Kansas City is known for having the best BBQ in the world, and regardless of what Texas, Memphis or the Carolinas say – you won’t find better smoked meats anywhere else. Kansas City BBQ is an institution. In fact, Kansas City has more BBQ restaurants per capita in the U.S.
Knowing the pressure and expectations of serving BBQ in Kansas City, our culinary team worked tirelessly to perfect the menu in Cotton Blossom BBQ when it opened in 2019. After its first full-season, the restaurant has become Worlds of Fun’s most popular dining location and earned raved reviews from guests on its authenticity, elevated offerings and originality.
To help you get ready for barbeque season in The Heartland, we asked our executive chef Wesley Boston for some insight, tips and a secret rub recipe from Cotton Blossom BBQ. Readers, please be advised, the following blog may result in drooling.
Kansas City BBQ 101
Kansas City BBQ is characterized by its variety of meats. Pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, sausage – as long as it is delicious, we smoke it. As with anything that can truly call itself BBQ, everything is cooked low and slow with added seasoning from wood.
While Kansas City is known for a stable of meats, the burnt ends made it the BBQ capital. Burnt ends are the crisped, charred bark from the corners of a beef brisket that has been blackened by smoke. Chef Wes estimates that on average, a 10lb brisket may produce only 1lb of true Kansas City burnt ends. They are a treat.
In Cotton Blossom BBQ, we serve burnt ends, brisket, pulled pork and whole rotisserie chicken.
The Rub Sets the Tone
All recipes need a starting point. For Kansas City BBQ, it starts with the rub, which is a combination of spices and seasoning that coats the meat before it hits the smoker. It creates the bark for the meat and gives an extra punch of flavor.
When developing our own signature rub for Cotton Blossom BBQ, Chef Wes and his team went into mad scientist mode, measuring ingredients down by the gram. After a serious of taste tests (he has a very tough job), they finally perfected it, and it is the base seasoning on all the meats served in Cotton Blossom, including the rotisserie chicken.
Chef Wes explains that typically, flavors hit the pallet with salt or sweet first. Second is the main flavor or herb. The finish is usually the heat, spice or acidity. He developed this rub to unfold in this order as it reaches your taste buds – giving you complexity that celebrates the meats’ natural flavors.
The Long Process
At this point, you’ve covered your meat in the rub, let it sit overnight in the fridge and you’re ready for the main event. There are many different methods and techniques you can use depending on your equipment and meat, but Chef Wes shared some common advice that can be used during any smoke.
- Low and Slow: Temperatures vary, but you typically want to keep your smoker around 200-220. This range produces the most smoke and helps you avoid drying your meat out. Cook times vary, but Chef Wes suggests at least 12 hours of cook time for a brisket.
- The Wood: Variations of wood provide their own flavors. In Cotton Blossom BBQ, we use a combination of hickory and cherry wood.
- Air Flow: While producing smoke is important, you don’t want to cook in something that’s airtight. Let the meat breathe and let air flow through your unit.
- Don’t Over Smoke: Your meat will absorb its flavor from the wood’s smoke in the first 4-hours of the cook, so avoid feeding more wood into the fire. Too much smoke will overpower the meat and could make it bitter.
- Numbers Don’t Lie: A thermometer is your best friend. When the core of your meat hits its target internal temperature, you’re done.
- Let it Rest: You typically want to let your meat rest at room temperature for a while after you’ve completed your cook and removed it from the smoker. Resting allows the juices to settle in the meat – keeping it moist and never dry.
- Slicing – For brisket, you always want to make sure you’re slicing across the meat’s natural grain.
Our Sauce is Boss
The sauce is boss. Kansas City sauce is known for being sweet, thick and tomato-based. Variations vary, but all traditionally pack a sweet, tang that’s rich in molasses and balanced with tomatoes and vinegar.
At Cotton Blossom BBQ, we handcraft our own Kansas City BBQ sauce that includes original (standard KC sauce), Extra Hot and Sweet and Mellow. We’ve even packaged our sauces, so you can take them home. Check our Coaster 101’s recent article for more insight on our signature Cotton Blossom BBQ sauce.
Above all, Chef Wesley suggests having fun. Smoking BBQ is an event and a fun way to bond with those around you. Experiment with recipes, test new techniques and try different meats. Kansas City BBQ is probably the easiest to play around with from home because the options are endless.