Draper’s BBQ and GMG

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Some of you may have heard the rumors, so here is the confirmation.  Draper’s BBQ is now officially sponsored by Green Mountain Grills.  This cooperative agreement is a culmination of several projects where we got to work side-by-side with members of the GMG team.  It became obvious to both us and the GMG leadership that working together on a more formal basis would greatly benefit both companies.

Draper’s up to this point has never accepted an endorsement deal or sponsorship of any kind for our competition team.  We have and will continue to help all companies whose products we believe in and use but our competition focus, for the remainder of 2012 and beyond, will now reside primarily with GMG and the pellet grill market place.

As a part of this partnership we are now also a full GMG dealer and will become an active part of driving GMG to the forefront of the pellet grilling market.  We will do everything we can as a company to support our partners in this endeavor and look forward to becoming West Kentucky’s premier full service pellet grill dealership.  We are fully committed to GMG’s policy of service excellence before, during and after the sale and we will be bringing you a line of barbecue products and classes designed to help all barbecue enthusiast get the most out of their culinary adventures.

If you have any questions about Green Mountain Grills please contact Shane or Mike via email and they would both love to help you in making the right choice for your barbecue and grilling adventures.

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Father’s Day Gifts – 2012

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Ok everyone one and their play cousin has published a Father’s Day Gift Guide already. In typical Draper’s fashion we are one of the last to post our recommendations.  It’s ok to save the best and most comprehensive for last though.  You would expect a barbecue company to give a Father’s Day Gift Guide chocked full of grilling related items, accessories and sauces.  You will find some of those here, but being the renaissance men that we are, we wanted to provide you  a list of items that addresses all the parts of good ole dad.  Dad isn’t a one dimensional guy and while he may love barbecue and grilling the most we are betting he also has a humorous side and an intellectual side as well.  So our gift guide was designed to address every side of your special guy’s persona and give you ideas in which we know he would love.

Idea 1 – T-Shirts

Before you think we’ve lost our marbles and have gone all cheap on dear ole dad hear us out.  If your dad is stuck in khakis or slacks and a button down all day, at that 9 to 5 grind he calls a job to put you through school, then I can promise you one of his favorite things to do is put on a pair shorts, a t-shirt and some comfy shoes and chill out.  To add to that putting on a funny t-shirt only makes it better.  So check out some of our favorites from Tanga.com all of which are under $10!

Idea 2 – Bacon

Dad understands that bacon is not a food it’s a lifestyle and we believe it’s one that should be celebrated in every way possible.  We firmly believe nothing says “I love you” quite like bacon.  So here are just some accessories that will be sure to please the giver-o-the-allowance.  If you want even more, even crazier gifts just Google “Bacon Gifts.”

The Bacon Wallet

Bacon Wallet – Because its cool! – $9

Bacon Hot Sauce

Bacon Hot Sauce – What’s better than bacon? HOT BACON! – $7

Bacon Bandages

Bacon Bandages – Because sometimes dad’s Ninja impersonation ends badly. – $5

Bacon Wrapping Paper

Bacon Wrapping Paper – Why? Because EVERYTHING should be wrapped in bacon. – $6

Baconnaise

Baconnaise – Want the ultimate BLT? Then you need this! – $15

 Idea 3 – Tech

Every dad is a tech dude to a certain extent, yes we know he still can’t program the correct time on the 15yr old VCR but we promise he will like these tech gifts.

Logitech Harmony 650

Logitech Harmony 650 – Because he deserves the remote control at all times! – $60

 Klipsch IMAGE S4 Earbuds

Klipsch IMAGE S4 Ear buds – Because yes your mother does talk too much…. sometimes.  shhh Dont tell! – $65

Roku LT Streaming Player

Roku LT – A Roku of his very own! He will love recording his favorite bbq shows on this! – $50

Idea 4 – Grilling

We know your dad is already the Greatest of the Grill Grates but just in case he isn’t or perhaps he just doesn’t have these items then you know what to do.  HOOK HIM UP!  These are the our personal favorite things from around the grill and we know your dad will love them as well.

Thermapen

Thermapen – Super fast and now even cooler! – $96

Firewire - Flexible Skewers

Firewire Flexible Skewers – These are awesome for those bbq grills that are tight on space! – $10

Victorinox Knives

Victorinox Knife Set – If dad travels to bbq competitions this is a fantastic set of knives to have! – $130

Grill Grate

Grill Grates – There arent many universal bbq tools that make everyone a better cook but this is one of them! – $55

MeatRakes

MeatRakes – Help dad stop fingering his food and RAKE some MEAT. – $20

Draper’s BBQ Moo’d Enhancer with Shaker – No list would be complete without some Draper’s products. This package contains our super successful beef rub and the best shaker dad will ever have! – $20

Yoder YS-640 Pellet Smoker

Yoder YS-640 Smoker – This smoker got the most votes on our panel for its combination of cooking size, features, build quality and pricing. – Starting at $1300

Idea 5 – Books

Before you start saying “books??? LAME!” Just wait and hear us out.  These aren’t regular books, they are reference/recipe books and are of course barbecue related.  These books represent a mix of our personal favorites along with the best that has been released this year.  I can promise dad will thumb through these books over and over again getting ideas and inspiration for his barbecue.  What we love about books is that they work just as well in great weather as they do in bad.  They are a year round gift that keeps us inspired and thinking about what we really love, barbecue.  🙂  Oh don’t cry we still love you too.

Grilling & Barbecue - Cooks IllustratedSlow Fire by Dr. BBQ - Ray LampeWicked Good Barbecue - A. Husbands & C. HartBeerlicious - Ted Reader

Alright kids that pretty well covers it.  If you can’t find something on this list for the older dude in your house you call dad, well you just aren’t looking very hard.  We did our best to cover a wide price range and provide you with gifts that any dad would love to have.  In the end though we dads would prefer spending the day just hanging out, manning the grill cooking up something for those that love us and call us dad.  Of course doing that on a new pellet smoker, drinking a nice cold and frosty beverage, using new barbecue tools, to cooking up a new recipe from a book you got us wouldn’t be all that bad either.

Peace, Love and Pork Grease to all the men out there who go the extra mile to be involved in their families lives and earn the title Dad.

– Draper’s BBQ Staff

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Dancing with a Grilla

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Many of you know the story: I’m a third generation pitmaster and spent my early years in and around my grandfather’s barbecue restaurant.  My grandfather cooked barbecue in a cinder block pit and stick burned mostly oak for his coals. He added those coals one shovel full at time until whatever he was cooking reached perfection.  To me, that  is “real” barbecue.  I know this probably offends some folks already, but I need you to know where I am coming from with this review.  Barbecue for me is something that takes a long time, takes a lot of work and is done with wood.  That is my preferred route to achieve what I consider barbecue nirvana.  This method is archaic, punishing, difficult and the reason many pitmasters don’t last very long.  

