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Joe’s knows barbecue

Stillwater-born and Kansas City-bred Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue opens a location near the Bass Pro Shops in Broken Arrow, offering a variety of lip-smacking smoked meats.

Oklahoma Joe’s full slab of ribs feeds three to four people.

Oklahoma Joe’s full slab of ribs feeds three to four people.

You could say I am in hog heaven — or cow heaven — for the legendary Oklahoma Joe’s barbecue has returned to Oklahoma. You many not realize it ever left, as the Kansas City location has claimed all the glory lately. That is about to change.

For the true history, I must digress a bit.

Joe Davidson started Oklahoma Joe’s, a smoker manufacturer, in 1987 while he was a graduate assistant in the agricultural engineering department at Oklahoma State University. In the next two years, sales grew to more than $1 million a year. In 1996, Davidson lured Jeff Stehney, his friend and a barbecue circuit competitor, into opening Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue in Stillwater. A few months later, Stehney opened a second restaurant in a Shamrock gas station in Kansas City, Kan., which he has run ever since.

The smoker business slowly became a burden, so Davidson sold it to Char-Broil. As part of the deal, he worked for the company for a few years, leading him to close the Stillwater location, but in exchange, he learned a lot about the corporate world.

He left in 2000 and started making barbecue instruction videos sold at Walmart. In that same year, Walmart approached him about launching a private-label charcoal and designing grills and smokers — all successful.

He went on to lead corporate team-building sessions for large companies, giving him time to focus on finding the right location for a new Oklahoma Joe’s so he could finally get back into the smokehouse.

On a trip to Bass Pro Shops in Broken Arrow with his wife, Page, he saw that the old Runt’s barbecue restaurant space was available. They secured the location within two weeks. After a whirlwind construction period, the restaurant opened in December. 

In Kansas City, perhaps Oklahoma Joe’s most famous patron is Anthony Bourdain, who exclaimed in his article “The 13 places to eat before you die,” “It’s the best BBQ in Kansas City, which makes it the best BBQ in the world.” 

The new Oklahoma restaurant features many items from the original location. In addition to recipes, the restaurants share meat providers, dry rubs, barbecue sauce and custom-made cookers.

These large smokers earn their keep. Davidson told me they smoke up to 3,000 pounds of meat per day. The brisket and pork butts go “night-night” in the smoker at 7 p.m. and don’t see the light of day until 12 hours later.

In my opinion, that is when the magic happens — the flat side of the brisket is sliced for service, but the point side is re-seasoned, smoked three hours longer, diced and sautéed in Joe’s famous sauce. Burnt ends, as they are known, are “the platinum of barbecue,” Davidson says, and are available daily.

Oklahoma Joe’s also features meaty ribs, smoked turkey and sausage, and smoked bologna.

“You couldn’t open a barbecue joint in Oklahoma without offering smoked bologna,” Davidson says, “but in Kansas City, we couldn’t give it away.”

The baked bean recipe is one of the few differences in the restaurant menus. Davidson and Stehney are still ferocious competitors, including their respective bean recipes, and both have been winners.

“I think mine are better than Jeff’s,” Davidson gloats.

Joe’s “best beans on the planet” feature three kinds of beans (pork and beans, black beans and kidney beans), bell peppers, jalapenos and a hefty dose of barbecue sauce, brown sugar and chopped brisket — the perfect blend of sweet, heat and meat. Davidson also decided to forgo the traditional creamy slaw for one laced with vinegar and spicy mustard — a nice companion to the rich, heavy meats.

Bottles of Oklahoma Joe’s original Kansas City-style sauce — mild and hot — decorate each table. The flavors of both are rich and complex, but personally, I think the hot sauce needs to have more of a kick. 

The restaurant also features counter service.

Before opening, Executive Chef Kelsey Knouse (formerly of Wolfgang Puck Bistro), along with some other kitchen staff, spent a few weeks in Kansas City learning from the experienced pitmasters.

By the time this issue hits newsstands, a second Oklahoma Joe’s will have opened in Cain’s Ballroom. It will serve barbecue sandwiches every show night, eventually opening to serve a full lunch menu. Davidson also hinted that he was keeping his eyes open for another Tulsa location. I think it’s time to get Mr. Bourdain a plane ticket to Tulsa.



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