Text: John M. Flores • Photography: John M. Flores

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and he taught the world a thing or two. Why then do I find myself in the middle of Kansas thinking that maybe ol' Chris got it wrong? I've ridden more than 30 miles since lunch and haven't turned or leaned the Heritage Softail® Classic once. Is the world, after all, flat?

Of course Columbus wasn’t wrong; I’d hate to give up a paid holiday! The world is not flat, and neither is Kansas – it rises steadily from east to west. The 100-degree temperature is just playing with my mind. I feel like I’ve been tied to an airport-restroom hand dryer. But I shouldn’t complain. I’m on a Harley, courtesy of Worth Harley-Davidson, and I’m in Kansas for barbecue.

Kansas City claims to be the World’s Barbecue Capital. It’s a title that Memphis, Texas, the Carolinas, certain Caribbean islands, nearly half of South America, and Korea (yes, Korea) might debate. But with more than 100 barbecue restaurants, Kansas has a strong case. It all started in 1907 when young Henry Perry of Tennessee got tired of working the Mississippi riverboats. He took his talents west, like many other African Americans from the South, and was soon selling smoked meats from a small alley-stand in the Garment District in Kansas City. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Nearby Lenexa is part of that history. In 1982 it held the first Great Lenexa BBQ Battle with just 12 teams. This year, nearly 200 teams are competing for what is now the official Kansas State Championship. Each team has smokers and hospitality areas where they serve samples to friends, family, and hungry, wandering motorcycle journalists. One team, Dead Last BBQ, gives me a crash course in competition while I munch tasty samples. Another team, Ribs for Her Pleasure, is a group of high-school friends that scattered to the four winds but come back every year to compete. This year they’ll finish sixth, just behind Albert’s Ash Kick’n BBQ and Four Men and a Pig. Contrary to its name, Dead Last BBQ finishes a very admirable 19th.

So what’s the secret of Kansas barbecue? I’ve got a theory, but I’ve got to hit the road to test it out.

Into the Wide Open
Kansas Barbecue Theory No. 1 – Pigs

Pigs, and not just the ribs. Happy, pink, curly-tailed, smiling pigs on logos, menus, and scattered liberally around restaurants. Poor little cartoon creatures, they clearly don’t know what’s happening in the kitchen.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the January/February 2012 back issue.