Arthur Bryant’s has been luring folks, like James Beard Award-winning chef Colby Garrelts, to the counter for years with the siren call of smoke. Garrelts, the co-owner of Rye and Bluestem, has been coming to Bryant’s since he was a child, just like writer Calvin Trillin (who famously shined a light on burnt ends four decades ago). The magic of barbecue not only set Garrelts on the path to becoming a chef, it’s driving him in his restaurant today. He serves burnt ends at Rye and is continually in search of that perfect, fatty bite.
Burnt ends didn’t always have a name or a slot on the menu. They were crispies and brownies and small charred bits that folks would grab from the counter while they waited for sandwiches. But just like mice and cookies, once folks had a taste of those crispy, fatty morsels, they wanted more.
And pitmasters are perhaps Kansas City’s most resourceful and enterprising businesspeople. As customers began asking for burnt ends, even if they didn’t yet have a name, pitmasters were only too happy to sell them a pile of the scraps. Waste not if you can eek out a little profit.
Over a period of years, burnt ends went from an informal snack not fit for the slicer to a bonafide menu item. However, there was one big problem. The demand — our insatiable hunger for the smoke and spice and rich flavor — far outstripped the supply. Briskets naturally taper at the edges and those charred bits, chopped from the edges, were only enough for a few plates at a time. Barbecue customers felt the pain of Oliver Twist all too quickly.
If the pitmasters couldn’t get enough burnt ends from briskets, they figured they would have to find a way to manufacture the happy accident that originally created burnt ends. Remember, these are enterprising businesspeople. So they set out to recreate that happy accident and feed the beast they created by offering up burnt ends on the menu.
— Chapter 1 of Burnt Legend, the digital series, debuted last Monday. Burnt Legend, a five-part series, runs on consecutive Mondays through October 17. The chapters will be woven together to form one larger story that runs at 7:30 p.m. on October 20 on KCPT.