Wow, Kansas City. You sure do have some strong feelings for burnt ends.
Last month, we asked readers to help us choose the barbecue joints with the most mouthwatering burnt ends — those charred nuggets of tender beef typically cut from the point end of a smoked brisket.
After tallying more than 7,200 votes, we determined the Sweet (and Smoky) 16 for our March Madness-style burnt ends bracket, which pits old-school smokehouses such as Jack Stack against up-and-coming spots such as Slap's BBQ in Kansas City, Kan.
Stock up on wet wipes and toothpicks, because first-round voting starts today and ends Monday, March 12. Look for results on our Chow Town blog (kansascity.com/chowtown) every Wednesday through April 4, when we'll announce the winner.
If this sounds familiar, it's because we organized a french fry tournament in 2017 and a fried chicken tournament in 2016. Go Chicken Go beaked Stroud's to win the fried chicken tourney, and Joe's Kansas City sizzled BRGR Kitchen + Bar to take the french fry title.
Joe's is back this year for our burnt ends bracket, so naturally I had to try a Z-Man sandwich made with burnt ends instead of the usual brisket ($8.79). I liked how the blanket of melted provolone kept the chunks of charred beef from spilling out of the kaiser roll.
Joe's burnt ends, made exclusively from the point end and smoked for 15 hours, are so tender they practically melt in your mouth. They used to be available only at certain times, but customers can now get them most days of the week on a plate or sandwich.
I also like the saucy burnt ends at Arthur Bryant's. General manager Willis Simpson makes them by marinating hunks of oak and hickory-smoked brisket in Rich & Spicy sauce, then smoking the beef for an additional four hours.
"The main thing is to get plenty of smoke on 'em and cook 'em slow," Simpson says.
Arthur Bryant's burnt end sandwich costs $11.35 with a side of golden skin-on fries.
You can also find saucy burnt ends at Gates Bar-B-Q, where the cooks chop them into bits and wedge them into a super-soft bun, and LC's Bar-B-Q, where the chunks of charred beef are piled high on slabs of white bread soaked with tangy sauce.
According to reader Pete Moris, "if you're not doing LC's burnt ends, you're doing it wrong."
I don't eat a lot of plain white bread — I'm more of a wheat person — but man, those slices taste so good soaked with sauce, especially in the Burnt End Dinner ($14.50) at B.B.'s Lawnside BBQ.
The dinner comes with savory beans, enormous battered fries and crispy-edged burnt ends bursting with sharp smoky flavor from B.B.'s 68-year-old hickory-fueled pit. Some bits are crispy, some are soft. All are delicious.
Those who like their smoked meats on the mild side should try the burnt end sandwich ($7.99 for a medium) at Hawg Jaw Que & Brew in North Kansas City. Owner Nick Silvio smokes his 'cue with cherry wood, which lends a sweet flavor that's not at all bitter. He also uses 21-day wet-aged Sterling Silver beef brisket, and you can taste the quality in the finished burnt ends, which are unbelievably juicy and packed with flavor, even without sauce.
At Burnt End BBQ in Overland Park, you can order burnt ends in a bowl ($10.49) with hickory pit beans, crispy onion straws and a block of sweet cornbread. Add a drizzle of award-winning honey glaze sauce if you like your barbecue sweet.
Craving a sandwich? You can't go wrong with Char Bar's appropriately named Burnt Heaven ($11), which tops burnt ends with smoked sausage, fried jalapenos, creamy slaw and chipotle barbecue mayo. Local barbecue lover Jason Hendrix insists Char Bar's burnt ends are the best, and that "this is the hill I am willing to die on."
I like the Burnt Heaven with a shareable side of Crispy Jo-Jo potatoes ($5), big hunks of spud fried till they're crunchy on the outside and super-soft inside. They're the potato equivalent of a burnt end.
Q39 puts sliced burnt ends on burgers and cubed burnt ends on brisket plates and the Mr. Burns sandwich ($11), which also comes with melty, spicy pepperjack cheese and lots of onion straws.
"It's killer," says Q39 owner Rob Magee. His burnt end technique involves hickory-smoking a whole brisket for seven hours before wrapping it in foil with beef stock, which adds flavor and moisture.
"It's kind of like pot roast," Magee says.
The brisket is seasoned with rub and sauce before Q39 cooks separate the flat from the point end. To make burnt ends, they chop and slice the point end, then char the beef bits over smoldering oak for steak-like flavor.
The best part about working on this bracket — aside from the taste-testing, of course — is hearing readers rave about their beloved barbecue.
Scott Peery tweeted to say that Plowboys Barbeque's burnt ends are "THE... BEST... EVER!!" and Brock Templeman told me Jack Stack wins "hands down" because the burnt ends there are super-lean, tender and "burnt to perfection for flavor on the outside."
Co-workers emailed or stopped me in the hallway to dish about their favorite underrated 'cue joints. More than 100 people submitted write-in votes for Wabash BBQ, and now I'm contemplating a road trip to Excelsior Springs.
Most barbecue lovers seem sure that their go-to smokehouse will win. But some said naming the best burnt ends in Kansas City is an impossible task.
"That's like picking your favorite child," said Danny Goode. "I'll take them all."
The Sweet (and Smoky) 16 list
Arthur Bryant's, with locations at 1727 Brooklyn Ave. and 1702 Village West Parkway in Kansas City, Kan.
B.B.'s Lawnside BBQ, 1205 E. 85th St.
Burnt End BBQ, 11831 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park
Char Bar, 4050 Pennsylvania in Westport
Gates Bar-B-Q, with locations at 1325 Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd., 3205 Main St., 1221 Brooklyn Ave., 1026 State Ave. in Kansas City, Kan., 10440 E. U.S. Highway 40 in Independence and 2001 W. 103rd Terrace in Leawood
Hawg Jaw Que & Brew, 900 Swift St. in North Kansas City
Hayward's Pit Bar-B-Que, 12804 Santa Fe Drive in Lenexa
Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue, with locations at 4747 Wyandotte on the Country Club Plaza, 101 W. 22nd St. in the Freight House, 13441 Holmes Road in Martin City, 9520 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park and 1840 N.W. Chipman Road in Lee's Summit
Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, with locations at 3002 W. 47th Ave. in Kansas City, Kan., 11950 S. Strang Line Road in Olathe and 11723 Roe Ave. in Leawood
LC's Bar-B-Q, 5800 Blue Parkway
Plowboys Barbeque, with locations at 1111 Main St. Suite 120 and 3111 State Route 7 in Blue Springs
Q39, with locations at 1000 W. 39th St. and 11051 Antioch Road in Overland Park
Slap's BBQ, 553 Central Ave. in Kansas City, Kan.
Smokehouse Barbecue, with locations at 8451 N.W. Prairie View Road, 6304 North Oak in Gladstone and 19000 E. 39th St. in Independence
Smokin' Guns BBQ, 1218 Swift St. in North Kansas City
Zarda, with locations at 11931 W. 87th St. in Lenexa and 214 N. Missouri 7 in Blue Springs