In 1978 Eric Johnson got his first smoker as a Christmas present. It was home-made and weighed about a ton! He’s been cooking barbecue and honing his craft ever since.
After moving his family to Canada in 1991, he discovered that the definition of barbecue here meant a piece of equipment or an event. In the South, barbecue is the food. He would joke that in Canada we have skidoos – in Oklahoma they have smokers.
Eric cooked barbecue for friends and family over the years, including donating barbecue to raise funds for a local hockey rink. Encouraged by the interest in his barbecue, and the lack of authentic barbecue here, moved him to consider going into the barbecue business. His son, Chris Johnson, also expressed a desire to be involved in the business so together they built a mobile trailer and started doing catering, as well as setting up in different locations in Regina and doing special events. The barbecue was well received and customers encouraged them to open a restaurant so they would have access to barbecue on an ongoing basis.
It’s pretty evident from the interior of the restaurant that the South is represented not only by the food but by the décor. You’ll find a Texas flag hanging upside down alongside an Oklahoma University flag, but don’t be alarmed – it’s meant to be that way. Texas is Oklahoma’s biggest college football rival. One day a customer came in from Texas and seeing our Oklahoma flag (as well as the SK Roughriders’ flag), asked if we would hang his Texas flag. We said sure but little did he know that it was going to be hung upside down! Until he left Canada, every time he came in, he would take it down and hang it right side up. After he left, we would hang it upside down again. It was a game we enjoyed playing. We miss our Texas friend!
What sets Smokin’ Okies apart from most barbecue restaurants is that we cook in a very traditional way, using wood only. Others use gas or electricity as their main source of heat. Mercaptin, which is the product added to natural gas so it can be smelled prior to exploding, alters the taste of the food. Our only source of heat is the maple logs we burn.