Chef J BBQ, Kansas City, Missouri

During our great dinner at Porky Butts in Omaha, barbecue guru Ryan Cooper (BBQ Tourist and The Smoke Sheet) suggested that Nancy and I should go to Chef J in the West Bottoms, or the former Stockyards District, of Kansas City. After a fine breakfast at Winstead’s and a wonderful tour of the very moving World War I Memorial and Museum, Nancy and I dutifully presented ourselves in the West Bottoms.

I actually worked on a Stockyards project as part of my first job in Washington. I was a minion of a consulting firm charged with doing something with the then-abandoned stockyards and associated buildings. My one clear recollection is that the cattle pens had been covered entirely with brick. Early on, the city had sold the used bricks for two or three cents each, and many people had bought them for patios and barbecue grills or pits. They were great except when it rained. The water would bring out the … distinctive feed lot odor.

I don’t know what we recommended, but what nearly 50 years has wrought is the transformation of the old brick warehouses and industrial buildings into the usual early mix of microbreweries, restaurants, and funky shops, plus, unusually, commercial haunted houses. You’ll see signs for the Chambers of Edgar Allen Poe, the Macabre Cinema Haunted House, and the Edge of Hell that add their own air to the neighborhood. One building houses the Beast Haunted House, the Ghosts and Gangsters Tour, and, on the first floor, Chef J.

Around the corner and down the street are the wood pile and smoker. That’s where Chef J, whose secret identity is Justin Easterwood, works his magic, and magic it is.

You enter Chef J and there he is, hard at work.

He greeted us affably and, as instructed, I dropped Ryan Cooper’s name. It was early, so we had a moment to chat, and I got a picture.

I ordered a one-meat plate ($16), brisket and two sides, chipotle slaw and bacon and bleu (cheese) potato salad. It came with three sauces as well as pickles, pickled carrots, and mainly jalapeños.

The brisket, as you can see, was. a generous slab topped by two chunks from the very edge of the moist end of the brisket, with lots of crust. They were sensational. They were untouched by sugar, just succulent beef, smoke, and light salt and pepper seasoning on the crust — the excellent crust. The slab was similarly masterful, smoky and tender. This is wonderful brisket.

As you may have gathered, this is Central Texas style barbecue, true to that tradition except that it’s cooked with hickory rather than post oak. That’s my kind of break with tradition. The pickles and jalapeños are a Texas touch, as is the slice of white bread. The three sauces are more Kansas City, and cater to the local preference for sweet sauces. The yellow sauce is more of a South Carolina touch. I imagine they’d be nice with the sausage at Chef J that, like everything else, is made in-house.

The local touch shows in the sides. The potato salad was outstanding. The Jack Stack potato salad also was very good. Is Kansas City a great potato salad town? I’ll certainly do more research when I return with my neighbor, Doug Jacobson, the Kansas City Barbecue Maven. Chef J’s potato salad was built around chunks of redskin potatoes (not overcooked) tied together by a memorable sauce that blended the bacon and bleu cheese with spring onions. You need to order some.  

The chipotle slaw was not overdressed, as so often happens. I was a little surprised that the chipotle flavor was relatively light, or seemed so compared to the other vibrant flavors in the meal. Or maybe it was that I’d just eaten a bunch of jalapeños right before I turned to the slaw.

Chef J usually has turkey, sausages, pork, and pork ribs as well as brisket. They were out of turkey, so Nancy put together a vegetable plate of the same sides I’d ordered, and banana pudding. I grew up in Alabama and banana pudding counts as a vegetable, damnit.

I’ve already discussed my two sides, and I can’t say anything about the banana pudding because Nancy didn’t offer me a taste. That’s a really strong sign that it’s delicious even beyond the normal heights of banana pudding.

Is this starting to sound like a love song? Chef J does a phenomenal job with a brisket. Have you been there? No? Go.


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4 thoughts on “Chef J BBQ, Kansas City, Missouri

  1. After Kansas City Magazine named this the second best ‘cue joint in the region, we drove down from the Twin Cities to give it a try– our 290th BBQ stop. Your review is spot on. Alas, it appears that you did not try the pork belly burnt ends. We put them in the top five nationwide. Your taste buds will be very happy if you pay a return visit just to eat this one dish.

    Liked by 1 person

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