Along with the sauce and the rub, wood is a defining aspect of regional barbecue. Kansas City-style barbecue, which encompasses Wichita, is known for smoking with hickory. But as the owners of No Mercy BBQ in Augusta are quick to tell you, they shirk this tradition and opt for mesquite, more commonly found in central Texas ’cue.
The reason, according to owner Robby Mercer, is simple: “Mesquite blows away the bitter hickory any day.”
This conviction is conveyed in everything No Mercy does, from the aggressive name to the decision to set up shop in sleepy downtown Augusta. It’s certainly in the food, notably in the sweet, clean-tasting brisket that easily pulls apart and has enough fat to stay moist without relying on sauce. The pulled pork is equally juicy and served with just enough bark to season the pork while letting the flavor of the meat take center stage. Try it with sausage as part of a two-meat sandwich; the intense spice of the lean sausage works with the juicy pork to bring the smoke, fat, and umami flavors of barbecue into harmony.
Sauce need not come to this party, though if you choose to invite it, you’ll find a well-balanced take on the sweet sauces of the area. For those who are truly looking for no mercy, pay a little extra for the habanero barbecue sauce.
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It’s nice to see baked beans that aren’t from a can, and a side of tri-colored beans at No Mercy has enough meat in it to nearly qualify as part of the main course. More interestingly, No Mercy’s list of sides includes smoked cabbage. Cruciferous vegetables don’t make much of an appearance in barbecue’s lineage, but that’s too bad because the vegetable is an excellent delivery device for that mesquite smoke. It takes a little salt, pepper and hot sauce to round out the flavor, but it’s one of the best things the restaurant has to offer. The smoked cheese is up there, too.
For those who’d prefer something fried, you can find standard okra and fries – the latter of which can be ordered beneath their own pile of pork, beans, cheese and sauce – or if you’re feeling adventurous, bull fries. The fried crown jewels are an interesting experience, but there are better parts of the cow on the menu.
I don’t know if I share Mr. Mercer’s opinion on the mesquite vs. hickory debate, but by going against the grain with his choice of wood, he creates a type of barbecue that’s not easily found in this part of the United States. That he is able to apply sound technique to create a moist and flavorful product is a testament to his pitmaster skills. The menu offerings are indicative of someone confident enough in his core product to be willing to experiment with more of the esoteric. The restaurant is aggressive because its meat is of competition-level quality and among the best barbecue in central Kansas.
No Mercy BBQ
Where: 104 E. Sixth St., Augusta, 316-613-3666
Type of food: Barbecue
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays
Price range: Dinner combos are $9.99 to $12.99; sandwich and burger plates are $7.99 to $8.99; KC Strip dinners are $12.99-$23.99