BBQ’s Hidden Gems

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Story by Dave Eckert   |   Intro photo courtesy of Wolfepack BBQ

Recently, a good friend asked me if I would mind checking out a barbecue restaurant he was working with in Kansas City, Kansas called Hickory Log. He said it was “good ‘que run by good people.” That’s all I needed, and before long, I was eating some of the best chicken wings and rib tips I’ve ever had while chatting with the friendly and charismatic owner, Clayton Wells. 

I was happy to do my usual social media posting because Hickory Log was as advertised- “good bbq run by good people.” But my visit there started me thinking. There must be dozens of barbecue restaurants in the metro just like Hickory Log-hidden gems operated by hard-working folks laboring, if not in relative obscurity, then certainly under the KC bbq radar jammed with the likes of Joe’s Kansas City, Q39, Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, JackStack, and others. It seemed like something beyond social media posts. It felt like a really good article. Fortunately, publisher and editor-in-chief, Renee Demott, agreed. So, here they are-some great area BBQ hidden gems serving up classic Kansas City barbecue with passion, pride, and plenty of pitmaster precision.

Photo courtesy of Hickory Log

First, back to KCK, Hickory Log, and owner Clayton Wells, a man who’s done barbecue catering throughout Kansas City for more than 20 years. Just last year, Wells and his wife decided they needed their own kitchen, so they dipped their toes into the restaurant business by buying a restaurant with a 50-year history “The folks we bought it from, a Croatian couple, had it for 30 years, and it was here another 20-years beyond that, so we knew we weren’t just buying a restaurant, we were buying a part of the neighborhood,” Wells told me. 

From one side of the metro to the other, my search for the area’s best hidden barbecue joints brought me to Porky’s Blazin Bar-B-Q, located about five miles south of downtown Grain Valley. Porky’s is operated by Scott Roberts with the help of his son and daughter. About 20 years ago, Roberts caught the bbq bug and made the then-owner of Porky’s an offer to buy everything: the name, the equipment, and the recipes. Like Hickory Log, the legacy of Porky’s would live on, and its bbq offerings would get even better. “We’ve added a number of sides, and we’ve figured out ways to improve on the smoked meats,” Makayla Roberts shared. Roberts says top sellers are brisket, burnt ends and ribs. I had them both, and I can see why. They are fantastic! It’s a 45-minute drive one way to Porky’s for me. I made the drive for this article. I would gladly make it again.

Photo courtesy of Crazy Good BBQ Bar & Eats

Another 45-minute drive from the house brings me to Crazy Good BBQ Bar & Eats in Olathe. Opened by former competition bbq graduates Maggie and Bruce Lemay. “We were doing rib sales in front of liquor stores, including the one across the parking lot from us. People kept telling us this space was empty, so we finally decided to pull the trigger. That was eight years ago,” Maggie Lemay shared.

From the beginning, Crazy Good Eats has had a crazy good following, but the Lemays are always looking to expand, improve, and offer new dining and drinking experiences. Those include a top-notch bourbon and whiskey bar, added during Covid, unique Saturday specials, like the smoked salmon the week I visited, and whiskey and bourbon-themed dinners.

As for customer favorites, Lemay says those KC classics, burnt ends and brisket. And she points out, at Crazy Good BBQ it’s about the meat, not the sauce. “We don’t sauce anything, and don’t think anything needs to be sauced. We serve everything with a dry rub, and think it’s delicious just like that,” Lemay told me.

Photo courtesy of Chops BBQ & Catering

One last stop on my hidden gem trek through the metro brings me to downtown Smithville and Chops BBQ and Catering. Since opening in 2016, Chops has survived a fire, a tornado, COVID-19, and now, perhaps the toughest test of them all, a severe downturn in business. Recently, owner Dan Ullendahl made a plea on social media for customers to return, and he says they have, big time. “We had been drawing from our savings account to the point where we weren’t going to make payroll, so I felt I had no other choice. The response has been huge. We’re seeing numbers that we haven’t seen in years,” Ullendahl told me. 

