A Healthy Twist on BBQ in Kansas City

Chef Kyle Williams — May 28, 2021

You can’t talk about Kansas City without mentioning its famous barbecue (BBQ) scene. In fact, over 25.2 million people visit our great city each year to try it. As Executive Chef of the Live Blue KC Kitchen + Café, I am inspired by our city’s culinary history. Here at Blue KC, I serve up BBQ favorites on Thursdays, which have become a favorite day of the week for employees as the irresistible smell of BBQ fills our headquarters around lunchtime.

While Kansas City prides itself on its BBQ, we didn’t become known for it overnight. In fact, BBQ in Kansas City dates back more than 100 years. I’ll be discussing the history of Kansas City BBQ and how to make BBQ dishes healthier. I’ll also share one of my special recipes for you to make at home. 

A Taste of History: The Story of Kansas City BBQ

Kansas City did not invent BBQ, but we did make it our own. The Deep South is known for creating BBQ food. After the Civil War, we began to see the influence of southern food on our dinner plates. But it wasn’t until 1907 that Henry Perry from Memphis, Tennessee, introduced BBQ to Kansas City with his little pushcart. Perry started serving smoked meats to Garment District employees and later moved his business to an old trolley barn. There, he would sell hot meat smoked over oak and hickory wood and wrap it in newspaper. He later opened three BBQ restaurants by the 1940s. Perry shared his secrets with his barbecue disciples, including Charlie and Arthur Bryant and George and Arzelia Gates. They started Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque and Gates Bar-B-Q, restaurants beloved by Kansas City residents to this day.

We owe a lot of gratitude to Henry Perry, the “Father of BBQ,” for over 100 restaurants in Kansas City. You may see a portrait of him hanging on the walls when you’re enjoying your food. The popularity of our city’s cuisine can be further attributed to a 1972 article by renowned food critic Calvin Trillin who solidified Kansas City’s reputation as a BBQ city. He declared Arthur Bryant’s restaurant the “single best restaurant” globally, and the town has retained its reputation as a top destination for the cuisine ever since. 

Getting More Nutritional Value For Your Bite

I know many of us have dietary restrictions, whether by personal choice or doctor-ordered. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy everything Kansas City BBQ has to offer. Those who avoid dairy should know it’s okay to eat BBQ meat, veggies, coleslaw and beans. However, they should remember to pass on the mac & cheese offered as a side dish at many places.

Lean into the nutritional value of the BBQ dishes you have in restaurants or at home. Focus on choosing chicken and/or leaner cuts of meat to reduce the fat content. Personally, I like adding beets to BBQ sauce for an additional source of fiber and vitamin C. Remember to always have a healthy beverage such as water, iced tea or a diet soda to complete your tasty meal instead of a sugary, high caloric drink.

Looking for a New Healthier Recipe to Try on The Grill?

Fire up the grill this summer and serve up a plate of Exotic Lebanese Grilled Chicken & Vegetables to accompany your BBQ spread. Enjoy this balanced dish!

Exotic Lebanese Grilled Chicken & Vegetables   

Yields – 4 servings

4 boneless chicken thighs or breast

Lebanese Dry Rub
  • ¼ tsp. – Cardamom, ground 
  • ¼ tsp. – Coriander, ground 
  • 1 tsp. – Cinnamon, ground 
  • 1 tsp. – Turmeric 
  • 1 Tbsp. – Sugar 
  • 1-4 tsp. – Kosher salt 
  • ¼ tsp. – Black pepper 
  • Pinch – Crushed Red Chili flakes 
  • 4 pc – Whole wheat pita bread 
  • 1 Bunch asparagus – ends trimmed off 
  • 1 Red bell pepper – sliced 
  • 1 Yellow bell pepper – sliced
  • ¼ cup red onions – sliced 
  • 1 Zucchini – sliced 
  • 1 Squash – sliced 
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • To taste – salt
Optional Garnish
  • Greek nonfat plain yogurt
  • Fresh chopped soft herbs (parsley, cilantro, chives, etc.)
  • Sesame seeds
  • Tahini
  • Mixed olives
  • Favorite spicy sauce
Method of Preparation:
  1. Light the outdoor grill using charcoal with the addition of wood. Ensure bottom air vent is open.
  2. Season the chicken lightly with oil and dry rub.
  3. Season vegetables lightly with oil and salt & pepper.
  4. Once grill is hot and coals are ready, begin grilling chicken in center of the grill (the hottest part of the grill). 
  5. Place vegetable around the edges away from any fire (the coolest part of the grill). 
  6. Cover with lid with airports opened on top and bottom.  
  7. After 2-4 minutes, open the lid and flip/rotate everything. Place the lid back on top. Cook for another 2-4 minutes and repeat.
  8. Once vegetable is cooked and tender to the touch, remove and reserve warm.
  9. Once chicken is cooked and reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees, remove and reserve warm.
  10. Toast pita on grill and ensure does not burn. 30-90 seconds both sides.
  11. For plating, sliced chicken and place on plates along with vegetables & pita. 
  12. Garnish with optional ingredients.
  13. Enjoy!
Tips From the Chef:
  • In Middle Eastern culture, pita bread is torn with hands and not cut by a knife.

Start enjoying everything Kansas City has to offer. Learn more about our community involvement In The Blueprint.