Tasting A Memory – Oklahoma Joe’s Comes Home

By on January 5, 2012

Have you ever tasted a memory? Tonight… I did.

1998 – A 20 year old Oklahoma State College student and his pals pull into a parking spot along “The Strip” in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on a Thursday afternoon. Eager to get in line and order the Thursday special… 2-for-1 Pulled Pork sandwiches and 75 cent Budweiser bottles. For $6.00, you got 2 mouth-watering sandwiches and 2 ice cold beers that were so cold (the beer, not the sandwiches) the ice would be stuck to the bottle. But this day was different. This day, the beer was not ice cold. The smell of smoked meats was mysteriously absent. There were no longer Oklahoma Joe smokers lined up along the windows. The long hardwood tables and benches where we had shared so many Thursday specials, slabs of ribs and ice cold brews were no more. The building was a ghost… a good friend who just disappeared without warning. A memory that would only live on as an anecdote in our personal accounts of our youth.

So it is understandable that when I read the Tweet from @tdmarkit8dude that the old Runt’s BBQ building in Broken Arrow (and also formerly Gameday Tailgate Bar & Grill) stating that the building’s marquee read “Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ Coming This Fall”, my excitement over this new addition to the Tulsa BBQ scene rose to epic levels. And my excitement has held no boundaries. I, along with many other Tulsa and Broken Arrow natives, have taken many side-trips over the last 3 months to follow the progress of legendary pit master Joe Don Davidson’s latest venture. From the addition of signs to the building, to new construction going on in the back of the building (which turned out to be Joe’s smokehouse, equipped with the same models of smokers that have made him an icon in the competition BBQ circuit), to a personal tour of the restaurant’s progress with Joe himself… all this anticipation spread out over 3 months came down to this one epic Manly Food moment… The moment I sat down at Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ, picked up the bottle of BBQ sauce as I do at every BBQ joint I visit, and squeezed out that drop sublime nectar onto my finger and stuck it in my mouth.

You see, my love affair with this development wasn’t tied to the fact that Joe Davidson has won over 300 barbeque championships. It wasn’t tied into the fact that he was the co-founder of one of Kansas City’s finest and most successful BBQ restaurants… the restaurant that Anthony Bourdain labeled as one of 13 Places to Eat Before You Die. It wasn’t even tied into Joe’s countless television and media appearances. This infatuation stems from memories of my youth. Memories that molded me into the Manly Food connoisseur I am today. Memories I can taste.

This moment. This single, solitary point in time when Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ sauce hit the tip of my tongue tonight for the first time since 1998 was, perhaps, my single greatest moment as a foodie so far. It was a moment that reminds me why I take pictures of the food I eat. Why I tweet those pictures out for anyone who cares to see them. That moment is why I do what I do.

But enough of all this sappy memory crap. Let’s get to the food!

The wait wasn’t bad. When we arrived, the line was backed up through the restaurant to the front door. This meant about 20-30 minutes from the time we got in line to the time we got our food. This is what the line looks like, but don’t let the people in front of you scare you away… it’s worth the wait!

“Oklahoma” Joe Davidson can be found mingling with customers. Either at their table, or in the line. Chatting with a BBQ legend like Joe is a good way to pass the time while waiting to place your order, although I found it to be a distraction from coming to a decision on what to order! I had a chance tonight to ask Joe a question that I hadn’t asked before, and has come up in several recent discussions with friends and readers… Why did they close the Stillwater location? His answer was that when he sold the smoker business and moved to Texas, neither he nor Jeff Stehney (the acting owner of the KC Oklahoma Joe’s restaurants and Joe’s BBQ partner at the time) would have been able to be present during enough of the restaurant’s daily operations. In other words, they are hands on owners who didn’t want to risk serving a product that didn’t live up to their standards because they wouldn’t be around for quality control. A noble excuse, and one I will accept and forgive them for… now that we’ve got our own Oklahoma Joe’s.

