With a plethora of options to choose from, it can be hard to decide on the best smoker for BBQ restaurants. However, it becomes easier once you break it down in to the what, why, and how behind creating the best BBQ in a commercial setting. Understanding the process behind smoked meat can shed light on how certain equipment functions to create the flavors, textures, and appearance of the mouth-watering meat we all can’t seem to get enough of.
FROM FIRES TO BBQ RESTAURANTS: THE HISTORY OF SMOKED MEAT
Perhaps the most famous “smokers of meat” were the Caribbean natives who smoked it on a rack over a smoky fire, a setup they called “barbacoa” (one possible etymological origin of barbecue). In America, Kansas City native, Henry Perry was the pioneer of restaurant BBQ in 1907 and by 1932 was deemed, “The Barbecue King” not just because he was first, not just because he eventually had 3 restaurants, but because, “the special way I prepare my meats. Cooking only over a fire made from hickory and oak woods the meat gets that delicious flavor which is the cause of the tremendous popularity of barbecued meats.” From here, it was game on for BBQ Restaurants, which started popping up all over the United States with various styles and techniques leading to the regional styles we have today.
Innovation was bound to happen, as the popularity of BBQ restaurants grew and in 1968 inventor Herbert Oyler of Mesquite, TX, started to build wood-fired smokers with shelves that revolved around an axle like a Ferris wheel, allowing all the meat to get even heat and smoke, and increasing capacity. During the same time in the early 1970’s Ole Hickory was started to solve the same problem: the need for better, more consistent ways to smoke meat. Since there was no way to control the heat, cooking consistency and the need for constant attention were continuing problems.
Fires, temperature control and direct labor were big problems for the barbecue industry using brick pits, steel barrels and other similar contraptions. David B. Knight, founder and President of the company, uses the experience gained from the early days of the barbecue restaurant and the knowledge gained from pit design and use to help others stay on the cutting edge of the barbeque industry.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST SMOKER FOR COMMERCIAL SMOKED MEATS
There are a variety of commercial smoker options BBQ restaurants can choose from. The offset smoker, the electric smoker, the wood fired oven, the wood fired gas smoker, coal pit and a pellet smoker/grill are the most popular types. Each of these different units contribute unique taste, appearance and texture qualities to the finished product. “Purchasing the right one for your restaurant is imperative, because the smoker you choose will directly impact daily operations in the kitchen as well as the flavor and texture of the food smoked.” – https://www.business.com/articles/commercial-smoker-guide-restaurants/
At Bird Dog BBQ, we choose to use wood fired ovens from Ole Hickory Pits. Why? Jess Pryles, a cook, author, and TV personality specializing in the field of meat, with a particular expertise in beef, explains perfectly: “The wood fired oven produces excellent quality barbecue, but requires (depending on how deluxe the model is) little if any human interaction after the initial meats are loaded, aside from adding in the occasional log. Operators still need to know what temp to cook at, and figure out how long their meats take, but once they have that dialed in, the rest is a cake walk. So basically, these units have all the flavor without most of the difficulties and laboriousness of offset pits. It’s a tough combo for a commercial restauranteur to resist.”
Within the wood fired oven style smokers, there are even more options.
- Offset smokers are known for their ability to imbue foods with a rich wood and smoke flavor. The downside for commercial use is that they require an expert hand and lots of attention.
- Vertical or Upright Smokers are popular in restaurant kitchens because they take advantage of vertical space. Upright smokers tend to be low-maintenance and easy to use. They utilize digital controls that allow users to set times and temperatures in advance, making them ideal for overnight or all-day smoking.
- Compact Smokers are built to fit underneath commercial charbroilers. This type of smoker is best for restaurants that only have a few dishes requiring a wood-infused flavor, as their capacity is limited.
- Rotisserie Smokers are intended to smoke meats as they rotate. The design allows for evenly cooked meats and puts out a quality, consistent product without the need of continuous monitoring from employees.
At Bird Dog BBQ, we use the final type on the list, the rotisserie smoker. We specialize in consistent, quality, oak smoked meats and this style of smoker allows us to deliver the highest quality product, every day, to every guest at our 3 locations.
WHAT MAKES BIRD DOG BBQ AND OTHER BBQ RESTAURANTS CHOOSE OLE HICKORY PITS
If you want to be able to smoke with real wood in an urban area, Ole Hickory is the only way to go. Though our Ole Hickory Pits smokers are identified as being, “gas fired and wood enhanced” this description can be flipped, depending on the user’s intent and attention. At Bird Dog BBQ, and at many other real BBQ restaurants who choose this type of smoker, the ability to switch to gas is utilized only when absolutely necessary. In our case, we use it when we need to start the smoker or when the wood needs to be reignited to continue to burn at the desired temperature. What we don’t do, is throw in 1 piece of wood and then let the gas take over, (a common practice by chain BBQ restaurants to decrease costs as well as attention required by employees). The ability to tailor these smokers to the specific needs/desires of your restaurant puts them at the top of the list.
During the 10 years the owner of Bird Dog BBQ worked in BBQ restaurants throughout Oklahoma, Missouri, and Florida he learned that Ole Hickory Pits put out the best smoker for commercial BBQ. In fact, these smokers were the only automated smokers the best BBQ restaurants used, and as a result he became familiar with the quality, versatility, and durability of Ole Hickory Pits smokers.
We can all use flowery language, but specifically, as a restaurant owner here are a few specific factors in our decision:
- All Ole Hickory Pits smoker parts are interchangeable throughout the sizes. They can also be found at most hardware stores.
- Ole Hickory Pits provides excellent customer service. For 14 years, Bird Dog BBQ has had the same account representative. Enough said.
- When it is necessary to order parts or have someone come in to do a repair, the work is always consistent and of high quality.
Don’t believe us? Check out the BBQ Brethran, where the pros all agree,
“My friend buys Old Hickory exclusively for competition and his catering simply because they stand behind the product.”
“I’ve never heard a single bad thing about Ole Hickory and the food which comes off of them is fantastic.”
John Snedden, The owner of Washington’s four Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling Company restaurants has been cooking over an all-wood fire since he opened his first outlet in Glover Park more than 20 years ago. “The all-wood experience, you just couldn’t beat it. It was always more unique and more flavorful.” Snedden, who uses red oak and hickory, says that all-wood cooking is a constant challenge. He cites safety — “we’re dealing with a live fire” — along with labor-intensiveness and ever-rising wood costs. So, why not install an oven? “We ask ourselves that, and it’s very simple,” he says. “At the end of the day, if we do it right, it’s a superior product.”
We hear you John Snedden, and at Bird Dog BBQ we will continue to serve the best BBQ Colorado Springs has to offer.