I'm a New Yorker but lately I've been spending more time in Tulsa than I should. My family moved here and my mom's been sick. So, as a transplanted Chowhound I naturally spent a lot of time seeking out the one thing we New Yorkers lack. Barbecue. What passes for the best BBQ in NYC they'd feed to the dogs here.
When I first got here, I spent hours walking through Northside, which in those days looked like my vision of a tiny deep South hamlet. Wood shacks, lots of swampy trees, sluggish streams with names like "Dirty Butter Creek" I'd seek out tiny nameless joints (see photo below), eat a rib, move on to the next place.
I quickly found a great divide in BBQ philosophy. Some places cared about the sauce. They'd serve indifferent meat with a yummy secret-recipe sauce, and you'd be more likely to get the formula for Coca Cola than you'd be to get them to divulge their recipe. Other places just slopped a sauce together and cared only about the meat. (In Tulsa, pig ribs.) They'd respect you if you ordered your meat dry, without any sauce. And it's this second type of place that I respect. Most of them are on the Northside.
The best places all use coal or wood. They dont use gas. Now an old coal or wood oven (or "pit") is a lovely thing and requires an artist to use it. There are hot spots, cool spots, sweet spots and the meat must be moved from one to the other in the correct time and sequence. (A lot like coal oven pizza at Totonno's, NYC) Also, the meat should be cooked slowly, smoked more than seared. As much as 12 or even 18 hours, and if it's less than four forget it, you're getting fast food.
A great rib has 3 layers. First, a crust, turned sweetly caramel by the long heat and smoke. Then, a pink layer, not pink from undercooking but from smoke. Finally, beneath it all, succulent, moist, juicy pig meat.
My favorite places until this year were Wilson's, Petes, Stutts, and Oklahoma, all in Northside. But Mr Wilson died and the place went downhill, and around the same time Pete's closed. Now my favorite is Reba Dale's, on Cincinnati just north of Apache. It looks like a shack but inside has been decorated like an old fashioned ice cream parlor. And their ribs ... incredible! And the bologna and Polish sausage, while obviously not in the same league, are another guilty pleasure.