The response to the first Break the Chain article was so great, I decided to do what any lazy writer does: change it very slightly and publish it again.
But, let’s be honest, I was going to do more of these regardless. We’ve got too many great mom-and-pop restaurants in our state to keep places that ship their entrees flash frozen into restaurants for them to be nominally reheated in business.
If you simply can’t talk your family into an alternative, here is a guide to making the best of chain dining.
For what it is, RibCrib ain’t bad. I’ve had more than my share of factory processed “barbecue” that never came within 50 feet of a smoker, so I’ll give it up to any restaurants that actually cook their food.
And if we were in Japan or, god forbid, Oregon, then I’d say take what you can get and be glad for it. But we’re in Oklahoma. There’s no reason to eat chain barbecue when there are so many tasty places right in our neck of the plains.
People are raising cows less than 15 miles from where you live. Certainly you can get your smoked beef brisket from a local. That’s why I’ve put together another handy guide for you to fulfill your barbecue needs. Your family still gets their ribs and some chopped brisket while you enjoy supporting a local business and tasting some of the flavors that come with decades-old smokers and years of hard-won ‘cue knowledge.
Nobody walks out of Leo’s smelling like anything but Leo’s. Hickory smoke has burrowed deep inside the walls, the chairs and the tables and if you think your clothes are more resilient than concrete, you’re a fool.
Run by Charles Smith, son of founder Leo Smith, the restaurant is known and loved for its pork ribs and beef brisket. The brisket has a gorgeous, peppery bark surrounding the smoke ring, but the interior is juicy and waiting to melt on your tongue like meat candy.
Ribs are my kryptonite, which is why Leo’s will be the death of me. The smoky exterior of these ribs hides meat so tender it cries every time you play Death Cab for Cutie.
It’s hard for me to resist the ribs at Iron Star...so I don’t. But if, through sheer Green Lantern-style force of will I can withstand their smoky lure, I tend toward some of Iron Star’s excellent non-BBQ fare.
Usually, I wouldn’t recommend getting anything but barbecue at a barbecue restaurant, but this is A Good Egg Dining joint, which means it’s a lot more chef-y than most pits. Bacon-wrapped quail breast appetizers are a good start and, forgive me, I think the grilled salmon and black-eyed pea salad is one of the best in the city. I know! Salad at a barbecue joint! I should be ashamed.
If you are getting something smoked, look no further than the BBQ Club. A simple brisket sandwich is nice, but this stack of smoked turkey, chopped brisket and crispy bacon with lettuce and tomato is hard to beat. And whatever you do, get the mac and cheese on the side. Goodness gracious, it’s so creamy I’m not sure if it counts as a solid or a liquid.
Getting your barbecue for the road? Maybe a picnic in the park or grandma’s birthday party? Check out Bedlam’s wide variety of delicious dishes and you’ll see why this hidden gem is so popular.
The Cowboy is 3 lbs. of smoked meats and four pints of sides. Again, I go ribs, but Bedlam also has some dynamite pulled pork. I really love a nice crust on pork, which can be a little light on the flavor otherwise.
For the sides, I always go with the spicy cowboy beans. They’re not so sweet, but there’s a great burst of heat and flavor waiting for anyone brave enough to try.
Back Door Barbecue
Another chef-driven BBQ spot is Back Door, which shares a lineage with Big Truck Tacos and Pizzeria Gusto.
Yes...I get the ribs. The bark on these is thick and chewy, like a super-smoky jerky, and the meat underneath is deeply tender.
But other excellent meats include smoked turkey and both jalapeno-cheddar and black pepper beef sausage. Woo, lawd, and other similar exclamations. Grab some of the espresso barbecue sauce, too. I don’t care if you think espresso is too high-falutin’ for barbecue, because you’re wrong. It’s delicious and I love it and we’re getting married. You heard me, dad! We’re in LOVE.
Fried pickled okra is the ideal side, but you can’t go wrong with the roasted corn, either.
One thing I really like about Back Door is the “beastwich” — a rotating sandwich feature that usually features an exotic meat or extraordinary combination of flavors. Always a solid choice.
If you have to try absolutely everything, then you need to get The Turn-in at Texlahoma — so named because it includes everything you’d turn in to the judges at a barbecue cook-off.
The sausages here are killer, the sliced brisket is phenomenal and I think this might be the best barbecue chicken I’ve ever had. Seriously.
They may or may not be doing this right now, but occasionally on Saturdays Texlahoma serves up beef ribs, which are enormous and super tender and wonderful. You’ll look like a caveman eating it, which makes me less self conscious for wearing my loincloth.
For a baked potato so loaded with meat that there might not be any potato left in that shell, check out the D.H. It’s a meal and a half and then another meal.
The Flying Pig
Read this review for a more in-depth look at the Pig, but here are the main takeaways — enormous sandwiches like the B-52 and Speedy Gonzales are the rule here. You get a lot of meat and a lot of heat.
On the side, the molasses baked beans have a deep, dark sweetness you won’t soon forget. And the loaded avocado is kind of perfect for summer, or anyone shying away from carbs.
Following in the tradition of famed Austin spot Franklin BBQ, Maples is all about using the absolutely top-end ingredients to make barbecue you simply cannot forget. The brisket is the most notable dish — get a mix of lean and fatty — are marvel at the way it liquifies in your mouth. It’s truly an experience. Not cheap, mind you, as they’re cooking prime beef brisket, but utterly delicious.
Butcher BBQ Stand
Located up in Wellston, OK, Butcher BBQ is competition barbecue made for customers. Owner Levi Bouska is the son of David Bouska, of BBQ Pitmasters fame, and he’s adapted some of his dad’s recipes for you to taste.
A warning: Butcher has a tendency to sell out during the spring and summer, so go early or risk leaving empty handed.
The pulled pork here is to die for. Or to live for. Please, continue living, dear reader. I don’t want to have to find new readers.
Oh, man, get the apple pie BBQ beans on the side. You will not be sorry. Or don’t get them and you will be sorry. The choice is simple, like my brain.