I think of this sauce as being a cult classic. Why? Because it's locally famous and there is mystery. The sauce is top secret and it's said that the owner makes the batches himself so that the secret will be safe. Whether this is true or not, I don't know but what I do know is that I can't find the recipe and I've searched HARD. You have no idea how relentless I can be when I get my mind set. I discovered while researching that story has it this sauce was first made at the Town Tavern in Norman, Oklahoma on Campus Corner in the 1930's and 1940's. I read on Johnnie's website that Johnnie did get his start at the Split-T (also known as the T Bar) in Oklahoma City in the 1950's. Then in 1971 the first Johnnie's opened in Oklahoma City. In 1981 he opened another location in Edmond and thank goodness he did because if he hadn't I might not have ever had this wonderful creation. I used to go eat there with my parents starting around 1985.
Then, not long ago on trip to Norman the kids and I stopped in at The Mont to eat. I about did a back flip when I saw a theta burger on their menu. But my excitement turned to disappointment with my first taste. It was a barbeque sauce, and not the sauce I love so much. That's when I decided I had to find this recipe and make it myself. The problem is... I met a brick wall. Johnnie's sauce is unique and other restaurants may claim to have theta burgers but it's just not the same sauce.
Here's the thing: It is NOT barbeque sauce. PERIOD. It's a hickory sauce.
The first batch was based on a recipe that someone else had posted on the internet. So you can guess what was wrong with it... It had barbeque sauce in it. 4 bottles no less!
I had to send my kids back to the store for ingredients. My second batch about set everyone on fire. I remembered the Johnnie's sauce being slightly hot.
Meanwhile we start moving furniture to my kid's apartment and that's when I discover the Johnnie's Charbroiler in Norman! (thank you God!) I got my burger fix and my Johnnie's ice tea fix. It's the best.
But then I realized that the sauce really wasn't hot like I remembered.
Another trip to the store... and this time I figured this could be a long process so I bought the jumbo can of tomato sauce. I
made my third batch and by golly I got so close that I couldn't wait for my husband to come home so he could do a taste test and tell me if I was right. He gave me two thumbs up! It's not Johnnie's recipe but it's close enough for me! (and I'm a theta snob).
Now. Here's the next part. The cheese. They have these cheese shreds that are BIG. And what kind of cheese? I have made this two ways. I've used colby and I've used American. I really think I like colby cheese the best. But that's just me. Either way it's good. I'll never be able to have a burger just like theirs because I don't have a char-broiler. (dang it)
A #9 theta burger comes with cheese, pickles, and mayo, and sauce. You gotta at least try it once. My son wasn't wild about the pickles.
Someday I'm going to have to have help in doing a blind taste test. But I probably need to wait at LEAST a month because I'm getting sort of burned out. So here's the recipe!! Hope you like it!!
1 1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
1 1/2 tsp. hot sauce (such as Tabasco, etc.)
1/2 cup of ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon Chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp of salt
Serve sauce while warm
In a large saucepan (I used my Le Crueset stock pot) heat all of the ingredients. I stirred frequently with a whisk to ensure the ingredients mixed well. I also let it simmer as long as I could so it would thicken up some. My arm couldn't take it for more than an hour. I recommend not walking away because this stuff bubbles up like the La Brea tar pits. (Did they bubble? hmm) anyway it's thick and will splatter and make a mess if you walk away for long.
This does make a lot of sauce but you can freeze the left-overs so you'll have some for the next time.
One more suggestion: If you decided to add a little bit more of this or that just do it in small increments so you don't waste an entire batch. Also give it time for the flavors to completely blend before you decide if it's enough of a certain ingredient.