BBQ is in Moberg Smokers founder Sunny Moberg’s bones – pure and simple – the “meat, smoke, love” kind. He was born into a BBQ family and that family is mighty proud of him and the BBQ business he’s built for himself today. Take a look at Moberg.
Once a week, Moberg sets a cutting torch onto the surface of steel containers that once held one thousand gallons of flammable fuel. These propane tanks, delivered to Moberg’s shop in Dripping Springs by the trailer load, are all salvaged. Some were decommissioned decades ago.
It seems counterintuitive to introduce fire to such a container, but Moberg is used to it. “I’ve been cutting into tanks for twenty years,” he tells me. I ask him whether he worries about an explosion from unreleased propane, a gas that’s heavier than air, sitting in the tanks after all these years. “I don’t want to say I get too comfortable,” Moberg says, adding, “I say a little prayer before cutting into each one.”
What was once considered trash is now in high demand. The popularity of smokers made from propane tanks has risen right along with the Texas-style barbecue boom across the state and the world. Instead of discussing smoker size by length, width, or cubic inches, it’s gallons that have become the most recognizable unit.
One-thousand-gallon smokers are the big ones inside many restaurant smokehouses. They also come in five-hundred and 250-hundred-gallon sizes, but the latter are often cut in half to serve as fireboxes for the big boys. All of them are getting harder to find.
Moberg, who owns Moberg Smokers, says he used to find them for free, but salvage yards have gotten wise to the popularity of propane tanks. The 16-foot-long tubes, with half spheres on either end, have become the badge proving a new barbecue joint’s wood-cooking bonafides.
Moberg Smokers unique look
Beauty shots of one-thousand-gallon smokers in barbecue joints all over the world—Moberg has smokers headed to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada currently—have become almost as popular as photos of the barbecue itself. Moberg is now paying anywhere from $300 to $1,200 for a one-thousand-gallon propane tank. He even jokes, “There may be a day where I’ll have to buy from the manufacturer,” but quickly adds that the older ones are prized because the walls of the tanks are thicker, making for more efficient smokers. They’re a finite commodity.
As the grandson of Albert C. “Smokey” Denmark, the founder of Smokey Denmark’s Smoked Meats Co., Moberg says, “I have smoking in my genes.” The first smoker he ever built was for himself, made from a water heater, and he describes it as “a horrible smoker.”
He built another from a propane tank in 1992 after a customer brought it to him. It was an improvement, but he didn’t think much about making a career out of it then. Moberg’s welding skills were focused on building trailers. It took a Texas pitmaster to first make these smokers a real commercial venture.
Moberg’s real love has always been building smokers – the kind pitmaster’s dreams are made. His customer base is coast-to-coast, includes some of the top BBQ “joints” in the United States, and are now accepting international orders.