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Help me design a stick burner (and make sure I don’t get ripped off)

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    Help me design a stick burner (and make sure I don’t get ripped off)

    I’ve been wanting an offset smoker for a while. I’ve drooled over Lang, Jambo, and Gator Pits. They’re some nice pits! But, each one lacked something I wanted (no need to go into it with each one) or they were getting too expensive for the customizations I wanted. I settled with just going to buy one knowing it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, and I had to sacrifice something. Then I found a local (Charlotte, NC) pit maker and steel fabricator that does BBQ pits. He looks ultra-custom and can build whatever the client wants. I’m not looking for anything crazy, but I realize what I want is particular.

    The very basics of what I’m looking for is a 1/4” steel main chamber, 24” diameter and at least 40” long. I want the exhaust to be at the grate level, or slightly above. Firebox 1/4”, insulated, or simply 1/2”. Slide out food trays (2 levels). Traditional (not reverse) air flow. Simple enough, right? More details on the design is below.

    The only thing I’m concerned about is getting “hosed” or ripped off. Not that this guy looks like he’s sketchy. This guy looks legit online. His business isn’t only pit making, but it looks like he makes plenty.

    His company name is Caubles Custom Fabrication / Smoking Steel Works. Check him out!




    Looking at some of those pictures above, he’s got some SERIOUS talent.

    And another forum I found someone posting pictures:


    What I like about this guy is that it looks like he has a laser cutter, so I’m assuming he has some sort of CAD model that helps him build the pits. That makes him more legit (in my mind) and puts me a little at ease.

    But in order to not get ripped off, what do I need to look out for, if I’m going with a local guy? I told him I’d visit him in-person (since he’s so close to me) to which he was agreeable. But when I’m there, what do I need to evaluate? I’m not a welder, so how do I know if what he gives me will last a very long time (good welds, quality steel, etc.)? Do I need a contract with the guy (I’m thinking yes)? Perhaps if he uses CAD modeling, our contract is the CAD model we blueprint?

    I’m not a pit maker (although I’ve watched plenty of videos online), but am I missing anything? Full details in my design is below:

    Traditional offset (not reverse)
    24x24 square fire box
    1/4 or 1/2 inch square fire box
    24x48 main cooking chamber (He said he could go shorter, but he buys the pipe at 48” so going shorter doesn’t really save any money)
    1/4” steel for main chamber
    Heat deflector above the firebox and main cooking chamber but below the cooking grate
    Probe holes on each side of the door (not on the door)
    Flanging around the upper and lower part of door(s) minimizing leaks
    Pull out / sliding upper and lower framed food trays... Hand Notch for easy pull out
    Cool touch handles on the doors of the fire box and main cooking chamber
    Possible 1/2” pipe for gas assist? Quick connect regulator hose
    1 Tel Tru temp gauge that is at the lower food rack, right in the middle of the door. 2 gauges if using 2 doors
    Exhaust pipe at or just above the lower food tray
    2” ball valve for grease drain underneath the cooking chamber located at the opposite side of the firebox
    Fire box has a heavy duty fire grate to hold logs (perhaps need more detail to give him?)
    Shelving in front of and possibly over the fire box? 12 inch shelving or more?
    6” Caster wheels with grease zerks and breaks. Or bigger rubber tires (heavy duty)?
    Push/Pull handle on opposite side of fire box to maneuver the pit
    Large hinged door with sliding air vents on firebox door controls the airflow (not on the sides of the firebox)
    Welded “U-grooves” inside the pit for hanging sausage (want rebar included that fits in the U-grooves). Needs to be high enough to hang sausage inside chamber
    No logos / branding / badging (not taking to competitions)
    No tuning plates
    No cooking grate above/inside the firebox
    No warmer box of any sorts

    In terms of pit design, questions that are still outstanding (that I need your help on):

    How do I know how long and at what diameter the exhaust pipe should be?
    Should I go with 1/4”, insulated, or 1/2” thick firebox?
    Single door cut with counter weight vs. 2 doors and no counter weight. Will a single cut door be too heavy?
    How does one spec out the heat deflector between the firebox and cooking chamber? How big and what angle?
    Anything I’m missing?

    Let me know what you think or any ideas you have! And if you see any red flags (pit design shortcomings not addressed above) based on what you see in any pictures!
    Last edited by scottranda; December 14, 2018, 06:43 AM.

    Run your dimensions on size of firebox and exhaust through one of the many online engineering calculators. Don't just tell they guy you want X size of firebox. Those dimensions are determined by your cooking chamber size. If you are a member of the Smoke Ring talk to a guy whose screen name is KAM he is a master pit builder but I don't think he makes them for other people but is extremely knowledgeable.

