Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Oklahoma Joes BBQ Restaurant, Kansas City

Just off the south bound I35 running out of Kansas City you’ll find an unassuming petrol station. If you don’t need to stop for fuel, you’d drive right by.   This green and white, no name fuel station sitting on 3002 W 47th Avenue, gives away its true treasures by the faint whiff of smoke, a parking lot filled with a cross section of society (RV’s, 4x4 and bankers beamers) and at lunch, a queue all the way out the front door. We found a spot, piled out and ambled into the hallowed ground, that is now known as the home of ‘the’ BBQ restaurant, Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ. This hidden gem, was made an international name by the ever popular Chef Anthony Bourdain in his article "13 Places to Eat Before you Die", published in Mens Health.

This Mecca for top quality BBQ was born in the 90’s by the Slaughterhouse 5 BBQ team, namely Jeff & Joy Stehney and Joe Davidson (The Joe in Oklahoma Joe’s).  Shortly after, Joe sold up leaving Jeff and his wife to take the reigns.

One of our party had contacted Doug Worgul, head of marketing at Oklahoma Joes and formerly editor at the Kansas City Star (more recently as author of the excellent “Thin Blue Smoke”). Doug met us as we entered the restaurant and we were clearly already overwhelmed by the massive queue, buzz of conversation and intoxicating smell of BBQ.  Doug was kind enough to take time out of his busy day and give the The British BBQ Society team members a personal tour of the restaurant.

The tour kicked off at the business end, with a visit of the final preparation area where we were greeted by a member of the team slicing wafer thin pieces of brisket in preparation for service to the patiently waiting masses.
IMG_1690 IMG_1706

It was an impressive sight, racks of cooked brisket, wrapped in clingfilm to keep the juices from running out. In excess of 60-70 large briskets go out the door in serving.  Whichever way you look at it, that’s a lot of cow!

Of all the brisket dishes, our favourite was the Z-Man sandwich: Brisket delicately placed on a soft, white Kaiser bun, smothered in smoked provolone cheese, 2 onion rings and BBQ sauce. As an interesting aside, the name Z-Man was due to a DJ who was running a competition on air to name the new dish. During the advertising, people came in and asked for the sandwich that the Z-Man had been trying to name - "gimme that Z-man sandwich". The Z-Man was born... and the world is a better place for it!

Doug then took us into the heart of the restaurant where the real magic happened. To be honest, there is no magic, just three massive, thick stainless steel walled smokers large enough to contain 40-60 massive slabs of prime ribs each, powered by the subtle flavours of white oak. In the centre of the room was a trolley containing 40+ slabs being prepped for cooking.


On the door of each oven one of the pitmasters had written the contents, showing the cut of meat, time it went in and; the quantity. IMG_1722

The scale is quite impressive, with the restaurant capable of pushing out over 1000 racks of ribs (each rib is capable of feeding 2x normal humans or 1x large hungry man) in a day.
IMG_1717 IMG_1726

All three smokers were powered by the same burner, playing over the oak logs to give that distinctive flavour.

Out of the smokers and off to another preparation room. We discovered the team working on preparing dozens of butts of pulled pork. We watched as each dripping pork shoulder was torn apart with 3-4 deft slices of the hand. The sheet of fatty bark from the top of the butt was then squeezed over the remaining pork (“squeezing out the love”) and then mixed through. The result was a plate of juicy, moist pulled pork, slowly steaming away in its own juices, waiting to be consumed (preferably with spicy ‘slaw). The team fell into a hypnotised silence as they watched each cannon ball of pork being dealt with in a matter of seconds by a man whom clearly had oven mitts for hands.

IMG_1742 IMG_1761

The final stop of the tour was to visit the BBQ Beans station. The beans were being cooked in a massive steel bath. Each precious little bean exuding the heat absorbed during their growth from the mid-western sun was swimming in a beautiful honey brown pool of sugar, spices and tomatoes. As beans go, they had clearly arrived at the top of their game.

Doug then proceeded to finish off the tour by giving us some history of restaurant, the people and some interesting anecdotes. This included some background into London’s very own BBQ restaurant chain, Bodeans.  The owner of Bodeans had approached Oaklahoma Joes about 10 years ago for advice when setting up the one of the only proper BBQ restaurants in the UK.  He toured the restaurant, much as we had, and picked up tips on how to produce BBQ on that scale, what smokers to buy (Bodeans still use the Ole’ Hickory smokers used by OJs) and how to run a BBQ business.  Both restaurants display the same pink, neon pig sign with BBQ in the middle in the front window.  They even stole one of the young pitmasters, bringing him over to work in the Soho branch in the first days of the restaurant. Clearly, without realising it, we had ended up closer to Joe’s than anticipated.

Post the tour the team tucked into the food. Without wanting to embellish, the food was excellent. We tasted the ribs (very meaty, juicy, slight smoke flavour and well flavoured), the Z-Man sandwich (creamy, moist with a nice crunch of onions), the Carolina (brisket, spicy slaw & BBQ Sauce), BBQ Beans (A nice pleasant bbq flavoured, a touch of heat and oh so sweet) and finally the extra crispy spicy fries. This was washed down by a local Boulevard beer.

As I looked round the table, I noticed the team were very quiet, licking their fingers, a dreamy look in their face. Sated.

Thank you Doug for taking time out of your day and thank you Oklahoma Joe’s for serving us food we’d love to see a lot more of side of the pond!

Written: Cuan Brown
Editor, Photos: Ben Cops