Oklahoma Joe’s, Kansas City, Kan.
Kansas City is known around the country for having some of the nation’s best barbecue, and it’s easy to see why. In the heartland of America, the meat is right there, so it comes to you as fresh as can be. Plus, while other areas have one kind of barbecue that they tend to stick to (Texas brisket, Carolina pork, St. Louis ribs), Kansas City goes ahead and barbecues everything and uses multiple sauces to find the right flavor.
And to find the best flavor in the City of Fountains, you head to a gas station.
No, I didn’t make that up. Oklahoma Joe’s is literally located inside a gas station in Kansas City, Kan., and it’s the home of what Kansas City residents have voted the greatest barbecue in the KC metro area, which spans both sides of the Missouri River and includes both Kansas City proper and what I refer to as the wealthy Kansas suburbs, places such as Bonner Springs, Overland Park, Lenexa, Olathe and KCK, all of which are well-known in the barbecue world.
KCK isn’t where Oklahoma Joe’s got its start, but it’s where Oklahoma Joe’s took off. The restaurant’s roots actually trace to Stillwater, Okla., where the Oklahoma Joe’s Smoker Company was headquartered. When Oklahoma Joe’s set up shop in KCK, the Oklahoma location closed and Oklahoma Joe’s became synonymous with Kansas City.
The reason is because Oklahoma Joe’s knows what it’s doing with its barbecue. The restaurant calls its pulled pork its house specialty, and when I see something like that, that means I’ve got to try it. Of course, me being the way I am and having an equal love for beef brisket, I couldn’t try one without the other.
It proved to be a wonderful decision. Oklahoma Joe’s has several awards for winning barbecue contests in Kansas, and all of them are well-deserved. The pork and beef are so good that the sauce isn’t even that necessary, but complements the meat perfectly. There’s very little sauce on there, and the meat is so tender and juicy that the taste is wonderful. Throw in some of the restaurant’s perfectly spiced fries and you have a meal that really can’t be beat.
The sandwiches at Oklahoma Joe’s aren’t huge, nor are they overloaded with toppings like at some places. The only toppings you get are a little bit of barbecue sauce and a couple pickles, but really, you don’t even need those. When you have great barbecue, all you need is for it to shine on its own and you have something memorable. If it shines on its own in a place like Kansas City, where barbecue is as much a part of the culture as the baseball season ending in September, you’ve really done something special with your sandwiches.
The most accurate thing I can say about Oklahoma Joe’s is that it’s the best barbecue sandwich I have ever eaten, and seeing as how I’ve traveled across the country, I can really think of no higher compliment for it. If you really love barbecue, you absolutely must make the trip to the gas station.
Time to go: Lunch or dinner, but earliest is better. Oklahoma Joe’s lines can get very long as the day goes on, and if you come at the wrong time, you’re going to be waiting for quite a while.
Wait during my visit: Small, but that’s because I was in line five minutes before the restaurant opened at 11 a.m. I was the ninth person in line. By the time I sat down to eat my sandwich, the line was already out the door. That’s how popular this place is.
Location: Oklahoma Joe’s can be found inside a gas station at 3002 W. 47th Avenue in Kansas City, Kan. There’s a second location in Olathe, one of the wealthy Kansas suburbs.
Parking: Not a ton, but since it’s a gas station, there’s some available.
Cost: Very affordable. You can get a sandwich and fries for under $10 here.
Website: Oklahoma Joe’s
Specialty items: Barbecue, specifically the pulled pork.