Kansas City's Burnt Ends Are A Beloved Regional Delicacy

If you find yourself in a BBQ restaurant, you'll usually encounter a variety of delicious slow smoked meats. From brisket and pulled pork to smoked chicken, sausage and ribs, there's something for every meat lover. Offerings are usually served as a platter of different types of meat, or you can pick your favorite and have it in a sandwich. Depending on where you are in the country and what style of BBQ you're about to be served, the offerings and sauces might look different.

If you're a fan of BBQ then you know that you can get it all over the country and that there are several different styles of BBQ that originate from different regions. While you could argue that Kansas City and Texas BBQ might be the most commonly known, there's also Carolina BBQ, Memphis style, and even Hawaiian BBQ. While Memphis and Carolina BBQ is all about the pork and Texas is all about the beef, Kansas City (often times known for its thick, sweet sauce) has one item that it stakes a claim to having invented: burnt ends.

What are burnt ends?

Simply put, burnt ends are the charred bits that come from the point end of the brisket (per Joe's Kansas City BBQ). According to Weber BBQ, the brisket has two parts to it, the point and the flat. The point end of the brisket is fattier and was traditionally less desirable than the flat, which was leaner and easier to slice. If you've ever had sliced brisket plate, or a brisket sandwich then this was most likely cut from the flat end of the brisket.

The reason the point of the brisket became the vehicle for burnt ends, has more to do with its history — but first, a bit on the structure of the point. The inside of the point is richly marbled and therefore can be very tough (per Joe's Kansas City BBQ.) For this reason, this section of the brisket was often discarded so that the chefs could slice up the leaner and more tender flat for sandwiches and platters. Joe's KC BBQ points out that this is a serious waste of not only food, but also BBQ potential. Slow smoking the point end of the brisket for even longer than you'd smoke the flat results in succulent and caramelized pieces of meat. Here's how burnt ends first came to the public's attention.

Get to the point

Burnt ends actually originated at a restaurant in Kansas City called Arthur Bryant's BBQ (per Kansas City PBS). Legend has it that the sandwich makers there would cut off the more charred ends of the briskets' point end as they were accessing the flat. As they trimmed the brisket, the scraps would pile up, so to give their customers something to nibble on while they waited in line to order, the burnt ends were set on the counter as a sort of free sample. After a while, they became so popular that customers requested they be on the menu. (per Kansas City PBS).

According to Feast Magazine, Arthur Bryant's current location opened in 1958, but their burnt ends didn't make headlines until 1972. Journalist Calvin Trillin declared Arthur Bryant's to be the best restaurant in the world in an article for Playboy, and he explicitly mentioned the burnt ends and how they stole the show. After that, the rest was history. Feast Magazine also notes that the original burnt ends were simply the scraps of the brisket that had been a bit too charred, but now that the dish is so popular, BBQ pit masters manufacture them by slow cooking the point end of the brisket, in some cases for up to 16 hours before chopping it into bite sized pieces.

Where to find burnt ends in KC

With burnt ends being a Kansas City specialty, it goes without saying that you'll have the most traditional version of the dish there in town. Since burnt ends were invented at Arthur Bryant's BBQ, located in Downtown KC, you can still go there today and order them.

If you're visiting the area and you're interested in trying this local delight, you can go on a Burnt Ends Crawl and add a few more establishments to your list. According to KC Ends BBQ, the top five places to get burnt ends in Kansas City as of 2022 were ranked simply. In the number 5 spot, Fiorella's Jack Stack BBQ; in the number 4 spot, Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, (formerly known as Oklahoma Joes.) The top three were ranked accordingly: Our House Restaurant, Cafe and BarQ39 Bar-B-Que and finally, LC's Bar-B-Que. Kansas City is also known for its sliced brisket, ribs and other slow smoked delicacies. No trip to KCMO is complete without a BBQ meal, so if you visit, make time and room in your tummy.