Meet Bill Chaney: His section pits are a pivotal part in some of KC’s famous barbecue

May 25, 2016 - fall Denim

At a finish of a Monday lunch rush during Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue in Overland Park, a complicated iron doors of a restaurant’s categorical section array pitch open to exhibit a season hierarchy.

Crusty barked briskets season their fat down onto fire-kissed pig spareribs and sizzling sausage, afterwards down another quarrel to mahogany wings and bone-in chicken. As soothing pillows of hickory-scented fume rush around a meat, a braising vessel of baked beans is delicately positioned during a bottom to locate each final dump of glass gold.

The pivotal to array grill is to prepare low and slow, with feverishness rather than fire. But it’s not adequate to build a section box. The elements in a construction of a array — spacing between racks, distance of a firebox, smokestack pattern — impact how effectively a pitmaster can control a final succulence and love of a beef baked within.

“Your drippings tumble on your timber and put some season behind into a meat,” says master array builder William “Bill” Chaney. “People used to eating genuine grill can tell a difference. we can tell either it was baked currently or yesterday, baked in an oven or with wood.”

Chaney — a petite nonetheless brisk 85-year-old dressed this day in a plaid shirt, unbending new denim jeans and a well-worn turn tip — is medium about his contributions to a internal grill scene. He insists he’s usually been doing his job, building pits to a specifications and preferences of his customers.

But a learned bricklayer is also an unsung favourite in Kansas City’s grill legacy, one with links all a approach behind to Charlie Bryant, a footman of Henry Perry, who story books contend was a initial male who sole grill here.

Since 1957, Chaney has built tighten to 20 pits in and around Kansas City, including all a Jack Stack locations solely Lee’s Summit, LC’s Bar-B-Q, Winslow’s BBQ, Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, The Stack Bar BQ and Summit Hickory Pit BBQ. And nonetheless he did not build a mythological Arthur Bryant’s pits, given 1962 Chaney has been their go-to guy, patching adult a cracks as a grill closes down each New Year’s Eve for a week of maintenance.

To build a fire-breathing savage during a Overland Park Jack Stack, Chaney spent a month laying 2,000 adverse bricks designed to withstand heated 4,000- to 5,000-degree heat.

The initial 6-by-7-foot array Chaney built for a grill in 1997 valid too tiny for a complicated lifting of daily use and currently is used essentially to flare steaks. The stream 9-by-9-foot array was combined in 1999. The biggest array Chaney ever built was a double array in Jack Stack’s party trickery south of a chain’s Martin City grill that is used for catering events for adult to 10,000 people.

Chaney doesn’t get a possibility to build as many of these wood-burning section pits anymore. It’s not that a earthy labor is too many — he still works frequently as a construction contractor.

No, censure it on a initial of a new multiply of smokers and rotisserie ovens powered by gas or electricity, what Chaney dismisses as “barbecue ovens.”

Sure, a new gadgets can accommodate a integrate of timber chunks in a firebox for seasoning, and a feverishness gauges positively take a lot of a guesswork out of producing consistently juicy grill for a masses, though purists disagree that it is a distant cry from a greatly hazed season imparted in a section pit.

“If we don’t have a pit, we don’t have barbecue,” insists Ardie Davis, a internal grill philosopher and chronicler who will be inducted into a American Royal’s Barbecue Hall of Fame this fall. “You don’t usually chuck a garland of bricks together. You have to know feverishness control, venting, removing timber fume — though not douse fume — into a meat. Bill has an inherited bargain of how all that works.”

Seasoning a pitmasters

Chaney was innate in Jefferson City in 1931 and changed to Kansas City as a child. By a time he was 12 years old, he would spasmodic work as a dishwasher to acquire 25 cents an hour and a sandwich from Charlie Bryant, Arthur Bryant’s comparison brother.

Charlie Bryant had apprenticed with Henry Perry, a pitmaster from Shelby County, nearby Memphis. Perry had arrived in Kansas City around steamboat in 1907. According to “Kansas City: A Food Biography” (Brown Littlefield) by internal culinary historian Andrea Broomfield, Perry had begun training a art of grill during age 7. He eventually worked as a steamboat prepare and a tavern porter.

A savvy self-promoter, Perry motionless to sell barbecue, a food that given George Washington’s time had usually been given divided during domestic picnics and rallies. In an talk with The Kansas City Call, Perry boasted there was “only one approach to prepare barbecue: over a timber fire, with a scrupulously assembled oven and pit.”

