My journey from a backyard hot dog roaster to the low-and-slow BBQ junkie I am today began many years ago. I was travelling a lot with my job all over the Northwestern United States. I frequented a business in Eastern Oregon that sold Traeger Wood Pellet Grills. One day in 2000, the owner of the business gave me a sample of chicken cooked on the Traeger. Yeowee!!! Was it ever good! I had not had much experience with wood smoked meats, but the subtle smoke flavor the pellet cooker imparted in the food gave it a depth of flavor that was new to me. I told myself that someday, someway, I would own a Traeger grill.
Fast forward a few years to January 2008… I was no longer travelling but had settled into a job that kept me close to home. I had just built a new house. A new house with a patio – that needed a grill. My wife and I went to town to shop for grills. I wanted a Traeger, by all means. Too expensive. Next, I wanted a Weber gas grill. Too expensive. Nothing seemed to fit my budget, except for a mid-range Charm-Glo gas grill. Ok, so we settled for that. However, I really wasn’t quite satisfied, and this idea of owning a Traeger never really left me. There was one little harsh in the mellow thought, though… The closest dealer was 30 miles away. What if, one day, I actually owned a Traeger? What if, when I had several families over for a meal, I would run out of pellets mid-cook? What would I do? I won’t say I laid awake at night agonizing over this hypothetical quandry, but I will admit it bothered me just a little, each time I would think about it.
One day, a new thought struck me. MY LITTLE TOWN NEEDS A TRAEGER DEALER. Hmmmmmmmm… a few phone calls… a little legal red tape over business entity stuff… and my little town HAD a Traeger dealer. Me. And even though I was working out of my garage and later a little enclosed trailer, I did pretty well at it. My wife and I would go set up at various spots around town nearly every weekend, grilling and handing out samples and selling grills. It was hectic, but fun, and I finally had my Traeger.
And that’s how it all started. I began experimenting with actual barbecue – the ribs, whole chickens, Boston butt, a brisket or three… ya, you get the picture. I still remember the first time we cooked something larger than a burger or a steak. We took a whole chicken, seasoned it up, laid it breast up on the grate, and cooked it – perfectly – in about an hour and a half. I’ll never forget how amazed we were. It didn’t burn. It was done all the way through. And it was tasty!
As time moved along, we changed up our business a bit, and started selling Green Mountain Grills, another brand of pellet cooker, besides the Traeger models. By this time, I had more or less grasped the basic concepts of grilling and smoking meats, such as proper grate and internal temperatures for the different meats, how to tell when barbecued cuts were done, how to achieve tenderness, and so on. I was finding that I enjoyed the process as much, or more, than the product. Grilling and smoking meat simply fascinated me – and still does. And, because I was enjoying the process so much, the pellet cookers were losing their appeal. Other than the smoke flavor they imparted, they were essentially as simple to cook on as using an oven. You could stand and watch the cooker all day, but there wasn’t anything to actually DO. The machine was controlling the heat and the smoke, not me.
Then I discovered a mundane black substance called “charcoal.” This simple carbonaceous compound has had quite the impact on me. It started when I found an old Weber 22.5″ kettle grill abandoned in my Dad’s shed. I hauled it home and cleaned it up. The first cook was a fail. So, I started reading online and experimenting and before I knew it, I was a serious Weber kettle fan. I still am to this day. It amazes me how one of the most basic grills on the market, available at almost any box store for only a hundred bucks, can be configured in so many different ways to cook so many different things. It is, by far, the best bang for the buck and one of the most versatile cookers out there. It didn’t take me long to add another kettle or two to my collection of cookers.
Through the years as my interest and experience grew I have been fortunate to own, and use, many different types of grills and smokers, including cheap gassers, a cheapie Brinkmann water smoker, multiple Traeger and Green Mountain pellet grills of various sizes, Weber kettles of all sizes, as well as a large Big Green Egg which I use a lot, and an 18.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain water smoker. I am always trading and dealing and usually have around 10 cookers, although that number goes up or down depending on the various deals I make with friends or find on Craigslist.
Which brings us to the Ultimate Drum Smoker. These days, I am a heavy equipment operator and spend most of my days on a Case 580 Super M backhoe. I had long wanted to cook on something I built with my own ten thumbs. I set out to build a large trailer offset smoker, but time and budget constraints demanded that I go with something smaller. Therefore, I decided to build a UDS, heretofore known among BBQ nuts as an “ugly drum smoker.” However, mine would be themed after the Case backhoe I operate. I would call it the Case 250 Super Q “Rib Digger”, a nod at the model number of the backhoe, but with the number indicating common smoker temps, and the series letter indicating the type of food. It took a while to build, but it was fun, and when completed it did illustrate the heavy equipment theme fairly well. Everyone that saw it thought it was cool. Soon my buddy John built himself one, not a theme build but a copper colored thing of beauty that seems to be more than capable of cranking out some seriously awesome barbecue, mediocre cook that John is notwithstanding. After that, it was simply a matter of, “I want one, I want one too, I want one three,” and before I knew it I was in the business (or should I say hobby) of building drum smokers. It’s still a hobby, but the smokers have become more refined as time goes along, and the exercise in creativity that comes with trying to build a theme is a fun challenge.
That, folks, concludes the tale of my journey into the world of barbecue, and beyond that, of how I came to be cooking barbecue in a recycled drum. If you are just starting down this road, hang on… it’s a fun, fun ride!