Posted February 7, 2022 – Narrated by Carmen
“If there is a God, no part of the Bible or Christian doctrine will convince me of his existence half as much as the flavor of a barbecued pork rib.”
Barbeque is technology that does not border on religion: it is religion.
That’s not far-fetched. The first barbeque in biblical history ignited a blood war between brothers.
To escalate a situation, show up with a dead animal, a grill, and fire starter. Differing opinions about the orthodoxy of all three items and arguments about how to employ them will commence shortly.
Barbeque also brings out the best in people.
See, there’s that religion thing again. If, by the time the carcass hits the grill, feelings are not irreparably damaged or knives drawn, then all anxiety will suddenly and mysteriously subside as if lithium has been released into the atmosphere.
Music, beer and horseshoes will emerge from car trunks, and the kids who are not teething will cease to cry.
The fragrance of sizzling fat even drowns out Uncle Bubba’s annual tirade about “too much spice” in the sauce. His relentless tone diminishing like the distant yapping of a chihuahua in a passing vehicle.
The alchemy of barbeque extends into our pre-historic past.
The art begins with animal husbandry – a relationship of trust between the loving hand who attends the beast, often sleeping by her side in a field of herbs, grasses, grains and fruits until the fattening time has ended. Then, the hand gently leads the animal to the place of slaughter, where the carcass is parceled out. Ultimately the meat will be seasoned and consumed in the same herbs, grasses, grains and fruits the beast once luxuriated in.
Barbeque is a sad, comforting, joyful and complex religion. The best barbeque can bring you to tears.
This sacramental technology mines our DNA to the bare-bones. We are, each and every one, beasts who submit every portion of ourselves, our bodies – blood, bone and sinew – to be consumed by something or someone, whether we desire it or not.
“Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.”
With barbeque, the truth is laid bare in the presentation, the burning altar of sacrifice, the “sweet fragrance” rising to the heavens. With guilt and gratitude we partake, and the strength of individual purpose and communal love rises from the ashes. Then we join hands and dance around the truth.
The most fascinating Bible stories begin or end with someone slaughtering a calf, ram, bull or lamb and then firing up the grill.
It’s a gritty job, but that’s not why barbeque became a guy thing.
Animals are wealth. Smoke signals are networking, posturing. Food distribution is politics. What upwardly mobile guy doesn’t want a piece of that heavenly frontage, right?
So outsiders and women took their barbeque joints out into the woods on the fringes of society working their intimate and clandestine grills on the lowdown, and everybody wanted a piece of that.
Jim and I were raised on The Religion of Pork. Our people hail from the Deep South and pork was an affordable beast for poor families to fatten.
Granddaddy, a self-described Alabama “dirt farmer” (in contrast to “windshield farmers” – depression-era landlords who monitored their farms from behind the steering wheels of Cadillacs) named his annual Spring pigs Deborah and Carmen after his navy-brat granddaughters living abroad in Europe. “Carmen was a fine pig,” he’d write, “her butt got our butts through winter.”
I blushed proud.
Today, because most meat is not so lovingly raised, my hunger is mostly satisfied with roots, grains, greens and beans and an occasional serving of homemade pork carnitas, roasted duck or grilled fish.
Only a seriously decent barbeque can lure me over to the dark meat side.
Kansas City, here we come!
With only a week to pick the bones off the Holy City of Barbeque, we consulted with Elizabeth Lumpkin, founder of Airstream Addicts and a high priestess of the pit.
Elizabeth and her husband/partner Hank (who passed away in 2003 at thirty-eight years old) were the owner/proprietors of Boss Hawg’s Barbeque in Toledo, Kansas.
In 2000, Hank and Elizabeth won 3rd place in ribs at The Jack, Jack Daniel’s World Brisket Championship, and 2nd place in the open category with Elizabeth’s salmon – a recipe that did me proud at a Coronado 4th of July event and initiated a modest following of faithful acolytes.