Perry’s success offered grill from a transport and afterwards several restaurants around city speedy other African-American entrepreneurs to join in. By a 1930s, there were 100 grill restaurants in Kansas City, about a same array as a Kansas City Convention Visitors Association estimates are active today.

Chaney credits his masonry skills to a hard-driving trainer named Lawrence “Larry” Bolbecker, who came to Kansas City from Harrisburg, Pa. In 1957, Chaney teamed adult with tiny executive Archie Pierce to build a array for Russ Fiorella, who was starting a family’s initial restaurant, Smokestack Barbeque during 8129 S. U.S. 71.

One of Russ’ sons, Jack Fiorella, was still in high propagandize in those early days, though a business grew and was handed down, initial to Jack and his siblings, and afterwards to Jack’s son-in-law, Case Dorman.

The family members continued to agreement with Chaney for projects both during a restaurants and in their homes, and Chaney became like an extended family member. Chaney still spasmodic gets together with Jack for a snoot sandwich during a Tenderloin Grill on Southwest Boulevard.

“He’s so nonchalant,” says Chaney’s 51-year-old daughter, Vonda Chaney-Logan, who lives in Raytown and grew adult eating copiousness of Jack Stack barbecue. “He doesn’t feel like he’s finished anything special. It’s a job, and that’s usually how he treats it, though if they didn’t have him, they wouldn’t have barbecue.”

Though a new era would code Chaney’s skills as “artisanal,” he saw it as zero some-more than a means of survival: “Being black, it was tough gripping work, so we had to work for myself.”

While Perry and Arthur Bryant were superb self-promoters, Chaney is about as low-key as they come: “I’m usually a builder, not a cook,” he insists. “If we had me cooking, it would bake up.”

Over a years, Chaney, whom Vonda insists knows his approach around his Hyde Park kitchen, has come to cite a solid diet of beans and greens over delicacies of a flesh.

“When we work in a grill all a time it becomes a dish we don’t crave,” he says. “My mother used to say, ‘Baby, don’t move anymore grill home!’ When we work around it, we got a smell on your body, and we lift it in your nose. You get over it.”

Oven vs. pit

When Bill Angell arrived during Fiorella’s Jack Stack from his internal New England in 2009, he knew he would have a high training curve.

He spent his initial year and a half operative as a kitchen manager to learn a finer points of ’cue — “and that’s not a lot of grill time when we consider of pitmasters who have been during it for 30, 40, 60 years,” he adds.

As a lunch rush in a dining room subsides, Angell, who is now ubiquitous manager of a Overland Park restaurant, takes a few mins to admire a restaurant’s section pit, indicating out a “beauty of a configuration” — a array of racks that concede a duck and sausage to prepare during 400 degrees above a fire, and a ambient feverishness to prepare a ribs and briskets layered above.

“The briskets that are all a approach during a tip are digest as a routine goes on,” Angell explains. “In a day and age, fat has a terribly disastrous connotation. But for us it’s positively overwhelming here since all of a rendered fat drips down on all else we’re cooking.”

At a bottom of a hierarchy is a braising vessel of a restaurant’s famous hickory array beans.

“You get that season entrance down there from pig and beef and it adds a season we can't get anywhere. People frequently ask for a recipe, or during slightest a ratio, though what they don’t comprehend is there’s a step in this whole routine we can’t replicate during all if we don’t have something like that,” Angell says, again indicating to a heart of a operation.

The array doors are open so a blackened interior can be spotless and powerwashed before a firebox is stoked for another turn of cooking. But in an operation of Jack Stack’s distance there are, of course, Southern Pride ovens creeping into a periphery of a kitchens.

These newer rotisserie ovens distill grill dexterity into a science, that is excellent and, frankly, safer than given a live fire, Angell says. After all, someone has to keep tighten tabs on a pit, that operates daily from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“We have to have someone watch each singular notation since these things can go adult in abandon in a second,” Angell says. “But what we benefit is a ability to touch, watch and control each singular component of a process. You are so many some-more concerned in a cooking routine itself, as against to shutting a doorway and vouchsafing a feverishness tell we when it’s ready. we mean, this is unequivocally where a art takes place.”

Evolution meets revolution

LC Richardson of LC’s Bar-B-Q celebrity is an old-school pitmaster, a kind who prefers to guard a array by putting a palm directly into a swell of a beast.

“The thermostat is in your head,” Richardson says, drumming his church as he catches adult with Chaney on a new stormy afternoon. “The hardest partial is perplexing to learn my pitmasters how to conduct a fire. You’ve got to conduct your fire.”

