Kansas City BBQ & Anthony Bourdain

Kansas City BBQ & Anthony Bourdain June 18, 2018

I recently wrote a post called My BBQ Pilgrimage about my five days in Texas visiting acclaimed barbeque joints.  A reader, Edward Kettner, urged me to do something similar about another BBQ mecca:  Kansas City.  Last weekend, we went there to catch a Royals/Astros game, a perfect chance to take up the challenge.  We weren’t there long, though, so I did the research so that we could start with what is considered the best.  The consensus was a place I had long heard about:  Oklahoma Joe’s.

It’s now just called Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, the partner with “Oklahoma” in his moniker having left the business.  Among its accolades:  In addition to countless BBQ competition wins and placement on top BBQ in America lists, it won the distinction of having the “Tastiest Ribs in America” (USA Today), and being the “Manliest Restaurant in America” (Men’s Health).  Yelp’s list of the 100 best places to eat in America ranked it #3.

What interested me the most were the comments by the recently-deceased-by-his-own-hand Anthony Bourdain.  He named it one of the “13 Places to Eat Before You Die.”

“It’s the best BBQ in Kansas City,” he wrote, “which makes it the best BBQ in the world.”

Except it isn’t.

The least of the five places in Texas that I wrote about were better than the best that Kansas City has to offer.

First of all, Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ is good, it’s wonderful, it deserves its praise.  The brisket was tender and smoky and the ribs were perfectly prepared.  But what defines the Kansas City style is its sweet, molasses-based sauce.  I thought it was just too sweet, especially in conjunction with the sweet rub also applied to the ribs.  In contrast, Texas pitmasters focus on the meat, often seasoning it with just  salt and pepper.  Begrudgingly, they might give you a vinegary hot sauce.  But I think the Texas meat tasted much better.

Also, there are two parts to a beef brisket.  One part is fatty; the other part is lean.  I’ve heard that in some regions the fatty part is just thrown away.  But in Texas, the “fatty brisket,” also euphemistically called “moist brisket” is the most succulent meat of all.  The fat, which absorbs the smoky flavor, melts into the surrounding meat, resulting in intense flavor and butter-like tenderness.  At Joe’s the lean part of the brisket was cut into deli-thin slices, which is fine for sandwiches, but I missed the thick slabs I found in Texas.  That Joe could get the lean brisket as tender and smoky as he did was impressive, considering the cut of meat he used, but it paled in comparison to what the Texans did.

Also Joe’s ribs were cut “St. Louis style,” which means the tops and the bottoms of the ribs were cut off, as opposed to the full spare rib that you get in Texas.

All of this made me think of Anthony Bourdain and his suicide.  Here is a man who compiled a list of the “13 Places to Eat Before You Die.”  He ate at them all.  He had eaten at the world’s finest restaurants, travelled the world over, experienced life to the fullest.  Did he think he had nothing left to live for?

If he was so rapturous about Oklahoma Joe’s, what would he have thought of Kreuz Market or the Baker Boys?  He had eaten at the top 13 restaurants, in his mind, but I could have given him Texas Monthly‘s list of the 50 best BBQ joints in Texas.  Could an exposure to Texas BBQ have saved his life?

The point is, there is more to life than you know!

I realize that some of you may disagree with me about BBQ, and I have no idea why Bourdain took his own life.  My heart goes out to him.  But still, the lesson is generally applicable:  There is more to life than you know.

Is your life a disappointment?  Does it not seem worth living?  There is more to life than you know.

Do you feel trapped?  Is everything going wrong?  Do you see no way out?  There is more to life than you know.

Do you feel like Hamlet in our previous post about suicide?  “How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable/Seem to me all the uses of this world!”  (I.ii.33-34)  There is more to life than you know.
Do you crave death?  Even after you die, there is more to life than you know.
Photo:  “Oklahoma Joe’s Before” by Benjamin Kabek via Flickr, Creative Commons License
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