Gene Han, Flickr / Oklahoma Joe's
Though it may be a land of gorgeous sprawling prairies, the backdrop for a fascinating cultural history, and my home state, Oklahoma is generally not considered an ideal destination for beer. (Or much else, really, beyond megachurches, used car dealerships, frequently problematic politics, and tornadic activity.) But Oklahoma’s nascent beer scene is growing -- and quickly. The state was the last in the Union to officially repeal prohibition in 1959 -- nearly 26 years after the 21st amendment abolished it nationally. Oklahoma wouldn’t see its first brewpub until 1992 with the opening of Bricktown Brewery -- but over 30 craft breweries have opened in Oklahoma since then, with more popping onto the scene every year.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s unique brand of barbecue might be the most underrated style in the country. Memphis has its smoky dry rubs; Kansas City’s got saucy blends; the Carolinas have tangy vinegar-based flavors; and Texas style ‘cue is notoriously more about meat than sauce. Oklahoma’s BBQ, however, is considered by some to be a hybrid of all of these flavor and texture profiles -- and considered by me to be the best.
So what better way to explore all that Oklahoma has to offer than by pairing some of the Sooner State’s amazing brews with dishes from its main culinary export: barbecue. Check out these five amazing and unique Oklahoma BBQ and beer pairings, as suggested by local brewers and master barbecue restaurateurs.
Potato Salad, Corn, & Greens
Beer: Bricktown Brewery Blues Berry Ale (4.0% ABV)
As any expert barbecue consumer will advise, to ignore the appetizers and sides is a rookie mistake. Potato salad, corn, and greens are the backbone of any good cookout, and Bricktown’s Blues Berry Ale is their perfect complement. Charles Stout, head of the Oklahoma Craft Brewers Association and Bricktown Brewery’s Managing Partner agrees: “We add real blueberries to the brew. It gives it kind of a purple haze and a sweet blueberry tartness. It goes really well with salad and light sides, and has a distinct summertime taste.”
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Beer: Black Mesa Brewing Company Red Badger Stout (8.0% ABV)
No Oklahoma barbecue is complete without slabs on slabs of succulent smoked brisket. And while washing down that fall-off-the-bone meat with a stout might seem like a belly ache waiting to happen, a good coffee stout can really bring out the flavors in a juicy brisket main course. Try Black Mesa Brewing Company’s Red Badger Stout for a savory, malty, beef-themed flavor joyride.
Smoked Turkey / BBQ Chicken
Beer: Mustang Brewery OKtoberfest (5.5% ABV)
I was told by the smokehouse experts at Rudy’s in Norman, OK, that the staple menu items to any acceptable barbecue are brisket, smoked turkey, potato salad, coleslaw, and baked beans. So while we’re hitting every major food group here, it’s most important to note that no cookout is complete without some smoked bird. If turkey (or chicken!) is on the menu, go for a hoppy OKtoberfest märzen from Mustang Brewery. The German-style lager’s smoky undertones are sure to bring out the turkey’s similarly fiery flavors.
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Burgers and ‘Dogs (with Bacon)
Beer: COOP Ale Works F5 IPA (6.8% ABV)
Beer experts and noobs alike agree that nothing goes better with a classic bacon burger or a tastefully charred hotdog than a crisp, balanced IPA. COOP Ale Works’ F5 IPA is the perfect burger and ‘dog pairing because its alcohol will stand up to the meat, and its hops will cut through the fat. Plus, malty notes echo the caramelization of the grill char, and fruity hop notes of grapefruit, pine, and citrus refresh the palate after each bite.
Homemade Ice Cream
Beer: Dead Armadillo Craft Brewing Morning Bender Coffee Oatmeal Stout (5.8% ABV)
Finally, no good summer grill sesh would be complete without a sweet and sturdy dessert. Whether you know a relative or a go-to vendor who makes a scrumptious homemade ice cream, there’s nothing like a cold scoop (or 5) to finish off a great cookout, just in time for a back porch barbecue coma nap. Pair your ice cream with Dead Armadillo’s Morning Bender Coffee Oatmeal Stout. While it may sound like a beer made for breakfast, Morning Bender Stout is brewed with strong coffee and chocolate notes with hints of charred wood and vanilla. It could serve as a dessert on its own!