David has always loved grilling food, but how he got into smoking meat was completely by accident. One morning on a road trip to visit family, I asked David to tell me in his own words the story of how his love for smoking meat became a passion. After a couple of hours and the shortest road trip ever, we wrote this story called: “Trash Treasure Smoker“.
TRASH TREASURE SMOKER
It was Nineteen Ninety-Something… I got up one morning, started my Ford F-150, and headed into Pierce Printing Company to go to work. As I turned the corner I noticed a trash pile. I immediately noticed what appeared to be a grill. So I hit the brakes and bailed out of the truck to take a look. I rushed over to the trash pile. Sure enough, it was a grill.
Upon inspecting it, I realized that it was a Brinkmann Water Smoker that appeared to be in very good condition. It was black and looked like a 25-gallon barrel. All the parts were included; the water pan, the racks for the meat, and what I assumed was a charcoal pan because it had a hole in the center of it.
I don’t know about you, but where I come from a trash pile is fair game. I also picked up an electric weed eater at the same time and proceeded to work with my new find.
I walked into work and said to my best friend Kojak, “Yo man, I just found a grill in the trash! I think it’s a water smoker.”
Me and Kojak being long-time grilling partners had never really touched a water smoker before. He was like, “Man, let’s try that thing out this weekend” and I was like, “Alright, yeah”.
The weekend came and we got together on Saturday. As a rule, we always start out with a cheap cut of meat. You always want to start experimenting with something cheap, like ground hamburger or chicken that way if you burn it up, not knowing what the hell you are doing, you aren’t out a whole lot of money.
We took the round bowl that had the hole in the middle of it, placed it on the top hooks, then found that grate that fit it and fired it up! We pattied up 6 to 8 hamburgers for our families to eat.
When we started cooking we noticed that we really weren’t cooking at all. There is a terrible flaw design in that model smoker. The one hole in the middle of that bowl didn’t allow for proper draft or ventilation.
We could tell this because the only coals that were hot were the ones right there over that hole. We figured out right then why that smoker was in the trash pile. However, me and Kojak having redneck ingenuity took a drill with a one-inch diameter drill bit and drilled four or five more holes around the center hole of that charcoal bowl.
Needless to say next time we fired the smoker up she got hot!
We cooked hamburgers, we cooked some chicken on it too. Then I decided I would try to smoke something. Being a pork lover, when somebody says grill my mind goes immediately to pork. I purchased a small pork butt and got outside one Saturday and filled up the water pan, lit up the charcoal and smoked my first butt.
It was an epic fail! Having never smoked meat before I didn’t realize that it took hours to do it. I ended up having to take it off the water, and drop my grate down over the fire, so I ended up grilling it, to get it done 5 or 6 hours later.
Having learned from that experience I decided I would try a pork shoulder. This time, I started much earlier and managed to get the pork shoulder done after about 6 to 8 hours of smoking. It was so tender! So juicy! I was hooked from that moment on.
I went on to smoke more butts, and shoulders. I smoked turkeys at Christmas and I even did some ribs. Those ribs are still some of the best I have ever done. They were pork spare ribs. The skin was like cracklins. Oh my God! I’ve never quite been able to replicate them since, but I sure hope one day I do.
As time went on I wore my little “trash treasure smoker” out. The pan with the modified holes burned through, but being hooked to smoking meat I purchased another smoker just like that one. The first thing we did was drill holes in the pan.
I went on to wear this one out too and then I met the love of my life, Debbie Matthews and we ended up moving to Virginia Beach. Debbie bought me my first Weber for my birthday one year and I still have that grill to this day.
However, my love for smoking was starting to haunt me. So I started looking at water smokers and found that Brinkmann had an upgraded model from the two previous black ones I had been using. The new model had a better charcoal pan in it and it was ventilated properly.
It was after living in Virginia Beach that I discovered wood chips for a smoker at Home Depot. Having never tried those I bought a bag of hickory wood chips and rushed home with them.
I told Debbie, “I’m smoking a butt tomorrow. I don’t know what you are going to eat.” For some strange bizarre reason, that woman doesn’t like smoked pork. Brisket however she will fist-fight you for.
So I got up that Saturday, and read the instructions on my new found smoking wood chips. It said to soak them in a bowl of water for thirty minutes to an hour. So, I put the chips in the soak. I assembled the smoker, fired up my Kingsford Charcoal, and put my pork butt on for a smoke.
