Barbecue in Oklahoma

Barbecue in Oklahoma

Editor’s note: This article was first written for Wikipedia, but failed a deletion review. I decided that the content was good enough that it should live on.

Barbecue (or BBQ) is a traditional style of preparing beef, pork and other meats in the U.S. state of Oklahoma, and is one of the many different varieties of barbecue found around the world.


Oklahoma barbecue traditions began with the forced migration of Native Americans from the Southeastern United States during the Trail of Tears, who brought with them the tradition of whole hog barbecue.

A second influence came by way of Texas during the post-Civil War era. Cattle began to be transported through Oklahoma on cattle drives from Texas to Northern markets, but also began to be raised in Oklahoma.[1]

Large social barbecues occurred during the territorial and early statehood days,[2] most often at tribal events (such as the “hog fries” hosted by the Cherokee)[3] as well as at the gubernatorial inaugurations of Charles N. Haskell (the first state governor) in 1907[4] and Jack Walton in 1923 (which used more than one mile of BBQ trenches to serve the gathered crowds).[5][1]

1923 “World’s Biggest BBQ” to celebrate Inauguration of Oklahoma Governor Jack Walton

Governor Walton’s BBQ was likely the largest in state history[6][7] with meat donated from all across Oklahoma, including cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, opossums, geese, ducks, deer and buffalo. Even a bear was contributed to the occasion, but it ended up in the Wheeler Park Zoo in lieu of being barbecued.[8] 125,000 people were said to have attended.[9]

Small “pig stands” and “barbecue joints” became common in Oklahoma communities by the 1930’s [10] and in successive years became an integral part of Oklahoma’s food culture.

Modern barbecue in Oklahoma is cooked in homes as well as in restaurants, in both urban and rural settings. It is also served at tribal gatherings, community festivals,[11] church events and Juneteenth celebrations.[12]


Modern Oklahoma BBQ tends to be a hybrid form.[13] Most sauces are similar in style to those of Kansas City and Memphis, but the meat selections borrow heavily from Texas (beef brisket, ribs and sausage[14] are common).[15] Poultry is also common, including smoked turkeys at Thanksgiving).

Commonly used smoking woods include hickory, pecan, blackjack oak and post oak. Mesquite is also increasingly being used.

Two Oklahoma BBQ innovations are smoked bologna sausage[16][17] (sometimes jokingly referred to as “Oklahoma prime rib” and “Oklahoma tenderloin”[18]) and smoked-then-fried chicken.[19]

Question of identity

Some have argued that Oklahoma barbecue is not a unique style but rather a conflation of the styles of neighboring regions,[20] while others argue that Oklahoma barbecue is unique for the way it blends the styles of its neighbors.[13]

“What I do believe is that most people don’t think of Oklahoma barbecue as unique – in contrast to the kind found in Texas or Kansas City or Memphis or North Carolina. In fact, this barbecue is usually described in terms of what it’s not: it’s not as saucy as barbecue from Kansas City, though both places commonly use hickory wood, and what sauce it has can be similar to K.C.’s with ketchup as a main ingredient. It’s not as tangy as Memphis barbecue and not as vinegary as what they serve in North Carolina. It’s not as dry as most classic Texas barbecue, and it’s not inclusive of just one kind of meat: both pork ribs and large cuts of beef (like brisket) play a major role. What it has in common with the other well-known barbecue styles of this country is that its tradition has existed for almost as long as theirs and was likely created by the same combination of European immigrants and black workers who came to the area and looked for good, cheap food when they arrived.” – Rick Bayless[21]

See also



  • Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket by Elizabeth S. D. Engelhardt