    I bought my trailer rig from a fabricator on the Smoke Ring and it had absolutely everything I wanted and runs like a dream. It wasn't just built it was engineered. why no tuning plates? Adds little to the overall cost and gives you great flexibility. You can take them out if not needed and for cleaning.

    Get a firebox that is vented on all 3 sides and not just on the front door. This allows much more breathing for the firebox and more control for you. Also design the fire box with a top door as well as a door on the front. It is much easier loading in wood and tending the fire from the top. You can also throw a grate on the top when you open the door and get the best sear ever on a steak.

    Consider cabinet doors instead of one big door. I love my cabinet doors. You don't lose near the heat when you open a cabinet door as a large door that swings upwards plus you save money on not needing a large counterweight. My theory is a large mass of steel swinging upwards creates almost a vacuum between it and the chamber drawing all the smoke and heat with it. Watch when someone swings one of those big doors upwards all the smoke that follows with it. With cabinet doors you can look and cook! Here are some pics of mine although it's a trailer rig it may give you some ideas. Oh don;t forget a prep table of some kind.

    Click image for larger version

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    • JGo37
      JGo37 commented
      Editing a comment
      That is a NICE rig,

    • Frozen Smoke
      Frozen Smoke commented
      Editing a comment
      Nope didn't sell this it was my AZ BBQ Outfitters rig with the vertical smoker and Santa Maria grill both on the same trailer. Don't miss the vertical at all but I sure miss that Santa Maria! This one in the pics I'll be buried in. It's not only got everything you need but it's the sweetest running rig I've ever cooked on!

    • scottranda
      scottranda commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for the feedback. I’ll probably go with 2 doors like you suggested. I was torn. No tuning plates b/c I’m using an Aaron Franklin philosophy of maximum airflow. I guess everyone has their theories and everybody is right and wrong at the same time! I’ll also contact that KAM person. I found him after a brief search on that site!

    As far as not getting ripped off you will be your own best advocate. Steel is not cheap and neither is labor. I'd be more concerned with a price that sounded to low than a price that sounded too high. Ask for customer references is probably your best bet but at some point your going to have to just trust the guy.


    • scottranda
      scottranda commented
      Editing a comment
      Probably right! I just don’t want to end up in small claims court! He’s probably totally legit, that’s kinda why I just want to visit him.

    I have no experience with pits, but check prices of similar pits online so you will have an idea what is a reasonable price. Keep in mind that a "one of" pit will probably cost more than a stock pit. And he may charge for cad design too. Good luck, and I'm waiting for photos already.

    And I'd go for BIG tires - that thing will weigh a ton, (literally). And since you will be spending a ton o' money anyway, and the pit should last a lifetime, don't skimp - get her done right!


    • Troutman
      Troutman commented
      Editing a comment
      Like my old Dad always said, "penny wise, dollar foolish"

    • Murdy
      Murdy commented
      Editing a comment
      AKA: "Buy Once; Cry Once"

    • scottranda
      scottranda commented
      Editing a comment
      BIG tires! Probably the right move. Thanks Ron! I’m definitely purchasing the right pit that I won’t have any regrets on! I’ve been thinking about this for a WHILE! I’m not a touring / competition guy, so I feel like I don’t even need some of the stuff I COULD get (like a warmer box). I’m buying ONCE!

    I'm far from a paid spokesperson nor am I an expert in stick burners but, at least in my opinion, you may be seeking the perfect solution or holy grail of stick burners when the differences between the brands you mentioned and a custom build may not be worth worrying about. Building a custom rig for a specific purpose may be your desire, but if not then you may end up paying a lot of money for a custom design that has already been thought through and available commercially.

    I've talked pretty extensively with several pit makers here in Houston (Klose, Pitts & Spitts, Lone Star Grills), folks that have built and sold stick burners for decades, and came to the conclusion that the differences between the designs were largely negligible. What you want is consistent heat over the entire cooking chamber, quality workmanship, and a means to fairly easily maintain it. After that you will get to know your cooker and make it work for you, that's your part of the equation.

    Anyway, you seem like your bent on having it exactly your way so I wish you luck. Custom building something to meet your needs is fun and fulfilling, but it comes at a cost. But again, take a look at this cooker as an example of having most of the items you mention above, at a commercial price tag.


    • JGo37
      JGo37 commented
      Editing a comment
      Sweet Machine. The smallest is all I'd need. I wish someone would put rain-hats on the chimneys.

    • scottranda
      scottranda commented
      Editing a comment
      I’m hoping it being local and I can just pick it up will save me $500 in shipping. If I went with a pit maker in TX (for instance), it’d cost me the customizations I want. And initial pricing for the very basics of what I asked for seemed reasonable to me (although he doesn’t know ALL my specs). I think my personal visit will tell me a LOT! I ain’t pullin’ any triggers until then!

