People have so many questions about burnt ends. What are they? How do you make them? If they’re burnt, how can they be good? Well, let me tell you that burnt ends are a Kansas City thang. Barbeque joints in other parts of the country may offer them now, but to my knowledge, they started right here in KC. Charlie Bryant bought out Henry Perry, our first barbeque entrepreneur of record, who served barbeque out of a barn near 17th & Highland in Kansas City starting in 1908. Arthur Bryant took over for his older brother some years later and moved the business to 18th & Brooklyn, just a few blocks from the old Municipal Stadium. That stadium was the home of the Kansas City Blues and later, the Kansas City A’s. It was also the first home of the Kansas City Chiefs. Being so close to the stadium, Arthur Bryant’s reputation for barbeque grew magnificently. The restaurant started out organized cafeteria style, as it still is all these years later. Customers would wait in line to order, then take their food on a tray to an available seat. While waiting in line, folks could snatch a handful of chopped up, well cooked ends of the briskets that had been sliced to order. These morsels were soon to be coined “burnt ends.” Over time, the burnt ends became so popular, Arthur Bryant decided this meat, previous thought of as scrap or waste, had value and began charging customers for their crunchy, savory fix. Rumor has it that this didn’t set well at first. Despite opposition from the regulars, the trend caught on in Kansas City.
These days, to meet demand, cuts of meat are sacrificed specifically to create burnt ends. Additionally, any over cooked piece of meat chopped into an unrecognizable form, be it beef, pork or otherwise, is now labeled as burnt ends and served, usually swimming in sauce. However, in traditional barbeque establishments, in addition to the over cooked parts and pieces left after slicing, brisket points are the acceptable cut of meat to create burnt ends. Whole briskets are cooked, the leaner flats are separated and sliced, while the fattier points return to the pit to further render their additional internal fat. The points exit the pit very dark, in an almost meteorite like state, with a smoky, crispy exterior wonderfully balanced by a moist, tender interior. They are cubed up and served as an entree or on bread or bun as a sandwich. When they’re good, they’re awesome. In fact, they’re almost indescribably the best barbeque under the sun. Big statement I know, but when was the last time you had great burnt ends? I rest my case . . . . . Oh, and those of you drooling on the keyboards, I know you’re gettin’ this!
Years ago, Hayward’s Pits Bar-B-Que used to be my favorite burnt ends in town. Then LC’s Barbeque stole the crown a few years back. But things change. Recently, thanks to Steph of TheSlabs.com, I sampled some of the best commercial burnt ends I’ve ever tasted, hands down. (I know, I know, that’s a huge statement, but I only speak the truth.) She brought me burnt ends from Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue, owned by Jeff & Joy Stehney. Jeff and Joy are part of the Slaughterhouse Five competition team that was a wildly successful competition team in the 90’s and still a serious threat every time they cook. They would be more of a threat, but they spend most of their waking hours making sure they serve some of the best barbeque in Kansas City. They offer burnt ends on Wednesday evening and Saturdays only. Their burnt ends were outstanding, to say the least. Now, here’s a little secret. Smokin’ Guns BBQ offers totally awesome, competition quality burnt ends every day. But get there early, as they have to be the most popular item on the menu AND they’re only open for lunch Monday through Friday. Phil & Linda Hopkins are top notch competitors on the barbeque circuit as well. Every time they compete, they are favored to hear their name called last.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating traditional burnt ends, you just haven’t experienced true Kansas City barbeque. These days, the ultimate burnt ends can be found in the judging tent of Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned contests, especially around Kansas City, during the brisket category turn-in. BAM! I know you were wondering how I would circle the wagons back to the topic of competition barbeque. There it is. Enjoy your day and thanks for reading my blog! Another fine picture courtesy of Dizzy Pig Barbecue Company.