Thanks for checking out this post on Rockin W Smokers – a “craft distillery of BBQ Pits” out of Hurst, Texas (between Dallas and Fort Worth) where owner and chief pit architect Daniel Wright crafts a fine selection of custom offset and gravity feed smokers. In this post, we’ll take a look at how Daniel got started building these incredibly well-designed insulated smokers, how he’s growing his business, and what some folks who are using Rockin W Smokers on the competition circuit have to say about how they’re performing.
Rockin W Smokers of Texas: The Craft Distillery of BBQ Pits
You’ll have to pardon the hyperbole with the phrase “craft distillery of BBQ Pits.” The BBQ world is full of “big talk,” and in many cases, that talk don’t “WALK!” Lord knows there’s no shortage of really good BBQ Smokers on the market, and I should know as I have used a few great BBQ smokers myself.
That said, I really like what I have come to learn about the operation Daniel has established in his home state of Texas.
Raised up in the world of auto racing and building construction, where he honed his welding and metal fabrication skills, Daniel and his family recently returned to Texas after a long stint up in Alaska where he was working as a building contractor. Today, Daniel Wright and company have established a booming custom insulated offset and vertical smoker fabrication business that has at least 50 of his units on the market with a long list of orders in tow.
How I Came Across Rockin W Smokers…
I had the good fortune of coming across Rockin W Smokers via Anthony Minderman of Pitbull Competition BBQ Team of Tacoma, WA (formerly of Fairbanks, Alaska).
Now, you’re probably thinking the same thing I was thinking the first time I envisioned BBQ Competitions in Alaska. Brrrrr! Obviously, it’s not snow 24/7. But if you don’t think holding temps is a challenge at events like the Alaska BrrBq Competition, think again.
Anthony has so many good things to say about what Daniel had done to fabricate well insulated and rock-solid-temp holding smokers crafted especially for the wind and cold temperature variations experienced up there in Alaska, I had to learn more about Rockin W Smokers and their operation.
So, I called up Daniel, spoke a good while with him, and this is what I learned.
Rockin W Smokers: From Texas – to Alaska – and Back
Daniel Wright grew up in Texas as part of a car racing and building construction family, so he was introduced at an early age to BBQ – God’s greatest gift to humankind.
His family got their first smoker in 1984 when he was eleven, and in his words – this is where his love affair with smoked meat began. Of course, as is the case with many of us who start out in BBQ at the entry level – those first cooks were less than awesome.
“By God we ruined a lot of meat during those early days,” Daniel joked during our call. “They were putting pretty much whatever wood they could find around the house into the smoker — stuff that was not what you’d consider good cooking wood.” Things eventually improved, and 30 years later Daniel’s putting out much better BBQ.
In 2002, Daniel and his family moved from Texas to Fairbanks, Alaska, where he started working as a building contractor. Since he was a good 4,000 miles away from his family’s smoker back in Texas and wanted to cook BBQ, he broke down and purchased his first “box store” smoker.
“Man, I realized real quick how inefficient those smokers really are – especially when you’re trying to smoke a brisket a -40 degrees F. I’d be up all night trying to keep even temps on that thing. Given my background in building race cars and houses, I decided to build my own smoker.
After Daniel built that first BBQ smoker, he had a friend of his Father’s who was a smoker builder take a look and provide some feedback on improvements that could be made. Once those changes were implemented, Daniel tweaked the design here and there for more than a year so in order to produce a product that would keep rockin’ steady no matter the weather or conditions.
“With the extreme cold weather I was in at the time, I designed my unique air intake for the offset pits to pre-heat the air giving me a clean easy to manage fire during those -40 degree F cooks. This greatly improved the quality of the smoke profile, giving the smoker a nice, clean burn.”
Now, before I continue with the story of Rockin W Smokers, I want to give you some insight into the goodness Daniel and his family have in their hearts where BBQ and community are concerned. No shortage among BBQ folks, I know – but it’s always nice to share the stories…
Wright Family’s BBQ Efforts Helping Those in Need
This larger, more well-regulated pit enabled Daniel and his family to do some real good there in the community where they lived.