The ordering process was a stressful one. It was like I was a born again BBQ virgin and I wanted to make sure this first time was perfect. Up until the moment I HAD to order, I didn’t know what was going to come out of my mouth, but I ultimately went back to my Oklahoma Joe’s roots and got the Pulled Pork sandwich. Though this time I added brisket as well (a mere $.49 addition), and I also added a side of Joe’s world-famous BBQ beans. Words cannot describe how happy I was when I took my first bite…

The wife got an Oklahoma Joe’s classic, the Z-Man, though she was torn between it and “Joe’s Dipped Brisket with Au Jus” (especially after Joe told us the Dipped Brisket is his favorite sandwich). The Z-man is a brisket sandwich topped with smoked provolone and fried onion rings. I have read on the internets that the chicken Z-man is also very popular. It’s not actually on the menu, but I did hear it called out several times from the kitchen. I had a couple of bites and loved it… and I’m not normally a fan of sandwiches with onion rings on them (I know… weird, huh?)…

Finally, my boy’s bologna sandwich. He’d be very disappointed if his sandwich didn’t make it in this post, so here it is. The boy is addicted to bologna, but I think even he was surprised he ate it all. When I noticed he still had a little left and seemed to be done with his meal, I asked if I could have it. Turns out, it’s a good thing I asked because I’m pretty sure we would’ve had a meltdown on our hands had I just reached over and stuffed it in my mouth! The last little bit of bologna didn’t last long after that… not sure if that was because of the bologna love, or fear that Daddy was gonna eat his bologna…

So at the end of the meal, I can’t say I was disappointed in anything. Well, that’s a lie. I was disappointed in one thing. The bathrooms have those automatic faucets. I hate those things.

As we got up to leave, I looked around to see if I could find Joe and thank him one more time for bringing his talents to Green Country. I didn’t see him, and decided that was a good thing because I may have ended up kissing him on the lips… and I’m pretty sure that would have been an awkward situation.

As we drove away from the restaurant, a small tear of joy in my eye, my son (in his sweet 4-year-old voice) said, “Thank you Daddy for that place.” I replied, “Son, don’t thank me… Thank Oklahoma Joe.”

Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ

(918) 355-0000
333 W Albany St
Broken Arrow, OK 74012

Oklahoma Joe's BBQ on Urbanspoon


About Tulsa Food Guy – http://www.tulsafoodguy.com

TulsaFoodguy.com was originally a concept to provide a resource for people who wanted to find something to eat that wasn’t your plain old restaurant chain. When you’re looking for something that won’t just satisfy your natural desire to fill your belly, but will be a truly AWESOME experience. We here at tulsafoodguy.com cannot guarantee that every experience at every restaurant we give “TFG’s Seal of Awesomeness” will be AWESOME for you, but we can guarantee that your odds are much better that you’ll find great, not just good, food at the establishments we recommend. What you will get here is an honest, “manly” account of our experiences and recommendations of all things food in Tulsa, the rest of Oklahoma, and anywhere else TFG and/or his trusted companions travel in search of the most AWESOME food in search of the greatest dining experiences in the universe!

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  1. Brian Schwartz

    January 5, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I got a chance to meet with Joe Davidson on Tuesday and I was blown away by his knowledge and dedication. If they had to pick an ambassador of barbecue to tour Europe or anywhere else, he’d be the man. He could be a celebrity chef if he wanted to.

    Now I can’t add anything to your excellent review… except this. I don’t think I’ll ever get around to trying those sandwiches, because I never want to eat anything but those excellent ribs. I think they’re the best I’ve ever eaten, and his only possible competitor in the world is Donny Teel up in Sperry. I could spend days describing them but I can’t do as good a job as this excellent photo:


    Now if you want other choices, just take a look at this best of Oklahoma Joe’s sampler. The meat was selected by Joe Davidson himself. You can’t buy a sampler like this, but Joe says he might start selling them later in the month. Look at the photo and it will drive you crazy!!


    Ribs, burnt ends, pulled pork, all world-class winners, and some incredible sides.

    One more thing. Remember the rumors that Oklahoma Joe’s was opening up in Cain’s Ballroom? There’s some truth to that. Oklahoma Joe’s sandwiches might soon be sold at Cain’s concerts. The sandwiches will be made in Broken Arrow though, that way Joe can keep an eye on them.

  2. Tulsa Food Guy

    January 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Glad you brought that up about Cain’s. I haven’t asked about that since well before the restaurant opening, but he had said something about having an OK Joe’s window at the Cain’s. That would be a great addition to an already great venue!

    As for trying it all, maybe next time you should get a sandwich and then get the ribs to go. The ribs will warm up better than a sandwich. I’m lucky to have Joe’s on my side of town so should have plenty of opportunities to try everything (and pretty much already have).

