Folks often ask me where to find the best barbecue in town. The usual answer I give is, “There's a lot of good places, but I'm still looking for the best.”
The looking is over. Coach's in Bricktown, 20 S Mickey Mantle Drive, is now home to my favorite barbecue. Yes, that Coach's. Believe it.
Last summer, Buck Warfield, president of the Enduring Brands group of restaurants, was looking for a game-changer for the Coach's concept, longing to establish Coach's as the center of Oklahoma barbecue.
Enter Russ Garrett, a highly decorated competitive pitmaster who goes by the moniker Smokin' Okie. Garrett catered a company get-together for Warfield and was hired on the spot to consult on Coach's barbecue redux.
Enter the Coach's in Bricktown today, and you'll find it's now a shrine to the Smokin' Okie — not to be confused with the catering company out of Edmond.
Garrett spent months training the kitchen staff on his championship barbecue philosophy, meaning premium meats, real wood, bold rubs, temperature control and proper cooking time.
“I don't like the meat to slide off the bone,” he said. “For me, that's a sign it's overcooked. In my competition days, and what I try to educate the staff on, I wanted the meat to pull free, not fall apart.”
The effortless perfection of the pork ribs tells the story of a guy driven by relentless passion for barbecue knowledge, beginning at his father's side in the late 1960s, continuing to competition and to spreading the gospel from a smoker as an instructor for Francis Tuttle CareerTech.
And then you take a second bite. Meticulously layered barbecue flavors flood forth in a succession of smoke, spice and lush texture. Brisket, smoked chicken wings and turkey display equally high standards.
On weekends, he serves monstrous beef ribs with au jus and burnt ends, the white whale of barbecue. These crisp and succulent morsels of Kansas City-style brisket are the only thing he sauces before serving.
Garrett's brisket has been worked into gravy to smother a tater tot poutine dish on the appetizer menu. Sandwiches featuring chopped beef, pulled chicken and pork are pure Smokin' Okie.
While he doesn't cook with sauce often, Garrett did develop a line spanning from sweet to ghost-pepper hot. Best french fry dip ever.
Smokin' Okie barbecue recently hit the Norman Coach's, 102 W Main St., with a full menu change planned by the end of the month. The store at 7745 S Walker Ave. will get its makeover by end of the summer.