Once the temperature hand got up to “IDEAL”, I threw a couple of handfuls of soaked hickory chips onto the hot coals. The temperature dropped which is to be expected, but within a minute or two I had the sweet smell of hickory wood permeating the air.
I went on to smoke that butt with charcoal and hickory chips until that butt was a dark brown amber color. Having never used wood before I did not know what to expect, but I knew from the first taste that it would not be the last time I would use wood for smoking.
After some time and some more practice, I approached Debbie and asked her, “What would you like for me to smoke? She said: “I don’t want any pork, maybe some kind of beef!”. I said, “Well I think down in Texas they don’t cook a lot of pork but they cook a lot of beef. I think they use mesquite wood for smoking. So I’ll try that.”
She agreed and we proceeded to shop around for a brisket. Having never seen or cooked a brisket I didn’t know what one even looked like…LOL! This was early 2003, I think… the internet was hard to come by and there was no such thing as a smartphone. There was no Google, so I couldn’t just look it up on my crappy flip-phone.
We managed to find a small brisket. I went back to the hardware store and purchased some mesquite wood chips for an authentic Texas barbecue. That following Saturday, I got up and fired up the water smoker. I salted and peppered the brisket like I would a steak and proceeded to smoke it using the mesquite wood chips.
We made our usual barbecue sauce for dipping the brisket in because Debbie doesn’t like to eat sweet meat. Much to our surprise, it was good! I was hooked on smoking brisket too.
While living in Virginia Beach, my sister Mahaley, from Williamsburg, visited from time to time for what she called: “Grill Therapy”.
Mahaley is not a real big meat eater, but she does love some baby back ribs. She would come over and I would attempt to grill baby back ribs, low and slow. I was not smoking them mind you, but they were still good.
We spent several weekends outside our Virginia beach townhouse smoking meat, drinking beer and shooting the breeze: “Grill Therapy” sessions.
As my love for smoking grew, my want for a better smoker also grew. That’s when I discovered that Weber made a smoker called the Smokey Mountain Smoker. At the time that smoker was out of my price range. It would have to wait.
I’m not sure how, but we started visiting the mountains. I guess being sick of the beach. We started renting cottages, staying in motels, anywhere we could to wake up in the mountains on the weekends.
I remember more than one Friday Debbie coming home and saying: “Let’s go to the mountains!”.
Not having any children, and having a cat made it fairly easy. So we would pack a bag, throw it in the jeep and ride until we saw mountains and get a hotel room. We would get up Saturday after waking up in the mountains and try our best to get lost.
As for the cat, for the first day, he didn’t even care we were gone. As anybody who has a cat very well knows.
Our weekend getaways to the mountains went on for a little while and then one day Debbie came home and said “I’m sick of Virginia Beach! Let’s move to the mountains. Let’s live where we vacation!”
HALLELUJAH! I hated Virginia Beach and that was music to my ears.
So we started job searching and eventually we made it happen, but don’t think for a minute picking up and moving was easy.
You can read our story about that HERE.
It was late 2008 when we finally moved to Louisa, Virginia. I found a job and settled in. I made friends fast with my smoked meat. I would smoke butts, and pork shoulders, eat my fill, then take the rest to my coworkers at Cardinal Press, in Fredericksburg, VA.
I continued to dabble with smoking, especially while living on Bull Run Mountain. Meanwhile experimenting with baby back ribs. Me and Debbie had also gotten into Food Network shows. I watched a few shows about how to smoke competition ribs, so I started dabbling with smoking baby backs instead of grilling them.
The Weber Performer
By 2012 Debbie and I moved into our dream home on Apple Mountain just outside of Front Royal, Virginia where we live now. I’m going to let her tell you this part of the story…
The Christmas after David and I moved into our new home I decided he was long overdue on an upgraded Weber charcoal grill. The one I gave him all those years ago had seen better days. The lid was bent from blowing off during some bad storms.
Unfortunately, when the lid blew off it tumbled across the yard and dropped the retaining wall about 10 feet onto the driveway below. The high winds on that mountain were no joke because it happened on more than one occasion. Those two hard hits caused the grill lid not to seal onto the bottom of the kettle as it should.
I was tired of hearing David whine about losing heat and smoke, so I had to get him a new one. But like always I waited until the last minute to get David something for Christmas. I did extensive online research and finally found a company with the best price that would ship the grill to the house for free. I proceeded to order the grill crossing my fingers that it would deliver before Christmas.
