The answer to that question could be a number of things.
“We’re right in the heartland,” says Nick Corcoran, pit master at Burn Co. Barbeque in Tulsa. “We’re right between pig country and cow country, so we get the best of both worlds. We’re also right between Kansas and Texas, two known barbecue meccas as well, so we get a melding of those two pots.”
Location certainly has a hand in play, but there are other factors as well. Oklahoma has access to some of the best wood used for barbecuing, a willingness to share knowledge to make everyone better and versatility.
“I think what makes Oklahoma barbecue so good is we adapt,” says Joe Davidson, owner of Oklahoma Joe’s Smokers and Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Q. “Oklahoma barbecuers adapt and are constantly learning. We’re harder workers than other people are – if you want to be the best in the world, you have to work really hard at it.”
Whether you’re new to barbecue, a seasoned hand or just a fan of the food, you’re in the right place: The heartland of barbecue.
A Spirit of Sharing
Most people might not expect a famous chef to give out his or her best recipes, but the Oklahoma barbecue community has no problem doing just that.
“That’s the spirit of Oklahoma barbecue – sharing things and learning from others,” says Joe Davidson, owner of Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Q. “If someone has some level of success, they’ll share it. They don’t hoard it to themselves; they want everybody to have success. That’s the philosophy of Oklahoma barbecue that’s really unique.”
Oklahomans can get barbecue advice from a variety of sources – many restaurants not only sell barbecue, but talk to customers about how they cook the food they sell. Burn Co. Barbeque even has a meat market so people can come in for their favorite barbecue or try to barbecue it themselves.
Being open isn’t something reserved just for customers, though. Nick Corcoran, pitmaster at Burn Co. Barbeque, says the barbecue community in Oklahoma shares tricks and tips even with competing restaurants – comparing the openness in Oklahoma barbecue with that used by a manufacturer of electric cars.
“If everybody knows everything, then we all get better,” Corcoran says. “Like Elon Musk did with Tesla – he took the patents off everything. You end up with this culture that grows around it, and to use [Burn Co. co-owner Adam Myers’] words: If somebody’s talking about barbecue, our name is going to come up eventually. That’s better for us. It’s better to cultivate that fire than to snuff it.”
Barbecue restaurants are unusual because there often is an element of teaching the customers how the food is cooked, Corcoran says. And while many industries might avoid that type of openness, barbecue is usually an open book for Oklahoma restaurants.
“It’s my favorite part of the job,” Corcoran says. “I’ve worked in other kitchens, I’ve worked in a lot of different parts of restaurants, and my favorite part about waiting tables was always talking to people and getting to know people. This is like that to the nth degree, because people want to come here and learn from you. I think that’s awesome that I’m able to teach people.”