May 102009

It is incredibly annoying how much people like this place. Yelp and other sites abound with people proclaiming this the best BBQ in Kansas City and often the best BBQ in the world. I don’t have a lot of use for those kinds of assertions unless they come from people I know personally and trust. Nonetheless, Oklahoma Joe’s stellar reputation is pretty much well-deserved. They make all the BBQ standards really well (at least all that I’ve had), and I haven’t encountered the shortcomings or weaknesses that you see at other establishments around the metro.

Pulled pork? Excellent. Ribs? Excellent. Chicken? Excellent. Brisket? Very good. Sausage? Meh.

BBQ chicken

Where I will differ with the vast majority of folks in Kansas City is in my assessment of the french fries. While well cooked and pleasingly crunchy in texture, they are vastly over seasoned. They are so salty that I rarely come close to finishing them.

The baked beans on the other hand, pretty much rule. Cole slaw is solid but typical.

This is a quintessential lunch spot in a lot of ways, particularly because I think the midday meal is their bread and butter. Anyone who has been around town for any length of time knows that there is a line out the door by 11:30 when doors open. The wait during lunch rush can approach 45 minutes. This is good food, but I can’t see waiting that long for it, especially if I have somewhere to be (like, oh I don’t know, WORK?). So this is a special occasion lunch place and also a perfectly good joint for dinner and odd hour meals.

And yeah, there is the gas station thing. Oklahoma Joe’s, for those who don’t know, is located in the back of a gas station convenience store at the corner of 47th and Mission Road. I won’t go into the history of this odd placement but at the very least it is amusing and makes for a great story when introducing out of towners to KC barbecue. Despite the humble surroundings, Oklahoma Joe’s has a comforting menu which is larger than many and designed to appeal to mass palates.

The line goes from right to left, which seems backwards but probably creates extra space when it gets too long. It gets a little annoying to squeeze between all the folks in line after paying with your tray full of hot meat, a wobbly plastic cup of beer and a bag of fries. Then you get your drink and have to navigate around the line again to get to your table. But folks are accommodating and friendly so it’s not a huge ordeal. I just know that someday I’m gonna drop my pale ale in someone’s purse.

A lot of people swear by their fabled Z-man sandwich, basically a bun piled with smoked brisket, cheese and a couple of onion rings. The carolina sandwiches are also popular and include your choice of meat, topped with cole slaw on a bun. Frankly I’m not a big fan of these kinds of “specialty sandwiches.” All I require is white bread and meat a la Arthur Bryant’s but those at OK Joe’s have an undeniable appeal. And if you want meat on bread at Joe’s you can get that.

Texas platter

I’m not going to debate what is or isn’t the best barbecue in Kansas City. For my money it is and always will be Bryant’s, but I can respect those who prefer Joe’s, Danny Edwards or even Jack Stack. Joe’s began as a competition barbecue team, tearing up the regional circuit in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The restaurant has been going strong for about a dozen years, and in that relatively short time, Oklahoma Joe’s has inserted itself firmly into the pantheon of fabulous, local barbecue establishments.

Part of that is certainly its Kansas locale. Their clientele leans toward white and middle class and some of them undoubtedly like to think of themselves as slumming because they are eating in a gas station. All I can say is that the first time I went to LC’s, there were a couple guys being arrested up against cop cars in the parking lot. THAT is slumming it people. OK Joe’s is not so much a neighborhood joint as a destination spot anyway whereas Bryant’s still is a neighborhood place in a lot of ways. And the gas station isn’t remotely dingy or intimidating. It might as well be a Wendy’s with a line.

It is hard to get out of here for less than 10 bucks and a meal here often runs you much more because you want to try multiple items. That’s ok though, it is a destination meal and you should splurge a little. Get a beer and an unneeded side of beans; it won’t kill you.

I’d be a fool not to recommend Oklahoma Joe’s to anyone, just keep in mind that the line is long at the lunch hour. That means no whining. The wait is generally worth it if you have the time to spare. Service is very fast and despite how crowded it can be, I’ve never had a hard time finding a place to sit. So don’t try to save a table while your friend is ordering, because that’s just bad form.


Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

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  18 Responses to “Oklahoma Joe’s: 3002 W. 47th Street”

  1. I only visit the gas station location with out of town guests that want to see something special. I do most of my business at the Joe’s in Olathe and always call in my order, which is usually done in the 10 minutes it takes to drive there.

  2. ditto on the call-ahead, I’ve never been inside but my co-workers often order out and it doesn’t take long. As far as food I think it’s pretty average, pulled pork was dry and salty, brisket is just OK, but I like the sauce – it has a nice kick to it. I do like the fries, maybe the reason you can’t finish them is that it’s not humanly possible to eat the giant portion you get. The last sentence doesn’t apply to Chimpo.

