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My top 5 barbecue joints in the 405 diningscape
Edge Craft subject of latest 'Eat, Drink & be Local" episode.
National Barbecue Month is near its sad, sad end, but here in Oklahoma our sacred smokehouse bond is celebrated year-round. In these parts, the month of May is about retrospective lists and special television episodes.
In case you missed it, Saturday’s episode of “Eat, Drink & be Local” featured a visit to Edge Craft Barbecue. Founder Zach Edge honed his smokehouse skills as pitmaster at Maples Barbecue during its run. When he got the chance to partner with Chip Fudge on a concept of his own, Edge Craft was born just east of where Linwood meets Virginia.
I chose Edge Craft for the episode because it is currently my pick for top barbecue in the 405 diningscape. Up until about a year ago, that choice would’ve been different but a visit back in the fall followed by another in February convinced me there’s been a changing of the guard. Watch the full episode above.
In honor of National Barbecue Month, here are my top 5 barbecue joints in the 405 diningscape. You’ll definitely want to pick up a copy of the Curbside Chronicle this week for Ben Felder’s top 5 barbecue joints statewide.
For my list, the top 4 belong to what I call the luxury barbecue class, serving USDA prime-grade brisket and high-end pork. The group vying for the fifth spot were a step below but not a giant one. In fact, I expect this top 5 to grow into a top 10 by next year.
Neither Billy Sims Barbecue nor Swadley’s Bar-B-Q were considered for the list. Smoked sausage might be good coming off a chain, but good barbecue is not. Besides, both names evoke images of fancy footwork, or at least general shiftiness, nobody wants while they’re trying to digest rich, fatty foods.
This top 5 is narrowed to the 405. If it hadn’t been, Phat Tabb’s BBQ in Idabel would’ve topped it. Would I like to judge a cookoff between these five and Tabb Singleton? Bet your Baby Back, Baby Back ribs on it.
Each spot is hyperlinked for hours, address and full menu.
Zach Edge opened two years ago and his Texas Hill Country-style barbecue has clawed its way to the top of the 405 diningscape on the strength of brisket strong enough to stand on its own, sausage that sets a new standard and sides perfected over time. If you don’t believe me, just check out the video above.
Lon Mitchell dropped off the competitive barbecue circuit almost five years ago now, and thankfully he had kids at the University of Oklahoma when he and his wife JoAnne decided to park the smoker for a living. Jo-Bawb’s is about the only place in town you can find luxurious burnt ends on a Tuesday in the 405 diningscape. The brisket is precision whether fatty or lean, the ribs are blue ribbon material as are all the proteins. The sides don’t disappoint, but they’re not as inspired as what you’ll find at Edge Craft.
Based on the way Levi Bouska’s smokehouse in Wellston has evolved over the years, I fully expect it to top this list some day. Butcher BBQ Stand was born after Levi’s father, David, led the Butcher BBQ team out of Wellston to the top of the competitive barbecue circuit in 2018. When the first trailer opened, lines were long and the barbecue mirrored the style David Bouska injected into his championship barbecue. But in the years that have followed, Levi has built a restaurant where a trailer once stood. He modified the lines for cars during the pandemic, and nowadays he’s doing smokehouse burgers on the weekends when he keeps the doors open into the night. Levi also does churched-up barbecue dinners for private occasions. The bottom line is, all the reps and his consistent reaches into other cuisines for inspiration puts Bouska’s name on the list the team of current local pitmasters authoring the origin story of Oklahoma Barbecue.
Oklahoma’s most recent national barbecue champion is Travis Clark, and if you don’t know that you’ve never been to Clark Crew BBQ. The exploits of Clark’s competitive pitmastery adorn the walls of what once was a Macaroni Grill and where high-quality barbecue is pumped out of what is either a huge smokehouse or a small factory. Clark Crew’s popularity and Clark’s desire to serve regular restaurant hours means batch-smoking and storing are necessary. Clark Crew also offers pizza, burgers and tacos as well as a full bar. None of those things are negatives on their own, but it does put a drag on the quality of the barbecue. Clark told me in 2021 that he had to take Wagyu off the menu because of high demand. Clark Crew does set a very high standard for barbecue and sides across the board. From potato salads to baked beans, Clark Crew doesn’t scrimp on flavor. Clark recently announced expansion to Tulsa.
The toughest spot to fill was this one. Texlahoma opened a few years ago up on Waterloo Road but more recently was purchased by Quail Springs Culinary, which also owns all but the original S&B Burger Joint stores. That company opened a second location, specializing in Texas Hill Country style barbecue, on Second Street in Edmond that shares space with an S&B. Thus far, the quality of the barbecue has moved with it, but Texlahoma could face a destiny in shackles. Stay tuned. If it does, Smoked Out is waiting with its outstanding ribs. So is Big O’s Pork and Dreams with its excellent sandwiches. King’s Custom-Smoked Meats might’ve edged Texlahoma if not for some appalling smoked turkey. George’s Happy Hog has the best smoked whole wings in town, but if the remainder of its offerings finds that level, watch out. Finally, Leo’s Barbecue should’ve been No. 5. It was once a standard-setting barbecue joint in Oklahoma City, but the original location on NE 36th and Kelley has essentially relocated to the nearby Homeland store at NE 36th and Lincoln. That would be fine, but the counter where Leo’s sells its barbecue is usually closed. That doesn’t mean you can’t get Leo’s Barbecue, but you can’t get it fresh. The only consistent way to get Leo’s Barbecue and/or strawberry-banana cake is to pick up some up that was wrapped in plastic hours before. Pass.
You might be mad not to see Earl’s Rib Palace on the list, but you’re more likely to find it on a list of cheeseburgers, IMO. Compiling the list also made me long for the pastrami at Back Door BBQ but you should know it can be found at Phat Tabb’s Idabel, too.
Your opinions, virtual pitchforks and all, are welcome to come @me in the comments.
Once you’re done yelling at me about barbecue, I’ll make myself a punching bag on behalf of burgers later this week. Be sure and tune into next week’s episode of “Eat, Drink & be Local” on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. on KSBI when we feature La Baguette.