Ruminations, Reminiscenses, Ribs

Two borderline traumatic experiences last week, the chicken wings so spicy my stomach lining staged Tahrir-like protests and the stinky tofu incident, left the foundations of my food faith shaken. My post-trauma therapy involves methodically expressing my feelings about things I love to eat.

I fackin love pork ribs. There are no other realistic scenarios.  I grew up in Kansas City, where barbecue is a spiritual movement whose manna is ribs (burnt ends, maybe, but not for this post). That is saying something about the area that brought creationism to the news media and serves as homebase for the Westboro Baptist Church.

I have warm memories of my late-grandfather, Walt, taking us to Arthur Bryant’s every chance he got.  It was in his blood, as the envelope company he worked at for more than 50 years was just a stone’s throw from Brooklyn Avenue, where the mecca still stands. While my grandmother would eat baby carrots out of her purse, he helped us learn our way around a short end. Legend has it that he even tried to buy the place in the 80s.

In the last 30 years, I have eaten ribs at almost every joint in KC.  If I was doing this post right, I’d fly home and eat at six places in 48 hours, like I do once a year, and write about it.  But that will have to wait.  For now, I’m going to give you my recollections of my favorite KC ribs:

  1. Arthur Bryant’s – I know some people will disagree with this, but over time it has been my favorite.  The short end has a deep, almost black, bark and the best smoke flavor in town in my view.  I will admit that the mecca has been hit or miss for the last decade, but when it’s on, it’s on.
  2. Smokin Guns – Visited this middle-of-nowhere industrial N. KC joint for the first time recently, and I was blown away by the ribs, although everything else was average at best.
  3. Jack’s Stack – The pork rack here is good, but there is a special place in my gullet for the baby back lamb ribs, one of the real unique and delicious BBQ offerings in the country.
  4. Big T’s – I’m not sure this place would make anybody else’s list, but every December before the one Chiefs game I get to see a year, I eat Big T’s off the roof of my dad’s car in 10 degree weather in the Arrowhead Stadium parking lot.  And it’s all I can do to keep from freezing.
  5. Gates – Great ribs, which I usually enjoy either at 1am after a night out or cold on the kitchen table after walking in from the airport.
  6. Rosedale – I’m more about the chopped beef sandwich here, but I do like the ribs, and I once had them wrap two slabs in foil for me to put in my carry-on for the flight home.    Maybe it’s more about the experience than the taste, in the end.
  7. Oklahoma Joe’s – The upstart has only been in business since 1995, but it may be the best overall place in town now.  However, the ribs have never been my favorite.  I guarantee this will get my old pals riled up.
  8. Woodyard BBQ (far right) – Certainly the most uniquely flavored ribs in KC, which makes them worth a mention.  Woodyard provided the smoking wood for almost all of the BBQ joints in town before opening a place of their own.

I encourage angry reactions to any of this.

I’m going to make some surrious ribs tomorrow and Sunday, partly for therapy, partly for the Super Bowl.  I will document the experience for you.  I already bought six spare rib racks this morning, and two of them are in cajun hot seasoning with added brown sugar.  Three hours naked indirect, 2 hours foiled indirect, one hour naked and direct on a 225 degree smoker.  Should be good.


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