Masters of the Pit: Pitmaker
November 29, 2011
Our regular series continues as we feature George Shore and Victor Hugo Howard, founders of Pitmaker, an innovative pitmaking outfit based in Humble, Texas.
First of all, Victor and George, how about a little background on each you. Are you both originally from Texas?
Victor is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, but has been here in Texas for over 18 years. I was born in Denver, but have been in Texas since the age of 7.
Is outdoor cooking something that your entire family is passionate about?
Victor’s family has cooked outdoors since he was young. My first memory of BBQ was actually my Mom grilling “Bulgalbi” outdoors, which is Korean BBQ in the form of a marinated beef short ribs. Also, Bulgogi, which is sliced ribeye steak, marinated and grilled the Korean way. The ribs were done outdoors on a charcoal grill and were saved for special occasions and family get-togethers.
So let’s talk pits. Obviously you all put a lot of blood, sweat and tears in to creating each of your cookers. Where’d the pit building skills come from and how long have you each been working on your own smoker and grill designs?
Victor and his brother Julio started in the industry for another company (let’s call it Brand X) since they were in their teen years. They saw this company through 4 different owners in over 15 years, and worked every aspect of the metal shop. About 9 years ago, I joined on with this company as a CAD Designer and Sales (and later General Manager), and the three of us together (with Victor as President, and Julio as Plant Manager) signed ownership agreements with the then third owner/partner of Brand X. Together, the three of us grew Brand X by 300 percent in the following six year time period and were responsible for every innovation there during that time.
When and why’d you team up and when did Pitmaker officially get off the ground?
To make this long story shorter, about three years ago, this third owner of brand x tried to sell his percentage and got embroiled in a legal battle with the newer partner. We knew we were going to start a new metal fab company, but we grew some big ones in a rough economy and decided to get back into bbq pit building. We took a look at the entire industry and decided that we could build a better traditional charcoal and wood fired smoker better. We took all of our theories and philosophies about BBQ Pit designs and went back to the drawing board, to prototype the Vertical Insulated BBQ Vault, and the Offset Firebox Sniper BBQ Smokers. This was the foundation in starting Pitmaker. Now, about half of our work is for competition BBQ Cooks, but we also do great backyard pits for anyone interested. Some chefs are starting to use our pits as well.
Now one thing that I find interesting about you all is the diversity in design – from hitch mounted tailgating cookers to trailer mounted vault style smokers and almost everything in between. Does that make your work more difficult given the fact that very little of it is “cookie cutter?”
The diversity of our products is definitely a great and constant battle from an efficiency standpoint in our fabrication shop. The fact that we cater to large corporate rigs all the way down to the small hitch mounted MVP Tailgater Grill definitely makes it more difficult. As a small fab shop, we are pretty much “Make to Order,” meaning we do not really have much stock on the shelf to pull from.
Typically, when a customer places an order we have a 3 to 5 week turnaround for a backyard pit, and 4 to 6 weeks for a trailer. I am proud to report that in almost three years of business, we have only missed that deadline twice (in both cases by no more than an extra week). We start with tubing and plate steel and do the rest to produce our finished pits and trailers.
Any notable Pitmaker owners you could mention?
We have several NFL players and a couple of actors who own our pits, as well as many competition BBQ Teams. We are not at liberty to say their identities without their permissions, however.
You all are also serious competition cooks, correct? Has that helped when perfecting the design and details of your pits?
Yes, we feel that the fact that we do get out there and compete more than 15 times a year, is one of the very things that set us apart from our competition. We feel that competition BBQ is the ultimate proving grounds for our products. We get out there in the field and get feedback directly from experience and from our customers on our products and then get back in the shop and make tweaks and innovations on the production models. If you look at some of the details on our pits from just a year or two ago, you can see this evolution in action. An example of this would be now we make all of our smoke stacks on all of our smokers out of solid stainless steel.
So what’s next for you two?
We are in the works of getting one of our smokers NSF certified. Also, we are designing a completely new smoker with the help of a very prominent person in our BBQ community. Also, we are going to get into the food industry, as well as opening up the new e-commerce side of our website to sell our BBQ Rubs and Spices.
Great stuff George! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us and best of luck with all of your many projects!
- Clint Cantwell, Grilling.com Guest Editor