It wasn’t your typical Wednesday. In fact, that day’s event only happens about once every four months, when the legends of Kansas City BBQ get together for a ritual.
“Take a deep breath. You can do this,” I told myself.
Although we’ve attended three or four of these events in the past, this would be our first time to actually participate. As I enter the door, it starts.
“There they are … the virgins!”
Oh, boy, here come the jokes and puns.
“You know how you cook it, Craig?” roared Paul Kirk, also known as The Baron of Barbeque. “You boil the snot out of it.”
“Ha ha ha ha ha!” roared the rest of the gathering.
Then I heard Gary Bronkema, a fellow Kansas City BBQ Society member say, “Don’t worry, Craig. You’ll get used to the hairs tickling the inside of your mouth.”
Yep, it was happening. And by that, I meant Snoot Wednesday at Tenderloin Grill, 900 Southwest Blvd. You might have seen Ardie Davis’ blog post about snoot awhile back. Here’s my perspective.
My wife, Gay, and I have been known to eat a lot of different things — sweetbreads, brains, hearts and kidneys, among other things. How these more exotic bits are prepared can really influence your experience of offal, especially your first time. Specifically, I’m thinking of the first time I had crispy sweetbreads at Bluestem, or the veal brains and gnocchi at The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange. Perfectly prepared and flavorful, you might just think they were the best chicken tenders you ever had.
Back to the pig snoot. The one that was staring at me from that fluffy bun. But before I took that first bite, I’m wondered how in the heck did pig snoot ever become a thing?
That’s where I turn to one of today’s snoot eaters, a charter member of the Kansas City BBQ Society, an author of several barbecue books and fellow Chow Town blogger, Ardie Davis.
According to Davis, the original owners of Tenderloin Grill started in a box car across the street from the restaurant, selling tenderloins that they made in their home. They looked for a cheaper alternative to the tenderloins for some of their blue-collar clientele.
That’s when they started serving pig snoot sandwiches and pig brains sandwiches. They were able to get both of those ingredients for free from the local Swift packing plant. I guess no one else wanted them.
The Herrera family took ownership of the Tenderloin Grill in 1975, and they agreed to keep the snoots on the menu but drop the brains. Along the way, several traditions have evolved surrounding the snoot. According to Davis, eating a Snoot Sandwich has been a rite of passage for the Kansas City Police Department’s rookies for at least 35 years.
“What are you waiting for?” cajoled Davis. “Can you smell the barnyard yet?”
Nervous laughter trickles across the table.
Okay, I’d been delaying this for a while, so there was no turning back, Mr. Snoot. As instructed, I tightly wrapped the messy, spongy pig muzzle in the thin paper wrapper, and stretched my mouth wide for the first encounter. As I bit down, hot sauce shot out of the left nostril and down my arm. The table erupted in a wave of thunderous laughter. The ice had been broken; my first Snoot Sandwich. I handed it off to my wife, who seemed to be much braver than I was. She just dug in.
How did it taste? Well, first of all, I can tell you that it didn’t smell like barnyard and there were no hairs tickling the inside of my mouth. Actually it was not bad at all. A little bit rubbery, but certainly not disgusting. And for people that grew up eating snoot sandwiches, this is a rare treat because they are hard to find around town.
I should mention that during this visit, we also ordered a tenderloin sandwich. After all, this place isn’t called Tenderloin Grill for nothing. But a word of caution: If you’re expecting the usual mayonnaise/mustard tenderloin, that’s not going to happen.
In fact, according to current manager Ashley Ruhl, her grandfather, Ricardo Herrera, never allowed mayo in the building. If you tried to order mayo, Herrera might have given you a very stiff talking to or thrown you out, depending on the day.
Of course, now it’s 2015 and Ruhl has loosened up her grandfather’s rules. So you can get mayo if you want. However, my suggestion is to order the tenderloin with everything: mustard, homemade hot sauce, horseradish, onion and tomato. This has been the tradition since 1932, so why change it now?
Did I entice you to try the Snoot Sandwich? Maybe. But I know you’re at least curious. My recommendation is to do it the way we did. Go to the Tenderloin Grill a few times. Enjoy the tenderloins. Try the hamburgers. Heck, you should even try the Tenderger, which is an inventive tenderloin-hamburger combo. I guarantee you will enjoy any of these.
And then maybe one day, just maybe, you’ll be brave enough to try the Snoot Sandwich. And when you do, try not to laugh when you take the first bite. Because you know when you do, you’re going to hear me in your head saying “You know how they cook it? They boil the snot out of it.”
Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS BBQ judge, a student of pizza crafting and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.