  3. Order the fries lightly seasoned and you get the fresh fries with a great reduction in salt… but all the grease!

  4. I think you called it right. There are places in town that know how BBQ the meat better. I was never that impressed, thought the grease was overdone, and couldn’t figure out the reputation either — but you nailed it. It’s that whole Gas Station BBQ and so close to Fairway and The Plaza.

  5. I’d wish you brought them down just a notch more. Yeah, they’re good but they’re not blow-my-mind good. But yeah, you’re pretty much dead on.

  6. I think the ‘cue is very good, especially the pulled pork, which is underrepresented locally, I guess due to it’s being kind of a Carolina thing rather than a KC staple. That being said, the sides kill any chance this place has for being the top KC barbecue joint. It seems that every single side, while not being inedible, is somehow off. The potato salad, both kinds of slaw and even the beans are just not that great. The fries and onion rings are different than most, but not better. They even serve those strange cross sliced pickles that once again are a strange combination of bread and butter and dill. Add some Bryant style fries, some beer batter onion rings and Zarda style beans with just regular old KFC slaw and fricking Clausen’s pickles out of the jar and this place would totally rock and could possibly lay claim to entering the pantheon of the top 3 KC barbecue ( Bryant, Gates, Jack Stack ) It is a rare case of the totally triple U side dishes holding back some very good to great barbecue.

  7. I find it humorous that it costs about the same to stand in a cattle line all day to eat at Joe’s and sit in a cushy booth with table service at Jack Stack.

    The fabulous thing about debating BBQ in KC is that there are so many choices, variables, and preferences. What’s most important? Beans? Brisket? Ribs? Sauce? Burnt ends?

    Of the items I’ve tried at Joe’s, none have been below average. And I can still remember early in their existence when they used to run a slab special for about $10. I ate the whole glorious thing…why didn’t Man vs. Food exist then?

  8. I’m with the poster who favored sitting down to Jack Stack to OK Jo. Everytime I take someone from out of town to KC BBQ, we go to Jack Stack.

    Have you been to Smokehouse BBQ yet? The food is earily similar to Jack Stack, but the sauce is weak. They will also pour sauce over EVERYTHING unless you tell them not to.
    But the meat, beans, and slaw is just as good as the Stack. Word is that it is the ex’s place.

  9. See, that’s why I lik Jack’s over everyone else, too…the sides are all so effing tasty!

    But for ease and location, RJs in Mission hits the spot well enough, especially when they have their Denver lamb ribs available. MAN those things are incredible! (If you like lamb, of course. Which we do.)

    I’ve only ever had OK Joe’s at parties, in big catering bins. It’s alright. Not worth driving out of my way for, though.

  10. Thanks everyone for your comments. Jack Stack is where I go with family and large groups where it makes more sense to sit down. Otherwise, I always prefer to order at a counter. Calling ahead is a good idea, but I don’t do that for work week lunches very often.

    Papias, yes I have blogged about Smokestack before. As I recall there is some info in the comments about the connection between the two restaurants.

    Midwest Kitchen, I had no idea I could order fries lightly seasoned. This could change everything.

    Olentangy, I recall really liking the beans but other than that slight disagreement you are absolutely correct.

    JJSKCK, Bates City has a $10 slab special every day. Not as good as Joe’s, but good.

    Faith, RJ’s is a great little spot. Don’t like their sauce, though.

  11. DLC – Its Smokehouse BBQ – not Smokestack. Check the link

    Remember to ask for no sauce on the meat….

  12. Right-sorry. Thanks!

  13. If you are getting a simple meat on bread sandwich, get the Texas toast. Whatever the “butter” is they put on the bread before it’s toasted, is fantastic. When the juice from the meat hits the toasted bread… there’s a slightly soggy, yet delectable surprise waiting for you. Add a dab of the spicy sauce and it pretty much seals the deal.

    As for the fries, I’ve proclaimed on this site more than once that they are the best in town. No denying that they can be over seasoned and you could spend the rest of the day guzzling water at your desk. Frankly, the size alone can be a little overwhelming… but as a combo, it works. Ditch the guilt and split them w/ a friend.

    I dig Fiorealla’s as well. Hell, they catered my wedding. Service is excellent and food is usually quite good (except the beef burnt ends can be a little too fatty from time to time). Their polish sausage is possibly the best in town. But as has already been said, it’s a different, more formal experience.

    If I can modify a line I heard in Goodfellas… Fridays are for Fiorella’s. But Saturdays are for Oklahoma Joe’s.

