Opened in 1928 in Wewoka, Van’s has five locations in Oklahoma, including one in Norman, one in Moore, one in Purcell, and another in Shawnee; this particular place on East Highland has been a Pig Stand since 1935 and is the oldest family-owned barbecue in the state.
It is said that the secret of any great barbecue is time – time the meat spends on the pit – but here is a case where greatness is also owed to the long time that Van’s has had to perfect the menu, the side dishes, the whole operation. We love the place itself, a rustic, wood-paneled eatery with reams of graffiti on the wooden booth backs (and a warning to customers not to inscribe any on the tabletops!). Each table is outfitted with a roll of paper towels and plenty of toothpicks – both essential for happy barbecue eating. And of course, the aroma in and around the old building is the irresistible perfume of sweet pork basking in smoke.
We have not eaten our way through the menu, and some day we will try the smoked turkey breast, the hot links, the Polish sausage, the brisket, the chicken dinners available only on Sunday, and maybe even the double-meat hamburger. But for now, let us salute the two essential items we return for time and again: pork ribs that are muscular and yet velvet-tender, crusty with glaze, and packed with flavor; and the pig sandwich, which is vividly-sauced hacked hunks of pork in a bun with Van’s own zesty relish. These are two of the best barbecue dishes anywhere. Superb sides include “Curlie Q fries,” which are a variegated tangle of honeytone twigs, and a bacon-flavored, twice-baked potato invented by the current Van’s grandma and listed as ‘Vanized’ on the menu.
If you like barbecue, you need to eat at Van’s.