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Swadley's Bar-B-Q

4000 N. Rockwell Ave.
Bethany, OK
(405) 495-5336

Swadley's Bar-B-Q in Bethany

It seems that there are enough versions of barbecue in Oklahoma that one person can never try all of them, but a few restaurants have become particularly popular such as Swadley's Bar-B-Q. With the original location in the west Oklahoma City suburb of Bethany, Swadley's moved from NW 23rd & Council to NW 39th Expressway & Rockwell and has established several branches throughout the metro. It seems that the family's 80 years of experience in the food industry is paying off.

I really dislike restaurants that answer "everything" when you ask "what is especially good here?" or "what is the restaurant's specialty?". The employees at Swadley's told me "ribs," and I would agree that this is usually the best item. I have found several varieties of meat that are worth ordering along with it, though, and in this respect Swadley's is among a handful of barbecue restaurants in the city that offer such a variety of good choices.

Order of ribs
A small order of ribs

Swadley's menu describes the ribs as "Hand Rubbed Honey Rib Dinners," and I thought the flavor was one of the best I had tried. Three types of sauce were available, but before applying any of them I tried the "eating the meat plain" test to see if the flavor was worthy of standing on its own, and it passed with flying colors. I thought it had just the right amount of smoke flavor, but it seems that everyone has their own preference, so this is just my opinion. The meat left a smoky aftertaste in my mouth after the meal was finished, but did not overwhelm the other flavors while I was eating the food.

The really important factor of the ribs, though, was the tenderness of the meat (and this is even more of a factor now that my teeth are no longer in the best shape). This is the one thing I most often find lacking in ribs, especially in other parts of the country (but sometimes even in Oklahoma). I would have to judge Swadley's ribs as being just about perfect in every way, although this does not mean I could not find others (especially in Oklahoma) that are as good or better.

Three meat dinner
Three meat dinner with ribs, sausage, and brisket

Brisket is probably the next most popular item at Swadley's. This meat is "24 Hour Sugar Cured" and while it is not meat that will fall apart when touched by a fork, it has the kind of barbecue flavor that would be expected in a good Oklahoma "Q" restaurant. The brisket, though, has shown the greatest variability of any item over the times I have tried it, ranging from moist to dry. This, along with the hot links, has been my biggest disappointment at Swadley's.

One way to try different types of meat at Swadleys's is by ordering the "2 Meat" or "3 Meat" dinners (as shown in the photo above). One surprise for me was that Swadley's has excellent Turkey, which I tried on one of the plates. In this case I thought Swadley's was better than most other BBQ restaurants that serve turkey. When ordering turkey I do not like too much smoky taste, and I thought Swadley's was just right, as well as having very good meat.

Sausage was one of the choices on the 3 Meat dinner shown in the photo (and is barely visible under the ribs). This choice was not very exciting, not because there was anything wrong with it, but because I prefer the sausage at the German and other specialty restaurants.

Sampler plate
Sampler plate with turkey, sausage, brisket, hot links, ribs, and pulled pork

Take out orders are quite popular at Swadley's, and one that offers a large variety of meats is the sampler plate with six items (shown in the photo above). As in other instances, I was impressed by the number of meats that were better than at other barbecue restaurants (but I would not say that any stood out over the ribs). The Pulled Pork, which I tried for the first time with this order, was cooked well with burnt ends, and I thought was excellent. The turkey was as good as it had been the first time I tried it. The Hot Links seemed too spicy to me, and I thought were not as enjoyable as the sausage.

Two meat plate
Two meat plate with pulled pork and chicken

The above photo includes two meats already shown in other pictures, but it gives me an opportunity to make some additional observations. What struck me about this particular visit was that almost none of the items were as good as they had been previously. Almost all barbecue restaurants in Oklahoma City are variable in terms of the flavor and quality of the food (such as being too dry, having too much fat or gristle, etc.). As in my statistics classes in school, I think my reviews should throw out the "outliers" (especially good or especially bad experiences), and try to rate restaurants based on the averages. On average, Swadley's has very good ribs and turkey (maybe among the best in town). The pulled pork, brisket, chicken, and sausage are also items I like to order here but the consistency from one visit to the next has been disappointing to me.

