NBBQA 2019 Restaurant Tour

I always enjoy eating at barbecue restaurants, but I’ve found very few that produce barbecue as good as I cook in my backyard. I think I’ve found out why. In early-April 2019, I took a tour of three barbecue restaurants in Kansas City, one of the meccas of barbecue greatness, as part of the National Barbecue and Grilling Association (NBBQA) annual conference.

Our tour included three barbecue restaurants: Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue on W. 47th St. (joeskc.com @joeskcbbq); Plowboys BBQ in Blue Springs (plowboysbbq.com); and SLAP’s BBQ (slapsbbqkc.com @slapsbbq). During the “Meet the Masters” discussion panel at the NBBQA conference, Junior Urias, TV Personality and owner of Up in Smoke BBQ in Midland, TX (@junioruriasbbq @upinsmokebarbq) and others also discussed their restaurant operations.

Commissary at Joe's Kansas City Barbecue

All of the restaurants I toured considered the quality of the meat that they purchase to be of utmost importance. They worked closely with their meat suppliers to get just the right grade and cut. Joe’s purchased separate brisket flats and points, since brisket burnt ends (made from the point) are such a big deal in Kansas City. Most of the restaurants used white oak for smoking, which is readily available locally.

I learned the big difference between backyard barbecue and restaurant barbecue is how the meat is handled after cooking. Joe's and Plowboys restaurants wrapped the meats in cling wrap then cooled the meats in a chiller after removal from the smoker. Some meats are bagged. Joe’s breaks down the larger meats – the brisket and shoulder – into smaller cuts before chilling so that the meat can drop down go through the temperature danger zone (40 degrees to 135 degrees) in a short enough amount of time to be safe (I assume the other restaurants do something similar). Afterwards, the meats may be held in refrigeration for up to 7 days.

Before serving, the still-wrapped meats are put in a commercial convection oven/steamer and warmed to a safe temperature (>135 degrees). They opened the oven/steamer at Joe’s while we were there. Let me tell you, the steamy air blowing out of the oven was much more powerful than with my convection oven at home! Once warmed, the meats are held in a warmer until serving.

Convection/Steamer to Reheat Meats

Reheat Schedule

Junior Urias at the “Meet the Masters” discussion says he approaches the barbecue restaurant business a little differently. Junior’s restaurant is only open two days a week (he caters the rest of the week). Junior cooks his meats and then puts them directly in the warmer until serving. (I believe Slaps BBQ in Kansas City does this also, but I didn't get a chance to tour behind the scenes - I was too busy eating his great barbecue!) 

Junior's restaurant in Midland, TX is only open so long as there’s still fresh food, cooked that day. Late-comers may have a limited menu to choose from, or find that the restaurant is already closed. This is the same way some of the great barbecue restaurants, such as the famous Franklin’s Barbecue in Austin, TX, are run.

Some of the restaurateurs at the “Meet the Masters” session said they would like to do business the same way as Junior, but are concerned that customers expect to be able to get anything on the menu at any time the restaurant is open, and expect the restaurant to be open the hours indicated. Unfortunately, chilling and reheating the meats reduces their quality, and I think the restaurant owners agree, but are bound by customer expectations.

So, when you hear me talk about how backyard barbecue is some of the very best, this is one reason why. And look for barbecue restaurants that serve it ‘til it’s gone! (BTW, catered barbecue is usually also served fresh off the smoker).

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