A couple of years ago I was forced to have a heart to heart with myself. It’s the same conversation many pitmasters have had with themselves over the years.  The questions when I boiled it down was “is it more important to put in 100% effort, go without sleep and come away with a product that is a 10, or is it more important to put in 50% effort, sleep, have a life and come away with a product that is a 9?”  What I came up with is an answer which allows me to have a life  stay married and see my kids.   When cooking for pure enjoyment, as backwards as it may sound, I still take the purest pursuit of that 10 and do it the hard way.  It is how I share kinship with my grandfather who passed several years ago.  When cooking to sell, for dinner around the house or just to practice, I take the easier path.    

This easier path has led me in search of new ways to cook as well as a new mission.  Obviously the cookers I needed for easier cooking included ones with constant fuel sources and some sort of automated temperature management.  We now have a few of these type of cookers in our arsenal and you know what, I’m glad.  I’m a much happier person overall when I’m not literally killing myself for my craft each time I cook.  These pits have given me a way  to extend what is my livelihood and time in this game.  

My new mission?  Well, that changed from just being able to turn out 9s and 10s to being able to turn out that quality on any type of pit, fired by any fuel in just about any configuration, under nearly any circumstance.  I got this idea from talking to Danielle Dimovski at Memphis in May this past year.  The idea that she can fly in somewhere, borrow gear and do well competing was a revelation of what it means to be a pitmaster today.  I realized that as much as I love the way my grandfather did things, the game has evolved. I realized that I had to lead Draper’s BBQ head long into this new world if we had any chance at longevity.  

Of all the pits we own, we did not have a pellet fired contraption, up until a few weeks ago.  Why?  Well, to be honest I didn’t like them, didn’t want one and never gave one a chance.  I often make the comparison of pellet pits to glam/hair metal back in the 80s/90s and how much the “true” metal heads hated and discounted the genre.  Those of us “real pitmasters” wouldn’t dare to cook on one.  It’s kind of like a true metal fan being caught listening a band like Poison, even though you often found your self singing along in your head to their songs.  Pellet cookers were a lot like that to me.  Yes, I know this is unfair, it’s wrong, it’s unfounded, it’s close minded…it’s..it’s just  the way I felt.  I grudgingly admitted that they had their place and couldn’t discount that many friends had won grand champions on them and love them. I just wasn’t quite ready to give in.

Recently, I stumbled across a new cooker called the Grilla when I noticed their postings in Twitter and read up on them.  Thankfully, not too long after that my good friend Jay Prince did a great review of the pit.  Based on Jay’s write up I contacted Fahrenheit Technologies to get more information because the pit was different and it intrigued me.  I was really more interested in the product from a competition perspective, but thought it might serve as a practice pit as well.  After several emails and phone conversations with Mark Graham I conceded that maybe it was time to try a pellet cooker myself and agreed to review the Grilla.

I don’t want  to completely retread what Jay has already done with his excellent write up from a back yard perspective, so my thoughts will mostly pertain to the competition capabilities of the Grilla.  Go check out his review!

Special Delivery

Since the Grilla is so new to the market there are currently few retail outlets, so you will likely have to order the Grilla direct from Fahrenheit Technologies.The Grilla is shipped via freight.  Shipping arrangements were easy and it shipped very quickly.  I had my unit in two days.  The Grilla came fully assembled, strapped to a pallet.  This evidently is a rare thing among most of their competitors.  The weight of the unit and pallet was right around 165lbs.  Very, very reasonable weight considering the unit is made of a nice thick steel.  

I wish I had pictures of this but unfortunately the SD card I had many of my pictures for this review on failed.  Thankfully Jay Prince allowed me the use of some of his pictures so you get an idea what the the Grilla looks like new.  I owe Jay a beer the next time I see him.

Initial Thoughts

When I first unpacked the Grilla and stood back to take it all in, the first thought I had was “this thing is a pellet powered Big Green Egg.”  That may sound odd at first given that one is steel and one is made of ceramics, but when you stop to consider cooking ability, size and pricing of both cookers you can see where I’m coming from.  I think that both initially strike the average consumer as mildly unattractive.  It’s not until you take a deeper look that you really begin to see the true beauty of each.  This thought hung with me so much that I have decided to do a point by point comparison of the two units that will be released shortly after this article. This should be of interest to those of you who may be trying to decide between the two.

Some Key Features

The Grilla website has a fairly extensive list of the cooker’s features.  I have included most of this list below with my two cents thrown in.  

  • Keep Heat Swing Lid – Makes checking of food faster because you don’t have to remove it completely, when swung all the the way open it allows access to all parts of the Grilla, can be left partially open without propping it. Nothing to lift is great!
  • Even Temp Chamber – The shape of the chamber itself eliminates hot / cold corners.  I found no hot or cold spots on the cooking area which the average cook will appreciate.
  • Never Flare Flavor Disc – prevents grease flare ups, keeps the flame away from food.  This is a nice feature and is included on many pellet cookers and even the Big Green Egg has it as an option.  On the Big Green Egg’s this device is called a “plate setter” and is removable if you want the option of flame grilling.  
  • Lower and Upper Grill Grates – This is something a lot of the Grilla competitors have as an option, but usually not as a standard feature.  Obviously having it is a good thing.  The Upper grate is ideal for large parties or for when you want more smoke and less heat on the bottom of your meat.  It also pops out easily to make room for whole chickens, turkeys, shoulders, etc.
  • Versatile Temp Range – With a range of 180°-550° Fahrenheit (F) and 16 smoke settings the Grilla truly is a pit and a grill.  
  • EZ Fuel Change Out – This feature is huge.  Swapping out one flavor of pellets for another takes less than a minute and is super easy.  You just flip open the door, empty the hopper and refill with new pellets.  I never would have thought of wanting or needing this but I am glad it is there.  Very nice feature that every pellet cooker should include.
  • 20 lb Hopper Capacity – This keeps the Grilla cooking for hours and hours.  The 20lb capacity isn’t unheard of.  I think it is just about right for pellet cookers.

Size and Cooking Area

The physical stats of the Grilla are as follows:  Height – 44in, Width – 31.5in, Depth – 29.5in, Weight – 145lbs.  What these numbers do not accurately portray is just how small a foot print that is.  This unit takes up about the same space as a Weber Kettle, Weber Smokey Mountain or Big Green Egg XL.  Of course, this small foot print does affect cook area, but you aren’t looking at this cooker if your intention is to cook a case of boston butts or half a dozen briskets at one time.  This is not to say the cooking area is undersized. There is, in fact, more cooking area in the Grilla (488 sq in) than a Big Green Egg XL (452 sq in).  You could fit a pork shoulder and brisket on the lower rack of the Grilla and still have room for a rack of ribs on the top shelf.

From a competition perspective I found the cooking area and overall stature of the Grilla to be very good.  I could easily see taking 2 or 3 Grilla’s, loading them on a small trailer and doing some serious damage out on the circuit.  This cooker is easily moved so load outs and off loads would be simple even with a single person or small team.  

