Where there's smoke, there's something tasty
It's 9:45 on a Wednesday morning and Tyler Harp pulls into the parking lot at Crane Brewing.
The sky is overcast and the weather hints at rain, but the 2004 graduate of Truman High School isn't paying attention to the elements.
He grabs a massive slab of uncooked ribs, places the meaty bounty over his equally massive shoulder and readies himself for another day of preparation, as his Harp Barbecue – a Saturday pop up from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the 6515 Railroad Street location in Raytown – is the only place to savor his barbecue and visit with the hippest pit master in the area.
Two years ago, Harp set out on his barbecue journey with a world of confidence and more than a few dreams. Today, that confidence has paved the way to back-to-back No. 1 Kansas City barbecue honors from Kansas City magazine, and he spends one weekend a month traveling across the country to soak up all the barbecue knowledge he can.
And along the way he can read about his success in magazines ranging from Texas to the Carolinas.
“It’s crazy how things work out,” Harp said. “I wanted to learn about barbecue, and I learned a lot from my dad and uncle when they were competing with their Silver Bullet Barbecue team back when I was a kid. We would cook in the driveway – we did that for years, because we wanted to get it right.”
“I learned a lot about the different cuts of meat, how to get started in barbecuing and things like that. But back then, I wasn’t super passionate like I am now.”
“And now,” he says, “we're making some great barbecue. And that's not just my opinion. We've won some awards, and we're thankful for that. But we just want to work hard, make great barbecue and make our customers happy. That's what it's all about."
And one of his newest innovations: Burnt-end tallow chocolate chip cookies are a quick sellout on any random Saturday morning.
"We like to keep adding new things," Harp said, "because it's important to give folks what they want. By now, everyone knows about our barbecue – and we're thankful that it has become so popular, but we want to give them something kind of new and exciting like our tator tot casserole or sweet potato burnt ends. I love to see our customers reaction when they get them for the first time."
Harp walks out to his wood-fired pit, located behind Crane's Brewing, and greets it like an old friend.
"Barbecue is about time, patience, passion and dedication," he said. "We want to bring the best barbecue to Kansas City – no fancy ovens, just this 1,000-gallon offset that we are proud of. We use real wood for fire, and everything is served fresh. We serve honest barbecue that brings people together the way only barbecue truly can."
Many of the new items on Harp’s menu are the result of the recent record price surge for beef and pork. To give customers a less expensive option, Harp turned to chicken.
"I was at Chicago’s Windy City Smokeout this summer and of the guys there has a spot called Green Street Smoked Meats, and he had a jerk chicken," Harp said, closing his eyes and thinking about that amazing first bite. "I took one bite, and it was the best bite I’ve had all year. I'm always going to have out brisket, ribs and sausage, but I wanted everyone in Kansas City to experience what I had experienced. And, with the recent rise in the price of beef and pork, chicken was a great alternative."
The chicken, with hints of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg, is served alongside jasmine rice.
"One day, and we hope one day soon, we're going to have a brick and mortar and folks can come by any day, not just Saturdays for our complete menu," he said. "We also have a limited menu at 5 p.m. Friday's at Crane's but if you want to know what we're all about, you better come by Saturday."