I love television that opens with slow motion shots of barbecue sauce being slathered on a rack of ribs. It's the closest I can come to being a lion devouring an antelope. The Travel Channel's Food Wars opened with a few mouth-watering shots of barbecue before host Camille Ford informed the audience that she was in "the town that lives and breathes barbecue."
So on ozone alert days, it's not asthma that we should worry about, it's that brisket sandwich you're trying to exhale around. But in the next 22 minutes, Food Wars intends to name the best ribs in Kansas City.
The introduction to Kansas City barbecue is difficult to pay attention to as sauce is being applied to platters of meat with a wet plopping noise in the background. This is a show that shouldn't be watched with a mound of burnt ends in front of you. But the basics of Kansas City barbecue are correct -- slow cooked meat over hickory wood that is then covered in a tomato-based barbecue sauce. Jack Stack and BB's Lawnside Barbecue get brief cameos with their logo flashing on the screen before the show jumps into the history of local barbecue with a brief profile of Henry Perry.
The first segment is shot at Gate's and one enthusiastic couple introduces me to a whole different way of looking at ribs.
"Have you ever seen a person take a rib and just suck the juice out a rib bone," says one Gates customer.
"I have," pipes up the woman next to him.
"You seen it baby? Yes..."
George Gates II is dynamic, painting a picture of Gates as a business that he was literally born to run. Gates opened in 1946 with the same barbecue sauce recipe that is used today. At the end of the segment, we meet Jen, who is married to an Arthur Bryant's fan. It's a rivalry painted with the same brush as the Yankees and Red Sox. Jen and her unnamed hubby will return later in the episode as judges.
Arthur Bryant's is profiled next, referred to as a "barbecue temple." Co-owner Gary Berbiglia talks about carrying forward barbecue history, since taking over the place from Arthur Bryant in 1982. The pork ribs get short shrift before there are glorious shots of the brisket being slowly cooked. And hey, we learn Jen's husband's name. It's Eric. And barbecue is apparently a marital tension.
The other three judges are introduced next and they are barbecue heavyweights. There's Carolyn Wells, executive director for the Kansas City Barbecue Society, Paul Kirk (the Baron of Barbecue), and Danan Hughes, a former wide receiver for the Kansas City Chiefs. The blindfolds are donned and the judges get to eating before a crowd holding signs inside the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Arthur Bryant's is the first plate out. The second plate is Gates.
Eric picks Arthur Bryant's, meaning he was able to taste the difference between a tomato-based and a vinegar-based sauce. Jen picked Gates. Danan found the meat tender and the sauce "very smooth" from Bryant's. Paul Kirk was up next and Arthur Bryant's was the victor after only four votes. Carolyn Wells was revealed via voiceover to also have selected Bryant's. Despite a commercial break and an attempt at a slow reveal, this one didn't have a lot of drama.
Gary Berbligia was gracious in the win.
"I'm very surprised at that. You could do it with five people tomorrow and it would four to one the other way. It's a plus for Kansas City. And it's a plus for Kansas City barbecue."