Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ
If you told your friends you were taking them to dinner in a working Shamrock gas station they would probably think you had lost your culinary mind. And if you insisted it would become one of their favorite restaurants, they would certainly question whether you had any food sense at all. They obviously have never been to Oklahoma Joe’s, a barbecue treasure in Kansas City.
This exquisitely unusual establishment was started by two friends who met through national barbecue competitions. In fact, Jeff Stehney, the current owner of Oklahoma Joe’s, bought his first smoker from Joe Don Davidson, founder of Oklahoma Joe’s Smoker Company in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Appropriately, that’s where they chose to open their first Oklahoma Joe’s in 1996. Less than a year later, they expanded into the crowded Kansas City market, where they made an immediate impact. In 1997, Joe sold his smoker business and moved to Texas. The original restaurant closed and Jeff and his wife, Joy, became sole owners of the Kansas City location.
On a Friday or Saturday evening after 6 p.m., you can expect a line that wraps around the convenience store sundries, past the shiny trophies and T-shirts hanging from the wall. An efficient staff keeps the line moving quickly. Perusing the offerings displayed on a large wall chalkboard, one first notices the typical Kansas City barbecue fare—slabs of ribs, beef brisket and, of course, baked beans. But there are also such unique offerings as Carolina style sandwiches with spicy slaw and “Bubba’s” special sauce piled atop your choice of pork, turkey or beef; the Z-Man sandwich with brisket, provolone and onion rings; red beans & rice; and my favorite, smoked chicken gumbo, a chunky concoction of rice, okra and thick pieces of meat from the vast smoker.
With friends in tow, we recently made the trip to Oklahoma Joe’s. Balancing platters heaped high with a hodgepodge from the menu, we grab our silverware, score a vacant table and sit down to enjoy the feast. Before digging in, one must grapple with the huge, plastic container of award-winning BBQ sauce, squirting it onto the red butcher paper that lines the trays, and using the highly seasoned French fries to lap up every last drop. Thankfully, each table has its own roll of paper towels as this fare is definitely finger food. The sauce is tangy and spicy but not peppery; a notable standout in a city filled with the planet’s finest sauces. With our appetites sated, we push back from the table as the next group, eagerly awaiting our departure, prepares to attack its food with equal passion and purpose.
Not surprisingly, our friends couldn’t leave without buying one of those T-shirts we had passed on our arrival, declaring proudly “My favorite restaurant is in a gas station!”