If you were to go back to 2015, the last time the Royals competed for a crown, your options for great barbecue were pretty limited—not just at Kauffman Stadium, but across Kansas City. In fact, you could make the argument that the three new pits serving craft ’cue inside the K last year make better barbecue than existed anywhere in KC the last time the Royals had a winning season.
“In the entire city?” says Scott Umscheid, pausing to think for a few seconds. “Yes. I’d have to answer that yes.”
Umscheid runs Scott’s Kitchen up by the airport, a very good pit that has appeared on our biannual top 10 list. His was one of three pits tapped to operate at the K this year, along with Smoak Craft, a catering operation, and the venerable Chef J of the West Bottoms. The connection was made by Danielle Lehman, a former Kansas City magazine contributor who is a contractor for Aramark. Lehman recruited the pits to come out for the Royals Rally, an off-season fan festival. Six pits served barbecue bites in the Diamond Club, and three ended up signing on to serve at the stadium on a rotating schedule.
“We really are out there to support each other and help each other out, so it’s a fun little relationship with those guys,” Umscheid says.
Among those guys is Cade Colson, owner of Smoak Craft. Colson is a pharmacist by day, but he’s been running a barbecue catering operation on the side since the pandemic. Colson lived in Texas for thirteen years before coming to KC, but he doesn’t like to call his tender sliced brisket “Texas-style.”
“It’s kind of an old-world style,” he says. “There’s a lot of Czech heritage in central Texas, which is where that style came from, so it’s more salt and pepper and meat.”
The standout bite from my tray of Smoak Craft during a Friday night home loss to the other contender for the worst team in baseball, the Oakland Athletics, was that brisket with Colson’s unique coffee barbecue sauce. He makes it with help from a Lenexa roaster that makes a product called Bloc, a microfined coffee powder that’s processed like cocoa. “I feel like coffee is a kindred spirit to the smoke and fire involved in barbecue—the roast profile is there for both,” he says. “And you definitely drink a lot of coffee when you’re making barbecue.”
When Scott’s is serving, you won’t have that barbecue sauce, but you will have a full menu, including stunning platters of craft ’cue.
“We have a pretty elaborate menu for the K,” Umscheid says. “They sort of tried to talk me out of it. What we didn’t want to do was show up and do a version of a stadium nacho. What we wanted to do was bring our food cut and plated to order, and that’s what we’re doing.”
That means chipotle-ghost pepper and pepper jack cheese sausages, Texas-style sliced brisket, pulled pork and racks of ribs.
Being at the stadium is its own reward, Umscheid says, even if the team is on pace to lose a hundred games.
“They’ve been totally first-class to work with, bringing us on and making us feel like a part of their team,” he says. “We’re getting to know our neighbors, the bartenders, the funnel cake sellers and the security guards in our section. It’s really a community out there.”