Barbecue in Olathe has changed over the past several decades. Allen’s is gone. Santa Fe Trail is gone. Gates is gone. Smokin’ Joe’s, the oldest Joe’s in town, is the one constant.
Olathe’s downtown is a mix of old and new residential, government and business properties. It is surrounded by a sprawling combo of new single- and multi-family housing, shopping centers, restaurants, motels and hotels on former prairie and agricultural land.
It is unlike the “little Olathe” Truman Capote described in “In Cold Blood.”
Smokin’ Joe’s is the smallest barbecue joint in Olathe, but it holds its own in quality and customer loyalty with the other three exemplars of barbecue excellence: Johnny’s, Joe’s Kansas City and the Rub.
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Not much has changed since current owner Matt Sander’s brother, Ralph, opened the place in 1989. Same order/pick-up counter. Same dining arrangements, with limited dining in the order area and more dining in the adjacent wood-paneled dining room adorned with framed photos of horses, riders and breeders, plus antique artifacts from Midwestern farm life that you might find in Great Grandma’s attic or a flea market. Matt has been the sole proprietor since 1999.
Matt attracts new customers with hickory smoke. When the smoke hits your nostrils, it triggers a hunger reflex from nose to brain to tummy. You stop. You order. You pay and pick up at the counter. You eat. You leave satisfied and happy.
My favorite feast at Smokin’ Joe’s is ribs, meaty pit beans, fries and Harriet’s secret recipe slaw. Cooked and kissed with 100 percent hickory in Smokin’ Joe’s custom-built original brick pit, the ribs are old-style Kansas City. No fancy trimming. No skinning. Just smoked to the bone tender, meaty, juicy ribs.
Smokin’ Joe’s beef is lean, easy to chew, flavor-enhanced with a dab of Matt’s tomato-based mild sauce. Expect tender, flavorful, palate-pleasing burnt ends. The juicy pulled pork hits the mark on tenderness and flavor, with or without sauce; likewise, the smoked sausage and Matt’s meaty, moist and tender rib tips.
Feeling bad and up to a challenge? Try the Big Bad Joe sandwich: a full pound of beef, turkey, pulled pork, sausage, pepper jack cheese, American cheese, bacon, fries and spicy barbecue sauce in a big bad bun.
If that isn’t challenge enough, get a hot pickle. Make sure you have some Kleenex at hand.
When you hunger for smokin’ good barbecue, you’ll be glad Smokin’ Joe’s got your attention.
Smokin’ Joe’s Bar-B-Q is at 519 E. Santa Fe St. in Olathe. Its telephone number is 913-780-5511 and its website is smokinjoesbbqolathe.com.
Ardie Davis founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub & Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on food shows and writes for barbecue-related publications. His most recent release is America's Best BBQ (Revised Edition), with Chef Paul Kirk.