Day Trips

Lyfe Tyme barbecue pits love their smokers, and so will you

Serious smokers
Serious smokers (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Lyfe Tyme Fine BBQ Pits of Uvalde are not your ordinary backyard smokers. Even the base models of the company's barbecue pits are heavy-duty. These are serious smokers designed by someone with experience in manufacturing and cooking.

"My dad was the big barbecuer," says Marsha Kitchens, the third generation of Davenports to own the metalworking business on the south side of town. Her dad, Charlie, inherited the business from his dad.

The company had mainly worked in agriculture, building feedlots, metal fences, and barns until they switched exclusively to barbecue pits in 1986. "We were just an ordinary welding shop until then," Kitchens says.

Nobody is sure when Charlie Davenport built his first pit, but it led to a succession of barbecue smokers as he improved on the design. Soon friends and neighbors were asking him to build them one. The team of 18 employees now cranks out 3,000 units a year.

Lyfe Tyme is still very much a family operation. You have to love a company where the CEO answers the phone. "I'm usually the only one in the office," Kitchens says with a laugh.

Outside of the old house that serves as the office, the fenced-in lot is filled with representatives of the 27 models of smokers that the machine shop makes. The barbecue pits look like rows of shiny, black animals with long necks waiting patiently for someone to take them home.

Originally, the cheap cuts of beef, pork, and lamb were slow-cooked in long pits heated by indirect heat to tenderize the meat and give it a pleasant smokey flavor. According to legend, oil field workers of West Texas applied the same principals to homemade slow cookers that could be taken to the job site.

The first smokers were 55-gallon drums cut in half, but the metal was too thin and burned out quickly. Next, the skilled welders fashioned cookers out of oil-field pipe and devised a ventilation system that allowed the cook to regulate the temperature and the amount of smoke. Local welding shops would often make the smokers to keep the employees busy when ranch or oil field business was slow.

Kitchens says that a good quality smoker will be made of at least quarter-inch steel. Small backyard cookers will last longer if they are easy to clean. For most weekend chefs, there is an advantage if the smoker can also be usable as a grill. That is, the meat is put directly over a bed of charcoal.

True Texas barbecuing involves slowly cooking a pork shoulder or brisket for 12 hours or more at around 225 to 250 degrees. Kitchens says that everyone has their personal preference of types of wood or combinations of wood to use. The one barbecuing secret she would divulge is adding soaked garlic, peppers, onion, lemon pepper, thyme, rosemary, or other spices to the fire during the first thirty minutes of cooking to enhance the flavors in the meat.

Of course, if you don't see anything on the lot that you like then Lyfe Tyme will custom build a smoker for you. A large portion of their business is building smokers on wheels that travel whether to cook-offs or family reunions. Some of the custom smokers have become small kitchens with a sink, generator, fish fryers, water pump, and electric jacks to make them stable. Kitchens says a fully loaded portable smoker on a tandem-axle, covered trailer can easily cost $21,000. Most of the backyard models range from $170 to $1,000, but even they can go as high as $4,000 with the rising cost of steel.

Lyfe Tyme custom barbecue pits are sold at the factory, on their Web site, and from dealers around the state. To see the smokers at the factory, take U.S. 90 through Uvalde to FM 2369, turn left on Hood Street, and right to 508 W. Fannin St. If you can't make the three-hour drive, check out the line of handmade cookers at Magnum Trailers at 10806 FM 620 in North Austin (2584101). For more information on the smokers, call Lyfe Tyme at 800/394-8963 or visit their Web site at www.lyfetyme.com.


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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Marsha Kitchens, Charlie Davenport, Lyfe Tyme BBQ Pits, Uvalde

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