Head Country Bar-B-Q
Oklahoma’s Barbecue Sauce
I am what is known as a “Sockeye Salmon Okie.” I was born here; I was raised here. I went out to see the world, and I have returned home where I will presumably spend my final birthdays cursing the ever-changing weather but relishing in the things I love about being home. As with almost every fellow Sockeye-Okie, one of those things is our barbecue.
Freshly transplanted Okies on a quest to call a new place home will soon experience the disorienting realization that what we call “grilling”, others call “barbecuing.” I discovered this shortly after relocating to Seattle where I attended a “barbecue” and was served a plate of lies.
That experience prompted me to host my own barbecue of authentic Oklahoma-style smoked meats. Setting aside an entire weekend, I smoked brisket, ribs, and of course, bologna. Among a plethora of sides, the final touch came via UPS from my parents who had sent a care package of my favorite barbecue sauce, Head Country Original.
Interestingly, Donovan “Bud” Head started what would become the signature Head Country Original sauce in a similar pursuit of the taste of home. Bud was a cook aboard a naval destroyer during World War II and wanted to serve his fellow shipmates a sauce that represented the flavor of Oklahoma barbecue. The ship-wide popularity of this morale boosting condiment prompted Bud to jar and sell his creation upon returning home from the war to Shidler, OK. He and his wife, Freda, refined the recipe that Bud had served to his sailors, and by 1947, Bud began selling his perfected sauce in Mason jars to his friends and neighbors. Local grocery and feed stores soon stocked their shelves with it.
In 1977, Danny Head, Bud’s nephew, bought the family recipe for $5,000 plus one penny and founded Head Country Food Products, Inc. By 1980, Danny had moved the company to Ponca City into the Royal Air Force barracks at Darr Park where workers would fill each bottle by hand. Today, Head Country is produced and bottled in a modern facility in Ponca City. What started with one sauce has grown into a line offering seven sauces, four seasonings, and a bottled marinade.
Though the recipe has changed hands and been tweaked along the way, it consistently reflects what we think of as Oklahoma-style barbecue. Perhaps only to the discerning palate, Oklahoma barbecue is unique to itself. Just try asking for smoked bologna the next time you travel out of state—you’ll be sorely disappointed by its lack of that special something. That special something is present and accounted for in Head Country’s barbecue sauce: not too sweet, not too spicy, slightly tangy, and full of flavor. There’s good reason it’s been around for seventy plus years.
With over 6,000 gallons produced each day, Head Country is farand- away the number one favorite sauce of Oklahomans. It is also one of the fastest growing brands, garnering the attention of barbecue industry heavies like George “Tuffy” Stone of the Discovery Channel’s “BBQ Pitmasters” fame. Competition teams from Kansas City to South Carolina rely on Head Country as a favorite staple.
Head Country’s popularity isn’t just limited to the locals and the pros. What was once only found on the shelves of local grocery stores in Oklahoma is now available in major chains like Walmart, Costco, and of course, worldwide via Head Country’s website. A quick visit to www.headcountry.com allows you to order your favorite sauce as well as locate your nearest retail location, just in case you need a faster fix than what priority shipping can provide!
When my out-of-state friends come to visit, I immediately take them out for Oklahoma barbecue. It’s a point of pride, and it’s enjoyable to share an important part of what I love about home. For those Oklahomans spread out all over the world, whether just one state over or on a ship in the middle of a foreign sea, Head Country sauce is and always has been more than just a sauce. It’s a little bit of home in a bottle.