Draper’s  has several much larger cookers, some of which will hold several cases of boston butts at a time.  While I love these cookers, it is a bit refreshing to have a smaller cooker on which to just flip a switch and cook some chicken,  burgers, steaks or a single shoulder. This is an especially nice cooker to have around just for practice and recipe invention.  I found myself trying new things just because it was so easy to get a fire started and ready cooking.

Build Quality and Design

This is one of the few things still made in the USA that makes me proud to be American.  When I say this thing is over built by a mile I mean it.  Seriously they could have cut 10 corners and no one would have ever known, but they didn’t.  Every weld, every seam and every surface is done impeccably.

A couple of the of the areas that deserve to be mentioned specifically are:

  1. Grates – Wow! These things are nearly pencil thick stainless steel.  I don’t know how much they would cost to replace but it seriously can’t be cheap.  These grates are so well built, I’m convinced they will survive a nuclear apocalypse.

  1. Swing Lid – Okay, so the fact that the lid swings instead of flips open or detaches completely, like on some units, is cool.  The fact that they thought enough about the lid to include bearings in the mechanism is AWESOME.  Such a smooth glide to the lid is a very classy touch.

  1. Wheels – The wheels for me are much like the lid.  You expect it to have wheels, but you don’t necessarily expect them to be nice 5 inch rubber wheels that roll like they are greased with duck fat.  Maybe roll isn’t the right word, perhaps I should say glide.  One quick, easy motion and the Grilla tips back and glides effortlessly wherever you want it.

  1. Side Tables – It’s a really a nice touch to make these stainless steel.  We have stainless on our Tucker Cooker and have never regretted opting for it.  Sun baked, 10 day old barbecue sauce cleans up easily and it really looks better long term.  The hooks to hold your utensils are also a nice touch.

  1. Cord Storage – This is a such a little thing but I wanted to highlight it because it is yet another example of a place where the engineers could have cut corners and slacked but they didn’t.  The electrical cord wraps perfectly around the holder and even has a perfect little notch where the end clips in to for secure storage.

  1. Auger, Motor and Fire Pot – Auger, Motor and Fire Pot – I think is the area where some lesser pellet grills are suspect, so  I was worried about this with the Grilla.  After doing some research I found out that Fahrenheit Technologies is a home furnace company. Guess where the auger, motor and fire pot were developed?  In their home units.  This heating system and pellet delivery mechanism has been proven over the past few years.  This to me is a huge relief. Fahrenheit Technologies has also backed the Grilla with a 3 year warranty, further showing their confidence in this product.

  1. EZ Fuel Change Out – I have to admit that at first I thought, “big deal.”  Then I needed to switch pellets and the hopper was full and you know what? It was a big deal.  This is a necessity that every pellet cooker should include and deserves to be highlighted.  You just turn the latch, the door opens to a 90 degree angle and has side walls to help funnel the pellets into your bag.  You can swap out a complete 20lb load of pellets in just a couple of minutes.

  1. Finish – This thing has a great powder coat finish that should have no problem holding up a long, long time.  It feels good to the touch, cleans easily, and is on nearly every surface inside and out.

Quick Cooking Thoughts

To test the cooking abilities of the Grill I performed a total of 7 different cooking tests.  These tests were designed to replicate the different cooking styles and methods a competition cook and backyard cook would use.  

To be a true barbecue pit, a cooker must first and foremost be able to cook low and slow.  To be a great grill it has to be able to sear meat and cook at higher heat.  A newer competition cooking trend is hot and fast, so I also ran a test to represent that method as well.  

1 – 14lb turkey at 250 degrees followed immediately by 150 MOINK balls.

2 – 8 thick all beef hamburgers cooked at 300 degrees.

3 – 18lb pork shoulder cooked at 225 degrees for 11hrs (low and slow).

4 – Medium sized beef brisket cooked at 350 degrees for 3hrs (hot and fast)

5 – 3lb beef tri tip cooked at 250 degrees

6 – 18 chicken thighs cooked at 275 degrees then at 375 degrees to set the sauce and finish.

7 – 1 rack of beef ribs cooked at 250 degrees for an hour and a half.

The Grilla did very well in all tests.  I admit for the first cook I had to get used to cooking on  pellets.  I was pleasantly surprised how fast it recovered temperature, held even cooking temperature and how much smoke it put out.  Never was I disappointed by the results.  It is a very solid cooking platform that in the right hands is capable of pulling off 180 scores in competition.  This pit has been my “go to” pit for at home cooking the past several weeks and I have come to realize the more I leave it alone while cooking, the better it does.  Yes, I know this is a basic idiom of barbecue, but sometimes we all need to be reminded we aren’t always as smart as we think we are.  This is especially true for me.

What I Liked

  • Build Quality / Design – I did a whole section highlighting this.  Nothing short of exceptional and being American Made is just the cherry on top for me.
  • Size – It really does take up very little space for the cooking punch it packs.  Fantastic form factor that is led by functionality and tempered with smart design.  
  • Mobility – This pit still surprises me at how easily it moves.  It’s such a small but very essential part of making the Grilla even easier to live with.  The Big Green Egg could learn a thing or 10 from the Grilla.  
  • EZ Fuel Change Out – Yet another “feature” that should be a “standard” on all other pellet cookers.  Don’t underestimate how nice this is to have and other pellet pit makers should take note.
  • Cooking Versatility – I cant think of a thing the Grilla couldn’t do…..ok it can’t do a whole hog, but neither can most pits.  Other than that though the temperature range and how quickly the Grilla can go from 225 degrees to 400 degrees make this one impressive cooker.
  • Cooking Ease – There are few pits that I would say can take a very average person and make them a great cook.  This one is one of them.  One good barbecue book such as  “BBQ Makes Everything Better” and the Grilla and the average Joe could turn out the best barbecue his buddies has ever had the pleasure of eating. Same pit plus a good pit master and the Grilla has a really solid chance at turning out world class results.  

What Could Be Improved

For those of you who know me or have read any of my reviews know that I do not review or give my comments about any product without also offering suggestions for improvement.  Here is my short list for the Grilla.

  1. Grease Catch Can – As it is configured now you can use an soup can or soda can to catch grease.  This is good, but not great and to me it’s not in keeping with the quality of the rest of the unit.  My suggestion would be to include a bucket, that could hold around 48oz of liquid.  (One with the awesome Grilla logo on it would be fantastic!)  I found the need for this larger capacity while cooking the MOINK balls.  Evidently when cooking the equivalent of 5 packs of bacon wrapped around meat balls it makes a whole heck of a lot of grease.  When the can overflows while you aren’t paying attention to the back side of the grill it makes a large mess that doesn’t make the wife happy.  The average user may never experience this, but if there is even a possibility that they could, an effort should be made to address the issue.

