Kansas has a very rich and unexpected culinary scene. Since it’s in the direct middle of the United States, there are many people that pass through here for travel every year and the food really reflects that.
A lot of the local cuisine is focused on the major exports that the state provides to the rest of the country and the world. Because Kansas is a part of the Great Plains and does not have a lot of tourist sights, the food of Kansas is definitely one of the attributes that make it remarkable.
Kansas City, located both in Kansas and Missouri, is considered the world capital of barbecue due to how many different styles of barbecue were created here. Some of the most famous items that are considered to be Kansas City barbecue would be ribs, hot and cold brisket, pork salad and burnt ends.
Like many other cities throughout the United States, Kansas City has its own type of barbecue sauce that has a very specific recipe. This recipe is said to have originated from a man named Henry Perry in 1908. The sauce he used back during that time had molasses, chiles, and tomatoes. Those ingredients are still used today in Kansas City barbecue sauces.
While ribs and brisket are found in almost any barbecue style throughout the country, Kansas City is particularly known for burnt ends. This dish originated at a restaurant called Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue as a free item that was given away while waiting for a meal. However, eventually, this dish became so popular that people were asking for it on its own.
Because the burnt ends are technically just the burned edges of smoked brisket, there are typically not enough to serve on their own. These days, to achieve the burnt end flavor, hunks of brisket are double-smoked and double-sauced. Burnt ends are definitely a local tradition that no one does better than the people of Kansas and Missouri.
Chili and Cinnamon Rolls
Yes, you read that combination correctly. This unlikely pairing is one of the most famous meals in the state and can be found in many places throughout Kansas from diners to schools. Supposedly the tradition for this meal actually came from area schools receiving large amounts of beans from the Department of Agriculture.
Not knowing what to do with the beans besides making chili, many districts around Kansas served chili to the children and when they would not eat it, paired it with cinnamon rolls for a sweet treat. The pairing stuck and now restaurants serve this combination very regularly.
This unique meal is one you definitely should not miss if you want a truly authentic local experience while visiting Kansas.
Another local favorite that isn’t found in many other places in the country is bierocks. This is a traditional pastry that was brought to Kansas by German immigrants as far back as the late 1800s and has thrived in this area ever since.
A bierock is a wheat pastry that is stuffed with a combination of beef, sausage, cabbage, and onions. Because Kansas is one of the largest wheat producers in the United States, this pastry is almost exclusively made with wheat flour.
While beef, sausage, cabbage, and onions are the traditional ways to eat a Bierock, some locations in Kansas serve it with different stuffings. So there are other options if the traditional way does not sound like something you’d like.
One location that has a reputation for selling some of the best bierocks in the state is Gella’s Diner. Their bierocks are created the usual way with traditional fillings, then are smothered with a rich cheese sauce. This spot in Hays also is connected to a brewery and has tons of other food items to choose from if you want to try other locally sourced food.
Due to Kansas being one of the flattest topographic states in the country, it’s an ideal location to raise livestock, particularly cattle. Because cattle are so popular here, beef is a very large export that helps to fund the local economy.
Although many states throughout the country have their own take on hamburgers, Kansas is no different and has its own signature version of a hamburger. A Kansas hamburger will be enormous and typically will have a large number of grilled onions in addition to other toppings.
And when we say enormous, we mean enormous. Many restaurants throughout the state offer burger-eating challenges with sandwiches ranging from two to five pounds.
One restaurant in Topeka that is famous for its burger challenge is The Pennant restaurant. The 5-pound burger has to be completed in 30 minutes to win prizes and bragging rights, and if you do not finish you end up on their wall of shame. It’s certainly a fun experience that’s for the faint of heart.
Due to Kansas being located in the direct center of the country with several major highways going through it, there has always been a large demand for items that are easy to eat while driving. Doughnuts fill this need perfectly and are incredibly popular throughout the state.
One location that is incredibly popular is Ladybird Diner. This Lawrence, KS, spot has been around since 2014 and is known for its exclusive doughnut flavors that can’t be found anywhere else. It’s just a few miles from Interstate 70. The Ladybird Diner also sells traditional doughnut flavors and a variety of other pastries and pies.
Some of the special flavors found at this cafe that keep patrons going back, again and again, are the Fluffernutter and the Garden Party. Fluffernutter is a doughnut that is filled with marshmallow cream and peanut butter, giving the pastry an airy quality. The Garden Party flavor consists of a mixture of flavors that all center around flowers such as lavender and chamomile.
Another location that is quite famous in “The Sunflower State” is Varsity Doughnuts located in Manhattan, KS. They offer a lot of standard flavors with cute names, and a variety of unique pairings as well. One of their most popular doughnuts is their Maple Bacon bar, which has a maple frosting and a large amount of fresh bacon.
If these locations are too far out of the way and you’re looking for a spot that’s just a minute or two off of the interstate, many gas stations and restaurants also create and sell their own doughnuts. They even have their own quirky flavor combinations.
Kansas Dirt Cake
This dish was found in homes throughout the United States for many years under the term trifle or a Mississippi mud cake. However, in the 1980s the first public recipe for dirt cake was published in an Arkansas newspaper and it was called Kansas dirt cake.
Naturally, since Kansas was mentioned in the first documented recipe of this dish, they take ownership of it and it’s now considered a staple for potlucks and local gatherings.
Dirt cake is typically made with cream cheese that’s mixed with butter and confectionary sugar until it is blended well. Then Cool Whip is folded into that mixture and pudding is added. The dish is layered with the cream cheese pudding blend and Oreo cookie crumbles.
Since this dish was originally made for children, today many people also add gummy worms to the top of the cake. It’s a very cute and delicious snack for adults and children alike. If unable to find it while visiting Kansas, it’s simple to make at home, as the ingredients for this dish are found in almost any grocery store.
Brown Bread Custard
Since wheat is such an important agricultural staple of life in “The Wheat State”, it only makes sense for it to be used in as many ways as possible in Kansan cooking. Although it may seem like a quirky new-age flavor for custard, this has actually been a part of local culture here for a long time.
The flavor itself is relatively simple. It’s just a vanilla base, with brown sugar and small pieces of brown bread mixed into the custard. One of the first businesses to introduce this flavor was Baughman Ice Cream company in 1920. And although they are no longer in business, there are several other locations throughout Kansas that still sell this flavor.
The highest-rated place in the state to try brown bread custard is called G’s Frozen Custard located in Topeka, KS. G’s has been in the area since 1991 and sells many flavors of custard but the brown bread flavor is one of their most popular. If in the Topeka area, G’s definitely is worth the stop.
Although many people just pass through Kansas on the way to another destination, the food of this state is absolutely worth pulling over for. From massive culinary attractions to unique and famous food combinations, there are all kinds of tastes to try that will make your trip to the Sunflower State unforgettable.