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Dispatches from Kansas City: “It’s a sea of tents and smoke”

Jul 6, 2012, 10:17 PM EDT

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HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular stories from this year’s MLB All-Star Game festivities in Kansas City, Missouri. Check out Part One here.

“What’s the best barbecue joint in KC?” I asked my Aunt Mardi, foolishly, after getting in last night. “Our front porch when your uncle is home,” she replied in a tone that was matter-of-fact but deservedly so.

My Uncle Chuck can wow you with a simple grilled chicken thigh, prepared on a classic black Weber. Or knock your teeth out with a pork butt, smoked over low heat for nearly a full day in a cast-iron tank.

There are different kinds of people in every town — some who don’t necessarily involve themselves in local culture — but it seems like a good majority of the folks I’ve encountered in my 15-or-so visits to Kansas City have possessed a well-above-average knowledge base in the art of cooking meat. Having good ingredients is crucial — and the animals are indeed raised well around here — but it’s the technique that makes BBQ sing.

And that technique isn’t something that can be learned; you have to grow up doing it. In KC, it’s a hobby.


Uncle Chuck is pulling lobsters along the tip of Massachusetts this summer, fulfilling a lifelong dream while waiting out a tough economy for sales people. He, along with my cousin Joe and Uncle Rick, hauled in 500 lbs. on Wednesday, a high-mark since they started dropping traps in May. I’m visiting them later this month.


With no front-porch feast on the docket at the Silva house due to an absent pitmaster, I headed out on my own this afternoon. I wanted to hit up Oklahoma Joe’s — a favorite spot among the baseball beat writers I follow on Twitter — before the arrival of the rest of the Major League Baseball media horde later this weekend. Those lines are long enough on days when it’s just people from the neighborhood.


“Okie Joe’s” has three locations, all on the Kansas side of town. I went to the one on 47th and Mission. It’s built into a gas station and it can be hard to find a good parking spot, but no one seems to notice or care.

Perhaps that’s because there’s a company-owned liquor store right next door. Convenience, after all, is king.


I ordered a “Z-Man Sandwich, a side of fries and a side of beans,” while trying my best to sound and look like a frequent visitor. The Z-Man is a pile of sliced beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese and two hulking, flaky onion rings tucked into the center of a buttered kaiser roll. It’s the kind of concoction you’d slap together after a long night of drinking in college. Yet with meat that consistently medals in international barbecue competitions, including the American Royal which is held every October in an area of town called the West Bottoms. “It’s a sea of tents and smoke,” my cousin Jake says. He works on a team called Junkyard Barbecue, founded over 25 years ago by the Davis family — regional BBQ royalty.

The “Okie Joe’s” beans hit sweet and spicy notes simultaneously. They have the texture of chili and a finish like candy. The fries were as good as fries get, crispy but mushy. I washed it all down with a pink lemonade.


Tonight, we drink. Jake has outlined a list of his favorite dive bars in the city — places where we might be laughed at for squeezing lemon slices into our glasses of Boulevard Wheat. Of course, we’ll do it anyway.

  1. micker716 - Jul 6, 2012 at 10:33 PM

    Good stuff, Drew. Wish you would stretch this into a longer article. I’ve spent most of my life on each coast, but served in the Army, based at Ft. Riley, KS. Got to KC on a few occasions, just enough to realize that BBQ wasn’t a burger on the grill, it was an advanced cooking technique, way beyond my abilities. BBQ and food, Jazz and music, that’s truly American. Oh yeah, Baseball, too.

    • Drew Silva - Jul 6, 2012 at 10:36 PM

      Thanks, man. There will be more.

  2. hojo20 - Jul 6, 2012 at 11:03 PM

    My mouth is watering looking at that creation. Nice work. Keep the posts coming.

  3. eshine76 - Jul 6, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    Never considered a trip to KC before but am ready to buy a ticket and fly out tomorrow. Well done.

  4. iReport - Jul 6, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    Try The Well in the Waldo district. Great bar.

  5. cur68 - Jul 7, 2012 at 1:04 AM

    Anthony Bourdain spent while there. I never got a chance to spend any time in the places he recommended but you should…if only just to see if that chef form New York knows anything.

  6. Charles Gates - Jul 7, 2012 at 7:01 AM

    I traveled to KC for business about a year ago. I ate BBQ three meals a day. For breakfast I ate last night’s leftovers/extra order, lunch was a sandwich and dinner was a platter of awesome. On the whole, I think I liked the ‘que from Dallas more (Hard 8 BBQ specifically), but KC burnt ends should make it to the top of anyone’s list.

    On the other hand, I thought Boulevard was okay. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t wowed. However, if you can find a bottle of Terra Incognita — the collaboration between Boulevard and Sierra Nevada — you HAVE to buy it.

  7. normswifevera - Jul 7, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    Kansas City is just a neat place. It’s got jazz history and sports history and mob history and all kinds of stuff. Ages ago, the KC nightlife was the epitome of cool. The musicians and whatnot, they didn’t have to try to be cool. They just were.

    That’s KC. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t have to try being cool. It just is.

    • ozinsd - Jul 7, 2012 at 9:42 PM

      I wish KC would embrace it’s Jazz and Mob history as much as it embraces it’s BBQ. I understand, though, that in today’s politically correct climate concerning
      alcohol, smoking and “ladies of the night” that we’ll never be able to go back to
      the days of the free pouring, smoke filled speakeasy.

      To those planning to visit KC in the near future: I’ve eaten BBQ in all parts of the US. Oklahoma Joe’s (gas station location only) puts everyone else to shame.

  8. thegonz13 - Jul 7, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    Funny how some people try to paint Kansas City as a boring, nowhere town. Yet, through insight and emotion, you make all these naysayers into bad liars.

    I enjoy every single word you write and always look foreward to more

    • - Jul 9, 2012 at 12:51 PM

      Right, while I don’t live there anymore. If you think Kansas City is boring you must be bored in just about every city

  9. charlutes - Jul 7, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    What in gods name is this article?

    • Utley's Hair - Jul 7, 2012 at 4:30 PM

      It’s a combination of words and punctuation strung together to tell a story about a man’s experiences in the city in which the MLB All-Star Game will be played. Is that a good enough description for you?

  10. ksbuff - Jul 7, 2012 at 7:01 PM


    You really need to get on the KCMO side of the border for KC bbq. Try Gate’s or my favorite, Arthur Bryant’s. Go with the two meat combo and fries at the 1727 Brooklyn Ave location. Only building in the area to make it through the riots a few decades ago.

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