  1. Side Tables – I have no issue with the build quality or material of the side tables.  In fact I think those parts are great.  It is a minor nit pick but I would like at least one of the side table to be be able to hold a large aluminum pan.  I found myself sitting larger square pans on top of the hopper vice on the side tables. Understandably, making a larger side table would negatively affect the overall footprint of the unit, which could be considered a larger negative.
  2. Digital Up/Down Controls – Some folks will want a more precise control panel other than the one that is currently offered on the Grilla.  They will say they need control in 5 degree increments vice 15 degree.  I understand their reasoning, but I have to say I don’t necessarily agree.  I think this “precision panel” could be offered as an option for those that feel that strongly about it, but isn’t an absolute requirement.

  1. A Cover – All high end cookers are an investment.  To protect that investment the Grilla should either ship with a weather proof heavy duty cover or one should be offered as an option.  It is my understanding that one is in development.  I will be buyer number 1 when it is officially released.
  2. Price – After having the Grilla for a few weeks and comparing it with other pits I have to say I like it.  I really, really like it.  The only thing I found myself the least bit unsure about was the price.  The Grilla s a premium product, made in the USA and has no corners cut.  That means it also has premium pricing.  Is $1495 shipped expensive?  Yes.  Is it worth it?  With all factors weighed and lived with I can’t imagine not having the Grilla.  Therefore I would have to say “yes, it is worth it” and it gets a complete recommendation from me.

How To Get One

The availability of the Grilla is limited as of this writing.  I know Fahrenheit Technologies is working hard to bring dealers online and get units out to stores.  For now though to get one you  can order directly from their web store or contact Fahrenheit by phone at  616.392.7410 or email them at getcooking@mygrilla.com for more information.  Pricing as of this writing it is $1495 shipped to your door.    

Parting Thoughts

My time with the Grilla has changed my thoughts on cooking.  I still don’t think I am ready to give up any of my other cookers because  they each serve a purpose.   I will say that I am now a fan of pellet cooking. It has made some serious improvements since I first looked at it.  Most of which is just in general quality.  The pellets you can get now are a much higher quality and the pits you can get range from very cost conscious, mass produced units now being carried at Costco to very limited run, almost hand made units that you will have to get on a waiting list for.  The Grilla is certainly the latter of the two.  I am glad that my first real long term experience with a pellet pit was with one of such quality because I would pick a unit of less quality apart no matter how well it cooked.  I place a big premium on quality, always have, always will.  It is just who and what I am.  

If I had to put my thoughts about pellet cooking in general into one statement it would be this:  “Did I cook the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten on a pellet pit?  No, not yet.  Did I cook the best barbecue I’ve ever had for the least amount of effort?  YES, yes I most certainly did.”  I have had better barbecue.  That is the truth.  What is also true is that I’ve never had barbecue anywhere this good for the this small amount of effort.  For 98% of the people in this world the Grilla will make the best barbecue you’ve ever eaten.

The Grilla is a mainstay at my house now.  When it comes to everyday cooking or cooking for smaller groups, it’s just too easy not to have around and use.  I have to take my hat off to Jay Prince and Mark Graham for doing the impossible: changing my mind about pellet cooking!

 

 

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The Big Green Egg XL vs The Grilla: A Comparison

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When I first saw the Grilla in person a few things jumped out at me.  First, it was very unique but mildly ugly at initial glance.  It took a closer look to really appreciate it.  It was that thought that brought me back to the purchase of our Big Green Egg XL (BGE  XL).  That triggered a whole host of other ideas that basically brought me to the realization that the Grilla, whether it intended to be or not, was basically a pellet powered BGE XL.  

That may sound odd at first but when you stop to consider price point, cooking ability and the size of both cookers, I think you can make a case for a side by side comparison.  So I have jotted down my thoughts comparing and contrasting the two in hope of helping someone who is currently considering either of these two units.  I understand before the first comparison is even made there will be members of both camps who will cry foul and make points contrary to my points.  I completely understand this, as I too am passionate about the barbecue pits I own.  This is just my take and comparison on the two having owned each and it is not a personal attack on you, your choice or your favorite barbecue contraption!  With that out of the way let’s begin.

The list below is in the order that ideas occurred to me and I did not change it for purposes of publishing.  Also in bold at the end of each paragraph I will list which unit is better in that particular category and include a tally at the very end.

– Size / Weight / Cooking Surface – Both the BGE XL and the Grilla take up approximately the same space when the BGE XL has it’s side tables (known as mates) folded down.  They are not the same weight with the Grilla weighing in at nearly 100lbs lighter.  The Grilla has a larger standard cooking area (488 sq in) than a Big Green Egg XL (452 sq in). An additional upper rack can be purchased for the BGE, but the reviews I’ve seen are mixed on this rack so I only compared what comes standard for this one piece.  Winner:  Grilla

– Assembly – For the Grilla there was none.  Once you remove the shipping and packing material, it is ready to go.  Nothing to put together, no shelves, no nest (a cradle of sorts made to elevate the Egg to a comfortable cooking height) to build, no hinge system for the lid, nothing.  (I can tell you there is nothing more unnerving than paying over $1200 for a XL Egg and to sit on pins and needles hoping the nest they provide actually holds this 200lbs + of ceramic up after you have put it together).  I understand why the BGE is shipped the way it is.  It is after all an egg and is fragile so I don’t see any real way around the assembly issue for BGE.  Winner:  Grilla 

– Sturdiness –  I’ve had our BGE XL for almost a year and I have already broken two parts.  Of those two parts, the first (the fire ring) was definitely my fault as I sat it down harder than I should have.  The second part was the plate setter that broke while I had it propped up and was reloading some charcoal while the plate setter was hot.  I don’t know in that particular instance that I was at fault.  It literally cracked like a saltine cracker and fell apart in the middle of a competition.  Honestly, I feel the way I reloaded the charcoal was in a manner in which any cook would have done.  I can’t necessarily blame BGE, I realize I am probably asking more of the unit than it was intended for by competing with it.  The rigors of competition and travelling are huge and unless a unit was designed with that in mind it might be a bridge too far.  I don’t foresee that being a problem with the Grilla as it is 18 gauge steel and has a great powder coat and no fragile parts.  I’ve only had the Grilla for a month and a half, but the Grilla wins here in my opinion.   Winner:  Grilla

– Lid – Each cooker has a unique take on lids.  The BGE uses what amounts to heavy duty springs to assist in the lifting and holding of it’s lid up.  This design works and I would hate to feel the full weight of it’s lid each time I had to open it.  The Grilla addresses the lid with a swing design.  There is no lid to take off or to lift up on a hinge, instead it slides open on a set of very smooth ball bearings.  The hinged lid on the BGE requires more space to the rear of the cooker, meaning it takes up more space while you are cooking with it.  The Grilla lid swings out of the way neatly and easily.  The BGE method of dealing with the lid does provide a little more access to the pit, but it is nominal in comparison.  All things considered for longevity of the moving parts, space, etc I have to give a very slight edge to the Grilla.  Winner:  Grilla