Elizabeth won the 2001 “Jack’s” and judged the competition in ’04, making an appearance on The Food Network.
Then, one day, Elizabeth met Jack – not that Jack, but Jack the M.D. For over six years they made their home in an Airstream while traveling the U.S. and Mexico.
We were honored to have Elizabeth guide our slavering jaws through six of her consecrated Kansas City barbeque joints while she and Jack settled into their new home in Tucson.
On a Tuesday in late September, we left Jester Park, Iowa and drove 181 miles to Camp Branch County Park in Smithville, Missouri, just a few miles from downtown Kansas City.
This beautiful campground served as the perfect home base to walk off a heavy lunch. We usually skip lunch, but to avoid night-driving and rush hour traffic, we altered our routine for this once-in-a-lifetime foodie escapade.
We always ordered pork ribs and brisket. Many joints offer chicken, but Pico is allergic to chicken so we abstain in solidarity. This Pico-friendly expedition involved outdoor dining, so our KCMO BBQ Tour became a week-long picnic. If there were no outdoor tables, we ordered to-go and dined in a dog-friendly brewery. The servings were so generous we ordered one meal with extra sides and paired with a local brew.
Day One: Jack Stack Barbecue
The first impression won us over! Here we had our best overall experience for pork ribs, brisket, sauce and sides.
We paired this fine meal with Space Camper IPA by Boulevard Brewing Company and a margarita.
Day Two: Joe’s KC Bar-B-Que
Easily the best tasting pork ribs we sampled.
Tinkerbell must have hand-fed these hogs with vine-ripe grapes, apples and fairy dust.
The sauce was good, but the flavor of the ribs required no enhancement.
We just used the sauce for decoration.
Day Three: Q39
Tender, juicy, fall-off-the-bone … These were the most tender pork ribs yet!
Jim washed down his barbeque with the Q39 IPA.
and we celebrated the third day of our Praise The Lard week with an apple crisp benediction a la mode.
Day Four: Gates & Sons BAR•B•Q
Best sauce In The World.
You could drink the stuff by the pint.
We paired Gates pork ribs with Strange Days Brewery.
Day Five: Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque
The temperature was already spittin’ hot, but on this day the wind came up.
We call them Santa Anas on the West coast. I don’t know what they call hot, dry, gale force winds in Missouri but I know what I’d like to call them. Fortunately, it’s never too hot to eat in Kansas City.
We tasted the brisket, pulled pork, burnt ends and the potato casserole. With no outdoor dining, we took our meal to Big Rip Brewery.
This was easily The Best Brisket, so tender and moist. The sauce was excellent but could not outdo Gates Hot. The Potato Cassarole, similar to funeral potatoes, is a comfort dish in itself.
Big Rips IPA paired perfectly. The orangey notes with just the right bitterness to compliment the sauce.
Day Six: Scott’s Kitchen and Catering at Hangar 29
We goofed. We had planned to go to Rosedale BAR•B•Q, but it was closed on Monday.
As an alternative, we went to Scott’s Kitchen and shared a meal of four bones, sausage and two sides.
The brisket was tender, smoky and juicy. The Spicy Sauce was impressive too – very well balanced – but still didn’t have the depth and complexity of Gates.
The cheesy potatoes were just ok,
but the gumbo was spot on …
and apple slaw was top-notch. In fact, the apple slaw was my favorite side of the week.
We dined at Cinder Block Brewery and paired with their flagship IPA – right across from the Chicken ‘N Pickle.
Whew, 6 BBQ Joints in 6 days …
On the seventh day we rested, and it was all better than good.
In Clay County Alabama, when Granddaddy was feeling particularly satisfied after a big Sunday spread, he’d push his cobbler dish aside and loosen the waist of his pants. Then, eyes twinkling with southern wit, he’d lean way back in his chair and say, “I wonder what the rich folks are eatin’ tonight?”
Amen to that.
What’s your favorite BBQ joint and why? Spread the Good Word in the comment section below!
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.