Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Kansas City, Part I

Kevin and I went to Kansas City (the one in Missouri) this past weekend to meet up with my sister and her husband, and to go to the American Royal BBQ Festival! It's the largest BBQ festival in the nation, if not the world! At least 60,000 to 70,000 people attend, with hundreds of competitors entering their delectable BBQ for judging! Woohoo!

So tell me what you think when I say that.

I'm guessing that you thought we went to Kansas City with the intention of spending 8-10 hours each day at the festival, pigging out on BBQ until we burst.  You would be right.

And if you thought that the above was indeed what was offered by the festival and what we experienced, you would be wrong. So so so so wrong. But not as wrong as we were. And when I say "we," I mean the people who flew from different ends of the country to experience the purported BBQ nirvana.

Sons of bitches.

We head out bright and early to the convention center where the festival is being held.  We get charged $20 for parking. No matter, we get a prime spot and are clearly ahead of the game to eat all that delicious BBQ.  The only BBQ we see is that which people are only starting to cook, in hundreds and hundreds of little lots--like the biggest tailgate party ever.  There are lawn chairs, tables, chairs, decorations, signs, etc. in each little "lot".  *However*, I am a bit confused why those smokers are only just starting. After all, isn't BBQ all about "low and slow"?  How are they going to feed us? It's 10am, and we want BBQ!

After wandering around for a bit, we think we are getting warmer by walking into a large dome-like building called the BBQ Expo.  I have no concept of space measurements, but to me it looked like about 2 acres, under a dome, with about 7 stands of vendors.  No BBQ to be bought.  But there are people hawking their bottled BBQ sauces, as well as a broad range of memory foam mattresses  Not to be deterred, my sister starts asking random people where the food is (I refuse to ask because it was becoming apparent that something was amiss. Very amiss.).  They respond to her with a confused look, think for a few seconds, and take about 10 minutes to answer her, the reason for which becomes clear later on (hint, it's because there was no answer to the question that wouldn't have made us feel like complete and total idiots).

We head out to the lot where purported food for sale is.  Finally! There's BBQ for sale! Granted it's from a suspiciously garishly stand that is pretty much on its lonesome (the funnel cake and Red Bull stands definitively do not count), but we sample the wares anyway.  

BTW, there is also a very cruel and teasing stand clearly labeled "FULL BAR" that was, sadly, completely and heartbreakingly devoid of any human presence and more importantly, of any alcohol.  There is, however, another stand temptingly offering up curly cue fries.

Let me show you what we eat--at that point, you know, just a snack to stave off hunger before the big pig-out which is surely, in our delusional minds, to come.  Note: When viewing the following photos, please take the adage that looks can be deceiving very seriously. Like, dead seriously.

Ribs. Tasty-looking, right? HA!

Now, I will admit that at the time, I am willing to call this "good" because I am a Yankee gooberbutt and wouldn't know good BBQ from gnawing on my belly button lint.  I will say that it was still the most edible of the wares that we tried.  In hindmemory, my eyes have been opened and I realize that this was heavily coated in something that tasted awfully like a mass-produced "BBQ Seasoning" in a plastic jar that contained lots of MSG (which actually I don't have a huge problem with) and had been sitting in a kitchen pantry for a year or two (this part I did have a problem with). Plus they were hecka dry.  Regardless, like I said, at the time I didn't know any better and I was hungry like a fox.

Pulled pork sandwich

Looking at this kinda makes me want to cry.  All of us are a little dazed and confused, thinking--are we just dumb? Is this supposed to be good? Because this kinda resembles, in both appearance and taste, shoelaces that have been chewed by generations of pugs, and then half-heartedly dragged through some BBQ sauce.

Lastly, there are the curly cue fries. Oh FOR SURE fried potatoes will save the day.

Besides the size and shape, there is nothing impressive about these fries.  Well, I guess they are impressively bad.  Anemic, greasy, flaccid--the opposite of what fries should be.  

We venture to the information booth to ask the whereabouts of the real food.  Surely it is lurking somewhere.  In a very nice and roundabout way, the lady pretty much says that we are already looking at it.  Then she tries to tout the petting zoo. Sweet.

Not giving up entirely, my brother in law makes an expedition to a second information booth where, after a roundabout exchange (which happens when there is a complete and total misunderstanding), the woman nicely asks my bro in law, "What exactly are you looking for?" To which my brother in law makes the now clearly embarrassing confession that "We were looking to try lots of different barbeque."

To which the nice, but probably pitying woman replies, "You know, we get many people coming here with that misconception."