There are plenty of reasons for customers to come to Chops, first and foremost some of the best bbq in The Northland, all created by Ullendahl. “I made everything. They’re all my recipes. We started in the competition bbq world, and people started saying we should cater, or we should have a restaurant. Well, here we are,” Ullendahl shared.  If I had to recommend just one item, it would be the Chops BigRib signature sandwich, a not-so-subtle jab at the McRib, and a whole lot tastier!

While I couldn’t visit them all, here are more under the radar bbq joints worth a visit.

Tupelo Joe’s at Callsign Brewing  ~  1340 Burlington Street, North Kansas City, MO.  Owner Sam Brooks currently has a food truck outside Callsign Brewing in North Kansas City, but he is also building out a restaurant space at the brewery and adding event space. Brooks sent out a sampler platter with burnt ends, brisket, smoked chicken, bbq beans, and potato salad along with a lovely charcutier platter, but my personal favorite was his tenderloin po’ boy served with beer cheese. It is FIRE!

Photo courtesy of F325

F325  ~  1825 North Buchanon Street, North Kansas City, MO.  Run by Lisa and James Huey, F325 refers to the temperature at which James smokes his meat. Coming from the competition bbq world and bucking the traditional “low and slow” method of Kansas City barbecue, it is hard, if not downright impossible, to dispute Huey’s results. His smoked meats are fantastic across the board, and his appetizers and signature dessert provided by Wally’s Pastry Shop are worth a visit on their own!

Scott’s Kitchen and Catering  ~  11920 North Ambassador Drive, Kansas City, MO.  Scott Umscheid is the Scott behind Scott’s Kitchen and Catering. Umscheid wasn’t at the restaurant the day of my visit, but his general manager, and daughter, Mackenzie, was. She shared the story of how her dad went from competition bbq, to catering, to a brick and mortar restaurant out by KCI. She also shared her dad’s burnt ends, St. Louis-style spare ribs, and perhaps the biggest surprise to me, smoked turkey breast that was moist, flavorful, and just plain delicious! There were also fantastic hand-made sides, including baked beans, cheesy potatoes, jalapeno apple slaw, and pickle and egg potato salad. Less than 20-minutes from my house, you can bet Scott’s will be getting multiple visits from me!

Luther’s BBQ  ~  12921 State Line Road, Kansas City, MO.  Recommended to me by the Buckhorn He-Man BBQ Lovers group, I have not had the chance to dine here, but the He-Maners rated it 90.9 out of 100, and gave it particularly high marks for the ribs, burnt ends, and pork!

Smoketown BBQ  ~  7702 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Overland Park, KS.  Another highly rated Buckhorn group eatery I have yet to sample, Smoketown earned the group’s highest marks for its ribs, burnt ends, and ambiance. It appears I have more barbecue to consume!

Burn Theory Fire Kitchen at Diametric Brewing  ~  49 NE Columbus Street, Lee’s Summit, MO.  A relatively new addition to the Kansas City barbecue scene, Burn Theory Fire Kitchen is a scratch kitchen specializing in hickory-smoked barbecue and fire-kissed, elevated pub fare. The fact that there are also more than 20-freshly-made beers to sample as well makes a visit even more alluring.

Photo courtesy of Wolfepack BBQ

Wolfepack BBQ  ~  910 East 5th Street, Kansas City, MO.  I’ve not been, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about this Columbus Park gem, which uses hickory and oak to slow smoke its meat to KC perfection.

The Rub  ~  10512 South Ridgeview Road, Olathe, KS.  Another high-flier from the Buckhorn boys with a particularly high score for their ribs.

Woodyard BBQ  ~  3001 Merriam Lane, Merriam, KS.  Ribs, brisket, and chili are the attractions, according to the website. I’ve not dined at the restaurant, though I did cater an event where they were catering next to me. They struck me as very nice folks serving up good barbecue.

Support local. Support mom and pop establishments.

Seek out these bbq hidden gems or they just might disappear.



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