The Perfect Pairings

Barbecue side dishes run the gamut of deliciousness, from cornbread to pasta salad, corn on the cob and fried okra. 

In the case of Tulsa’s Albert G’s Bar-B-Q – which boasts 29 years serving savories – owner Chuck Gawey says that they seldom run out of sides during lunch and dinner service … but when it happens, it tends to be macaroni and cheese.

In addition to original recipe favorites like coleslaw and potato salad, his three locations serve his family recipe tabbouleh, plus French fries, sweet potato fries and potato chips seasoned with house rub mix.

Brent Swadley, owner of Swadley’s Bar-B-Q in OKC, offers a unique twist on one beloved, tried-and-true side.

“Growing up smoking barbecue with my grandparents, I learned that we would always have leftover brisket and sausage from the trim, and adding that to my grandma’s baked beans became my inspiration for our recipe today,” he says. “Also, our crispy okra is by far our No. 1 side dish. It’s lightly breaded, extra crispy, and people love it.”

Competition Culture

Barbecue competitions typically run May through September around the region, and master champion Donny Teel, a veteran of 700 competitions who owns his own BBQ food truck in Sperry, says that the Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctions the most competitions in the nation. 
For participants, says Teel, “there’s competition, but really it’s like a family that you pick. As long as you don’t ask for their rib rub, they’ll loan you about anything. Everyone is rooting for everyone. Of course you’re glad to hear your name called, but you’re happy to congratulate your friends.”
Having served as a judge himself, Teel says the process involves a day of training with a sanctioning body like the KCBS. Entrees are entered in a box and judged on a point system of appearance, tenderness and, with double points, taste. Smoked chicken is checked for pinkness; pork can be presented several different ways; and brisket should pull apart “pretty easily,” says Teel, but if it just falls apart, it’s over-cooked.  
“Judging is a good way to get into contests, and gives you an idea of what you do and don’t want to do.  I’ve judged – and been lucky enough to win or place second – at the big ones: the Jack Daniels World Barbecue Championship and the American Royal World Series, and that one’s about 600 competitors. In Oklahoma, the largest competitions are in Bixby, Shawnee and Enid.”

Competition Culture

Barbecue competitions typically run May through September around the region, and master champion Donny Teel, a veteran of 700 competitions who owns his own BBQ food truck in Sperry, says that the Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctions the most competitions in the nation. 

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For participants, says Teel, “there’s competition, but really it’s like a family that you pick. As long as you don’t ask for their rib rub, they’ll loan you about anything. Everyone is rooting for everyone. Of course you’re glad to hear your name called, but you’re happy to congratulate your friends.”

Having served as a judge himself, Teel says the process involves a day of training with a sanctioning body like the KCBS. Entrees are entered in a box and judged on a point system of appearance, tenderness and, with double points, taste. Smoked chicken is checked for pinkness; pork can be presented several different ways; and brisket should pull apart “pretty easily,” says Teel, but if it just falls apart, it’s over-cooked.  

“Judging is a good way to get into contests, and gives you an idea of what you do and don’t want to do.  I’ve judged – and been lucky enough to win or place second – at the big ones: the Jack Daniels World Barbecue Championship and the American Royal World Series, and that one’s about 600 competitors. In Oklahoma, the largest competitions are in Bixby, Shawnee and Enid.”

The Allure of Meat Substitutes 

Meat substitutes and Impossible meats produce mixed reactions from barbecue enthusiasts; some look askance while for others, it’s a way of life, with a focus on vegetables and non-meat proteins. 

“While we are barbecue traditionalists with our meats, we have certainly kept our eye on these changing culinary trends including Impossible meats,” says Tena Wooldridge with Billy Sim’s BBQ. “In 2020, impossible meats burst on the mainstream culinary scene and have become prolific enough to be featured in many fast-food menus. While we have not tasted one as of yet that gives that rich, meaty barbecue flavor that would make it a perfect fit on our menu, we always listen to our valued guests and are open to meat substitutions when there is enough interest.”

Oklahoma-Style

“There are the ‘big four’ barbecue types,” says Wooldridge. “Carolina-style, Texas-style, Memphis-style and, of course, Kansas City-style. We are asked about which style of barbecue we serve at our restaurant, and we always answer confidently: ‘Oklahoma-style.’ Oklahomans have a unique way of combining the best of each of the big four, and making it something that stands as a style of barbecue all on its own.”

In OKC, Swadley agrees that Oklahoma barbecue takes a bit from each style to create something truly special. His personal experience curating the menu at Swadley’s is proof of that.

“Growing up in Texas … Texas-style barbecue became familiar to me,” he says. “As I got older, my family and I wanted to learn more about other styles like Kansas City barbecue and Memphis barbecue, so we took a little road trip to learn more about both. We loved the Kansas City-style and how different it was from Texas, but we love the Texas-style because it’s so smoky and has a lot of bark on it. It was then we decided we wanted to be more of the melting pot of barbecue styles, and I think we’ve really started to create our niche for barbecue in Oklahoma.”

Staying Safe

There’s nothing quite like firing up that backyard grill … as long as things go safely. According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2014-2018, fire departments went to an annual average of 8,900 home fires involving grills, hibachis or barbecues per year. So, when you begin grilling season, stay safe. 