– Made Where? – This seems to be less of an issue for some people in our very global economy.  For me, though, it’s still a very important factor.  I served in the military and supporting products made in the USA is a priority to me, even when they cost more.  The Grilla is made in the good ole US of A by Americans in Michigan.  The BGE XL is made in Mexico.  Most of the Grilla’s pellet pit competitors are made in China.  They may be American companies but there are very few companies who actually manufacture pellet pits here.  Grilla does and, to be honest, that makes me proud.  I guess it is comforting to note that the BGE XL is at least made in North America.  Again for some this is a non issue and is far less important than overall price, for me it is an issue.  Winner:  Grilla

– Full Product Line – BGE is a well established company, with decades of experience and millions of happy customers.  They truly do have a BGE to fit just about every need.  I think most of them are just flat too small and that is why we bought an XL over the mini, small, medium or large.  Grilla currently offers only one size.  I don’t know if there are plans for a larger unit, but I hope so.  I have to give the nod to the BGE XL on this one.  Winner:  BGE XL

– Working Area – I think the BGE XL with it’s accessory “mate” shelves have about the same area as the Grilla’s shelves.  The difference though is that the BGE XL’s shelves are only blocked on the back side.  This allows larger pans to be balanced on the shelves.  If you only considered this factor I would say BGE is the slight winner.  If you take a minute to look at how the working area is constructed and the materials used I think there is a different story to tell.  The Grilla’s shelves are stainless steel and are a fixed part of the unit. They are also so sturdy I stood my 9yr old on one to test it.  I do not feel confident enough to stand a 60lb kid on my mate shelves, especially with as wobbly as the BGE is in its nest.  I am going to call this a draw.  Winner:  Draw

– Cook-ability – I think both the BGE XL and the Grilla win here.  The BGE XL wins because it can hit near crucible temps and you can find Royal Oak lump charcoal at nearly any hardware, big box store or grocery.  The Grilla wins because it is just flat out easier to cook with it.  You flip a switch and you achieve the temp you are looking for.  Some in the BGE XL camp will of course bring up that you can hook up a BBQ Guru device and nearly do the same thing.  Except you really can’t.  The Guru, as amazing as it is, still only works once you have arranged your coal in the BGE XL and lit a proper fire.  So no matter how you slice it, achieving the appropriate temperature is more difficult in the BGE XL.  Both units can cook for hours and hours on end with a load of fuel and both have turned out some of the best and easiest barbecue I’ve ever eaten.  If pellets were more of a mainstay and you could find them at any store I might give a slight edge to the Grilla.  Because they are slightly harder to find I think I’m calling this one too close to call.  Winner:  Draw

– Moving – Every single time I move our BGE XL, I  worry that I might break something.  This may not be as pronounced with smaller BGE’s or for those people who are not moving their BGE frequently.  I worry its going to tip or the nest is going to fall apart.  Sadly for BGE XL it would be so easy to fix this with a much better designed nest.  In fact the more I think about it, 90% of my personal complaints about the BGE XL center around that terrible contraption they pass off as a nest.  If you pay $1200+ for something that is fragile it should come with something that ensures it’s safety, something that adds a sense of sturdiness and stability, something that…well isn’t poorly made to be frank.  The Grilla is solid, easy to move and never gives you slightest pang of worry when moving it.  This honestly is something I probably would never have noticed had I not owned a BGE XL. Winner:  Grilla (by a mile)

– Accessorizing – Some people are all about the accessories that are available with a particular unit.  In this area I have to give the nod to the BGE XL.  There are accessories galore, most of which are over-priced, but they all seem to be of fairly good quality.  The Grilla is so new that there isn’t much in the way of accessories.  I think there will be in time, but I can only comment on what is available at the moment.  Winner:  BGE XL

– Roughing It – One of the negatives of all pellet pits is that they require electricity.  So the ability to take them tailgating or off to a hunting camp where electricity may not be available is a limiting factor.  Of course, some inventive pellet-heads have used batteries and generators but it’s not what the average guy would bother to do.  That said, the BGE XL does not require electricity, so it gets the nod here even though I think it is very fragile and hauling it to a deer camp would give me pause.  Winner:  BGE XL (by the slightest of margins)

– Price – I know the pricing on the BGE XL’s vary and some folks have gotten some great deals.  I will have to go only with what we paid for our BGE XL versus the shipped MSRP of the Grilla for comparison.  Our BGE XL, with Nest, Plate Setter, Mates, taxes, etc out the door was just over $1200.  The Grilla delivered to your door is $1495 (pricing based on information from Grilla and subject to change).  

First off the Eggheads will say “but you don’t have to buy the plate setter or the mates.” My reply would be “Yes, you really do”.  For low and slow cooking the plate setter isn’t an option, it’s a requirement.  The mates (shelves) are optional to some, but not to me.  Furthermore, many BGE owners would consider the purchase of a pit temperature control device such as a BBQ Guru’s Party Q a near requirement.  This unit is the entry level of the BBQ Guru devices and rings in at $130.  So by the time you factor all of that in we are talking very similar money.  

The next argument from Eggheads will be that “I only paid $1000 for the same set up you have”.  To that all I can say is:  “Great!  We worked a deal on ours but didn’t manage as good a deal as you did.”  All things considered such as options, assembly, etc I am honestly going to call this one a draw.  I know the BGE XL is technically cheaper, but I think you have to factor in the assembly time and accessories into the overall cost for this to be a like comparison.  Winner:  Draw     

– Community – For many having a lively community of users and experts to ask questions of and interact with is the single most important factor.  There are literally hundreds of sites dedicate to the BGE and kamado style cookers.  There are nearly an equal number of sites dedicated to pellet cooking.  No, the sites aren’t specifically for the Grilla, but you can bet there are plenty of pellet-heads out there to learn from.  All things considered I would say this is pretty even, but since the Eggheads have been around longer I can only assume they have had more time to amass a great amount of knowledge and recipes pertinent to their specific cooking platform.  Winner:  BGE XL (by a very slight margin)

                       

                                BGE                                  Grilla

Totals*:                       7                                         9

*all draws were listed as a win for both units

By my very nature I hate articles that call both units in a comparison a winner, it really is one of my biggest pet peeves.  The whole purpose in comparing something is to pick a winner.  Car and Driver and Consumer Reports does it and so should we as bloggers / reviewers.  In this case numerically the Grilla did win based solely on the categories but I think more consideration has to be given to the actual cook who is going to use the pit. With that said the big question obviously is:  which should you buy?  Well that depends.  🙂

The BGE XL is a fine cooker and I still enjoy cooking on it despite my complaints about the nest and it’s fragile nature.  For those that prefer a more hands on approach to cooking that includes lighting a fire and accessories then I would say the Egg is the winner.  I’ve turned out a lot of great barbecue on our BGE in the year we’ve had it.  I’ve even got a couple of trophies from the entries cooked on it.  It is versatile, it is proven and despite some corners being cut in quality in an effort to make better profit margins, it is still a good cooker.  

