By Hope S. Philbrick
If time permits just one meal in Kansas City, make it the city’s best barbecue.
Ask anyone—the tourism pro at the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association, the concierge at the hotel, random locals at Cellar Rat (a super cool wine shop)—and the general consensus seems to be that Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue has the best BBQ in town.
Not only that, it’s the highest rated barbecue in the country according to Zagat.
Which is really saying a lot, since Kansas City-style barbecue’s reputation is mythic, reaching even into the Deep South, where barbecue is as pervasive as religion with as many avid followers, strong opinions and variations (like North Carolina’s vinegar-based-, South Carolina’s mustard-based-, Georgia’s tomato-based-, and so on).
As the restaurant explains on its website, Russ Fiorella first opened his Smokestack BBQ restaurant in 1957. Russ and his oldest son Jack worked together until 1974, when Jack decided to branch off and start Fiorella’s Jack Stack. To stand out in the competitive Kansas City barbecue scene of the mid 1970s, Jack and his wife, Delores, began cooking with hickory wood and created the most extensive barbecue menu in the country. Jack’s son, Kevin, and son-in-law, Case Dorman, have grown up in the business and are now managing general partners in the company. Today, Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue is the largest full-service wood cookery in the industry with four restaurant locations, a catering company, plus a nationwide shipping division.
On a recent road trip through KC, I walked from my hotel to the Freight House location in downtown Kansas City’s Crossroads Art District. Trying to beat the dinner rush, I arrived around 5:30 p.m. The hostess informed me that I’d have to wait approximately 20 minutes for a table, then handed me one of those light-up discs some restaurants use as a “your-table-is-ready” alert system. I got lucky and after about five minutes my disc lit up and I was escorted to a booth in the main dining room, which boasts 25-foot ceilings and a fireplace. The vibe is more upscale than the average American BBQ joint.
The server explained that Jack Stack is known for its award-winning Denver-cut lamb ribs, fork-tender brisket, Hickory Pit beans and cheesy corn bake side dishes, and Crown Prime Beef Rib, which is a beef short rub that’s smoked until fork tender. Meat options include certified Angus beef, lamb, seafood, chicken, pork and ham.
For the ‘best of the best’ experience, I ordered the Jack’s Best combination platter which features one Crown Prime Beef Rib, baby back ribs, and beef burnt ends ($27.95). Alongside I got both the Hickory Pit beans and cheesy corn bake. Extra barbecue sauce and bread arrived, too.
Meats were cooked to fork-tender perfection. The barbecue sauce was spicy-yet-sweet—and, aside from craving its flavor, there was little need for the extra sauce on the side since the meat was so juicy. I especially adored the Crown Prime Beef Rib, rich and flavorful with a tender toothsome bite. The restaurant manager told me that it’s a cut unique to Jack Stack’s: Based on my taste-test, I’d expect other BBQ restaurants will be scrambling to imitate it.
Portions are so generous that two adults could easily be content with one entrée.
Dining alone and on a budget? Order the Crown Prime Beef Rib off the appetizer menu—it’s priced at $12.95. Add a side for $3.75 and you’ve got a smaller-scale meal that costs less but still satisfies.
Where I live in Georgia, barbecue restaurants are ubiquitous. And while of course some are better than others, there are lots of great options nearby. Yet I do find myself craving another helping of Jack Stack’s, nearly 850 miles away. Is it Kansas City’s best? Since my visit was too brief for comparison, I’ll have to trust what I was told. I will say that it’s one of the best barbecue meals that I’ve ever had, and I’ve had too many to count.
Among its numerous awards and accolades, Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue is consistently rated in Zagat Survey’s America’s Best Barbecue, America’s Best Restaurants, and World’s Top Restaurants.
Four locations, including:
Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue – Freight House
101 W 22nd St
Kansas City, MO
Can’t make it to Kansas City? The restaurant also delivers.
-Photos © HSP Media LLC