“We were in charge of cooking BBQ for the high school football team after games. For a couple of years there – we cooked food for all the high school football players and their families after every game.”
“We’d donate all the meat and things needed for the cook, and it became a great tradition for the school. We were doing it for North Pole High School there in Alaska, and we’d trailer the smoker down as far as Anchorage, about 350 miles away, to feed the kids after those games.
We had a lot of kids whose families didn’t really have the means to spend a lot of money on food and stuff. There were about five or six kids on the team who were homeless. We were doing real well with our construction business, so we used what we had to help them out. At least we knew they were going to get regular good meals at least one night a week.”
Again – we all know that Operation BBQ and other BBQ folks are always doing good works with ‘cue. Add the Wright family to the long list of “good vibe” producers.
Rockin W Smokers Gets Bit by the Alaska BBQ Competition Bug
While tweaking and modifying his smoker designs, Daniel started entering into a few Alaska BBQ Association competitions. He’d cooked a couple of competitions down in Texas with his father in the late 1990s including the Chisholm Trail Roundup in Forth Worth, TX in 1998 as well as the Meridian, TX National Championship Barbecue Cookoff.
In 2010, Daniel started competing in Alaska, where they have only about 2 or 3 competitions a year – averaging about 28 teams at the most. I’d say that’s pretty good given um…. it’s Alaska! In any event – Daniel and his team started having success, and since he was the only person around building smokers – orders from other teams started rolling in.
Rockin W Smokers gained such a strong following in Alaska that over the last several years, few teams cooking competition BBQ in Alaska have won on any other type of smoker. All the while, Rockin W Smokers rolled on through some serious low temperatures. Remember that BrrBQ event I referenced earlier? Where temps get around -20 to -40 degrees F? Rockin W Smokers or smokers built by them has a reputation for winning there, too!
The Road Back Home to Texas
After returning back to Texas late in the fall of 2014 to complete two large construction projects, Daniel built himself a new pit to do a few BBQ competitions there. A few people had heard he was down in Texas building a pit and asked if he would build them one at the same time.
Soon, that one pit he started building for himself turned into six within a few weeks. Before he could get the first six built in Texas, he had his first dealer interested. Ten more orders rolled in, so he opened his Hurst, Texas shop Rockin W Smokers operates out of today.
Current Rockin W Smokers Location:
3417 Raider Dr Suite #7
Rockin W Smokers is still very much a small-scale, custom operation, and Daniel does the majority of work on each smoker himself to make sure they all receive the same level of detail he’d want in his own personal use smokers.
Put in his own words – “We are still a small company that is more concerned with quality verses quantity, but we are getting close to having 50 smokers on the market as of February 2016.”
Smoker Styles and Build Methodology
Rockin W Smokers fashions both offset and gravity-fed style BBQ Smokers. From the start, Daniel has followed a specific design mentality where the firebox and heat management of his smokers is concerned.
I’ve provided a few pits for you to see here. Just click each photo for larger versions.
“We built our first smokers and really tried to perfect the concept of air placements. In many offset smokers like the ones people buy at the store, you eventually have to wrap your brisket whatever you’re cooking or its going to make your meat too smoky. These smokers we make now, you can cook unwrapped the entire time and it’s not going to oversmoke your meat.”
“We use insulated doors and fireboxes that incorporate an air baffle system that goes through and pre-heats the air and gets your incoming air in cold weather pre-heated so you end up with a very clean burning fire. I kind of built it for the colder weather we experienced in Alaska, but it works very well in high wind conditions as well.”
For those of you who are a little less well-versed in fire management with offset smokers, what Daniel is doing is conditioning the air as it comes into the smoker before it hits the fire. The way the fire runs, it has a lot to do with where the air hits the fire. As Daniel put it, “everybody just assumes you build a smoker and the fire in it will burn. Well, yeah. But the question is where will the air come in contact with the fire, and how clean will the fire burn? How efficient is the fuel going to be?”