    For more pics and some video, you can check out the tour Joe gave Lacey Lett and me on Great Day Green Country. Some serious video food porn! http://www.tulsafoodguy.com/blog/2011/12/moanin-and-gruntin-invading-oklahoma-joes-bbq-with-lacey-lett-video/comment-page-1/#comment-4174

  3. Brian Schwartz

    January 5, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Another fun fact… the executive chef, Joe Davidson’s Number 2 guy, is Kelsey Knouse, formerly executive chef at Wolfgang Puck.

  4. Scott L.

    January 9, 2012 at 11:41 am

    My wife and I had lunch there this past weekend. Had the special (burnt ends) with cole slaw and beans. The burnt ends were good but not what I was expecting. Not a fan of them serving sauce on the meat and was expecting some char on the meat which wasn’t present. Cole slaw and beans were very good. Will definitely go back but will try their ribs and brisket next. Also their sauce reminded me a lot like Elmer’s (which is a compliment) but not completely wowed by it. Their “hot BBQ sauce was mild by my standards.

    • Brian Schwartz

      January 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm

      That’s just how they cook the burnt ends. They smoke them for ten hours or so, then brush them with sauce and smoke them for a few hours more. The ribs and other meats are served without sauce (but of course with sauce bottles available at the table). Also the ribs do have a crust (not a char).

      • Scott L.

        January 11, 2012 at 11:43 am

        Then they should call it smoked ends :D

      • Todd

        January 11, 2012 at 12:07 pm

        If that’s how they cook that portion of the brisket then I wouldn’t call them burnt ends. A good traditional burnt end should have a nice smokey char or bark on at least one side. That’s where a lot of the wonderful flavor comes from. Without that they are just smoked brisket points. I also agree with Scott that I would prefer the option to add my own BBQ sauce. I like to taste my smoked meats without sauce and decide how much or if I even need to add sauce. I haven’t made it over to Oklahoma Joe’s yet and their BBQ sounds like it’s great stuff so I’m looking forward to it. I guess we just have a different opinion of what true burnt ends are.

      • Tulsa_ld

        January 11, 2012 at 8:17 pm

        -Quick side note, the crisp on the outside of the rib is typically referred to as ‘bark’. In strict food terms, it *can* be either a crust or a char. Typically, the char would refer to the remnants of cooking directly on the meat itself, whereas the ‘crust’ would refer to an ingredient or group of ingredients on top of the meat (i.e. rub or sauce).

        Call it what you will, when finished correctly it is delicious. Looking forward to avoiding a 4 hour drive to KC to get Joe’s from now on.

        Tulsa_ld, who thinks the best ribs on the planet are at Guy and Mae’s in Williamsburg, KS

    • Tulsa Food Guy

      January 11, 2012 at 10:13 pm

      Yeah, the name “burnt ends” is deceptive. I always thought it was just “burnt” trimmings from the brisket or ribs or whatever that got cut off before serving and then served up.

      You’re definitely right on the hot bbq sauce. It doesn’t bother me because I don’t usually care for hot BBQ sauce… which is odd because I love hot food. But that’s been the one comment I’ve been hearing the most and agree… that sauce probably isn’t even hot enough to be called hot.

      I would suggest trying the Carolina style sandwich with pulled pork. Especially since you liked the coleslaw. Coming from someone who’s tried just about everything on the menu, this is now my favorite item, and I don’t like coleslaw and have always been skeptical of the Carolina style sandwich. OJ’s “bubba sauce” that is on this sandwich isn’t a traditionally vinegary sauce like you’ll find in the Southeast. Don’t remember exactly how he described it and I don’t even really notice the sauce with all the other flavors going on from the slaw. But it’s damn good. Make it a jumbo for 2 bucks extra if you want extra meat.

  5. Tulsa Food Guy

    January 20, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    For you OK Joe’s fans, I’m running a contest to aid me in compiling a revised Top 10 Tulsa BBQ list. To enter, just go to the link and post your favorite(s) in the comments. Everyone who comments is eligible and the winner will literally be pulled out of a hat. Would love to get some input from the writers and fans of Tulsa Food.


  6. Marsha Smith

    February 21, 2012 at 11:32 am

    I’m responding to the idea of “tasting a memory”…
    That idea is the basis of my website: loaveaffair.com

    I “create a memory” that most boomers have of their grandmother or mother making the iconic candy from the 50′s called “Date Loaf Candy”. My grandmother made this treat for her family for 40 years. Not my mother nor my aunts have tried to make it…until now! Grandma’s first grandchild has mastered her candy-making-skill and, now, I’m making it available on the Internet. Check it out!!!

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