In Praise of Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue
I’ve devoted a fair bit of digital space here praising barbecue, and meats, and smoke, and especially, smoky barbecued meats.
Whether giving due props to the men who made me into a man who makes meals; or sharing the tricks I’ve picked up to prepare killer crock pot pulled pork sandwiches, or grill the perfect steak, or my one-of-a-kind (I think!) garlic brats.
Yeah, I’m a man who pays serious mind to his meats. And I’ve tried enough great barbecue to know when to bow and genuflect to the masters.
In no particular order:
I’ve sampled the finely shredded pork, piled chest high, at a tiny little roadside restaurant in Meadow, North Carolina. Hummed along to the mustard-vinegar kick of a pork sandwich doused in Carolina Gold, courtesy of South Carolina Q. Licked my salty lips after savoring dry-rubbed, pit-smoked Tennessee ribs. And just about converted to Texas wood-fired brisket, where every bite was an orgy of smoke-char-spice-juiciness, with nary a sauce cup in sight.
But I do love my sauce: deep red and packing a kick. And I do love variety: pork, beef, sausage, even chicken. With smoke and fall-apart-at-the-touch-of-a-fork tenderness to spare.
Nobody does it better than Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue in Kansas City.
Burnt Ends for Barbecue Bliss
I was first introduced to Jack Stack by my wife’s family. They’d tried a few barbecue joints near their home on the Kansas side of Kansas City, but none worth mentioning here. And then they made their way to the original Martin City, Missouri home of Jack Stack, and there was no real need to go anywhere else, ever again.
Although the menu features ribs and wings and steak and chicken, even fish, and you can get sliced, smoked meats piled onto a bun, with fries, and go home satisfied, the real treat is burnt ends.
What are burnt ends? Merely manna from barbecue heaven. Only the tenderest, smokiest, juiciest morsel you could ever imagine.
Technically, they’re the fatty, twice-smoked edges cut from a brisket. Pitmasters used to give them away for free, or toss them in stews, before realizing: hey, this is the good stuff.
I’ve been heading to Jack Stack with my in-laws (and without, whenever my path winds through Kansas City) for about 17 years now, and I’ve long had my order perfected:
A plate of pork and beef burnt ends, with Jack Stack’s molten, mouth-watering bowls of cheesy corn and pit baked beans on the side (hint: there’s burnt ends in those as well!). I’ll tear the toasted bread they serve with the meal in a few chunks and let that soak in the beans and cheesy corn, and take my wife’s dill pickle rounds off her hands to contrast the rest of the spread.
We may start off with a tower of onion rings, the better to start savoring the homemade sauce they bring out in twin dishes, one spicy, the other “original” (mild). Or just save our appetites for the main event. In any case, we often have leftovers, ripe for reheating for a Sunday lunch, after church. But if I’m especially hungry, and drunk on that hickory smoke, I make no apologies: I’ll lick the plate clean, right there.
Some locals criticize Jack Stack as being too expensive, or paint it as the snooty barbecue when compared to (ugh) Oklahoma Joe’s, or the ubiquitous Arthur Bryant’s. And it can be downright impossible to walk in on a Friday (or Thursday or Wednesday or Tuesday) night and expect to get seated. Heck, we were a little late for my wedding rehearsal dinner in 2002 and they gave our tables away. (Conclusion: we waited to get our tables anyway. It’s that damn important.)
Still, there’s nobody who serves it up for me the way Jack Stack does. I’ve never had a bad meal. I think I’ll spend another 17 years putting that to the test. And then 17 more.