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Burnt Ends: From Throwaway Scrap to BBQ Delicacy

BY: Aimee Algas Alker | Jul 7, 2015
Burnt Ends: From Throwaway Scrap to BBQ Delicacy

The most well-known Kansas City restaurants are Kansas City BBQ restaurants. Kansas City barbecue is loosely defined by super-slow-smoked meats, fragrant wood, and thick, sweet, molasses-based sauces. 

Kansas City can also lay claim to a barbecue delicacy that’s taking the entire country by storm: burnt ends, a much sought-after scrap.

One Man’s Scraps…

In the formative days of Kansas City barbecue, pitmasters would trim off and set aside brisket’s overcooked ends after smoking the meat. Full of fat and given a crisp char, these pieces were hardly ever served; most were saved for the chef or given away in restaurants as scrap meat. It was food writer Calvin Trillin’s (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) rhapsody that many say ignited the city’s love for this throwaway meat:

"I dream of those burned edges. Sometimes, when I'm in some awful, overpriced restaurant in some strange town, trying to choke down some three-dollar hamburger that tastes like a burned sponge, a blank look comes over me: I have just realized that at that very moment, someone in Kansas City is being given those burned edges free."

The Anatomy of a Brisket

To understand where burnt ends come from, it’s important to understand the brisket. The brisket is made up of two parts, the flat and the point, with a layer of fat between them. The flat is leaner and therefore cooks faster, while the point is marbled with streaks of fat and connective tissue that, under low and slow heat, give it a succulent, melt-in-your-mouth texture and taste. So, ironically, the traits that made chefs toss brisket’s point meat are the same ones that make it an irresistibly delicious part of Kansas City barbecue today.

How They’re Made

To cook burnt ends the way they were originally made, simply trim the point ends after smoking the brisket, cube them, and serve them under a swathe of smoky-sweet barbecue sauce. Other chefs season and further cook the point end after smoking to ensure the fat renders properly. Still others smoke and chop up the flat and point together and refer to it as burnt ends, although this mixture can sometimes end up with too-dry sections of meat.

How They’re Served

A traditional burnt-ends platter includes the ends piled atop a slice or two of white bread, covered in sauce, and served alongside southern-style baked beans. However, chefs have been known to use the ends as you might use bacon: as a savory, filling garnish in sandwiches, baked beans, gumbo, mac and cheese, and more.

Where to Get Some

Plenty of places to eat in Kansas City serve up amazing burnt ends. Here are just a few:

  • Arthur Bryant’s: Trillin wrote his homage to burnt ends about this KC institution; today, the kitchen makes burnt-end sandwiches using both the flat and the point.
  • Gates Bar-B-Q: Gates uses just the point to make craveable, fatty burnt-end sandwiches.
  • LC’s Bar-B-Q: Diners at LC’s dig into the classic iteration: white bread, barbecue sauce, and baked beans.
  • Rye: Though not a barbecue joint, Rye makes burnt ends from the whole brisket before serving it atop sourdough and with a sidecar of pickled celery.
  • Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue: This KC-area chain breaks the mold by crafting burnt ends from ham and pork in addition to the traditional beef variety.