When it comes to gastronomic adventures, Kansas City, Missouri, has made a name for itself as a Midwest foodie destination.
With a rich history of barbecue and a diverse range of culinary influences, KCMO offers a multitude of dishes that will tantalize your taste buds. From mouthwatering BBQ ribs to unique desserts, here are seven dishes you simply must try when you visit Kansas City.
1. Kansas City BBQ Ribs
No visit to Kansas City would be complete without indulging in the city’s renowned barbecue scene, particularly their mouthwatering ribs.
Kansas City-style barbecue is characterized by its slow smoking method and signature sweet and tangy sauce. My favorite places for BBQ are Q39 and Chef J BBQ. The rich flavors and tender meat make this dish a must-try for any meat lover.
Kansas City’s barbecue history traces back to Henry Perry, the “father of Kansas City barbecue.” In the early 1900s, Perry started slow-smoking meats in an outdoor pit near his streetcar barn, selling them wrapped in newspaper for just 25 cents.
He later opened the city’s first barbecue restaurant in an old trolley barn, solidifying his status as a barbecue pioneer. Perry’s legacy lives on, as Kansas City remains a thriving hub of barbecue culture, offering a variety of mouthwatering dishes that showcase the city’s passion for smoky, flavorful meats.
2. Burnt Ends
Considered one of the most popular barbecue dishes in Kansas City, burnt ends are a true local specialty. These flavorful, caramelized pieces of beef brisket are cut from the fatty ends of the smoked meat.
Burnt ends are often served on a platter or in a sandwich, and their smoky, melt-in-your-mouth goodness is sure to leave you wanting more. Whether you try them at Arthur Bryant’s or Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, you won’t be disappointed.
The origins of burnt ends can be traced back to the barbecue pits of Kansas City in the early 20th century. Pitmasters would trim the fatty ends of briskets, which were typically considered less desirable, and return them to the smoker for further cooking.
The extended smoking process caramelized the fat and created intensely flavorful and tender burnt ends. Over time, these succulent morsels gained immense popularity and became a Kansas City barbecue staple.
3. Frozen Custard
After indulging in the savory goodness of Kansas City’s barbecue, it’s time to satisfy your sweet tooth with some frozen custard. Frozen custard is a dense and creamy dessert that is smoother and richer than traditional ice cream.
Popular spots like Sheridan’s Frozen Custard or Foo’s Fabulous Frozen Custard serve up delectable flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and all kinds of toppings that can be mixed in.
Frozen custard emerged in Kansas City in the 1920s when two Greek immigrants, Tom Bridges and Simeon “Sam” Kopmas, introduced the creamy dessert.
Its velvety texture and rich flavor quickly captivated locals, and frozen custard stands began popping up throughout the city. The unique combination of eggs, cream, sugar, and flavorings, churned in a specialized machine, resulted in a denser and smoother treat than traditional ice cream.
4. Toasted Ravioli
While you might not immediately associate Kansas City with Italian cuisine, the city has its own twist on this beloved dish. Toasted ravioli is a unique and delicious appetizer that consists of breaded and deep-fried ravioli, often served with marinara sauce for dipping. It’s all about the combination of crispy exterior and soft, cheesy filling!
Toasted ravioli originated in St. Louis, Missouri, in the Italian-American community during the 1940s. It made its way to Kansas City as an appetizer and quickly became a popular dish.
5. Kansas City Strip
Steak When it comes to steak, Kansas City knows how to do it right, just like Canada’s Alberta beef. The Kansas City Strip, also known as the New York Strip, is a succulent and flavorful cut of beef that is beloved by locals and visitors alike.
Juicy and tender, this steak is typically cooked to perfection and served with a side of rich mashed potatoes or seasonal vegetables. Savoring a Kansas City Strip at renowned steakhouses like The Capital Grille or 801 Chophouse is a culinary journey you won’t soon forget.
Kansas City’s love for beef dates back to the city’s early days as a hub for cattle drives and meatpacking. The city’s steakhouse culture embraced this succulent and flavorful steak, often aged and cooked to perfection.
6. BBQ Nachos
For a tasty twist on traditional nachos, Kansas City offers a mouthwatering creation: BBQ nachos. These indulgent appetizers feature a base of tortilla chips topped with tender smoked meat, melted cheese, barbecue sauce, and various toppings such as jalapeños, sour cream, and green onions. You can find them at many of the local BBQ joints as well as many other restaurants and the dish truly represents Kansas City’s barbecue culture.
7. Kansas City-style Chili
Kansas City-style chili has its roots in the regional chili traditions of the Midwest.
This hearty and meaty chili is known for its thick consistency and the addition of signature ingredients like pulled pork instead of ground beef. Of course, it includes the staples of tomatoes, onions, and beans.
It is often spiced with a combination of herbs and served with toppings such as shredded cheese, onions, and crackers. Try a bowl of Kansas City-style chili at local favorites like The Classic Cup or Johnny’s Tavern.
Alexa is the founder of Travel in Missouri. Plan your next Missouri vacation! This travel blog features travel tips, travel advice, travel inspiration, historic hotels, and unique accommodation reviews in Missouri. Catch up with Alexa from Travel in Missouri on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube.
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