Kansas City’s best barbecue will be available in a restaurant, “before the end of the year.”
Tyler Harp opened his pop-up in the back of Raytown’s Crane Brewing back in spring of 2019. We were early fans, and by that fall the pop-up earned the top spot on our biannual survey of the best barbecue restaurants in KC, largely on the strength of its standard-bearing Texas-style brisket. Last year, Harp again claimed the top spot on our complete survey of the city’s best cue.
After a long, slow smoke Harp Barbecue will open a brick-and-mortar location at 6633 Raytown Road, a former Mexican restaurant that was a longtime location of Lutfi’s Fried Fish before that. Harp got the keys last week and hopes to be open in November or December. He’d searched the metro area before ending up at a space just about three hundred yards south of Crane Brewing, the site of his pop-up.
“We’ve grown a good following in Raytown and a lot of loyal people come to our place so it made sense to stay out there and grow it, and we’re happy it worked out that way,” Harp says.
Harp plans to be open Wednesday to Saturday, with a lunch-to-sellout model, as is common with the top pits in the nation. “We’ll be open until five or six o’clock every day,” he says. “We’re going to shoot to be open until six o’clok every day so people can pick up food for dinner on their way home from work.”
While the menu will eventually expand—when Harp opened there were just four meats and three sides—the opening day menu will be similar to the current pop-up menus, which include brisket, sausages, pork and a handful of sides and specials.
“We’re going to start small, which is always how we’ve tried to operate as a business,” Harp says. “We try to move slow and be methodical.”
That methodical approach is something Harp hopes he’s modeled to other cooks in the city. Harp has visited about four-hundred barbecue pits around the country and didn’t want to turn over control “to somebody who hasn’t seen as much as I’ve seen.”
“It was important for me to control the vision of what the restaurant should be, just because I’ve seen more than almost anybody,” he says. “I think it’s important to show people in the barbecue industry, or even just the culinary industry, that you can start your business without going into debt, without getting investors… If you want to be gritty enough, we can basically be the sole proprietors of our businesses and make the decisions we want to make.”
Harp has three outdoor smokers that will be moved to the new location and used to cook meat over a live-fire but will finally have a proper kitchen.
“We’ve done this for three-plus years without even a kitchen,” he says. “Some of the sides will have the ability to evolve. We’ll have the ability to do different things and as we master those we’ll add them to the menu.”
The location on the Rock Island bike trail was another selling point, says Harp.
“We were in an industrial area and so unless you went out with the intention of going there you weren’t just going to stop,” Harp says. “The space we got, the storefront is right on Raytown Road and the trail goes behind it, too, so we’re still going to be on the Rock Island Trail. So we’ve got both sources of traffic and we’re kinda sandwiched in between.”
Harp doesn’t plan to open with a liquor license but will eventually add booze: “We definitely plan on having a good amount of Crane beers on there.”