A couple years back, John Atwell and his wife Brandi made a visit to Austin.
“It was the week before Thanksgiving and we went to Franklin’s and Snow’s and some of those other places down there,” he says. “You tasted the brisket in particular and it was kind of like ‘Holy cow, nobody’s doing it like that up here!’”
The Atwells had been angling to open a barbecue restaurant, and figured they’d do the brisket a la Lonestar — sauceless, crusted with salt and pepper, sliced into thick fatty slabs.
Now, of course, there is someone else doing it up here: Tyler Harp, whose Raytown pop-up was named top barbecue in KC in our October survey of fifty-plus spots.
“My wife actually went to high school with Tyler Harp and so we started following each other on social media,” he said. “I helped him with a few of the pop-ups last summer just to see how he does things and try some of his food. I was blown away by his food, like pretty much everybody else in Kansas City that’s had it.”
Joustin Pigs BBQ is probably the closest thing to Harp in town — the spot the Atwells run with co-owner Rod Blackburn is just off the square in Liberty and operates in tandem with a brewery. Like the plump, fatty sliced brisket, the ribs are also served without sauce. Their extra spicy jalapeno cheesy corn and moist sliced turkey alone are worth the drive.
Not bad for a competition barbecue guy who was an accountant until recently. John Atwell was working on the business side of Saint Luke’s Hospital when the BBQ bug bit.
“I bought an ugly drum smoker, cooked a pork butt and some ribs in the backyard one day,” he says. “I had a friend come over and try it. He liked it. Next thing you know, he’s saying we should cook the Great Lenexa BBQ Battle. And that was the best-slash-worst decision of my life.”
From one little barrel smoker it was off to Weber Smokey Mountains, then trailer-mounted stick burners and on to a thousand-gallon offset, which Jousting Pigs used for its summer opening.
After a frustrating false start on another space in Liberty, Atwell ended up in the former Rock & Run Brewery space. It was “a fairly turn-key operation” aside from adding an offset smoker and now a rotisserie smoker. These days, they’re mostly using an Old Hickory, which has worked well — a January visit found that Jousting Pigs have stepped up from the summer, when they were using an offset.
If you want the true Texas experience, you have to ask for it. After experimenting with the wording of their menu, they’ve decided to make Texas brisket an off-menu item.
“People can request that ‘Texas-style fatty’ and we’ll have no problem slicing it off for them,” he says. “We put it on the menu and the cashiers were asking about it — most everybody would kind of, you know, look at it a little funny, like, ‘What in the world are you talking about?’ But people had heard that we would do it so they would come ask for it, especially if it was a day that Tyler wasn’t open. They’d come up and want a slice of Texas-style fatty.”
GO: 114 E. Kansas Street, Liberty. 816-429-6886, joustingpigsbbq.com.