Kansas City is famous for barbecue, always battling other smoked-and-saucy meat meccas like Memphis and Austin for top billing. But while KC has hundreds of finger-licking establishments to choose from, we think the best joint in town is inside a gas station. No joke – at Oklahoma Joe's, you can get the tastiest beef brisket, burnt ends, and pulled pork you've ever eaten right along with your Snickers and Powerball tickets. The setup sounds dodgy, but trust us, it's awesome.
From the road, Oklahoma Joe's looks less than impressive, like your standard green-roofed Shamrock station with a warped, cracked parking lot. But the string of people stretched around the building tells you there's something amazing inside. Folks start lining up mid-morning – even on any given Tuesday – in anticipation of the 11 a.m. opening. Get there past noon, and you could be in for an hours-long wait.
Once you work your way through the door, you'll see the well-oiled machine that is Oklahoma Joe's. It's an order-at-the-counter operation with fewer than 100 seats that diners cycle in and out of as they get and then finish scarfing down their food. If a table opens up while you're still in line, resist the urge to nab it – totally bad form and interrupts the flow; just trust in the system and know that another spot will free up by the time you get your grub. Grab a menu, have your friend stay put while you roll up to the side counter to buy you both a cold beer, and then try to pick your pleasure by the time you reach the front. You'll probably change your mind eight times as you see and smell other peoples' plates pass by.
The burnt ends are smoky-delicious, the pulled pork melts in your mouth, and the ribs are big and rich and fall off the bone. The sandwiches – like the Z-Man, which is brisket, provolone, and two onion rings on a Kaiser roll – are solid, too. You can also choose a combo platter such as the Ribs & Chicken Dinner or Two Meet Dinner if you can't settle on one protein. Honestly, though, since Oklahoma Joe's uses only top-quality meats and made-from-scratch sauces, there isn't even an average item on the menu, so any selection is safe. Even the standard BBQ sides like coleslaw, beans, and French fries are fabulous, so the best approach might be to each order different ones and share. Once you've stuffed yourself on BBQ, be sure to cruise back through the convenience store and buy a few jars of Joe's sauce to take home.
Warning: We found out the hard way on a return trip to KC that Joe's is closed on Sundays. Hey, even the pit master needs a day of rest.
More Information: Visit oklahomajoesbbq.com for locations, menus, and products.