If you pay close attention to the KC barbecue scene, you may have noticed there’s a lot of beer involved of late. No, not the cans being crushed at midnight parties at ’cue competitions, which have mostly been on hold. It’s the pits themselves. Of spots that have opened since our last complete survey of the city for our 2019 barbecue issue, about half are at breweries. And they’re disproportionately good.
Tyler Harp was the first local pitmaster to use the model. In October 2019, we named his weekly pop-up at Crane Brewing in Raytown the best barbecue in the city. Since then, Harp’s superlative Texas-style sliced brisket and hand-stuffed sausages with offbeat flavors have influenced a generation of KC ’cue.
When he opened at Crane, Harp expected others to follow—in fact, he told a podcast that he expected ten barbecue spots inside local breweries within three years. “If not for Covid, I probably would have been correct,” Harp says. “It didn’t take Einstein to predict this. I saw a bunch of breweries with no food in a competition BBQ town.”
Harp thinks that the culture of the KC brewing scene, which is relatively young and still has deep roots in homebrewing, means that a lot of breweries in town are less interested in selling food—something Missouri’s hands-off taproom laws allow. “There’s a huge void here that I haven’t seen in other parts of the country,” he says. “In Cali and Texas, breweries seem to be opening with food and kitchens. For some reason, it’s not even on the radar of a lot of people opening breweries here, so it allows for a perfect partnership.”
Jousting Pigs started as a competition team. When they decided to make it a business, co-owner John Atwell planned a standalone restaurant. After a lease fell through, and mutual friends introduced them to 3Halves Brewing, which took over the former Rock & Run Brewery. It’s worked out well—they’ve been busy, and a sampler platter on a recent visit found that Jousting Pigs is among the city’s elite.
“I don’t think it is a coincidence at all,” Atwell says. “I think the craft barbecue and craft beer folks are cut from the same cloth. Both groups do a great job of making traditional beer and BBQ but are also willing to take risks and experiment with new flavors and concepts.”
Among the newest beerside barbecue spots is Burn Theory Fire Kitchen, which operates from a trailer outside Diametric Brewing Co. in Lee’s Summit. Taylor Jones is the owner and chef and has a lot of experience in the barbecue world—he worked as a general manager for Dickey’s and coordinated catering for Zarda. He knew the Diametric team from the homebrew scene, and when they went pro, they brought him along.
Jones is making full platters about once a month—think bread-and-butter-style beet pickles and mole with pinto beans—but is open and serving a pubby menu with smoked wings and barbacoa tacos every day.
“I’m full stick burn—it’s just me, my smoker and wood,” he says. “I don’t have a microwave, I don’t have a freezer and I don’t have an oven. If it needs to be baked, it gets baked on the smoker.”
The biggest thing that craft beer and barbecue have in common, says Jones as a veteran of larger barbecue operations, is that neither is overly concerned with profit margins.
“It’s a vibe,” he says. “It’s an atmosphere, it’s an attitude, it’s a mindset. Two groups of people crafting things with their hands for you.”