Craig Nelson was 14 when he got his first job as a dishwasher at IHOP. Not long after he started, a line cook didn’t show up to work, and Nelson stepped up to make bacon and eggs — literally.
“They put me on a crate because I couldn’t see over the counter,” Nelson says.
Flipping pancakes at IHOP turned into a career in the restaurant industry for Nelson, a Kansas City native who has worked in management at Olive Garden, KC Masterpiece and Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue. In 2002, Nelson opened his own restaurant, Bee Cee’s BBQ, which he named after his son Bradford Cornell Nelson.
At the original Bee Cee’s, located near 103rd and Blue Ridge Boulevard, Nelson sold hickory-smoked ribs, brisket, pork, turkey, sausage and chicken wings. The barbecue joint was a popular stop for tailgaters on their way to Chiefs games at Arrowhead stadium, but after a few years, Nelson says, “the neighborhood started dying on me.”
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In 2013, he moved the business to Meiner’s Market of Overland Park, a convenience store next to the University of Kansas Edwards Campus.
The new space wouldn’t allow for an outdoor smoker, so Nelson switched to an indoor electric smoker. He kept his fuel of choice (hickory wood) but retooled his recipes so they would work with his new equipment.
It took two weeks to get the flavors dialed in. Nelson says his family taste-tested everything on the menu to make sure it was right.
“They’re my quality control,” he says.
Like that other local barbecue joint in a gas station, Bee Cee’s has a separate counter, plenty of tables and large windows. Everything on Bee Cee’s menu is seasoned with Nelson’s homemade barbecue rub and seasoning blends. Nelson also makes his own barbecue sauce.
The sauce sweetens the signature side, baked beans ($3.79), and adds a spicy kick to the juicy, lightly charred burnt ends ($10.99, or $12.99 with a side).
Nelson’s MSG- and gluten-free fish and poultry seasoning adds a fresh, herbal note to the smoked jumbo chicken wings ($7.75 for three with a side) and the turkey leg ($6.99 with a side).
The pulled pork sandwich ($9.69) — soft shreds of saucy pork on a soft white bun — is a best-selling item. Bee Cee’s KC Poor Boy sandwich ($7.69) is also popular. The sandwich consists of chopped beef, ham, turkey and sausage on a bun, “like a big Sloppy Joe,” Nelson says.
The everything-goes KC Poor Boy sandwich harks back to Nelson’s childhood, when he and his friends would go to Arthur Bryant’s after the lunch rush and buy paper bags of leftover “scraps” for $2.
“You could feed three people with one bag,” Nelson says. “We would talk to the cooks and say ‘Don’t put sauce on it!’ Then we’d go over to Gates and get his sauce.”
These days, Nelson sells his own barbecue sauce for $4.50 a bottle. At 11 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, the restaurant industry veteran worked in the kitchen as his son took orders and chatted with customers. On the wall next to the counter there was a photo of a young, aproned Craig Nelson standing next to the stove, cooking for his family.
Sarah Gish writes about Johnson County restaurants every first and third week of the month. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @sarah_gish.
Bee Cee’s BBQ
Location: 12560 Quivira Road in Overland Park
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed on Sunday.
Credit cards: Yes
Parking: Free lot
Don’t miss: The pulled pork sandwich with a side of Bee Cee’s beans ($9.69), the jumbo smoked chicken wings ($2.75 for one or $7.75 for three wings and a side) and the burnt ends ($10.99, or $12.99 with a side). And don’t forget the ribs, which are so tender that they practically fall off the bone. Bee Cee’s sells one rib for $2.75; slabs cost $21.49 except on Saturday, when they’re $19.99.