Arrowhead Stadium is over-the-top. The Guinness-certified loudest stadium in the world is home to a team with a record-shattering offense in front of an audience that starts pounding beers before dawn.
It’s also one of the toughest places in the world to serve barbecue—facing a massive, rowdy crowd of hungry fans with high standards.
Todd Johns of Plowboys won the grand championship at the American Royal and ran three restaurants spread across the metro area. But when Johns closed his restaurants to pivot to his booming rub business, which is now shipping products to thirty countries, and was asked about the biggest challenges of his restaurant career, he pointed to Sundays at the stadium.
During a typical game day, Johns would walk six and a half miles of steps. “It took two days to recover,” he said.
This season, with Plowboys ending its operations, there are two new barbecue vendors at Arrowhead. You’ll find Buck Tui of Overland Park in Sections 121 and 339 and Jousting Pigs of Liberty and KCK in Sections 107 and 316. Both are great and were named among the top ten pits in town in our most recent biannual survey of the city.
Both were also brought along to work a game day with Johns to learn the ropes before signing on.
Buck Tui owner Ted Liberda, whose Thai-fusion BBQ concept took over the former Plowboys on 75th Street in Overland Park, says he “grew up at Arrowhead” as a huge Chiefs fan but that he was still surprised at what it’s like to work a game from behind the stand.
“It’s managed chaos,” Liberda says. “For me, as an operator or chef, I like the challenge. You get hammered and you push through and no matter what, you make it happen. It’s an adrenaline rush. It’s thrilling for us.”
The menu at the Buck Tui stands is simplified a bit from the restaurant, with two sandwiches, two types of loaded fries and BBQ chili crunch nachos. At first, Liberda tried to do his signature brisket rangoon before making a pivot.
“At the restaurant, it seems like there’s a brisket rangoon at every table,” he says. “People were coming up asking for nachos. Nachos are great—you’re at the game and everybody wants nachos.”
Those nachos get their kick from a chili crunch sauce that’s always been a staple at the Liberda home, which includes garlic, shallots, onion and the flakes of a milder pepper.
You’ll also find nachos at Jousting Pig BBQ, along with beef and pork sandwiches and pulled pork-loaded fries.
Owner John Atwell was likewise broken-in on a shift with Johns and was a little intimidated by the workload, but he welcomed the chance to show his stuff.
“I definitely had reservations, as they are very long days and require a lot of coordination leading up to a game to make sure you have everything you need,” Atwell says. “It is a very high-profile spot. Eighty-thousand fans plus other event staff make for great exposure. The craziest thing to me is how much goes into the operations of one event. It is really crazy to be on the other side.”
One of the best parts of the gig, Atwell says, is hearing from fans of his ’cue who are happy to see him serving at the stadium.
“I did samples at the Kingdom Club during the last game and was able to interact with the fans, and it was a lot of fun,” he says. “While moving supplies between our two stands, I had fans that saw my Jousting Pigs shirt come and tell me how much they love our food. It really meant a lot in all that commotion that people made an effort to come tell me.”