  14. I’m with you on all your comments. It’s one of these places that falls into a category in my book, as Yogi said, “It’s so crowded nobody goes there anymore.” At least I don’t. I TOTALLY agree on the french fries, way overseasoned and quasi-Chili’s otherwise. I’ll go to Gates JUST for the fries sometimes. Haywards has the same great fries. And as for the famous Z-Man, I don’t know what self-respecting KC BBQ-eater can stomach provolone cheese on a BBQ sangwich. Just isn’t right. Again, a quasi-Applebee’s creation. I’d rather wait in that kind of line for Bryant’s or Rosedale at lunch. Which brings up another thing: I like sliced pork. You can still get it at Rosedale, Bryant’s, Gates, any of the genuine classics. I for one don’t care for pulled pork, and places that DON’T offer sliced pork are taking the easy, popular way out.

  15. Matty, the sliced pork totally rules at Bryant’s, you are so right. I haven’t had it at any of the other places you mentioned. As a totally amateur BBQ chef myself I find that pulled pork is one of the easiest things to make. I do like pulled pork though, probably because I’ve eaten at plenty of Carolina BBQ joints and find it among life’s greatest pleasures when done properly with a good mustard sauce. In KC my default is brisket; I think the beef at Bryant’s, Gates and LC’s can hold its own with any Texas joint. Incidentally the pulled pork is the only thing I don’t like from Bryant’s. It’s weird and mushy and mixed with sauce.

  16. The comparisons between Jack Stack and Smokehouse I believe are somewhat unwarranted.

    Smokehouse has the best beans in town, bar none. Everything else they serve is just “meh” compared to Jack Stack, in my opinion. Also, the “ex’s restaurant” comments seem to be coming out of nowhere…

    The Smokehouse chain is owned by Darioush Ghasemi.

    Jack Stack burnt ends are to die for. Like Gordon Ramsay said about his fillet steak, I could “die and fuck off to heaven” with some Jack Stack burnt ends. Burnt ends at Smokehouse? I’d be more likely to need an orthodontic procedure than to be in ecstasy.

    I’m just down the road from Smokehouse, so I do go there on occasion to get some takeout, and sure enough, it’s edible BBQ. I’ve had my share of disappointments with their meat, however.

    I’ve only been to Oklahoma Joe’s on three different occasions, none of which were at the original location, but I’ve learned to avoid the beans. They taste like Salsa. I’ll repeat that, in case it didn’t sink in the first time. Salsa beans. What the hell?

    Their fries are okay, their beef is on par with Smokehouse (perfectly edible BBQ, but nothing to write home about), and their pork is a 9 out of 10.

    I’ve never been a fan of Arthur Bryants, no matter how many times I’ve wanted really badly to like it. I just get the impression that they start out with the absolute cheapest meat they can find, because I’ve never found so much gristle and fat in my meat. My friends love it, so I’ve been there a good many times for lunch, and I’ve never left feeling like I had what I’d classify as a “great” piece of meat. It’s always a little too tough, a little too gritty, a little gristly for my money.

    Gates, while always coming across as kind of a gimmick to me, serves more of the same “edible, but not fantastic” fare. Still, if I’m headed to Costco I’m hard-pressed not to want to stop in and get a ham on bun.

    Each place likely does something just a little more “right” than the other, but for my money I feel that Jack Stack has it more right than any of the other places. A giant pile of Jack Stack’s burnt ends, and a tub of Smokehouse beans, and I’d be in BBQ heaven.

    Nothing, however, beats a good Kansas City BBQ discussion… :)

  17. TMHP- As an contest BBQ-er and caterer myself, let me suggest any time you go to Gates or Bryants, you have about a 60-40 chance of getting the nice long brisket slices that you’d prefer, vs. the much more fatty, sometimes gristly slices. The former come from the “flat” part of the whole brisket, the latter from the “point” end. Restaurants smoke the briskets whole, so depending randomly where you are in line and what’s on the slicer at that moment, you might get more of one than the other.
    Obviously, the slicing man should try to give you a mix of both on your sammy, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I’ve been to lunch many times with a buddy who got the good stuff, and me right behind him got mostly the point end.
    That all being said, some people actually prefer the fattier gristlier point end (fat = flavor). Obvioulsly a place like Bryants has to cook the WHOLE brisket, in order economically to put so much meat on your plate. Whereas at Jacks Stack, you get 4 or 5 slices of just the flat cut displayed nicely on a plate for the same price.
    Just different. Might I propose you drew a few bad hands at Gates or Bryants? Go back and try again!

  18. […] the food at Danny Edwards is practically as good as the esteemed Oklahoma Joe’s, without the attendant enthusiasm of people who deluge Twitter and Facebook with uninformed […]