Teel has seen some accidents and offers this advice: “If you’re using propane – whether to cook or to start your fires – be sure it’s very well ventilated. I saw a guy get burned when his vents weren’t right and the propane filled his cooking chamber, causing a flash fire.” 

Other tips are to keep your grilling surface clean and on a stable surface, and never wear loose clothing or flammable fabrics. The NFPA offers the following:

  • Never leave your grill unattended 
  • Make sure your gas grill lid is open before lighting it
  • Keep children at least three feet away from the grill
  • If using charcoal, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container

And when it comes to succeeding at the grill, Swadley says: “Smoking great barbecue is not about your equipment as much as it is about learning to manipulate the equipment you have and always buying the best cut of meat available,” he says. “It makes all the difference.”

The Future of Barbecue

The art of barbecue has been around for centuries, but new tools and methods are discovered every year.

Gawey of Albert G’s is looking into ‘the biggest and baddest’ new smokers for his new location in Tulsa Hills, and Teel is beguiled by the many new smart applications to setting timers, adjusting heat and more.

“There are these thermometers you put in meat; like chef alarms, they go off at predetermined temperatures,” says Teel. “There are also these little gadgets that blow air into your firebox – they work off temperature and kick off when its time to adjust the temperature. I see more and more guys controlling their temperatures with their computers via smart apps.” 

Where to Nosh

Tulsa

Albert G’s Bar-B-Q
albertgs.com
918-747-4799 (Harvard)
918-728-3650 (Downtown)

Bayou Boyz BBQ
facebook.com/bayouboyzbbq
918-528-5624

Billy Ray’s BBQ
billyraysbbq.com
918-445-0972 (Tulsa)
918-286-8585 (Broken Arrow)

Billy Sims BBQ
billysimsbbq.com
Multiple locations statewide

Buffalo’s Barbecue
buffalosbbq.com
918-288-6200

BurnCo Barbeque
burnbbq.com
918-528-6816 (Jenks)
918-574-2777 (Tulsa)

Christy’s BBQ
christysbbq.com
918-835-9922

Daddy B’s BBQ
daddybsbbq.com
918-482-1066 (Haskell)
918-304-2070 (Okmulgee)

Franklin’s Pork and Barrel
facebook.com/franklinsonmain
918-286-6770

Knotty Pig BBQ, Burger & Chili House
facebook.com/KnottyPig
918-258-0005

Leon’s Smoke Shack BBQ
leonssmokeshack.com
(918) 798-7907

Mac’s BBQ
macsbbqok.com
918-396-4165

Monty’s BBQ
facebook.com/montys1bbq
539-664-4099

Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue and Catering
okjoes.com
Multiple locations in Tulsa metro

Oklahoma Style Bar-B-Que
facebook.com/oklahomastylebbq
918-835-7077

Rib Crib
ribcrib.com
Multiple locations statewide

Rubicon
rubiconrestauranttulsa.com
918-398-0306

Smoke on 66 Barbeque
smoke-on-66-bbq.ueniweb.com
918-350-5844

Smokies Hickory House BBQ
smokieshickoryhouse.com
918-357-1113

Stone Mill Barbecue and Steakhouse
stonemillbbq.com
918-258-4227

Stutts House of Barbecue
facebook.com/pages/Stutts-House-Of-Bar-B-Q/159794504058563
918-428-2355

Tulsa Brisket Company
tulsabrisketcompany.com
918-576-8111

OKC

Back Door Barbecue
backdoorbarbecue.com
405-525-7427

Bedlam Bar-B-Q
bedlambarbq.com
405-528-7427

Big O’s Pork and Dreams
porkanddreams.com
405-657-2235

Billy Sims BBQ
billysimsbbq.com
Multiple locations statewide

Blake’s Barbecue
blakesbarbecue.com
405-735-1313

Blu’s BBQ and Burgers
facebook.com/blusbbq
405-602-2587

Clark Crew BBQ
clarkcrewbbq.com
405-724-8888

Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
dickeys.com
405-242-4046

Earl’s Rib Palace
earlsribpalace.com
Multiple locations in OKC metro

Iron Star Urban Barbeque
ironstarokc.com
405-524-5925

Jack’s Bar-B-Q
jacksbbqok.com
405-605-7790

Jo-Bawb’s BBQ
jo-bawbsbbq.com
405-479-0187

Leo’s BBQ
leosbbqokc.com
405-424-5367

Pappy’s BBQ
pappysbbq.com
405-290-7551

Ray’s Smokehouse BBQ
raysbbqok.com
405-237-3840

Rib Crib
ribcrib.com
Multiple locations statewide

Rudy’s Country Store and Bar-B-Q
rudysbbq.com
405-307-0552 (Norman)
405-254-4712 (OKC) 

Spencer’s Smokehouse and Barbecue
spencersbbqokc.com
405-769-8373

Steve’s Rib
stevesrib.com
405-340-7427 (Edmond)
405-285-7588 (Fox Lake)

Swadley’s World Famous Bar-B-Q
swadleys.com
Multiple locations statewide

Texlahoma BBQ
texlahomabbq.com
405-513-7631

Van’s Pig Stands
pigstands.com
Multiple locations statewide