Gold Medal BBQ Co. brings high-quality smoked meats and Southern-influenced side dishes to downtown Lawrence.
The fruition of years of work by Olympic athletes Kyle and Christina Clemons, Gold Medal established its menu and fanbase as a food truck, and it retains the trimmed-down aesthetic and limited menu selection that reflect its roots as a mobile restaurant.
The predominant flavors are very Southern, owing to the owners’ backgrounds, and lean strongly toward the sweet, even in dishes that are typically tangy, like coleslaw. There are not many options for vegetarians or anyone with dietary restrictions, but for BBQ fans, Gold Medal is a cut above many other Lawrence BBQ restaurants, and its strongest dishes compare favorably to the Kansas City BBQ scene.
Meats are the foundation of any BBQ restaurant. In contrast to typical KC-style BBQ, Gold Medal’s meats are served with the sauce on the side, and no backdrop of sliced bread and pickles. Stronger emphasis is placed on the rub than on the sauce.
Gold Medal’s beef, pork and other meats are mainly sourced locally, and the pitmaster does ample justice to them. Smoking food is a balancing act: maintaining moisture, adding smoke flavor, rendering fats, tenderizing tough fibers as they cook and adding one’s own flavors with rubs or injections are all necessary to the process.
Gold Medal scores highly in all of these regards. The brisket is the star of the meats here; served chunk-style like burnt ends, it is juicy and fork-tender, but still pleasing to chew. It provides a richly balanced flavor, with equal parts savory beef, smoke, fat and rub.
The pork and chicken are served shredded. The chicken is strongly seasoned, the pork is crisped, and both are tasty and have pleasing textures. The smoked sausage is made of high-quality meats, and it’s smoothly textured, with a terrific pop when you bite into the casing.
Gold Medal offers solid versions of the usual BBQ sides, such as baked beans, coleslaw and french fries. But the real standouts here are The Sweetie — a sweet potato casserole — and the Southern green beans. On any other menu, The Sweetie would be a dessert. Topped with a nut crumble, it’s luxurious with butter and hauntingly delicious. The Southern green beans are boldly seasoned and chunky with smoked sausage. They are unusually compelling for green beans, disappearing even before the brisket.
There is also a For the Foodies menu, with trendy options like meat-infused or -topped waffles, nachos, baked potatoes and fries. The smokehouse beignets are excellent — crispy on the outside and soft meat and melted cheese on the inside, tossed with BBQ rub.
The sauce is sweet and mild by Kansas City standards, and a bit thinner. It doesn’t overwhelm the flavors of the meats, instead highlighting the rub. More sauces are in the works, with samples coming from the kitchen, including a slightly spicier and thicker sauce that is more like a standard KC BBQ sauce.
Gold Medal’s dining room — the former home of Lark a Fare — has a clean, modern look, with excellent natural light. There is a full bar with a good selection of beers on tap. Staff members are friendly and efficient, and the owners are frequently present and engaged.
Prices are a little high compared to other local BBQ places, at $13-18 for a meal, but the downtown location and quality ingredients support that.
Overall: 8/10. Not for every diet, and has too few options to balance the sweetness of most of the menu, but the meats and signature Southern-style sides are top-notch.
— Elwood Schaad (he/him) is a longtime Lawrencian who has worked in nearly every role at many local restaurants over the years, and who has a deep love of Lawrence’s local food culture. Read more of his reviews for the Times here.