For decades, Kansas City’s world-famous barbecue scene has sparked debate among visitors and locals alike as they argue one seemingly simple question: Who has the best BBQ in KC?
And while you’re as likely to get consensus on that topic as you are to see Missouri Tigers and Kansas Jayhawks cheering each other on—it just doesn’t happen—there’s always been a fairly clear-cut Final Four: Arthur Bryant’s, Gates, Jack Stack, and Joe’s KC (you may know it as Oklahoma Joe’s).
But when Q39 opened its doors in April 2014 in the West 39th Street neighborhood, even the most loyal diners started sizing up space for a fifth face on KC’s culinary Mount Rushmore.
The concept of husband-and-wife team, Rob and Kelly Magee, Q39 features specialties based on two Kansas City favorites: Barbecue and wood-fire grilling. Trained at the Culinary Institute of America, Rob and his team use hickory wood, indirect heat and original sauces to cook the heavier meats (ribs, chicken and pork shoulder), while grilling with oak gives the hamburgers, steak and seafood a smoky flavor while sealing in precious juices.
Pitmaster Rob, along with his competitive team, Munchin’ Hogs, holds dozens of first-place awards for original barbeque from competitions across the country, many of which are on display in the restaurant. Most notably, the team holds reserve championship and two national grand championships from the Kansas City Barbecue—instant credibility with even the most judgmental locals. On a national scale, Eater featured Q39 in its “Kansas City Heatmap: Where to Eat Right Now” as one of the “hottest openings” and The Huffington Post ranked it among “5 of the Hottest Barbecue Trends for 2015.”
The Munchin’ Hogs inspiration can be seen in the pulled pork, beef brisket, burnt ends, chicken breast or house-made chipotle sausage that customers enjoy when ordering the traditional barbeque sandwich. Even when asking Kelly to choose her favorite among favorites, she takes the “wish for more wishes” route by picking the Judges Pick 3. “Brisket, chipotle sausage, ribs are my favorites,” she admits. “Burnt Ends when available.”
One of the best surprises on the menus is their smoked chicken tortilla soup, which at first glance seems more suited to one of the wonderful taquerias on nearby Southwest Boulevard. But spoonfuls of fresh vegetables offer a refreshing complement and contrast to the piles of meat on the plate. To wash it all down, Q39 is home to a full-service bar featuring craft cocktails as well as beers and wines of local, national and international origin, suited to novices and the more refined drinker.
“Kansas City is a hidden jewel,” Kelly says. “The arts and restaurant scene are all recognized on a national level, and I think it is one of the best foodie towns in the country.”
And while they don’t have much time to enjoy various pastimes around town, it’s not surprising they still squeeze in their favorite outdoor activity: BBQ contests. As a proud success story of the competitive circuit, they’re focused on helping the next generation. “Q39 specifically supports education and children’s health initiatives,” Kelly explains, “and Rob also loves mentoring up and coming barbeque enthusiasts.” And all of those enthusiasts will just add more fuel to the fire in KC’s best BBQ debate.