I’ve said more than once (heck more than a couple dozen times) that if you want great BBQ, you go to Texas. Texas has some really great BBQ.
Franklin in Austin was okay but didn’t quite live up the hype, IMO. Besides, I’m not sure I would wait in line 2 hours for pretty much any restaurant.
I’ve had plenty of folks tell me there’s good BBQ outside of Texas, especially Carolina Travel Girl. I’ve had my fair share of fun teasing her about Carolina BBQ, but the reality is that Carolina BBQ is not Texas BBQ. And, in my mind, Texas reigns supreme. I haven’t discovered any really good BBQ outside of Texas.
I had a short work trip to Kansas City last week. I’ve flown through their airport a time or two but never stopped for a visit. I asked Gary (View From The Wing author and Texas BBQ aficionado) but he didn’t have any specific Kansas City recommendations. Our good friend Randy was sitting with us at the time and was happy to fill me in on the local BBQ scene. One of the places he recommended was Oklahoma Joe’s. It’s absolutely the definition of gas station BBQ because, well, it’s in a gas station.
When I arrived at just after 6pm, the line was out the door. There were about 20 of us standing outside and it wasn’t quite clear how long the line was inside. By the time I made it to the door there were more like 40 people behind me.
The line inside was at least another 25 folks or so, which ultimately lead to a wait of about 30 minutes. I was able to grab a take-out menu while I was waiting so I could figure out how I was ordering. As expected, they had all the standard fare, ribs, chicken, sausage, brisket, pulled pork and the normal sides. As an interesting add-on, they also had gumbo. While I’m a big fan of gumbo, my singular focus was meat. For me, the sides are almost irrelevant for a good BBQ meal. No matter how good or bad your baked beans are, your brisket and ribs are what will keep me coming back. The prices for a platter were about what I recall paying at other BBQ joints. As I got closer to the front of the line, I wondered if I would be able to find a table. It seemed like every table was taken. But, since I was traveling on my own there wasn’t any way for me to hold a table like some others were doing while their family/friends waited in line. According to the signs on the tables, holding a table is frowned upon at Oklahoma Joe’s. As the sign says, “The Line Rules”! And, it did. Seats kept opening up in time for new folks as the previous folks finished their meal. I placed my order and found my way to a seat.
I went for smoked chicken, ribs and brisket. The sides (BBQ beans and red beans & rice) were fine.
I’ll start with the brisket. It was just okay. Based on how I enjoyed the rest of the food, I’m going to chalk up the lack of great brisket not to cooking but ultimately the presentation. The brisket had good flavor but it was sliced very thin, like lunch meats. By the time I got to the second bite it was already luke warm and after that downright cold. Cold brisket does not lend itself to great taste. Brisket sliced this thin can be good for sandwiches, and I might have enjoyed it more that way.
The smoked chicken was excellent. There was a bit of sauce on the outside but not thickly coated. It had good smoke flavor and was very juicy.
And, then there were the ribs. The only reason I can’t say these were the best ribs I’ve ever had is because I couldn’t taste them side-by-side with my favorites. There was a slight amount of sauce on the sides of the ribs, but the dry rub was what dominated the flavor. Sweet with brown sugar and with a bit of kick, though not overly spicy, the flavor was awesome. A great rib is one that has more than just flavor on the outside and these ribs carried that great flavor through to the bone. The outside was a bit crispy, so you had to work just a bit (which I like) to get to the tender meat on the bone. After I took the first bite of rib, I knew I had made a mistake not ordering more. My pile of rib bones were perfectly clean by the time I was done.
Not overly fatty and certainly not lean, these were near-perfect ribs. I was eating from the longer side of the rack and the meat disappeared quickly. Frankly, there’s no need for the accompanying sauce. These ribs have outstanding flavor without it.
I’ve had BBQ in North Carolina, South Carolina, Memphis, Texas and a few places I won’t even bother mentioning. Until now, I was certain Texas would always hold the title for best BBQ. Oklahoma Joe’s has proven me wrong. I’m a little disappointed I don’t have any future travel planned for Kansas City. Those ribs are calling my name.