How Burn Co. Barbecue is Making Its Mark on Tulsa
Walking into Burn Co. Barbecue in Tulsa's 18th and Boston neighborhood is akin to getting barbecue baptism by fire. Sure, there are the familiar aspects—things you'd expect in any barbecue joint, like the hickory and charcoal smoke that perfumes the air or the long line of folks patiently, and not so patiently, waiting outside that tell you this is an establishment worthy of your time. But then there's the unexpected: The offbeat notes of distorted guitar—either Bob Marley or Sublime—met with quarter notes of knives chopping brisket, sausage, and fatty by hand.
In the background, you see nearly a dozen Hasty-Bake grills letting off a constant stream of smoke. And in the foreground, you'll find owner and pitmaster Adam Myers, along with his partner Nick Corcoran, standing over a butcher block and facing each other as if they are about to square off in an old-fashioned duel. It's frantic, fast-paced, loud, and—dare I say—exciting. These guys aren't slow dripping with molasses and sad country songs. They cook hot and fast. And the food tastes damn good too.
Just as I'm beginning to familiarize myself with my new surroundings, a group of five or so young GIs approach the counter. Taking his eyes off his moving knife and hands, Adam shouts, "Hey, you guys. Thanks for your service." He follows up with an offer. For a rate that sounds like the price of a cheap lunch in the 1930s, Adam promises the servicemen a plate of "a whole bunch of things." The platters he puts together are some of the largest assortments of food I've ever seen: ribs, pulled pork, Polish sausage, drumsticks, fatty, brisket, and smoked bologna, aka Oklahoma tenderloin. But the young bucks look happy to oblige, cleaning their platters quickly before rushing back to base.
Adam started Burn Co. Barbecue in 2012, in a smaller location, and the lines have yet to stop forming. "I fought working in the food business my entire life," Adam said, first pursuing a degree from Oklahoma State University, followed by a career in sales selling Hasty-Bake grills for 12 years. "A side effect of selling grills is that it led me to cooking," something he learned from Hasty-Bake founder Grant Hastings. After Adam initially struggled to meet his sales quota, Grant told him about the ol' show-and-tell sales technique—imploring that folks would buy a grill only when they could taste and see the results. The more Adam cooked, the more grills he sold—and the rest is history.
The more time I spend with Adam, the more I realize he's not about taking shortcuts. Take his smoking method. Adam falls back on his love of lump charcoal, hickory chunks, and the Hasty-Bake grill. He and his team are constantly keeping close watch over the fire, ensuring the coals receive just the right amount of airflow to maintain temperature. "Every piece of meat here touches the fire," he says. Such a method is not easy, but you can taste the effort in every bite. Even the side dishes get time on the fire, like the Grilled Potato Salad.
Nick tells me that being vertically challenged, aka short, is what helped him first land a job at Burn Co. Barbecue. No joke, the boys used to smoke their meats outside the restaurant in a trailer. Since the trailer door opening was shorter than normal, a person of any standard height was in serious danger of knocking himself out with the constant ebb and flow of managing the smokers. Nick is jokingly serious, but watching him chop meats and work the line tells me that Adam found a solid partner who commands a tall amount of respect. It's an expertise that Nick gleaned working for Richard Derner at The Hideaway restaurant while pursuing a degree at OSU in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Like Adam with Grant Hastings, a mentorship was built between Nick and Richard. Nick learned that life in the restaurant business could be all about family and fun.
You get a real sense from Adam and Nick that it's all about family at Burn Co. Barbecue. In addition to cooking the best food possible to provide for their own families, the boys often donate their time, food, and energy to serve local charities, public service men and women, and local businesses.
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When pressed on what makes their BBQ unique, besides their fire-based methods, I'm reminded again of the regionalism of BBQ. Adam says, "the truth of the matter is that we all like what we grew up on." Adam tells me that Oklahoma BBQ is a bit of a "'tweener" style, taking nods from Texans' love for beef along with some of the sweeter sauces and beloved pork dishes of Kansas. Adam and Nick try to craft food that meets folks' needs, noting that there is really no right or wrong way to define good BBQ so long as it tastes delicious.
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