Oh REALLY? Well, do they come all the way out from California and New York? Do you resist the urge to sell bumper stickers saying "SUCKERS" that people in the know can slap on our foreheads?  Do people stand around and take bets as to how long it will take the idiot tourists to realize that "BBQ Festival" is code for "No food for you!"?

The truth is that unless you plan on *entering* the American Royal BBQ competition, there's no point in going.  Unless you really want to test out Tempurpedic mattresses and sample caramel-chili sauce in rapid succession (for all ye out there who do, get ye to the BBQ Expo).  The festival is actually a big ass party for the competitors, their friends and family, to barbeque and party all night.

Thanks a fucking lot, American Royal.

So, did this ruin our trip? Did we tuck tail and head home to our respective coasts? I think not! I'll let you know whether we were able to redeem ourselves in future posts.


  1. Oh no! What a crock! Although, I have to laugh a little bit, that so SUCKS! PS-We need to get together for a doggy playdate soon!

  2. BOO!!! The festival is deceiving! You should demand your airfare back.

  3. I knew where this post was going when I began it and I know it won't make you feel any better but as a member of a KCBS BBQ team we are not allowed to sell our BBQ without a health department permit.
    We get asked at every competition if we are selling our BBQ and sadly we cannot. We normally give it away to family and friends but were told at the last competition that, we had to have a permit to do that also, so yea.

  4. Why don't they figure out how to sell it? Don't they realize how much money they could make?? This is the craziest thing I've ever heard! But, I can't wait to hear about the rest of the weekend! Oh, and come to Texas, we won't shun you at our festivals. :)

  5. Sunny--thanks for clarifying! Don't worry, I don't think it's anyone's "fault". It was just a big, hilarious misunderstanding! Hope that one day you are able to sell at the festival!

  6. WHAT. THE. HELL. That sucks! I can sort of relate. There is an allegedly huge and famous corn festival in Mendota, IL, and one year my boyfriend and I decided to try it out. Several hours of driving through nothing but corn fields, and there was no corn to be found. The only "corn" we saw was corn dogs and popcorn. WTF!? Our friend went another time and said there was crazy amounts of corn. We must have gotten there before/after the corn mania. We were pissed, and I refuse to ever go back. I find that many "festivals" make empty promises and turn out way suckier than they'd have you believe, but a world famous BBQ can they NOT sell BBQ!? I understand your rage. I'd be raging too! I sorta am anyway, and I wasn't even there!

  7. OH NO!! That sounds like the biggest let-down ever. I love the lady's answer about people's misconceptions re: BBQ. What about the words "BBQ festival" doesn't mean that there will be BBQ? I didn't get to go to the one here in NYC this year, but we should plan to go next year. It will save you a flight :) So sorry for this debacle. I hope the rest of the trip was fun.

  8. Terri--thanks for the sympathy. Big Apple BBQ Block Party next year sounds good to me!

    mintedlife--yay Texas BBQ! would love to try it!

    MayLove--i see that you can totally identify with my experience. that's hilarious about the corn "festival".

    runrgrl--i'm totally up for a doggy playdate!

  9. That's crazy! You would think they could at least give away small samples. I can understand Sunny's explanation of the health permits but really? That selection is pathetic!

  10. PS The best bbq I ever had came from Brooklyn. Random.

  11. reading this just brings back the pain... 'misconception' my ass.

  12. "shoelaces that have been chewed by generations of pugs, and then half-heartedly dragged through some BBQ sauce"

    Best. line. ever.

  13. No bbq to eat? :( This hurts my feelings! utter blasphemy!

  14. I wish I would have known you were doing this. I live in KC and would have given you a bit of insight. I love going to the American Royal (especially when I've helped a team in the past), but I wouldn't fly from another city just for it.

    I hope you were able to enjoy some of what KC had to offer.

  15. I'm really sorry you had this experience in KC at the Royal. I've lived in KC since '74 & been going to BBQ competitions since day 1. In the very early years of the Royal, there was plenty of BBQ to taste & a few "BBQ Booths" that sold meals. There were also gobs of BBQ related vendors selling their wears, from aprons to bumper stickers.

    As the city & state food cops got involved, the public became more & more isolated from the fun of BBQing. Some of the other fests around KC still allow tasting or sell.

    Most folks who come to the Royal from out of town know the score. They plan their BBQ dining well in advance & treat it like a weekend BBQ pub crawl. There are hundreds of BBQ joints around town & you will not break the bank getting filled up at them.