The Grilla is a fine cooker as well. I am learning to love it more each day and there really isn’t much to complain about other than price.  I think the buyer who loves the ease of flipping a switch and turning out great food with as little effort as possible will gravitate to the Grilla.  It’s hard not to love just how easy this cooker is and I know I can win trophies with it as well.  As the pellet options and availability are addressed, I think the pellet cooking world as a whole will over take much of the grilling/barbecue market.  That is just my personal opinion, but I think it’s a fairly safe bet at this point.  

You honestly cant go wrong with either choice as they are both fantastic cookers.  This is like trying to pick between a BMW and a Mercedes.  No matter what you will be well taken care of.  All I can say is I have driven both and as of this very moment if I had to write the checks over again I would likely buy the Grilla.  I recommend you taking a hard look at the type of cook you are and what your expectations are of a unit and apply what you read in this review accordingly.  

Happy Grillin’ Folks!

 

 

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My Life With A Tucker – How A BBQ Pit Changed It All

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I’m convinced there are things in this life that you are just meant to do, come across, have an effect on and be apart of. Some would call this fate or some sort of cosmic predestination or a series of random coincidences. I, for one, humbly believe in a much higher determining power and have always felt guided by that. The way in which we came to own a Tucker Cooker and the series of events that have unfolded since purchasing it has definitely been guided by a much higher power than I can comprehend most days. The way that one single decision to purchase a 900lb hunk of well crafted metal has so dramatically change my life, my family’s life and the future of my children still amazes me. This short story is an “around the camp fire” account of what took place before and has taken place since that fateful day back in June of 2009. Maybe I got some of the facts wrong or out of order, but this is a pretty good retelling of the story of the cooker that changed my life.

Spring 2008
Little did I know when I made the decision to pack up and move my family from Portsmouth, Virginia back home to West Kentucky that I would finally after over 30 years be doing what I was always meant to do. I had been everything from an Intelligence Specialist in the Navy to an IT System Administrator and even a mechanic in my friend Dave Diggman’s garage for a short time. I never hated any of those jobs. In fact, though I liked several of them, I never quite felt like I was doing what I had been put on this planet to do. After a lot of sleepless nights and being downsized from an IT job, it became clear it was time to make a move. I had no idea what I was moving to, mind you, but I knew in my heart that we were no longer supposed to be in Virginia.

Not long after moving and getting settled in, I started prodding my dad to teach me what he knew about barbecuing. Some of my earliest childhood memories include me playing below the cloud of cigarette smoke that hung just above the heads of the people eating in my Grandfather’s barbecue restaurant. It was everything you would imagine a 70’s barbecue joint should be, right down to the avocado colored décor. People came from miles around to that small eatery and while I had learned a few tricks from my Grandfather before his passing I figured it was time to learn more. It was also a way for me and Dad to reconnect, mend some fences and shake off the rust a bit.

Spring/Summer 2009
After cooking off and on for about a year I tossed out the idea of doing some competitions. I thought it would be great to resurrect the “Draper’s” name locally and have some fun at the same time. This led us to start searching online for mobile barbecue pits. I read every review, every forum and every comment I could find. I got a list of suspects that I thought would work for us and decided to take a few weekends and drive to the manufacturers and see these pits first hand. It was around that time I did a Google search for “bbq pit and Memphis” and found TuckerCooker.com. I had never heard of them at that point, but after visiting their page it looked like a pretty smart, well made product, but most importantly one I could sell “Mr. Moneybags” (a.k.a. my father) on plus it was close geographically. Alright, maybe my initial intentions were not the purest, but all’s well that ends well, right?

So I called up Tucker when this little voice answered the phone, I nearly thought I had the wrong number. A lady picked up just said “This is Tucker.” It took me a second to figure out that I had the right place and I was speaking to Holly, one of the owners. I half expected someone named Earl who sounded like he owned a junk yard and could bend sheet metal with his bare hands to answer the phone. After getting past that I peppered Holly with technical questions and minutia. She answered very directly and with certainty and I was impressed. So I decided we should take a trip and look at these Tucker Cookers first hand.

A few weeks later Dad and I headed down to Memphis for a “guys weekend.” The first stop was Tucker Cooker, of course. After all, a guy has to have his priorities straight. We could see the sights, eat at the famous places and have a good time later, but this was about seeing this pit first hand.

When we got there, we realized immediately, that Tucker was not your average large company that mass produces a product. Tucker HQ resides in a two story brick building that used to be a firehouse. It was not what we were expecting, but somehow it was better now that I think about it. Perhaps it was better because it was authentic, it was American, and it wasn’t outlandish or ostentatious.

We met George and Holly, saw the pit, went over every square inch of it and I knew within 20 minutes we would be leaving that weekend with one. It was exactly what we were looking for, but better yet it was backed by the right people. George and Holly made a distinct impression on us. They are confident in their product and are unwilling to compromise on any part of the build process. What struck me above everything else was that these pits are made a few at a time, mostly by hand by George and his small staff of fabricators.

The idea that one man in America can still have an idea, bring it to fruition, run a company and still be so intimately involved with the product, well, that just resonated with me. That was the spark that lit the fuse; even though I didn’t know it at the time.

We gladly wrote the check and brought the pit home and started cooking. Of course we got the expected reaction of shock from friends and family when we returned home, but that was half the fun honestly. My family is not known for spending fair sized sums of money on “toys” or “frivolous things.” We are more of a blue collar sort so there was some getting used to the idea that my Dad and I perhaps had just lost our marbles.

About George and Holly
I just want to take a small side road for a minute and say a word or two and George and Holly specifically. For those of you that don’t know, Holly is the glue that holds Tucker together. She does about everything except think up and build the pits. There is nothing this little lady can’t do and she is tough as nails and as sweet as ice tea. That is not to discount George. If George had an evil bone in his body he would be an evil genius, but he doesn’t so what you get is one of the smartest men I know. The only thing that rivals George’s engineering prowess is his heart, which is about the size of Alaska. Together these two are the heart and soul that keep Tucker Cooker going. I have never seen a corner cut, an easy path taken or an ounce of quit in either of them. George and Holly are committed to excellence and the values that once made America exceptional. They are two of the most amazing and genuine people you will ever meet. I am proud to consider them a part of my family, just as they welcome every new Tucker owner into their family.

Fall 2009 / Winter 2010
It was about this time that I had started getting uncomfortable with serving “Draper’s Barbecue” with sauce that was from another company. We were heading into our first competition; it was a very small event consisting exclusively of backyard cooking types, called Carlislefest. So I decided to figure out a sauce to put on ribs for the turn-in there. Some of you know the further back story of Dad more or less saying there is no way I could make a better sauce than Sweet Baby Ray’s. That was the other half of the fuel that fed the fire of my stubbornness and led to the first few batches of what would eventually become Smokin’ Sauce. In that small competition we took 2nd in ribs. I still think we got that based on sauce because I jacked up those ribs when I cooked them, they were not close to being tender enough for turn in, but something had to go into the box.

