This history of barbeque in Kansas City is the history of people on the move. If you haven't yet, please read my study on the history of the word BARBEQUE.
It explains how - and why - this savory Q'uisine was born in Texas, almost of necessity. Cattle, cowboys, and their chuck-wagon campfires headed up the Chisolm trail to catch a train back east (at least the cattle did). Two trails, cattle and cattle cars, colliding. A third trail was heading east to west, by sea if not by land. Although he was probably not alone, Memphis native Henry Perry immigrated to KC via steamships plying the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. As early as 1908, Perry is credited with popularizing smoked ribs and creating a taste that has flourished in The River City for a solid, smoky century.
Kansas City is by no means the cradle of BBQ, but KC smokers may have pefected it. Just a handful of pits were needed to create the KC style which is one of the most influential, popular, and widespread types of barbeque.
Most would agree that the KC’Q Holy Trinity are Bryants, Gates, and the Fiorella's (Jack Stack and Smokestack). KC Masterpiece (aka Disasterpiece) restaurants blazed a hot and hauty trail across the smoky night sky for a couple decades and are now no more - and good riddance, Rich.
Arthur Bryant's - Two words: Stockholm + Syndrome - cultural brainwashing is the only explanation available to explain Bryant's persistence. There is no current reason Bryant's (Arthur being a disciple of pioneer Henry Perry) should even be in business. Lousy facility, negligible "sevice", mediocre food, worst sauce in 12 states... I don't even bother to review them officially. It is only their historical head-of-the-line status that props them up. If there are 120 'Q joints in the area, Bryant's is on the thin TOTAL FAIL edge of the bell curve.
Gates - Three words: Phoning. It. In. Ollie Gates deserves highest praise for teaching inner-city kids to screech "Haa, May Ah Hep Yew" at the top of their minimum-wage lungs at joints all over town. Word is the ribs are good, but overall food quality is drive-by-able. Another legend stubbornly clinging to fame, but not 'Q excellence. (Be sure to watch the video referenced in the review.)
Ma & Pa Fiorella did us proud. Of the Holy Trinity, only this family is still smokin' up quality Q. Son Jack has multiple locations as Fiorella's Jack Stack, all definitive of what KC'Q should be. Daughter Mary / Grandson Ben are proudly holding up their end of the family tree at Smokestack.
Anchored by these pioneers, greater KC is now home to a dozen x dozen barbeque joints. Today, Kansas City's Q'scene is rich and thriving thanks to joints like Roscoe's and Smokin' Guns who have no laurels to rest on and are simply committed to the hard work it takes to be consistently great.
There are several KC'Q histories readily available so I'll not re-plow even this so-fertile ground at length. Here are some links to quality below resources. The rest is up to you...
Wiki article on "barbecue" (intentionally misspelled)
Amazing Ribs' expansive, worldwide history (quite nice)
"Best Barbecue In Kansas City" (several interesting videos)
Barbeque Kansas City! (several articles here, all worth a read)
If you find a history of 'Q that you just can't sleep until it appears here... maybe you need to simmer down. Nonetheless, send me a note and we'll see if I am as blown away as you.