What Daniel has done is pay close attention to where the air hits the fire. “Say you have a smoker and you have all of your air go in above the fire. That’s going to produce the smokiest possible fire you can get. If you have your air come in all underneath the coals, you’re going to have the cleanest burning fire possible. You have to make it so you have a balance between a clean burning fire and a fire that produces just the right amount of smoke. Somewhere between the bottom and the top is the sweet spot. Actually, I have some of the air that will come in from the top and some from the bottom. That’s how our smokers achieve what I feel is the best possible fire management profile possible.”
And, as Daniel explained to me, this baffled airflow management system adds a lot of stability to the fire and smoke profile on windy days, as the air isn’t coming in directly at the fire itself.
Rockin W Smokers – Firebox Insulation
Insulation on the Rockin W Smokers’ fireboxes helps a ton as well. Industry standard insulation on fireboxes, according to Daniel’s calculations, is 2 inches. While their gravity feed smokers use 2 inches of insulation, Rockin W Smokers’ upper end professional offset smokers use 4 inches of firebox insulation. That is to say, there are 4 inches of space between the sheet metal on the outside of the firebox and the space where the firebox itself sits. Filling this 4 inch space is a mix of ceramic and mineral wool insulation.
Fine Tuning Per Customer Need
I asked Daniel if he customized the smoke profile for his buyers upon request, and his response was that he did not. “I make my smokers how I make them, and we feel they do a fine job as is.” He did say that if someone comes in and wants a smoker built for all hot and fast cooking, he would extend the stack to allow for more of a draft to accommodate that.
So we covered the air intake system and insulation components of Daniel’s Rockin W Smokers. I then asked him whether there were any other features or components he’d worked out for his smokers that he thinks provides a better overall experience for cook teams or caterers.
Even Cooking – Even When Overloaded
“We’ve worked hard to perfect the airflow to where we have no more than 5 to 10 degrees difference from one side of the smoker to the others. We went over all of the hot spots and addressed those to where we feel we offer a smoker that affords the end user a real even overall cook across the cook chamber.”
Of course there are times when cooks need to push the limits of their pits – especially for those catering gigs that help cover the cost of competing. Daniel has considered this where his smokers are concerned.
“We’ve also set up the airflow so that it helps keep things even at times when cooks can sometimes overload the cooker, say, when vending or catering needs run high. In fact, we allow you to run such small, clean fires that even in these cases, all you need to do if you see the temperature gauge move is just throw another stick on the fire and sit tight. We get a nice bed of coals going and just feed in split log pieces of about 12 inches long and 3 to 4 inches in diameter once an hour. That seems to keep the temperature steady and gives a nice smoke profile with a small, clean fire.”
“Say, I’ll get to a competition on Friday night and I want to start cooking at 10 PM. I’ll start the fire at say 7 or 8 just so I can have the pit running ready. The temperature is pretty much set at that point to where management becomes very easy.”
Rockin W Smokers – The Oven Option
Another feature Anthony Minderman said I needed to ask Daniel about is the “Oven” addition that can be fitted onto the professional grade offset Rockin W Smokers. I referred to it as a Pizza Oven, but Daniel was quick to affirm that it works really great for anything you want to cook.
“I built it originally to be a warmer on the first smoker I built, and I realized real quick that it was much too hot to be a warmer. I adjusted things a bit after that and what we have now is a unit that has air controls on it so you can adjust the heat inside the oven itself.”
“We do cinnamon rolls the mornings of competitions, and people also love these ovens for the pizzas they turn out. I put expanded metal grates in the oven itself, and we just cut a metal plate to go on the grates. It’s kind of like cooking on a pizza stone, but it’s made of steel. So, it’s more like you’re cooking on a cast iron surface.”
“We did a King Crab Pizza for the Alaska State Championship last year, which had onsite judging. The judges showed up and we pulled that pizza right out of the oven. It made for quite a presentation.”
The oven also has a nice use during competition in terms of your meats. “Say you’ve finished your chicken and you want to set your sauce, but you don’t want any more smoke on your meat or having live flames burning something. Also, if you get behind on any of your categories, you can crank the oven portion of your smoker up to 500 degrees and throw your stuff in there.”