Not too long after that I got a message from Holly asking us if we wanted to come down and cook in Memphis in May. Tucker Cooker was going to pay the entry fee and invite a handful of Tucker owners down to cook in the event. Between you and me at that point in time I had no business going down there and cooking, but to be honest I knew we would regret not going. So I responded to Holly and told her to throw our names in the hat. Once the categories were divided up I sheepishly took the seafood and tomato sauce categories, thinking no one else wanted them anyway so even if I tanked not much would get said.

It was the pressure of wanting to do well at Memphis that really shaped the flavor profiles of what I worked on for the remainder of the winter. I really buckled down and tried to balance out some of the flavors. I needed something that would speak to southern sensibilities but yet come off as unique and refined. I probably spent $500 on supplies and ingredients going through about 30 gallons of ketchup before I got something that I thought was pretty darned good and would at least wash out in the middle of the pack for judging at a world class event.

During the process of finalizing the sauce I started also playing around with different flavor blocks of spices that I could use. This eventually led to what is now known as A.P. (All Purpose) Rub. I ended up with a list of spices that didn’t make the cut in the sauce, but dove-tailed nicely with the spices that are in the sauce. Think of examples like cinnamon and nutmeg. I wanted to build two products that were good on their own, but when mixed together became this whole other experience. In the beginning I honestly had no intention of marketing or selling A.P. Rub. It was just supposed to be something we made and kept for ourselves and for competitions. So after getting the rub to a point I was happy with it, I more or less tabled the product and didn’t think much about it again for almost a year.

Spring/Summer 2010
Time marched on and before I knew it Dad and I were on our way to Memphis in May with our Tucker Cooker in tow. We had no idea what to expect, no clue what to do really other than just be ourselves and cook.

To say that we were a bit awe struck when we got there is an understatement. I mean we were shaking hands with and talking to people who we saw on TV and people whose barbecue books we had on our shelves. It was so very surreal and amazing at the same time. I think it was right then that I realized that barbecue people are a special breed. We didn’t meet one single stuck up, snobby person. They were all genuine, nice, hard working and for the most part humble. If all of America were this way we would have fewer problems as a country, let me tell you.

Our team mates for that event were all great. Most of which I would consider life long friends now. Such a great cast of characters and each deserve a whole chapter to do them justice. I will be a bit self indulgent and say a word or two about each though, so skip ahead if you wish. Capt’n Ron – Just a fine human being and one of the most talented cooks I’ve worked with. Danny – The purest barbecue guy I know. He raises pigs, barbecues them and wins. He’s forgotten more about barbecue than I will probably ever get to learn. Hoyt – Such a humble, great spirit and he makes some of the craziest concoctions in a blender for wings you have ever seen, but they are always good. Richard – yet another great cook, with many trophies and a great memory book and he gave me my first ABT. Scott and Shannan – what a crazy couple they are, each a fireball and great cooks and bartenders. Todd – Definitely dances to the tune inside himself that no one else can hear. Such a great guy that we could all learn something from, being on time is not one of those things, though.

In that event Team Tucker didn’t set the world on fire, but we did manage a 9th place in chicken from Capt’n Ron and our sauce ended up tied for 12th place if memory serves me correctly. All I truly remember is coming out of that event thinking “I just scored in the top 10% at Memphis, wow that is something.”

So we took that “something” and came home and started getting numbers together to see how much it would cost to get our sauce into bottles. We spent the rest of the summer taste testing different batches, making labels, forming a corporation and raising money to pay for all the expenses we were incurring.

Fall 2010
All the work that was done over the summer started to pay off. We finally managed to get our first 50 gallon batch of sauce into production. The bottling company we were working with nailed the recipe and were just great to work with through the whole process. Anyone that knows me knows I can be very, well, let’s go with “exacting” here to preserve my reputation. When it comes to labels, graphics, sauces, rubs, anything I create, I accept no compromise and make no apologies. “If it’s not right, it’s not happening,” are the words I try to live by.

We took delivery of our first batch of sauce just before Carlislefest. We are quite proud of that first batch and I personally wondered if we would ever get to order a second. The sauce didn’t sell very well at Carlislefest, that was ok and we understood that crowd was not necessarily the best place for our sauce.

I figured out a few things about being a sauce seller pretty quickly. First, people don’t want to take a chance on an upper end sauce in October and November. Second, people are not as excited about your product; no matter how good it is, as you are. Third, talking to store owners in person with an honest story, a firm handshake and in a gracious, humble manner will get them to at least put a case on their shelves. Fourth, people are more interested in a complete product line than just a single sauce. So I had to get our rub into production immediately. Lastly, and most important, if Draper’s BBQ Smokin’ Sauce had a snowballs chance in Hades, I had better get good at making sales online and at Social Media because I couldn’t sell enough in my local area to keep this company alive.

Winter 2011
The next couple of months were spent identifying and more or less stalking the people that, as best I could tell, were doing this Social Media thing well and having success. One of my quotes that have gotten around of late is that I often say “I went to the DivaQ school of Twitter.” I mean that in all seriousness and with the greatest bow of gratitude and appreciation to Danielle Dimovski I can muster. I genuinely took notes on how she did things and started emulating it and making it my own. DivaQ is more than Danielle; it is an entity on its own. Don’t get me wrong it does encapsulate Danielle’s personality and is driven by her, but DivaQ has life outside of who Danielle is. It is a brand. Draper’s BBQ (or DBQ as I had dubbed it) had to become a brand as well.

I also spent time finding a spice company that was willing to start packaging our product in small batches. Thankfully getting the labels complete and all the graphics went along much faster this time since I could now borrow heavily from the work that was done for Smokin’ Sauce. We were very fortunate and found a wonderful company to work with that helped launch several barbecue rub brands. We were pushing very hard for a pre-Christmas launch date for the rub and I wanted to do a specialty gift box of the sauce, rub and a personal recipe that we had been using out on the competition circuit for the “Any Thing Butt” category. The rub company was able to oblige us with fifty, one pound foil packs of our rub just in time. I put together the boxes, hand numbered and signed each and every recipe and note that went in there and they were a hit. We sold out very quickly and I managed to stick a couple back to send out for review boxes. That turned out to be a very good thing and helped us during the next phase.

After the Social Media engine started rolling I moved to the next phase, which was getting the sauce and rub into anyone’s hand that had working taste buds, access to the internet and who was willing to write an honest and fair review. Remember the first part of the story where I mentioned there are some people you are just meant to come across and me feeling guided by a higher power, so goes the story of the first national review of Smokin’ Sauce by Brian and Marilyn Meagher of HotSauceDaily.com.