Within a few hours of the purchase, I received a phone call from the company. The blue Weber performer had to be back-ordered and may not arrive before Christmas. The sales rep on the phone was very nice and tried to sell me a green one with a propane igniter. However, I wanted David to have a blue one because I thought it would look good with the pretty blue mountains peering from our deck.
I kindly told the sales rep to keep the order as it was. It was ok if the grill did not arrive by Christmas. At that time I was working in the graphics department of a trade show company. I had access to all kinds of cool technology, so I decided I would print David a small photo on some of our thick sentra board and give it to him if the grill didn’t deliver in time.
On Christmas eve, I received a notification that the grill was coming! Fortunately, I was home while David was still at work when it arrived. The UPS man knew the box was too big and heavy for me to do anything with. He was kind enough to help me get the huge box with the Weber inside around to the back of the house and into the basement.
After the UPS man left, I pushed the box up against the wall with some other ones we had from unpacking. I even put a stuffed Kermit the Frog David won out of a skill crane on top of it. David never even noticed the grill was there until he got his card with the printed photo of the grill inside telling him to go downstairs and look in the basement.
The performer has a nice side table for preparation etc. It also has an ash catcher underneath the kettle which makes it more practical to put on the deck. That way David could enjoy the view while grilling and smoking his meat.
I couldn’t believe I hadn’t even noticed the box. The box was under my nose! Needless to say, I was very surprised and fired the grill up as soon as I got the chance.
The Smokey Mountain Smoker
One day after we moved, we were walking through Walmart low and behold there was an 18-inch Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker regularly $300 marked down to $199!
I immediately went and got a shopping cart and told Debbie I was going to buy it. She said: “Please do, so I don’t have to hear about it anymore”.
I went home with my new Smokey Mountain Smoker like a kid at Christmas. I went to the barn drug that old Brinkman Smoker out loaded it into the back of the truck and took it to the dump.
Of course, that following Saturday I had to christen the new smoker. I believe I purchased a small picnic shoulder to smoke.
Like I said for the first time, go cheap!
The Smokey Mountain Smoker was not like any I had ever used. It was well built with a solid construction, with three adjustable dampers around the bottom, one on the top lid, and of course, a door for adding charcoal and wood chips. I knew right off that I was in water smoker heaven. I smoked my first meat on it using the hickory wood and a nice dry rub that Debbie helped me create along with our secret recipe barbecue sauce.
I fell in love with that new water smoker so I decided to build a throne for it in our tiny backyard.
You can read more about that day HERE.
People often say that gas tastes just as good as charcoal. The truth is, IT DOES NOT. Now they have pellet grills where you fill a hopper, turn a knob with an app on your phone and the meat cooks itself.
Yes, sometimes it can be a little work and a 10 to 12-pound pork shoulder on the water smoker is an all-day affair. You have to allow one hour per pound. So that’s 8 hours for 8 pounds. 12 hours for 12 pounds and so forth.
That’s where commitment, passion, and the love that I have for smoking comes in. As I mentioned before it’s not a question of am I going to cook, but when am I going to cook.
And make no bones about it, when I said that I tell Debbie I’m smoking a pork butt, pork ribs, or pork shoulder tomorrow. It is no lie. She just rolls her eyes and says: “Don’t get too drunk and turn the damn grill over like you did that one time in Virginia Beach”.
Anyone who smokes meat knows you can do a lot of drinking in 12-hours time…
As time has gone on we have developed several different dry rubs and branched out to different types of wood such as pecan, apple, maple, cherry, and oak. We even have some dried grape vines from one of our favorite vineyards that we have been meaning to try. We’ve also made different types of sauces but still won’t share our secret sauce recipe.
If I hadn’t found that Brinkman smoker in the trash that day, I would probably never have bought one. I would have never learned to smoke meat the way I do nor could we share our recipes with you. That’s why I called my story “trash treasure smoker”.
Smoking food takes time, commitment, and mastering your craft on your smoker. We recently purchased a Texas Original Pit offset smoker. I’m in the process of learning how to use this smoker, as it takes A LOT of wood!
Stay tuned as we continue to try old and new recipes on our newest addition we call “Charlie Choo-Choo”.
We hope you will follow along in our pit smoking adventures and find something you might want to try.