There was no memorial service, no candlelight vigil, and no obituary in the paper.
But, I come to you today to report the passing of a Kansas City legend — a thing so great, that, when done right, could literally bring tears to your eyes.
I am here today to mourn the death of Kansas City burnt ends. What? Say it ain’t so! Okay, burnt ends might not be dead, but they’re definitely on life support.
What am I talking about? Well, has anybody been to a barbecue restaurant lately and ordered the burnt ends? In fact, has anyone been to a barbecue restaurant in the last ten years and ordered the burnt ends?
They’re still really good, don’t get me wrong. I’m particularly fond of Jack Stack’s, which if I’m not mistaken, is the first place I ever tried burnt ends. They were awesome — crunchy, crisp, and blackened on the outside, and as tender your mom’s heart on the inside.
burnt ends, the charred tips of a smoked brisket, cut off and served up separately from the sliced brisket.
Furthering the definition, Wikipedia weighs in with this, “Burnt ends are flavorful pieces of meat cut from the point half of a smoked brisket. A traditional part of Kansas City Barbecue, burnt ends are considered a delicacy. Due to the higher fat content of the brisket, it take longer to full cook to tender and render out the fat and collagen. The longer cooking gave rise to the name, ‘burnt ends.’ A proper burnt end should display a modest amount of ‘bark’ or ‘char’ on at least one side.”
Ever looked at your standard order of burnt ends these days? See any bark or char? Not likely.
That’s because most burnt ends nowadays aren’t burnt ends at all, but rather, chunks of the smoked brisket. They’re no different from the rest of the brisket, just cut differently, and often soaked in sauce. What a disappointment.
Duane Daugherty of Mr. Doggity Barbecue calls burnt ends “Kansas City caviar,” and he laments their passing.
“The old pit masters used to cut the charred tips of the smoked brisket and keep them for themselves,” Daugherty points out. “Real burnt ends are a rare and amazing delicacy when you find them. Beluga is not just fish eggs. Cristal isn’t just sparkling wine. And, real burnt ends aren’t just chopped brisket.”
Disheartened, but not giving up, I turned to Travis Carpenter, a vice president at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue, who assured me their burnt ends, the pantheon of burnt ends. in my opinion, were still made the same way.
“Nothing has changed with the process since I joined the company in 1996,” Carpenter said. “We sear the briskets on our open-fire brick oven, and then finish cooking them in our slow-cooking rotisserie ovens. Once they are fully cooked and cooled, we cut off each end of the brisket and place the ends back in the rotisserie oven until they are crispy on the outside and fall-apart tender in the middle. Those ends are then cut up into bite-size chunks, topped with sauce and served as our burnt ends,” says Carpenter.
“Also, just to clarify, the middle of the brisket (between where the burnt ends come from) is sliced up and served as our “sliced brisket,” he added.
Now, that’s not exactly what Daugherty, or for that matter, Wikipedia describes, but it’s close enough for me, and gives me a renewed sense of joy when I cut into a burnt end at JackStack.
Still, the idea that most barbecue restaurants around town were no longer serving true burnt ends troubled me. I thought Ardie Davis, aka, Remus Powers, Ph.B. (professor of barbecue), might have some insights.
Davis is a freelance writer and award-winning barbecue expert. He’s also the founder of the American Royal International Sauce, Rub Baste Contest and the Great American Barbecue Sauce, Rub Baste Contest, though he’s the first person to tell you that a well-smoked piece of meat doesn’t need any sauce. As for the burnt ends debacle, Davis is pragmatic if a bit morose.
“I‘m not sure when the change happened,” Davis told me recently. “But, burnt ends became so popular that the restaurants just couldn’t keep up with the demand.”
So, what’s a barbecue purist to do?
“Well, I frequent places I know still serve real burnt ends. I had them at Danny Edwards the other day, and they were really good, and I’ll order them at Oklahoma Joe’s when they’re on the menu because they only offer them when they have enough,” Davis said.
That’s the pragmatic side. As for the morose, there’s this, “I miss the good ole’ days when you could get the brisket scraps right from the pit at Bryant’s. Now
Kansas City burnt ends — enjoy ‘em while you can.
Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.