How Burnt Ends "Accidentally" Became Kansas City's Most Popular Barbecue Dish
May 8, 2018
Written byAshley Gabriel
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Burnt ends are a legend of the barbecue world. You know, those succulent crispy chunks of meat cut from the fatty ends of beef brisket, cooked slowly until charred and smoky and smothered in a liberal helping of sweet and tangy sauce ... All right, now we're drooling. Surprisingly, though, burnt ends didn't always have such a mouthwatering reputation. These now-celebrated pieces of meat were once just free scraps of beef brisket on the counter of one of Kansas City's most popular barbecue joints. It's really quite the origin story.
Once Scraps, Now the Star
Before you can begin to appreciate modern burnt ends in all their glory, you must first understand their humble beginnings. Let's start by getting to know beef brisket: a cut of beef from the lower front end of the cow consisting of two separate pieces of meat. Preparation requires long, slow cooking to burn off the collagen and fat — a process that ultimately yields, you guessed it, "burnt ends."
In the early days of Kansas City barbecue, these burnt ends were deemed too charred and fatty to eat and they were typically discarded, eaten by chefs, or thrown in stews. However, at one local restaurant, Arthur Bryant's, pitmasters had a system of setting their burnt ends aside as a free snack for patrons waiting in line to order. It was a tasty gesture that would soon put these undervalued chunks of meat on the map.
It was in 1972 that famous food writer and Kansas City native Calvin Trillin, penned a now legendary article in Playboy praising Arthur Bryant's and romanticizing its snackable burnt ends. Trillin wrote, "I dream about those burnt ends," and dubbed Bryant's "the single best restaurant in the world." It didn't take long for pitmasters around the city to capitalize on this unexpected publicity, and these once relatively unknown bits of brisket soon became a legendary barbecue dish unique to Kansas City menus.
Some of the Best
Today, meat connoisseurs travel to Kansas City to enjoy more than 100 barbecue restaurants. That's a lot of options! We've compiled a starters list of some of the best spots in town to enjoy a plate of KC's authentic burnt ends:
Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que
Anthony Bourdain named Joe's "one of the 13 places to eat before you die." This popular barbecue spot located inside of a gas station is a must for any barbecue lover visiting Kansas City. Try the burnt ends platter, available only on Mondays and Saturdays for lunch, and Wednesdays for dinner. Or, opt for the legendary Z-Man Sandwich with beef brisket instead of burnt ends, topped with provolone and an onion ring.
Arthur Bryant's is the spot that put burnt ends on the map (according to Calvin Trillin). Try the burnt ends sandwich with smoky hunks of brisket in Rich & Spicy sauce and a side of fries.
This unassuming dive restaurant is home to some of the best burnt ends in Kansas City. Most days there's a line out the door, so come prepared with your order as staff move things along pretty efficiently. Their plates of burnt ends are known for being piled high and covered in sauce, all on top of plain white bread.
Find more places to eat burnt ends, barbecue or other Kansas City cuisine at VisitKC.com.