    Get a list of customers and talk to them. Go through the photos and gather names, like Heist Brewery, and call them. Actual users will be glad to talk to you about their purchases. I also see at least 3 contests where owners participated using his smokers. Visit and enjoy the food and talk to them.


    • scottranda
      scottranda commented
      Editing a comment
      You gave me an idea. Go visit Heist and drink some beer! Oh, and tell me about your pit!

    Full disclosure - I know next to nothing about offset smokers. That being said, I think don't think build quality is anything you're going to have to worry about with this guy. It looks like his primary cutter is a Hypertherm plasma cutter mounted to 5' x 10' table with a CNC gantry. It also looks like he put up a new building earlier this year and he can afford to keep tanks in stock for builds not to mention keeping a few completed smokers in stock just for curious potential buyers. The moral of the story is you can't afford the nut on all of that by ripping off your customers or putting out poor quality work. The only way you get there is by consistently doing things right.

    Troutman already mentioned this but custom work = more money. There might be a case of sticker shock in your future but it won't be because the guy is trying to gouge you. He has the gear, he has the skills and he has the knowledge and it seems pretty obvious he has enough customers willing to pay what he asks that he can have a successful business.

    It also looks like he does more than enough custom smokers that he probably has some kind of standard plan and agreement in place to handle custom builds.


    • scottranda
      scottranda commented
      Editing a comment
      His pictures make me drool. Seems so legit! I just want to visit and talk with the guy and see what he’s all about! I think you’re right though... I probably don’t need to worry.

    I visited the steel fabricator at his new shop just north of Charlotte. Travis, the owner, was great to talk with, and seems very legit. He said he can build anything, but most of his business is BBQ pits, which is great to hear. He understood everything I was detailing and the principles of what I was looking to achieve in a stickburner.

    He doesn’t collect any money upfront, and the consumer pays for it in-full when they come pick it up. He said he doesn’t bother with contracts and has only gotten burned 2x. He said the the style pit I was building, if I screwed him, he could easily re-sell it, so he wasn’t worried about it (one way to look at it!).

    I saw his custom CNC machine which was cutting out a pattern at the time. Pretty cool stuff.

    He doesn’t do gas assist (his words were “too dangerous”) and he doesn’t do insulated fire boxes, but he said he can do 3/8” or 1/2” which is probably plenty anyway.

    He said for a 48” cooking chamber and a 24x24” firebox, he said he normally does 2 pneumatic tires and 2 casters. Does that seem ok? Should I upgrade to 4 pneumatic tires? Or get some better/bigger wheels due to the size?

    His thermometers (standard) are made by River Country. Anyone used those before? I hadn’t heard of them before. He said it’s the best value for the money.

    His standard smokestack is 6” diameter, but I can request bigger/smaller. I still need to use the online calcs to figure out what I want.

    Let me know what you think! Seems like a very legit BBQ pit maker!

    Attached Files


      I would go with larger diameter 8" or more heavy duty ball bearing casters. Small rubber tires always seem to go flat. I Probably buy my dial thermometers from the same place in China River country does. They work fine, just put a guard to protect them on both inside and outside. Just use heavy gauge for the firebox and if you want more insulation use firebrick on the inside. 99% of the time you can usually tell they quality of a product by how tidy the shop is and if the use good equipment.
      Last edited by Ahumadora; January 10, 2019, 04:47 AM.


        I agree with Ahumadora, skip the pneumatic tires, just use ball bearing casters. They will last a lot longer.
        As for the stack size: both 6" and 8" will work just fine, you just have to adjust the length a little. I did the math on your food chamber and I calculated these lengths for the different stack sizes:

        6" dia - 47" long (1.2 meters)
        8" dia - 43" long (1.1 meters)

        As for the firebox: 3/8 is more than enough. You don't need a full 1/2 inch.


        • Ahumadora
          Ahumadora commented
          Editing a comment
          Henrik Better re check those stack numbers. A 48x24" pit should use a 5 - 5 1/2" stack about 80-90cm in length. I use 6 1/2" stacks on my 250 gallons and 2 6" stacks on my 500 gallon pits.

        • Henrik
          Henrik commented
          Editing a comment
          I checked, they come out correct. What draft are you calculating with and at what temp ranges?

        Think about making the stack foldable. Much easier to store and throw a cover over it.
        Attached Files


        • Henrik
          Henrik commented
          Editing a comment
          Now that's a real good idea.

        As for someone who has been BBQ'ing since I was around 10 and am now 61 I have had enough with the commercial cookers so I began my research just as you did. I did not like some of the features on some of the nice competition cookers so I began my trek down likes and dislikes lane until I found that using the online calculators based on cooking chamber size was the answer to most design issues. if you have a 24 by 48 everything else will be based on that. Fire pit minimum size, stack diameter and height, cut out for round pipe to smoke chamber size and most important height of reverse flow plate inside the pit and end opening.

