Whether or not you’ve made it to the spartan brick building in KCK’s Strawberry Hill neighborhood, you’ve likely had a Krizman’s sausage. Krizman’s opened way back in 1939 and sells its wares to Jack Stack, Slap’s, Arthur Bryant’s, Hayward’s and others.
Krizman’s sausages also appear at a lot of backyard barbecues—at least among discerning home cooks. I heard about them from Dan Hathaway, manager at The Kansas City BBQ Store, while competing in a little event thrown in the KCBS parking lot. I asked Hathaway, who knows as much about backyard cooking as anyone, about his preferred smoking sausage, and he didn’t hesitate to pick the Krizman’s barbecue roll.
“Growing up, Krizman’s sausage has always been one of my first memories of eating BBQ in Kansas City,” he says. “I didn’t realize what it was until many years later when I learned they supplied many of my favorite places in town.”
They also supply his team—and a few teams that have won big at competitions. Those cooks favor the fresh, not pre-smoked or frozen, “barbecue roll,” says owner Joe Krizman III, whose grandfather founded the business. And by fresh, they mean fresh. “Nothing sits around for more than a day here,” Krizman says.
Krizman’s grandfather started the business as a grocery store. The house sausages were by far the most popular product—at the time, there was a big demand for blood sausages and head cheese in the heavily Croatian neighborhood of Strawberry Hill.
“My grandfather worked in the packing houses, and his brother-in-law talked him into a small mom ‘n’ pop grocery store,” Krizman says. “He started making a polish sausage in the back room of their grocery store. Everyone was coming for the sausages. The grocery store was second fiddle.”
In the early ’70s, Joe Krizman II stripped the shelves of other groceries and started focusing exclusively on sausages. Joe Krizman III has been working at the family business since 1987 and bought it from his dad in 2010.
“Part of the key to our sausage is that all we do is sausage,” he says. “If you go to a grocery store or another butcher, they will put their scraps in. We just put in the finest cuts of pork and beef.”
That’s right: Sausages at Krizman’s aren’t all snouts and ears. They don’t even buy whole hogs. Instead, at Krizman’s, they just buy pork shoulder to be ground up, seasoned and stuffed.
The seasoning profile is a big part of the appeal, of course. The barbecue roll comes in spicy or regular. I liked the spicy paired with a very sweet sauce, like Slap’s relatively thin sugar bomb. The casing is also important: Krizman’s uses a natural beef that’s a “bigger, heavier casing so if you want to put that in your smoker, you can smoke it for a couple of hours and that casing will hold up.”
Indeed, I ran some errands and left it in my smoker an extra hour, and it was still perfect after four hours above 300 degrees. As far as forgiving and flavorful smoking sausages, the Krizman’s barbecue roll is hard to beat.
Or, as Hathaway put it: “The BBQ roll is one of the reasons we are the ‘BBQ Capital of the World.’”