Your Guide to the American Royal in Kansas City

Everything You Need to Know About the American Royal in Kansas City

Smokers and saddles, livestock judging and high-speed whirling. All are in store (plus so much more) during the American Royal, an iconic, 110-plus-year-old event that spans almost the entire fall season, featuring more than 40 activities and attracting visitors from across the country. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the American Royal:

Historic Roots

The Kansas City Stockyards, originally located in the West Bottoms before closing permanently in the 1990s, was once the world’s largest exchange point of cattle, hogs and sheep. Along with the livestock came the nation’s leading figures in the horse and cattle industry, individuals who brought both money and influence to the region.

By 1899, boastful competition amongst livestock owners had become such a pastime that a cattle show was founded in order to award cash prizes and bragging rights to the biggest and best animals. The show grew, developed and was eventually named the American Royal—a nod to the established royal livestock shows popular in Great Britain.

The Modern American Royal

Today, most assume that the American Royal is all about livestock shows, rodeos and the world’s largest barbecue competition. This may be true, but the underlying purpose is much more altruistic. The American Royal strives to educate the public about the role of agriculture in the 21st century. As a result, the organization donates more than $1 million each year to benefit scholarships, agriculture education and competitive learning.

Fundamental in its role of education is the American Royal Museum—located in the West Bottoms—which tells the history of the Kansas City Stockyards and the global reaches of Midwestern agriculture.

The World Series of Barbecue

American Royal World Series of Barbecue

The main attraction for carnivores and barbecue lovers, the World Series of Barbecue is just that: the end-all be-all competition that decides the best ‘cue smokers on the planet. With more than 600 teams competing and tens of thousands of people in attendance, this three-day event at Kansas Speedway is no question the highlight of the year for many barbecue enthusiasts.

American Royal World Series of Barbecue

Meanwhile, a two-day festival dubbed the Cowtown Family Fun Fest accompanies the competition, offering everything from live music performances and a car show to a poker tournament and a petting zoo. Oh, and barbecue samplings, of course.

World Series of Barbecue: Sept. 27-Oct. 1

Equine Events, Rodeo and Livestock Judging

Many other events take place during the American Royal, each unique in their celebrations of the modern ag world:

  • Equine Events: Headlined by the UPHA American Royal National Championship Horse Show, the wide variety of competition styles make these shows can’t-miss affairs. 
  • Rodeo: With pro and youth divisions, onlookers can expect to cheer on the best cowboys in the world—plus the future stars of tomorrow. 
  • Livestock Judging: The Livestock Show is a tribute to Kansas City’s past—and its place as one of the centers of agriculture in the country.