Name, if you can, one of the most popular religions in Kansas City. Well, yes, Christians no doubt make up a majority of this region's citizens, but I'm talking "religion" in the sense of "football is my religion."
It's barbecue, folks.
And last weekend, in my role as one who wants to get to know as many religions as possible, I went out to the Great American Barbecue Festival at Sandstone in Bonner Springs, Kan., at the invitation of one of the relatively new adherents of this religion, my stepson Dan, who in his other religious life is an officer in an Episcopal church. (The fact that the festival raises money for charity makes him feel better about having two religions.)
Barbecue worshipers from far and wide were there smoking up brisket and pork and chicken and sausage and heaven knows what else.
And just for the record, barbecue does not equal grilled meat over a charcoal flame. No, no. Barbecue is meat smoked slowly to perfection. And for the best barbecue novel ever, read my friend Doug Worgul's new book, Thin Blue Smoke, which is set in Kansas City, of course.
Anyone who knows doodley-squat about barbecue knows that its see is in Kansas City, just as the Catholic Church has its see at the Vatican. Oh, there are some barbecue pretenders out there -- a few of which produce things that taste halfway decent -- but when it comes to barbecue, KC is king and its true believers aren't about to be converted to, say, North Carolina pulled pork and its vinegar-based sauce. Lordy, lordy.
So Dan is learning the barbecue rituals, such as cutting up beef into burnt ends, as shown in this photo.
Normally these hands are doing dental work at his practice in Olathe, Kan., which may account for the protective gloves and certainly accounts for the sign hanging on the front of his tent at Sandstone, "Smokin' Smiles," seen in the photo below.
And I can tell you that if you have teeth (if you don't, you might want to see Dr. Dan) and eat meat, the smoked meat that comes out of his smoker is outstanding.
Naturally, just like in any religion, you have to make some small adjustments given the territory in which you operate. So on the slightly sloped grounds at Sandstone, a handy block of wood (no, Dan doesn't install wooden bridges in mouths) propped up the smoker to make it level.
Is this religion of barbecue on the level? Well, some of the fires it requires remind you of where you don't want to go when you die and some of what it offers the palate is heavenly.
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WHY ME, LORD?
The pope says he's still not sure why God chose him for this job. Isn't it nice to hear some humility from a religious leader?
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