Monday, November 17, 2014

BBQ: The Real Oklahoma Breakfast

It's 6 AM and I'm eating a bowl of left-over Kung Pao Chicken. That's what I love about being on the road. No rules on what you have to eat for breakfast.

Living in Mexico is testimony to the fact that you can eat anything for breakfast... Chilaquiles, Carnitas, Menudo, or even Barbacoa but when I'm headed north to Oklahoma, there is only one breakfast food I craved more than a bowl of Cheerios: real Oklahoma BBQ. 

Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky and the Carolina's are all legendary for BBQ and each state has it's own alchemy for celebrated Q. The number of cities claiming to be the BBQ capital of the US has been hotly debated for years.

It all comes down to regional style. Don't ask me. I happen to love them all. 

Breaking the rules is just another reason to love a restaurant...

I was first introduced to great BBQ at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous in Memphis, where ribs are roasted in coal-fired ovens rather than smoked. They use no wood at all giving way to the long standing theory that all great BBQ must be cooked in the traditional southern style.

Experimenting over the years I've learned one thing about BBQ; it's a lot harder than it looks. 

Great BBQ is a combination of art, science but mainly passion. Like anything else, you've really got to love it to be any good at it. 

You don't need to buy the most expensive, state-of-the-art equipment to crank out good Q. A friend of mine in San Miguel delivers some of the best by cooking on a small smoker that was handcrafted by a local who lives down his street.

You can be defined by what you eat here for breakfast so with my large, hungry Irish - Catholic family in tow, we pulled into the parking lot of Burn Co at 10:30 AM with only one thing in mind. Not our usual breakfast of fruit and yogurt or even a celebratory breakfast of Eggs Benedict and a Bloody Mary. This is Oklahoma. We need BBQ!

I wasn't expecting it quickly however since I had been warned that the line of Q-addicts waiting for the doors to open would be long. It was.

The real secret behind the BBQ? Their kitchen is lined with 11 Hasty Bake Charcoal ovens that have been manufactured here in Tulsa since 1948. It's all about controlling the inside temperature and the Q-chefs who use Tasty Bake ovens swear by them including Adam Myers, one of Burn Co's owners, who worked for Hasty Bake for 12 years doing both cooking demos and BBQ classes.

So what's on the menu? It's limited to a handful of specialties and all of them are addictive... like ribs and chicken, smoked potato salad, Mac and Cheese and The Fatty; bacon wrapped around sausage and finely minced hot links.

The sides were a big hit, especially the smoked potato salad; a hot bowl of grilled potatoes with chopped bell peppers and onions. I haven't had anything quite like this anywhere before and I could tell that my brother and brother-in-law, who are both accomplished Q-chefs, were already formulating recipes in their head. 

One small step ahead of them, I already had a recipe for smoked potato salad (with blue cheese) that can be modified. The recipe is also great without modification.

Not the star but certainly worth mentioning are the sauces. The hot was sweet with just a touch of heat and the mild had a mustard flavor in the mix and was a combination of sweet, sour and tangy.

The best part of our breakfast? The burnt ends they passed out while we were waiting in line to order. 

The last time I had burnt ends was at Real Urban BBQ in Chicago where they were my go-to food when it came to devouring BBQ at lunchtime. At that time, I was teetering on a daily indulgence. Yes, I was addicted to the tastiest part of the smoked beef brisket, the deckle, which is not only juicy and succulent but will fall apart if you even look at it. These caramelized chunks of beef are what Q lovers define as being one step away from BBQ heaven. Because they are not on the daily menu, make sure to check their specials.

It's no wonder this city girl keeps going back to her southern 'home-away-from- home' to eat...

While in Oklahoma, enjoy other traditional Oklahoma eats including Biscuits and Gravy,
Waffles and Chicken, Cheese Grits, Frito Chili Pie, Oklahoma-grown peaches, Chicken fried steak, Cornbread, Black eyed peas, Strawberries and Watermelon. 

During your stay, don't forget to visit the institutions that mark Oklahoma's standard for great, southern cooking, like Eischen's Bar, the oldest continuously-operating bar in Oklahoma (1896) where fried chicken is treated with a reverence. It's located at 108 S Second Street in Okarche, Ok near Oklahoma City.

To sample a new standard of cuisine, feast at the Waterfront Grill in Jenks,Ok. The decor has been called 'contemporary southern boathouse' with high, private booths and windows that border the banks of the Arkansas River. Waterfront’s steaks are imported from Allen Brothers in Chicago which was my first clue that the food would be great. 

The last time I was there, I had an Alaskan Grouper sandwich which was delicious. $10 and it was big enough to split. How can you beat a $5 lunch? That's likely what I would have paid back in Mexico.

I'll confess. When I'm in Oklahoma, all I think about is food....

The Oklahoma government website describes the Oklahoma 'state meal' as fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecue pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken fried steak, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas. 

I love southern cooking and there's nothing quite like BBQ, cornbread or a chicken fried steak smothered in bacon-fat gravy to get you thinking about your next meal. 

Buen Apetito! 

Grilled Potato Salad with Blue Cheese and Bacon

3 pounds baby red potatoes, cut in half
2 Tbsp Olive Oil

1 Cup Mayonnaise
¼ Cup White Balsamic Vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp Dijon mustard

½ red onion, thinly sliced
Blue Cheese, crumbled
6-8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. 

Put the potatoes in a single layer in center of a large piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bring foil up and seal the edges making a large packet. 

Grill potatoes at least 30 minutes on each side. Remove packet. Open packet and let potatoes cool 10 minutes. 

Whisk together ingredients for the dressing. Add dressing to potatoes (I used just half) tossing gently to coat. 

Stir in onion, blue cheese, and bacon.