So the feature here that might set Rockin W Smokers apart from other smoker builders as far as offsets are concerned is the fact that you have a totally smoke-free oven to use for everything from warming, to setting sauce, to catching up on slow to cook meats, to making cinnamon rolls and pizzas.
As of now, the only smoker with this oven feature in the lower 48 states is the one Anthony Minderman uses with Pitbull Competition BBQ. Another customer in North Carolina should have one in use by June of this year.
Rockin W Smokers – Customer Experience and Final Thoughts
It’s always nice to provide some hands on experience-based feedback when I write posts. If I can’t use the product myself, I always try to find trustworthy folks who will give it to you straight regarding their experiences. In this case, I have feedback for you from Kirk Pittman of Fishing Eagles BBQ Team in Lubbock, TX and Anthony Minderman of Pitbull BBQ Team in Tacoma, WA.
Kirk Pittman: Fishing Eagles BBQ Team – Lubbock, X
While I don’t personally own one of the Rockin W Smokers, I have spoken with several pitmasters who swear by them. Kirk Pittman of Fishing Eagles BBQ Team out of Lubbock, Texas currently owns one of Daniel’s Large 32″ Wide Gravity Feed models and loves it. In fact, he is such a fan of Daniel’s work that he’s at Rockin W Smokers now picking up a Small 18″ Wide Gravity Feed model as well as the 4′ Backyard Pit. Now that’s brand loyalty.
Here’s what Kirk had to say about Rockin W Smokers:
There are many reasons I like my Rockin W gravity fed smoker. I had the privilege of visiting with Daniel about gravity feeds before he built one. I actually got the first one, and am now using a new and improved one. I have also cooked on a few of his offsets.
I like way the smoke flows through the cabinet from the fire-box to the chimney on the side. This allows a more even cooking temperature and imparts better flavor with the clean smoke.
I have several options including a sleek BBQ Guru set up, custom paint, and wheels. Daniel listens to what I need and focuses on the details. Daniel’s craftsmanship and passion for creating Rockin W Smokers is over the top.
Anthony Minderman: Pitbull BBQ Team – Tacoma, WA
I’ve mentioned Anthony Minderman, Pitmaster for Pitbull BBQ in Tacoma, WA – who first introduced me to Rockin W Smokers. Not only does he have one of the larger pro model offsets with that sweet, sweet, oven option – he’s doing very well on the competition circuit with his Rockin W Smoker!
Here’s what Anthony has to say about his experiences with Rockin W Smokers:
I have had the pleasure of cooking on a Rockin W Smoker for three years now. Daniel, the owner, built my trailer offset in Fairbanks Alaska. My pit was one of his first five pits he built when he was starting out.
I have nothing but great things to say about the engineering of his offsets. They are easy to run and very efficient with the insulated fire-box. One of his best features that no other pit builder has is his insulated oven above the fire-box. We have baked pizzas, and several desserts in the oven.
His pit has helped my competition BBQ team with winning several awards to include our first GC and 4 RGC wins. Daniel is an amazing pit builder and he stands by his product. Each pit is built with his own hands. I will not cook on any other pit besides a Rockin W.
Anthony and Gina recently picked up the smaller Gravity Feed model Daniel makes and days later, won Reserve Grand on it!
Here’s what Daniel posted on the Rockin W Smokers Facebook Page about that win:
My own thoughts about Rockin W Smokers is that they produce an amazingly well-crafted product that Daniel Wright and his family stand firmly behind. If you’re in the market for a Pro Model Gravity Fed or Offset Smoker, definitely give Rockin W Smokers a call. Please let Daniel know you read about them here at The BBQ Beat!
Have a BBQ Product, Team, or Story to Share?
I started The BBQ Beat and my blogging efforts in general to help promote competition BBQ. Along the way, I’ve had the chance to meet amazing folks, hard-working people with families who are dedicated to putting out products and giving their all in the BBQ arena to promote all that’s good in ‘cue.
If you have a product, a team, or an event that can use some promotion, please do contact me via the contact link at the top of this page! While I can’t promise every request will result in a post, I’m always up for sharing good stories about great people.
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