I have not cared for the Sauce as much as at some other restaurants, but there are several varieties so most people can find something to their taste. I think some of the sauces are way too sweet, but the thick and juicy sauce is really pretty good. Best of all, though, is the fact that none of the sauces seem to contain MSG (and I have had enough experience with the sauces that I should know by now if they did).

Swadley's serves an array of side dishes which makes it difficult to try them all, and I think this is another of the restaurant's best features. Baked Beans come in two styles-- sweet or hot (I was told the hot one was really hot with jalapenos included, but it was not any spicier than most Mexican food). The sweet baked beans were too sweet for me, but were good quality and are something I have ordered several times.

The Okra was extremely non-greasy compared to most versions, and I think is one of the best choices for a side dish (except for minority of times it was not this way).

The Green Beans seemed bland to me at first but now have become a consistent favorite of mine.

Corn on the Cob was cooked just right, and I thought was very good.

The Cole Slaw either comes with chunky pieces of cabbage and a weak dressing or is extremely good, depending on which time I go to the restaurant. Most of the time I would say it is a good bet to order it.

The Iced Tea is especially good, with both sweetened and unsweetened available (Swadley's uses Luzianne, which I think is the best brand).

The owner pointed out on one visit that sandwiches are popular at lunch, and this may be a way for people with a light appetite to enjoy the food here (the sampler plate and some other combination plates seem clearly designed for families rather than individuals). I agree that dinner plates (even with only one meat) take a pretty good appetite to finish, but I enjoy choosing the side items, and I am usually able to finish all of it.

Ice cream machine
Ice cream machine

A free Ice Cream Cone machine is also available. Even though I am not as excited about this dessert as traditional banana puddings or cobblers served at other restaurants, you can't beat the fact that this one is free.

Overall I think I like the meals here better than the individual parts of it, simply because there is so much selection and all of it is good. I don't have proof of this, but it also seems that the servings are larger here than at other places (for the same amount of money). This is good Oklahoma barbecue, about which I really have no complaints.

My Comments in a Nutshell
What I like most:
  • There is so much variety and so many side dishes available that this restaurant is a good substitute for the cafeterias (which have now all but disappeared).
  • The comfortable dining room makes this a good place for a family meal.
  • I think there have been noticeable improvements in the food since about 2011 or 2012.
  • The sauce is a disappointment compared to some other restaurants, but I at least like the fact that it does not seem to contain MSG.
  • Although it is not the restaurant's fault, the crowd of customers on Friday nights keeps me away at this time.
  • The lack of consistency in some of the meats is really the biggest drawback I see in this restaurant.
Things to know:
  • There are several locations in town, but the one in Bethany is the original. I am not sure if this is an advantage, but I know it has a variety of menu choices and I have never known them to run out of any items (as is sometimes the case at other barbecue restaurants).
  • Although you order and pay at the counter, it is otherwise a full service restaurant. BBQ sauce and drink refills are available to get yourself, but usually you can just ask the server for them.
  • I think the safest bet is to order the ribs (which are the restaurant's specialty), but when ordering other meats the chicken and pulled pork are usually good.



Cuisine: Barbecue
Cost: $$
Hours: Open Daily
Accessible: Yes
Additional Locations: 824 S.W. 89th St. (OKC), 2233 W. Memorial Rd. (OKC), 308 E. Mustang Rd. (Mustang)
Smoking: No Smoking
Alcohol: No

Most Recent Visit
Apr. 16, 2015

Number of Visits: 10+

Best Items
Ribs, Turkey, Pulled Pork, Green Beans (sometimes Okra and Cole Slaw)

Special Ratings
Pork Ribs:
Pulled Pork:
Hot Links:
Sweet Beans:
Spicy Beans:
Green Beans:
Corn on the Cob:
Cole Slaw:
Texas Toast:
Ice Cream: (but it's free)

Restaurant Web Site