Best Kansas City Barbecue Restaurants

By Mariah Collins, SHRM-CP on Oct 17, 2022
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At Axcet, sure, we’re passionate about HR and helping small businesses succeed, but we’re also headquartered in Kansas City. And as such, two things stand out — our sports teams (go Chiefs!) and barbecue. If you’ve tried any of the 100-plus Kansas City barbecue restaurants or have attended Kansas City’s American Royal World Series of Barbecue, then you must know, #LoveWhereYouWork definitely rings true for us. 

As Kansas City’s local PEO since 1988, we’ve had more than a conversation or two about the best barbecue in the city. So, we decided to make it official with an in-office contest. From Slap’s BBQ, Arthur Bryant’s and Jack Stack to Zarda, Joe’s and Q39, we took to the in-office polls to cast our votes for best Kansas City barbecue restaurant out of 18 finalists.   

Before we unveil the winner, let’s explore Kansas City’s barbecue roots. If you want to skip right to the winners, click here.


Table of Contents

1.   History of Kansas City Barbecue

2.   Winner of Best Barbecue in Kansas City

2.1 Locations in Missouri

2.2 Locations in Kansas

3.   Runner Up

4.   What Makes Kansas City Barbecue Unique


Kansas City Barbecue - A Rich History

Names like Bryant and Gates are common when talking about Kansas City’s barbecue scene. But did you know Kansas City’s barbecue roots actually trace back to the 1920s to a man named Henry Perry? When Perry was in his early 30s, he ended up in Kansas City after a history of working in steamboat kitchens. 

About a year after he arrived in the area, he put his skills and talent to work and began serving smoked meats wrapped in newspaper from an alley-stand. His food gained in popularity and he relocated within the city twice, sharing his secrets and teaching his trade. When he passed away, Charlie Bryant inherited Perry’s business and then sold it to his brother, Arthur. 

Meanwhile, another one of Perry’s students, Arthur Pinkard, was crucial to the founding of another big name in Kansas City barbecue. You may have guessed, this was the start of Gates barbecue, founded by George Gates, and Arthur Pinkard was the cook. Pinkard had also cooked under Perry. 

Fast forward to 1980, when the American Royal added its first barbecue contest making the union between the stockyards and barbecue official. The American Royal continues today and is the world’s largest barbecue contest where people travel to Kansas City from all over the world to compete.

Jack stack best kansas city barbecue restaurant

Jack Stack Barbecue: Voted Best Barbecue Restaurant in Kansas City

Jack Stack is a name Kansas Citians have known for decades. Famous for its hickory wood-fired cooking process, this barbecue restaurant’s popularity extends well beyond its Kansas City roots and is the winner of our Best Barbecue Restaurant in Kansas City contest. 

Jack Stack Barbecue got its start in 1957 when Russ Fiorella opened a traditional barbecue stand in Kansas City with a very limited number of items. It wasn’t until 1974 that Russ’ son, Jack, branched off and opened Fiorella’s Jack Stack in the Martin City area of Kansas City, Missouri.  

Today, in its fourth generation, Jack Stack Barbecue operates six area restaurants, offers full-service catering and even has an event center in south Overland Park. Beyond our local area, Jack Stack offers nationwide shipping so people all across the country can bring a piece of the Jack Stack Barbecue experience to their own kitchens and backyards. 

What we recommend: Jack Stack is famous for its burnt ends. With meat sourced from the point of the brisket, which is higher in fat content, these burnt ends are perfectly cooked over hickory for 10-12 hours, resulting in a tasty rich and smoky flavor that is amazingly juicy.  

Locally, you can enjoy Jack Stack’s mouth-watering barbecue at these six locations: 

In Missouri:

  • Martin City

    Located at 13441 Holmes Road, Kansas City, Missouri  64145

  • Freight House

    Located at 101 W 22nd Street #300, Kansas City, Missouri  64108
  • Country Club Plaza

    Located at 4747 Wyandotte Street, Kansas City, Missouri  64112
  • Lee’s Summit

    Located at 1840 NW Chipman Road, Lee’s Summit, Missouri  64081

In Kansas:

  • Overland Park

    Located at 9520 Metcalf Avenue, Overland Park, Kansas  66212
  • Lenexa

    Located at 8721 Ryckert Street, Lenexa, Kansas  66219 

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Joe’s and Q39 Tie for Runner Up 

Joe’s Barbecue and Q39 tied in our contest for the runner-up spot. Joe’s story doesn’t trace back quite as far as Jack Stack, with the first restaurant opening in 1996 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Q39’s opening is more recent yet, with doors to its first restaurant in Kansas City’s historic Midtown opening in 2014. 

Joe’s Barbecue

Joe’s Barbecue is no stranger to landing on lists of top barbecue restaurants. The story of Joe’s all began when Jeff and Joy Stehney attended a barbecue competition and fell in love with everything about it. It’s no surprise, the couple ended up buying a competition-style smoker with friends and formed the Slaughterhouse Five.

The Slaughterhouse Five began winning competition after competition, including the Lenexa Kansas State BBQ Championship, the American Royal Open and the American Royal Invitational. 

Word quickly spread, and when Jeff and Joy met Joe Don Davidson, the founder and owner of Oklahoma Joe’s Smoker Company, they united and formed Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue. They opened their first restaurant in 1996. 

RELATED: Fall in Love with Kansas City: Outdoor Activities and Daytrips >>


What makes Q39 unique is its founder and menu. Q39 Founder Rob Magee always had a passion for cooking and pursued it to the highest level with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America, which has been described by some as the Harvard of culinary schools. 

Magee worked in the kitchens of some of the finest restaurants in the country and prided himself upon mastering and honoring the tastes of the region where he was located. So, when he arrived in Kansas City, it was only natural for him to become obsessed with mastering the art of barbecue. 

Like Joe’s founders, Magee put together a competition barbecue team called the Munchin’ Hogs who won an abundance of competitions and national championships. All through the 10 years he spent winning competitions, Magee dreamed of opening a restaurant. 

That dream came true in 2014 when Q39 opened its doors. What’s special about Q39 is its classically trained chef with a menu created from scratch. His restaurants are a must-visit. 

RELATED: 11 Spectacular Kansas City Christmas Lights Displays >>

What Makes Kansas City Barbecue Unique

Whether it's Jack Stack, Joe’s or Q39, you can’t go wrong in Kansas City. With so many different restaurants to try, we encourage you to become a Kansas City barbecue connoisseur and let us know which is your favorite. With Kansas City barbecue, you’ll experience the flavors of complex dry rubs and the smoke of mixed woods on a variety of meats, not just pork or beef. All finished with a thick, tomato-based sauce that is the perfect blend of sweet, tang and spice. What’s not to love? No wonder why people travel here from all over the world to taste our local barbecue and why Kansas City has become known as the Barbecue Capital of the World. It’s also why we #LoveWhereWeWork!   

RELATED: 7 Kansas City Area Christmas Tree Farms Where You Can Choose & Cut Your Own Tree >>

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