Chow Towners who hunger for barbecue baloney have three options: Smoke your own; go to Earl Quick’s in KCK or go to Oklahoma.
During a recent Oklahoma barbecue road trip with Chef Paul Kirk, we could eat barbecue baloney at almost every stop — Head Country, Cherokee Strip, Bad Brad’s, Pappy’s, Spencer’s, Back Door, Bedlam, Oklahoma Joe’s, Mac’s and Buffalo’s.
Surprisingly, a few joints didn’t have it: Boneyard and Stables in Guthrie, Steve’s Rib in Edmond and Van’s in Shawnee.
We asked Joe Don Davidson at Oklahoma Joe’s in Broken Arrow, “Why Oklahoma and why not Kansas City?”
“You have to have baloney and you have to have okra in Oklahoma,” he said.
He went on to tell us about introducing his favorite all beef top quality baloney when he first opened the Broken Arrow store. Customers didn’t like it. They wanted “real baloney,” the cheaper stuff made of beef and pork. When Joe switched to cheaper baloney, customers raved about it, saying, “This is the best baloney I’ve ever had!”
Selling barbecue baloney in Chow Town is another matter. Joe talked Jeff and Joy Stehney into trying it in their Kansas City stores, and “We couldn’t give it away!”
Donny Teel of Buffalo’s BBQ in Sperry, Oklahoma, agreed with Joe.
“You’ve gotta have baloney in Oklahoma.” Donny calls it “Oklahoma Tenderloin.” He tried to persuade Phil Hopkins of Smokin’ Guns to put baloney on the menu, but Phil “wouldn’t do it. Said, ‘It won’t sell. It won’t sell.’”
Ron Quick, pitmaster and proprietor at Earl Quick’s, added baloney to the menu about five years ago “as sort of a novelty item” when he rolled out The Big Dog, a 1/2 pound spiral cut deep-fried hot dog topped with chili, cheese and onion. For the baloney sandwich, Ron smokes 10-pound chubs and cuts them into 1/4–inch slices to deep fry prior to serving. He sells an average of 40 to 50 pounds of baloney per month.
Here are some purely speculative theories to explain the Oklahoma/Chow Town BBQ Baloney Gap:
Kansas Citians are more affluent than Oklahomans and therefore have no need for or interest in “poor man’s steak.”
This theory doesn’t hold water. Barbecue joints in affluent Oklahoma communities serve baloney and barbecue joints in low income Kansas City communities do not serve baloney, except Earl Quick’s, which serves a mixed income clientele.
Country people like baloney; city people don’t.
Not true. In Oklahoma you can get baloney in rural and urban barbecue joints.
Oklahoma’s love of baloney reflects the influence of Native American culture. After all, it is called “Indian Steak.”
Nope. Oklahoma has billed itself as “Native America” on state license plates over recent years, but no one has linked Native American influence with the popularity of bbq baloney. Fry bread, perhaps, but not baloney or the ever-popular Oklahoma onion burgers.
It is what it is. Case closed. Oklahomans like barbecue baloney. Chow Towners don’t — except for Chow Towners who are from Oklahoma, plus a few homegrown Chow Towners like Chef Paul Kirk. We smoke our own or we go to Earl Quick’s for a baloney fix.
Ardie Davis is an iconic figure in the barbecue community. He founded a sauce contest on his backyard patio in 1984 that became the American Royal International Barbecue Sauce, Rub Baste contest. He is a charter member of the Kansas City Barbeque Society and an inductee into the KCBS’s Hall of Flame. He has been interviewed on numerous food shows and writes for a variety of barbecue-related publications. He is also the author of a number of barbecue books, His most recent release book is “America’s Best BBQ Homestyle: What Champions Cook in Their Own Backyards.”