and ooze. Awesome. The potato casserole side is a must have. Only let down is "corn" is just that… niblets, not a cheesy concoction like I had enjoyed at R.J.'s and Woodyard. Most definitely merits a return visit…
And it looks like that will be happening sooner than later… co-pilot is transferring out west and I will be helping out with the drive. Time will probably only allow for a couple of stops, so I'm thinking Smokin' Guns and Oklahoma Joe's should round out the round-up. Stay tuned for a brief follow-up in a few weeks.