        I see you are shying away from reverse flow but you will be unbelievably impressed with how even the cook chambers temperatures are controlled when using reverse flow instead of open offset. This is unmistakable when doing large cooks and filling up your cook surface with multiple meats, otherwise you will get charred results near the fire box. The other benefit is it is the easiest pit to clean in the world...no kidding. Also, there is no need for any deflector plate as this puzzle is solved.

        On door and door suggestions. First, the reason for a round smoke chamber is actually to aid in air flow and most of all to keep the dreaded black condensation from falling on your meat. As the meat warms up condensation on the lid forms and mixes with the black nasties attached to the lid. After getting too heavy to hold on surface tension they begin their downward trek towards you cook. Surface tension on a round lid allows this to be harmlessly dripped off the edge of the lid down into the bottom and not on meat.

        On a 48 one door will give you more room to maneuver big cuts of meat without a lid support in the middle.

        On the lid heaviness, absolutely requires a counter weight. Can not say enough about this. My 8 year old can open the pit.
        And, if you have anything at all in the way it stops the shearing off and crimping of accidental probes sticking out, meat..utensils. Why do I know this?

        Wheels, bigger the better, I would go with the insulated box 1/2 double wall. This will mitigate some of the massive heat that comes off the firebox and heats up the rubber. I was fortunate to have some large aluminum heat dissipating sinks to block my tires from rolling heat off sides of firebox. Double wall might solve this.

        Also, as suggested above, cut lid on firebox, best feature you will have for stoking and poking. I do not ever open my side door when Q'ing.

        I have seen fire grates of all sizes and the only ones that hold the test of time from warping are massive. I used 3/4" rod to make my grate so I would not have to replace when rusted out or warped.

        Gas lighter was something I thought about and opted against because I light fires with little fire starters and they work perfectly so I do not have to attach propane tank, worry about gas hose melting, moving tank away from heat source...you get the picture!

        One added function you will love is a fan and controller. To this point you will need access through the firebox wall to install and most importantly a place to set up the digital read out away from the cook chamber as there are all plastic and melt, Tonto speakum with much experience. I have added a weatherproof see through box on top of my lid on the counter weight to display digital readouts at eye level.

        Lastly, at this size cooker you will be pushing 500 to 800 pounds of beast so make sure you have a flat driveway or patio. I only move my pit when I feel its time to bust a gut!

        Good luck on your new build. Hope you get it just the way you want.

        Fire grate:
        Click image for larger version

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          well - I did my own full custom smoker a couple of years ago and wrote a post about it here:


          Some thoughts I would offer:

          1. Don't just use a list of features on the smoker, work up sketches with your builder. Doesn't have to be to scale, but it can be part of the agreement and make sure you both understand locations, details, how it all comes together.

          2. have the smoker built to your physical dimensions. I.E. I am 6'3" tall. The front shelf on my smoker is exactly the distance from floor to my bent elbow. The handle on my cook chamber is set to match my bent arm from straight standing, so I can one hand open the lid without a counter-weight. The firebox is higher than standard off the ground so I don't have to bend over as far to load wood. These little things make an incredible difference in ease of use and cost almost nothing to incorporate into a build.

          3. consider using all thread screw type openings on the firebox instead of slides for air vents. Prevents the direction of wind from affecting your airflow as much.

          4. Consider small heat shield fenders for wheels near the firebox if you do not get one insulated.

          5. You cannot overbuild your wheels, cooking grates or firebox wall enough if this is your last smoker. Thick metal is something that cannot easily be upgraded later. My cooking grates are catwalk and I went 3/8" and 1/2" on the fire box. No regrets there.

          6. You cannot have too many well thought out places to hang tools.

          7. If you are not doing slide out trays, have the lowest cook chamber grate at the exact height as the lower part of the door opening and your front shelf. This way you can set a pan on the front shelf, open the door and slide the pan straight in onto the grate. You do have a full width front shelf, right?

          8. Since you are going round cook chamber, talk to him about the door. If the 24" tube is seam welded the door will flatten slightly when it is cut out of the wall of your cook chamber since the tension of the welded seam is gone. Does he/can he rebend the door to match the original curve, or does he use seamless pipe that won't flatten when the door is cut?

          9. Don't know how often you move, or how easy it is to get the smoker where it will live, but mine has a simple slot at the top for a forklift tine to pick it up and move easily.

          good luck!
          Last edited by Nightrayne; January 10, 2019, 11:44 AM.


          • Henrik
            Henrik commented
            Editing a comment
            Golden advice right there.


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