Slab slingers

Like many of the best barbecue joints, it’s not a fancy restaurant. You can walk from the gasoline station next door that it’s attached to without going outside. There are only a few tables, but the place is spotless. The staff is friendly and efficient.

“God bless Tinker,” Scott Pearce, general manager, said one recent afternoon. “They’re our main customers.”

above Tinker employee Chrys Smith carries chopped brisket sandwiches away from the counter at Billy Craig’s BBQ, 6001 S. Sooner Road.

Indeed, a serviceman in desert camouflage fatigues and his family were just tucking into a late lunch at the table next to us. Having a customer base familiar with barbecue served around the world has necessitated that Billy Craig’s set its food apart from the pack.

“We use only pecan wood to smoke our meats,” Pearce said. “Most places use hickory, but I think pecan gives it a more distinctive flavor. We’ll put our special-cut ribs up against anybody’s.”

Although he has a background with dry rub Memphis barbecue and its vinegar-based sauce, that’s not what’s served at Billy Craig’s. “We’re more the Texas-style brisket and pulled pork,” Pearce said. “We make our own sauce, and it’s sweeter than

above Tinker employee Chrys Smith carries chopped brisket sandwiches away from the counter at Billy Craig’s BBQ, 6001 S. Sooner Road.

some you’ll try.”

We tried a generous slab of ribs ($12.99) that was plenty for two people. It was the pleasing color of dark brown sugar and expertly smoked. The meat was tender and the flavor decidedly milder than hickory-smoked meats often are.

Sauce was served on the side. It’s sweet, tomato-based and similar to many found across the Midwest. Billy Craig’s has tame and spicy versions. Some barbecue snobs maintain that meat should stand alone without sauce. Served on the side like this, you have your choice. These ribs did not need a sauce bath, but it was a good complement to their more delicate flavor.

“Ribs by far are our most popular menu item,” Pearce said.

I liked Billy Craig’s pulled pork over the beef brisket. It was moist and delectable.

The brisket tasted fine, but was served chopped instead of sliced. It’s strictly a matter of personal and regional preference. I grew up in a town where people have very definite ideas about barbecue. You can take the boy out of Kansas City, but you can’t take Kansas City out of the boy.

Plates of both meats ($7.25) are served with two side dishes and a thick slice of white bread. Other plate choices are chicken, hot links, smoked sausage and ham. Combo plates are available. Sandwiches are made with these meats as
well, and there’s also smoked bologna ($4.49), a burger ($4.49) and
Polish sausage ($3.49), served with homemade potato chips, pickles and

Along with
the traditional trinity of beans, fries and coleslaw, other sides
($1.49) include creamed corn, potato salad and macaroni and cheese.

Most places use hickory, but pecan gives it a more distinctive flavor.

—Scott Pearce

many rib joints, Billy Craig’s has a daily special that’s not
barbecued. It rotates between fried chicken, spaghetti and meatballs,
roast beef or Coney dogs.

Friday, people are lined up all day long for our fried catfish,” Pearce
said. “That’s our busiest day. We’re thinking about going to two days a
week on catfish.”

may line up, but they don’t wait long. Because of the small dining room
size, service is geared to be speedy. I observed a mid-afternoon rush
that staff handled with ease.

($2.59) of the day is served with a roll or cornbread and varies
throughout the week. “We have a homemade turkey noodle soup recipe
contributed by my father and perfected over many years that is
excellent,” Pearce said.

are only two dessert choices, but they’re scrumptious. A generous
serving of peach cobbler ($2.29) was warm and delightfully rich. The
banana cream pudding with vanilla wafers ($2.29) was thick and creamy,
just like grandma used to make.

Doug Hill

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