“I’m interested in the end product,” Lewis says. “That’s why I started building pits.” Lewis started building pits in 2006, not in El Paso (where he was born), or Austin (where he moved when he was 18), but in Denver, where he lived and worked as a pastry chef for three years. “There’s no barbecue in Denver,” Lewis said. So he made a vertical smoker in his backyard out of two metal garbage cans using a drill, nuts and bolts, and tin snips. He hung some ribs, fired up the silver smoker, and started his ten-year quest for the perfect barbecue.
Vertical smokers are great for ribs and sausages. The long, narrow foods fit the smoker’s upright orientation, and it sufficed for the short time Lewis spent away from home. When he moved back to Texas, where brisket is king, he started building bigger, square-shaped boxes that could accommodate the unwieldy cut of meat. “I was constantly looking for containers,” he said. “Anything made of steel that was fireproof.” This led him down a black hole, where he was continually making smoke boxes and modifying them -- spending all his time and money on this singular quest. “I knew what I wanted to make and I knew there was nothing out there that would produce that.” The last attempt was with an old, giant restaurant oven. After months of tweaks and tests, it didn’t give him the brisket he wanted. He broke. He needed an idea.