There are many barbecue competitions, but the American Royal World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City, Kan., is a five-day immersive extravaganza. It attracts more than 500 teams from around the world and 50,000 spectators to the Kansas Speedway. The teams compete in the Open, Invitational and Sides competitions, among others.
The organizer, the American Royal, says the event, from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 this year, is the largest barbecue competition in the world and the livestock and agriculture nonprofit organization’s chief fundraiser. The association began in 1899 as the National Hereford Show, a cattle exposition and sale. The term “American Royal” came about in 1902, when C.F. Curtiss, the dean of agriculture at Iowa State College of Agriculture, compared the stockyard show to the British Royal Agricultural Fair.
NCSL reached out to Rep. Mike Thompson, a Republican from House District 33, and Sen. Jeff Pittman, Democrat from Senate District 5, to talk barbecue and other topics.
What does the World Series of Barbecue mean for your district?
Thompson: Kansas City is known nationwide for its barbecue, but when a person talks about the world’s largest barbecue competition in Kansas City, the contest must be set in the context of the American Royal. Years ago, Kansas City, with its stockyards, was the agricultural hub of the Midwest. The American Royal continues today offering events, education and scholarships for youth and adults. All monies raised during the contest weekend go directly to American Royal’s mission of supporting youth and education in agriculture.
The influx of that many people is a great economic boon for the entire area. During the weekend of the contest, hotels, restaurants and shopping centers are extremely busy. The economic benefit also spurs new economic growth for the surrounding areas.
Pittman: With barbecue as the most famous food that Kansas City is known for, having one of the largest barbecue contests in my district is the natural progression of the amazing economic growth that has happened here. This is really about augmentation and synergy. The contest will draw people to the area, where they will discover events, venues and areas of interest that offer unique experiences in the greater Kansas City metro. This influx of visitors can significantly boost tourism, increase local spending and stimulate economic growth. Hotels, restaurants, retail shops and other local businesses are likely to benefit from increased patronage during the event.
Have you attended the event? What is your favorite part?
Thompson: The whole weekend is filled with nonstop events, starting with Friday night’s party with a “battle of the bands” contest and continuing all day Saturday with family-oriented activities. The whole weekend is great, and it’s difficult to pick a favorite.
Pittman: I remember attending the American Royal and marching in the parade as a member of the Leavenworth High School band. My favorite part is trying all the different types of barbecue, talking with those interested in (meat) smoking and in barbecue, and learning about different techniques.
What else is great about your district? What else should visitors see?
Thompson: Presently, the barbecue contest is held at the Kansas Speedway, located at a commercial complex known as The Legends. The American Royal is currently building its new facility across the street from the speedway. Also located within the complex are Legends Field baseball park, home of the Kansas City Monarchs baseball team, and Children’s Mercy Park, the soccer stadium for the MLS Sporting Kansas City.
Other places to visit include the Azura Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, next to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival grounds. Also, Bonner Springs is the home of Moon Marble Company and a zip line near the Kansas River.
Pittman: The Hollywood Casino has traditional gaming as well as an expanded sports gaming venue. We are super excited to be part of the World Cup in 2026. In the broader area, we have Wyandotte Lake County Park, which has some small watercraft and fishing, and unique venues in Bonner Springs like The Fuel House automotive country club and breweries and wineries.
Museums around Fort Leavenworth and Leavenworth detail the military and commercial roots of the area. Two national cemeteries draw visitors. The Richard Allen Cultural Center showcases the local African American experience in the U.S. military, and there is a host of cultural areas around Wyandotte county.
“My District” gives NCSL members a chance to talk about life in the places they represent, from high-profile events and destinations to the fun facts only the locals know. The responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Nora Caley is a Denver-based freelance writer.