Texas Monthly: Popularity of Texas BBQ Fuels Demand for Thousand-Gallon Smokers

By Daniel Vaughn, August 18, 2018

Once a week, Sunny 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.