Anthony Bourdain's Favorite Barbecue Joint Was A Kansas City Favorite

While Anthony Bourdain's enthusiasm for a variety of cuisines was clear, he undoubtedly had a fondness for barbecue. In 2003, during Season 2 of Bourdain's first series, "A Cook's Tour," he took viewers on a trip for some serious barbecue tourism, giving a glimpse of many spots in Houston, Kansas City, and North Carolina serving up the smoked meat that he loved in an episode titled "The BBQ Triangle."

Early in the show, Bourdain introduced Oklahoma Joe's, a humble barbecue joint that opened a gas-station-based location in 1996, as one of the top purveyors of barbecue in the city. He happily sampled pulled pork topped with coleslaw, ribs, and burnt ends — the latter of which were less common at the time, though Oklahoma Joe's was known for serving them once a week.

During his meal, Bourdain chatted with his dining partner, Carolyn Wells, executive director of the Kansas City Barbecue Society, who ultimately claimed that Kansas City was home to the best barbecue. Bourdain followed up in the narration, reflectively stating that calling Kansas City's style of barbecue the best was a "bold claim." Little did he realize then that he had found what would become one of his favorite spots to get his smoked meat fix.

What did Anthony Bourdain think of Oklahoma Joe's?

Just eight years after Anthony Bourdain's show featuring Oklahoma Joe's aired, the humble spot landed on his list of "13 Places to Eat Before You Die," published by Men's Health. The list covered spots that serve anything from bone marrow to foie gras hot dogs, and included well-known and respected restaurants like The French Laundry and Le Bernardin. However, there was only one barbecue restaurant — Oklahoma Joe's. And with a nod to Carolyn Wells' claim, Bourdain gave Oklahoma Joe's the highest praise, writing that "it's the best BBQ in Kansas City, which makes it the best BBQ in the world."

During that first visit to Oklahoma Joe's, Anthony Bourdain described the food as having "flavor up the yin-yang." And in his article for Men's Health, he pointed to those first meats he tried — burnt ends, pulled pork, and brisket — as the meals worth digging into at the Kansas City spot. So, if you're on the prowl to replicate Bourdain's favorite meaty meals in Kansas City, you can still find them in the same gas station at the intersection of 47th Avenue and Mission Road, but it now sports a different name. The restaurant is called Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, a change that occurred after partial owner Joe Davidson left the business.

What happened to Oklahoma Joe's?

Joe Davidson had originally been the maker of the Oklahoma Joe's brand of smokers, and was a regular competitor in smoking competitions where he met his eventual partners in the Oklahoma Joe's restaurant, Jeff and Joy Stehney. While they competed against each other, they formed a friendly relationship, and ultimately launched the first restaurant together in Oklahoma in 1996 before also opening the location in Kansas City later the same year.

About a year later, Davidson sold his smoker manufacturing business to Char-Broil, and moved to Texas to work for them. When he moved, he shut the restaurant in Oklahoma, but the Stehneys took over full ownership of the Kansas City location and changed the name. Since then, Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que has expanded with locations in Olathe and Leawood, and the Stehneys also opened a private dining and event space called The 180 Room. The popular barbecue spot also ships its food around the country.

After working for Char-Broil for a couple of years, Davidson moved on to other opportunities, including building grills again and leading corporate team-building. Ultimately, Davidson moved back to Oklahoma, and when he did, he set out to open a barbecue joint. With the name of the original restaurant already changed to Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, he was able to operate under the name Oklahoma Joe's again, and opened the doors to two locations in 2011. Now, Oklahoma Joe's operates in four locations in Oklahoma, and two in Nebraska.