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Numerous American cities claim to be the barbecue capital of the country. While the designation of top barbecue city in the United States may be a hotly contested issue, the importance and prominence of this culinary specialty in Kansas City is absolute.Located at the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers, Kansas City has always been impacted by the steady stream of commercial traffic passing this Midwestern hub. It was the barge workers of the great rivers that gave Kansas City BBQ its unique flavors of hickory and the rich tradition of using a variety of meats, from pulled pork and chicken to burnt ends and brisket. Today there are hundreds of barbecue restaurants here, but when it comes to quality and continuity, few can compare to the two great rivals, Gates & Sons and Arthur Bryant's. Gates & SonsDespite its great popularity and numerous awards, a down homey feel permeates Arthur Bryant’s. With their original restaurant still located in the celebrated Jazz area, Arthur Bryant’s retains more of the history and tradition of Kansas City barbecue than Gates has managed. This simple establishment has served the purest form of working man’s food to some of the most famous celebrities and even a few presidents. As with all good barbecue, the secret is in the sauce. Arthur Bryant’s does not disappoint. I once again over estimated my ability to ingest massive amounts of meat, but I just couldn’t resist the smells emanating from the kitchen. I ordered a combo platter and almost instantly realized my mistake. This is was a lot of food. I felt like I was participating in a food eating contest of some sort. While the quantity of beef and pork on the plate was astounding, so was the taste. The concept seems so simple- slowly cooked meats topped with a secret, homemade sauce. Yet, when executed to perfection, there is nothing finer on the planet. As with most things, barbecue is a completely subjective experience. There are Gates purists, as there are Arthur Bryant’s loyalists, and fanatics of scores of other barbecue joints that call Kansas City home. No matter which you choose, there’s no doubt it will be a culinary memory to last a lifetime because, if you ask me, Kansas City is indeed the barbecue capital of the United States.
Photos: Matthew Long
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