Richardson, 81, grew adult in Mississippi and recalls constructing a grill array from an aged tire lonesome with sow handle as a kid. He changed to Kansas City in 1953, worked in restaurants and eventually became executive cook for Farmland Industries from 1973 to 1986.

He took early retirement to open his possess restaurant, that attracts legions of high-profile fans, from Chiefs and Royals players to Kansas City-born author Calvin Trillin.

Richardson started his business cooking outdoor over a steel drum until he could means to build a section pit. Now he has begun rough talks with Chaney to build another array for an arriving LC’s grill opening in Truman Corners in Grandview subsequent year.

“It’s really expensive, though we make a income behind if we have a good product,” Chaney says. “Just demeanour during these people sitting around. If LC didn’t have a good product these people would not be sitting around here during 2 o’clock in a afternoon looking for something to eat.”

Indeed, a cost of a section array is forcing many to rest on choice array styles. Brick pits — including masonry and iron work usually — can cost $60,000, and a responsibility of blazing an normal of 5 cords of timber a week.

Everything — solely maybe a intercourse of grill — is changing with a times.

“Barbecue is a many critical force of a internal culture. we don’t consider anything else even comes close,” Angell says. “It is a outrageous unifying point, and we’re starting to get a Hispanic village involved. They’ve brought a outrageous tradition of barbecuing into this community, with places like El Pollo Rey (in Kansas City, Kan.). It is mind-blowing what they do with chicken.”

Over a final 4 decades, foe grill has combined a whole new cadre of associating grill enthusiasts who are prepared to spread, adjust and urge on that gospel of smoke. Many of those teams from a foe circuit are adding restaurants to their resumes, including Q39, Plowboys and Slaps.

Meanwhile, Chaney — ever a diplomat — records that during slavery, pitmasters done a best of “the remains of a white man,” while currently grill mostly means proposal cuts of Angus or grass-fed beef.

“If we tell we what my father used to barbecue, we wouldn’t eat it. He used to grill ’coons and possums,” Chaney says with a laugh. “Progress is progress. As time goes by, things get better.”

But if you’re still pining for a good ol’ days of fume and fire, Chaney is your man.

“First and foremost, he’s an workman and he takes such caring when he designs and builds an oven,” says Case Dorman, Jack Stack’s boss and CEO. “That was critical to us since we see grill as an art form. A lot of guys can build a section box, though not everybody can build an oven.”

Jill Wendhot Silva is The Star’s James Beard award-winning food editor, lead grill censor and Chow Town blog curator. Reach her during @kcstarfood.

We a Pitmasters series

In sequence to form a some-more ideal kinship of fume and meat, we form pitmasters — wizards of wood, fume and glow who mostly work secret in a trenches. These are a people who ideal and continue Kansas City’s possess singular character of barbecue. Look for additional profiles via a summer and fall.

Pros and cons of section pits

As gas- and electric-powered grill pits and rotisseries take reason in a industry, section pits are descending out of favor. Here’s why.


Pitmaster controls a fire.

Natural timber fume seeps low into a beef for good flavor.

It helps safety a normal American culinary art form.


Pitmaster contingency control a fire, avoiding flare-ups and fires that can means damage or detriment of property.

Brick pits are dear to build and maintain, requiring additional ability and manpower to work on a daily basis.

It takes a lot of timber for a fire, adding another cost.

Burning timber contributes to environmental pollution, both indoors and out.

A total of Chaney’s pits

Since a initial array Bill Chaney built for Russ Fiorella in 1957, many restaurants have non-stop and closed, and infrequently a pits have been demolished. The strange Smokestack sealed in 2006, and a array is gone. These examples of Chaney’s craftsmanship sojourn in operation:

Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue:

▪ 13441 Holmes Road, Kansas City, and party trickery during 13645 Holmes Road.

▪ 101 W. 22nd St. #300, Kansas City

▪ 4747 Wyandotte St., Kansas City

▪ 9520 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park

LC’s Bar-B-Q, 5800 Blue Parkway, Kansas City

Winslow’s BBQ, 20 E. Fifth St. Kansas City

The Stack BBQ, 8920 Wornall Road, Kansas City

Smokehouse Bar-B-Que:

▪ 6304 N. Oak Trafficway, Gladstone

▪ 19000 E. 39th St., Independence

Summit Hickory Pit BBQ: 1012 S.E. Blue Parkway, Lee’s Summit

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