KANSAS CITY, Mo. – As a chef who had worked in the hospitality and restaurant business for years all over the country, Rob Magee, a 1986 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America found himself working as the chef at a Hilton hotel in Kansas City in 2000. During a June 27 presentation at the American Meat Science Association Reciprocal Meat Conference, Magee shared how he used his culinary training to gain foodservice experience early in his career and ultimately took a chance by opening a barbecue restaurant with his wife in what many people regard as the “Barbecue Capital of the World.” The Magee’s Q39 quickly became one of the most popular barbecue joints in Kansas City and consistently tops local and national lists of best barbecue joints.
Soon after moving to Kansas City, Magee remembers entering the Great Lenexa BBQ Battle, in Lenexa, Kansas along with 180 other teams. Magee enjoyed the libations and camaraderie of that experience and he even scored twelfth in the brisket category, which served to be a tipping point. His team, the Munchin’ Hogs would go on to compete in many more contests, peaking at 42 competitions in one year, while amassing an enviable collection of trophies, ribbons and oversized championship checks.
In 2002 Rob and his wife took an unenviable leap of faith when he quit his day job as a chef and started a new career as a restauranteur, opening Q39 in Kansas City, Missouri in 2002. Raising nearly $1 million to get started was a huge risk.
“It took everything I had,” Magee said, which meant draining savings accounts and cashing in retirement nest eggs. “It was risky and scary,” he admits, but once the commitment was made he never looked back. And ever since, lines of people out the door of the original location, and more recently a second location in suburb of Kansas have proven the Magee’s venture was a risk worth taking. Earlier this spring, Magee cut the ribbon on his second restaurant in Overland Park, Kansas, which was the former home to the locally iconic Hayward’s Pit Bar-B-Que. Magee spent months and about $4.5 million buying and renovating that location from scratch. Business at that location has been booming since its opening last August.
During his presentation Magee discussed the importance of the quality of his meat supplied to his restaurants. Pork ribs, for example are always St. Louis style and must have just the right amount of marbling (his spec is for “three and a quarter and down”). He also insists that the slabs be “beautifully square cut,” to ensure consistency and eliminate waste.
When it comes to brisket, his expectations are specific:
- Consistency- His supplier of choice is IBP and they must be Certified Angus Beef to ensure the marbling he targets;
- Weight- Magee requires packers that are between 12 lbs. and 14 lbs. “Different sizes mean different levels of tenderness,” he said, and similar-size briskets require about the same amount of time to trim and to cook; and
- Age- A key specification Magee gives his distributor is to only send him briskets that have been wet-aged for 30 days.
Magee added that unlike some pitmasters he removes most of the fat and silver skin, save for about one-fourth of the bottom of the flat. This ensures the barbecue rub seasons the meat instead of the fat. He also said he wraps his briskets to retain moisture.
He reiterated that diners should expect competition-style quality when eating at his restaurants.
“I do believe that every customer is a judge,” he said.