Posted October 12, 2017
Want to start an old-fashioned scrap? Ask which state has the best barbecue. Some will say North Carolina, others Tennessee and still others Texas. All of them belong in the culinary kerfuffle. Then there’s Missouri, which just might top them all. In the least, the “Show Me State” – according to a couple of surveys, here and here – might be home to the city with the country’s best BBQ: Kansas City.
Again, you can eat great BBQ in a lot of places, but probably none is better than what they serve up in KC-MO. Perhaps it’s a holdover to KC’s hey-day as a cow town, when its stockyards covered 55 acres – actually straddling the Kansas River into Kansas City, Kansas, as well. (Below, KC’s stockyards in 1909.) At its peak in 1923, Kansas City’s yards received more than 2.6 million cattle and more than 2.7 million hogs. Only Chicago’s were bigger.
The living legacy to those days is some mighty-fine BBQ eating. Energy helps make the feast happen – in all its tangy, greasy glory.
To keep plates full of BBQ chicken, pork and beef brisket – including KC’s famous burnt ends – Pit masters at local staples man natural gas-fired rotisseries, slathering sauce over tender meat as it slow cooks. Meanwhile, they shovel wood – cut with electric and natural gas log splitters and chainsaws – into the rotisseries to add the authentic KC flavor.
Patrons have their choice of the litter, with hundreds of BBQ joints located in the KC Metro area. Again, who’s got the best BBQ isn’t (and probably never will be) a settled question. Even President Obama carefully avoided weighing in on the matter. But KC BBQ belongs in the conversation.
Nick Beffer, general manager of fan favorite Jack Stack BBQ, knows well the role that energy plays in the restaurant’s success:
“Here at Jack Stack, our walk-in coolers keep the 1,900-2,500 pounds of meat we go through in a day fresh. And our gas-fired rotisseries take it from there, using hickory wood in addition to get that famous Jack’s flavor that satisfies upwards of 1,400 customers per day.”
Without livestock, there’s no BBQ. It’s as simple as that. Often overlooked is the process that keeps pigs, chickens and cows nourished. Fields must be fertilized, and crops must be grown, harvested and shipped. Natural gas, gasoline and diesel fuel are help keep the process going.
Nitrogen fertilizer lays the groundwork, as fertile ground is sacred to a farmer, and nitrogen fertilizer gives fields the nutrients they need to grow bountiful crops, like forage, which is used to feed livestock. According to the latest figures by the USDA, nitrogen fertilizers accounted for more than 10 million tons of the overall 22 million tons of fertilizer used in U.S. agriculture. A critical component to these fertilizers is natural gas, which is put through the Haber-Bosch process. The natural gas is combined with high heat pressure to produce the ammonia necessary for fertilizer’s production.
Once crops are ready to be harvested, gas- and diesel-fueled combines strip the grains and load them onto gasoline- and diesel-powered trucks, which transport the grains to be used to as feed.
Setting the Table
Although ribs, brisket and the like take hours to cook, they’re often devoured in minutes. Customers anxiously wait at their tables for their favorite meals to be served, tables that are often well weighted with a selection of condiments. There are plastic bottles filled with just about any extra sauce your heart desires, from red hot to one of Kansas City’s trademark molasses-based varieties. At many of the city’s more laid-back establishments, vinyl table cloths and plastic silverware make for an easy to clean dining experience, which is important when your customers are elbow deep in the local cuisine.
All of these mealtime accessories share an energy bond – all are thermoplastics, which are manufactured from petroleum. Through the “cracking process” and addition polymerization, streams of chemicals are extracted from petroleum and natural gas and bonded together to form these thermoplastics.
Whether you have a hankering for the iconic Jack Stack BBQ or maybe one of the hundreds of other local, albeit lesser-known spots, remember that an appetite for KC BBQ is satisfied with a big hand from natural gas, petroleum and products made from them.
Now, excuse me: Gotta find me some BBQ.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.