I never intended for HotSauceDaily.com to review our products first. In fact I had already contacted another very well known sauce site to review Smokin’ Sauce, but after emailing back and forth I realized we would be very far down on their schedule. So I started looking around for other review sites and literally stumbled onto HotSauceDaily.com. While reading their reviews I listened to a podcast that included none other than Danielle Dimovski and thought, “if it’s good enough for her to be on then why not.” So I made contact with Brian and shipped him one of the Christmas gift boxes.

I was impressed by how Brian and Marilyn really took time with not just the product but took time to get to know me as a manufacturer. It’s not many reviewers that want to talk to you on the phone and basically do an interview with you prior to doing a product review. In fact, more times than not many review sites and blogs come off as just wanting some free stuff more so than trying to really get to know the product. How much Brian and Marilyn care really shows through in every review they do. They are very genuine and caring people and since the review they have become good friends and people I hold in very high regard. They have a lock on being the first reviewers of anything that Draper’s BBQ does.

The mailing out of review boxes became a weekly thing for a few months. We did our best to blanket the market. Along the way we continued to make new friends very much like Brian and Marilyn. To quickly name a few of my personal favorites in the review blog-o-sphere, in no particular order: Grilling With Rich – Rich is just a great guy, big heart and fun to be around and a die hard fan of the products. Patio Daddio – I never miss John Dawson’s blog. He has fantastic recipes and is a very honest and highly respected reviewer. Big Wayne – Wayne is a great guy and fellow IT guy. Hard working, highly motivated and die-hard lover of all things barbecue. Kevin’s BBQ Joints – Kevin has the best restaurant listing of any blog, period. Great guy, he and his family are very staunch DBQ lovers. OshawaOgre – Wilfred has one of the best Canadian blogs. To top it off he’s a fantastic guy with such a good spirit about barbecue. NibbleMeThis – Chris is not only an amazing cook and Big Green Egg fanatic, he is also an amazing photographer. I could go on for days about the blogger friends. If you were not mentioned specifically it was not intentional. I could literally fill two pages with my thoughts on each of my blogger friends. These are just a very quick list of those that happened by my Twitter feed while writing this.

Spring 2011
From my chance encounter with HotSauceDaily.com I came to learn about Greg Rempe and his BBQ Central Radio Show. To be honest I thought it was a bit silly at first, I mean a radio show about barbecue, who would bother to listen to that? Well, barbecue people, of course, and die hard ones at that. After listening to a few episodes and then being in the chat room of a live show once I was hooked. Greg does a fantastic job as a radio host and is just a riot most days. It was listening to his show one night that Scott Roberts, a well known hot sauce blogger, was slated to be on. I was listening to it in the living room from my laptop, I happened to be in the kitchen when my son said “dad they just said our name on your computer.” I, being the much more smart and rational one, told him that he must have been mistaken. By that time I had came back to the living room to hear Scott Roberts reviewing Smokin’ Sauce. I had no idea he was going to be reviewing our products, much less doing so on the radio show. I had sent Scott a review package a couple of months earlier and had no idea of when we would fall into his review cycle of products. Well, I found out right then, live on the air for all to hear. To say that I was equal parts mortified and excited would be fair. Thankfully as my turn came in the barrel Scott was very gracious, gave us a very high review and liked our products very, very much.

Stuff like that you just can’t make up. What a crazy series of events that had to line up to make that one moment of me, my wife and my son all gathered around my laptop eagerly listening to what Scott and Greg would say next. It was an almost unreal moment but very rewarding at the same time.

Over the winter Tucker Cooker contacted us again and we were invited to Memphis in May again. I of course said “yes” to the invitation again and I decided this time would be different. The previous year I did my best impersonation of a wall flower and stayed out of the way and did what I could to absorb and learn everything I could from everyone around me. This time I wanted to go down there and really do the work and see how well we could do. This year we had entered what I consider to be the pinnacle of all cook off categories, whole hog. This is where the big kids go play. Most teams won’t enter the whole hog category. It takes a different breed of team to do well there.

For that years MIM I was on the hook for the tomato sauce category again, vinegar sauce, seafood again, doing the presentation for on site judging and helping Capt’n Ron cook the whole hog with direction from Danny. It was a fairly full plate, especially considering I have never done ANY on site presenting for MBN. I had seen it done, not exceptionally well might I add, a time or two. I figured I used to brief Officers in the Navy the daily intelligence summary, I’ve been to the Persian Gulf twice and been in real world messes where people’s lives were on the line, this MBN presenting thing shouldn’t be that hard. Besides, I can bs with the best of them and talk about barbecue to anyone, so why not do this too? What I didn’t do that I wish I had done though was practice. I did fine and we even managed a couple of 10s on our presentation from the judges. The first judge gave us a 9 because Ron and I weren’t quite polished enough. The second and third judges I was ready for and did a much better job, as did Ron. We deserved the scores we got and I knew I could have helped our team more had I not let my ego get in the way by not practicing. It was a lesson that needed relearning at that time. I am still very proud of what Ron and I were able to do that day on no sleep and next year we will do even better, that I can promise.

For that year’s MIM I decided not to turn in Smokin’ Sauce again. It would be easy enough to do and to hope we did even better than the previous year, but I just wanted to honestly challenge myself and see if I could put lightening into a bottle twice. What I settled on for the next sauce was something inspired by the idea of honey barbecue, but tangy and not just sweet. After several rounds of testing I came up with what I thought to be a very solid offering. This sauce wound up taking 6th place overall, which we were very proud of. After eating the sauce a few more times and doing some more thinking I decided to change up the recipe. I knew I had a good sauce, I mean the judges at Memphis in May told me that much, but I didn’t feel I had a great sauce. At least I thought I could make it better. My wife told me I was crazy to nix a sauce that had done so well in favor of a revamped version. Once I was done revamping she quickly became a fan. This is nice, because to be honest I don’t think to this day she cares for Smokin’ Sauce very much. The newest offering was dubbed “Sweet Tang” first and foremost as a play on words but also because it very much described what we had. It was a sticky, sauce that was sweetened only by honey that had a fair amount of tanginess to it but also maintained some of the layers that made Smokin’ Sauce famous.

The Bottom of the 1st Bottle
I could continue on writing what has happened through this past summer and even what is about to happen going into this fall. I prefer however to leave those chapters unwritten at this point. I think that stories like this are best written from the softly lit vantage point of retrospect versus the harsher light of the moment. It is true that we always remember things better than they were, I like it that way. I also like being able to include the points in a story that really show the series of oddly placed dominos that get a person from one point in time to another. Along the way those dominos may not seem interconnected or related at all, but in the clarity of hindsight it’s much easier to see how it was a meant to be.

From being a downsized IT guy in Virginia to innocently buying a barbecue pit to now being a CEO of a budding sauce company. Never, in my wildest dreams would I have thought buying a barbecue pit would have led me down this path. It’s my path though, the one I was meant to be on and I am humbled and thankful to be on it.

Thanks for reading…

Shane Draper
shane@drapersbbq.com
www.drapersbbq.com

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