POSTED ON APRIL 4, 2012:
No Teeth Needed
Bar-b-q without shortcuts
Driving up to Wilson's Bar-b-q on Apache Ave., Wilson's motto is painted big and bold on the west side of the building: "U need no teeth to eat our beef." My dining friend and I were there to test that statement.
With another location at 3616 E. 11th St., Wilson's has been a Tulsa tradition since the '60s. Family owned and operated, Amos Abetula has been the owner for the last six years, and says he didn't change anything when he took ownership. Walking into the location on Apache Ave., the atmosphere is rustic and cozy. Red vinyl seats, red and black checkerboard floor tile and wood paneling give this place a homey and welcoming feel.
Orders are taken at the counter, so we briefly reviewed our options, then placed our order. For a good sampling and to have some leftovers, I ordered the Family Pak which includes two pounds of meat (bologna, chicken breast, Polish sausage, hot links, brisket, short-end ribs, pulled pork are the possibilities), sauce, two pints of sides (bar-b-q beans, potato salad, pinto beans, cole slaw), bread, pickle and onion ($26.99).
Apart from the Rest
Abetula said what sets Wilson's bar-b-q apart from others around town is that he uses a mud pit bar-b-q. "That's really the difference -- there may be no other place in Oklahoma who uses one. The pit is made of mud with a lining of bricks inside," he said. But, you can only get the mud-pit bar-b-q meat at the Apache location. Abetula said Wilson's on 11th St. uses a more traditional rotisserie method. "We use 100 percent hickory wood -- there is no gas used in cooking," he said. Abetula said his two major suppliers of meat are Tulsa Beef & Provision, Inc. and Sam's Club.
Soon our order was ready. We selected ribs, bologna and chopped brisket for our two pounds of meat; cole slaw and bar-b-q beans were the side selections. Once home, we assembled our plates: what a beautiful sight. A little serving of chopped brisket, a rib, a slice of bologna, beans, cole slaw, dill pickle spear, sliced white onions and white bread filled our plates to capacity.
The meat was moist, well-smoked and immensely tender. The bologna was smoked to perfection and perfectly tender. (Definitely no teeth needed for the bologna.) The chopped brisket, likewise, was soft and over-the-top tender. The short-end ribs were equally tender. On a slab of spareribs, the bones are longer on one side than the other. So these short-end ribs are the last seven or eight bones. Usually, this part of the slab is meatier and tenderer. Wilson's ribs are very tender -- we thought possibly even too tender. While some bar-b-q judges might give cautionary marks for beef that falls off the bone upon touch, still, these same judges would find it hard to say this rib meat was other than glorious. Full of smoked flavor and the ultimate in tender, these ribs are fabulous. They had a velvety-smooth texture, spongy and cushiony soft. All the connective tissue was soft -- we even found the bone to be soft. Our only thought is that they were a little on the fatty side --but we were able to maneuver around that.
Sauces for the meat were some of the best I've tasted. Sweet, hot and mix are the three options. Abetula was tight-lipped on how it is made. He said the recipe comes from J.B. Wilson, the original owner, and the recipe is such a secret that even the cooks at each location do not know what is in it -- even though each location prepares up to 80 gallons of the good stuff each week. "I prepare the mix of seasonings in a dry form and take it to the stores. They add the ketchup and other liquids and then cook it," said Abetula. The hot and sweet versions are extremes: the hot is very hot but in a manageable way for those whose palates are conditioned for it while the sweet is uncharacteristically sweet. The mix is a fine blend of the two.
Abetula says everything is made on site. The bar-b-q beans were sweet, very soft -- almost melt-in-your-mouth soft. They had a rich bar-b-q flavor. The cole slaw was very fresh, crispy and creamy. We finished our meal with a sampling of their famous pies: sweet potato and buttermilk. Abetula says 300-400 of these small, two-serving pies are baked each day. Wilson's buys the crust already prepared in the little tins and then fills them with home-made pie filling. These are tasty pies, a pleasant ending to the rich and spicy meal.
Abetula said the cook at the Apache location has been there for 29 years and has mastered the art of preparing the meats in the mud pit. "This is the way bar-b-q was cooked years and years ago before we got the sophisticated way we have today. It costs us a lot more to cook the way we do at the Apache location," he said. "We go through two ricks of wood each week." The cooking times for the meat vary. He said the brisket slow cooks for 10-11 hours while the ribs are ready in two to three hours. Pulled pork, available at the 11th St., location only, cooks 10-11 hours and is carefully wrapped in tin foil and turned over during the cooking time "to keep all the juices in" said Abetula. The chicken breast is the bone-in type, said Abetula because it is moister and of better quality.
For a quick meal on the run, Wilson's serves sandwiches of bologna, chicken breast (no bone), brisket, Polish sausage or hot link at both locations. Apache serves a larger sandwich for $4.99 while the 11th St. site also serves a smaller version of the beef or pulled pork sandwich on a 3-inch bun for $2.
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