Italy has pasta. India has chicken tikka masala. France makes claim to just about everything.
One of the fastest ways to establish tourism street cred is by serving up great food. The countries at the very top of the travel lists all have that one signature dish, something people will travel thousands of miles for because nowhere else in the world can do it better.
So I started thinking, what's our signature dish? What does the Midwest do better than anyone else?
I brought this question forward and each state was quick to respond. Nebraska nominated their steaks. Chicago said, "Yeah, I like that idea. We've got steaks too, but also burgers. And Italian beefs. And hot dogs. And deep dish pizza." Michigan chimed in, "Oh, good call. But let's send in Detroit style pizza as our nominee. And Koegel meats for the hot dogs." Chicago shouted back, "Koegel!? Are you kidding me? No, it has to be Vienna. And no ketchup." And just like that, every Midwestern state was shouting at each other.
"Order! Order!" I cried out, striking the gavel. "Order!"
I took a deep breath.
"Look, guys, I'm talking best in the world here. I mean, I love the pizza passion but New York and Italy are going to say theirs are better. That's an uphill marketing battle. And steaks, can we really say ours are better than Japan's? I like the hot dog idea, but is anyone from Europe or Asia really going to fly to the middle of the country just for hot dogs? We need something else. Something, I don't know. I feel like I'll know it when I see it."
Right on cue, Kansas and Missouri stepped forward. They were carrying this massive catering tray. One side was BBQ ribs, drenched in sauce. The middle was a pile of beef brisket next to a pile of pulled pork. There were cut up hot link sausages. Macaroni and cheese. Baked beans. Collared greens. Pulled chicken. My mouth immediately started to water.
"So, case closed?" Kansas City said.
Yes. One hundred percent. No need for further debate.
How did I not think of this earlier? It seemed so obvious. Our signature dish in the Midwest is BBQ. And our capital city, the BBQ Mecca, is right smack dab in the middle of the country in Kansas City. Straddling the state lines of Kansas and Missouri.
You need at least a week (and a full bottle of Tums) to do Kansas City BBQ right. Just to name a few of the Hall of Fame, A-List celebs of the BBQ space: Gates. Arthur Bryant's. LC's. Q39. Joe's Kansas City (formerly Oklahoma Joe's). Jack Stack. That's six meals right there. And you'll want to do a return trip to each one. Good luck fitting these all in... Or fitting into the pair of pants you traveled with. Kansas City is a sweatpants kind of place.
And it's not limited to Kansas City. A Fine Swine and Pappy's Smokehouse in St. Louis make a claim for top honors. Same with Bone Daddy's BBQ in Midland, Michigan. Or what about the sauce at Bob's Bitchin' BBQ in Dodgeville, Wisconsin.
I live in Chicago, an underrated BBQ city in its own right. We have a formidable lineup with Smoque. Fat Willy's Rib Shack. Green Street Meats. I'm confident I could put together a 12-restaurant roster that could go brisket-to-brisket with other cities in the Midwest. And if a restaurant has some of the best BBQ in the Midwest, it's some of the best in the world.
So come, settle in. Take a tray and a roll of paper towels. I'll have your sampler platter ready with BBQ from all around the Midwest.
And, since I'm just one man, I'd love your help writing these chapters as well. If there's a local BBQ joint in your town/city or a place you remember stopping at on a trip, or maybe you own a restaurant, this series is totally open to guest contributors.
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll get your chapter in here.