Pits by Klose
Posted 29 May 2005 - 10:00 AM
BBQ Pits by Klose
Not just blowing smoke
Pit maker builds a reputation in the barbecue worldBy JOHN C. ROPER
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
It’s no secret that Houston is home to some of the best barbecue joints around.
But unless you’re a truly serious backyard chef or part of a team of barbecue nomads that travels the country to compete in high-dollar cook-offs, you probably aren’t aware that some of the finest barbecue pits are made here.
For nearly 20 years, BBQ Pits by Klose has been quietly making heavy-duty log-burning pits at its factory in northwest Houston that have a cult following among serious barbecue chefs around the United States and the world.
The company makes everything from a simple drum smoker that sells for around $69 to its specialty — massive mobile catering rigs that can cost $50,000 or more and are capable of cooking ‘cue for hundreds of people at a time.
David Klose, a native Houstonian, started the company in 1986 as a simple metal fabrication shop.
Shortly after opening the business, Klose decided to build himself a heavy steel barbecue pit to slowly smoke beef briskets and other Texas delicacies.
For the uninitiated, barbecue pits are not built in the ground as the name implies. A pit looks like a sideways oil drum and has a square steel box attached to the side where logs are burned to channel low heat and smoke to the cooking area in a method called “offset smoking. “
A pit generally is used to slowly cook cheap and tough pieces of meat like pork shoulder or brisket for 12 hours or more at around 250 degrees.
Grills, on the other hand, are used to cook meats such as steaks directly over the fire.
Friends were impressed with the quality of Klose’s first pit, and they soon requested he make them pits as well.
“After that, we just got carried away,” said Klose, whose company now makes about 300 pits, grills and smokers a month and has been featured on Food Network shows.
All of his products are handmade in his small shop in an industrial area on West 34th Street. He employs about 15 workers, whom he refers to as “my kids.”
Klose makes backyard grills costing from $500 to $700; smokers from $1,000 to $2,000; mobile catering rigs from $2,500 to $50,000; and concession pits from $15,000 to $60,000.
Specialty pits by Klose can cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He ships his products all over the globe, including Russia, Jamaica, Japan and the Philippines.
The company once shipped overnight a 3-ton $58,000 pit to upper Siberia for a Russian oil company wanting to throw a party.
“It had its own plane,” Klose said with a laugh.
Klose believes he can make a grill or pit out of about anything. Friends drop off all sorts of oddities to test Klose’s skills.
They include an 1806 steel baby carriage, that he says is “great for baby back ribs,” though passers-by sometimes get upset when they see smoke rising from it. He’s also turned into a smoker a metal Bosnian war-era phone booth from Sarajevo that features a bulletproof glass door once used to protect callers from snipers.
Most recently, a friend left him a 1958 steel mailbox that he plans to turn into an outdoor cooker.
“When you see a water tower, you see a water tower. When I see a water tower, I see an elevator leading to a rotisserie,” Klose said.
He has also built a 57-foot-long monster pit that in 1997 he towed to Grand Forks, N.D., to feed 5,000 people displaced by a massive flood. In one night, he said, he cooked in it 170 briskets, 3,800 pounds of ham, 500 turkeys, 5,000 potatoes and 300 gallons of beans.
Showing off the goods
Nearly all of his $1.5 million in annual sales come from word of mouth. He does no advertising but frequently pulls a mobile pit to barbecue competitions and other events to show off his wares.
“It’s boys and their toys,” said Klose, chewing on a thick cigar. “One guy gets one, and his friend has to have one, too.”
On the competition barbecue circuit, where teams compete for prestige and prize money, one of his pits is known simply as “a Klose.”
“I don’t know anybody who builds what David builds,” said Charlie Babb, a member of the Paradise Ridge Cooking Team from Nashville, Tenn.
Paradise Ridge has won eight state championships since it bought a Klose in 1999 and even won the prestigious World Barbecue Championship in 2000.
Babb paid $7,300 for his 8-foot by 30-foot mobile pit and says he spends “an hour or two a day” at competitions giving visitors tours of his Klose.
He said he tells people the design — which features 3/8 -inch steel throughout, a firebox made of 1-inch metal and 2 inches of insulation, and tuning plates that help control the temperature and smoke — is what sets his Klose apart from cheaper imitations.
A clear gift for gab
Klose is constantly on the road, towing his mobile pits and telling stories. His gift for gab is legendary among famous barbecue chefs.
Ray Lampe, known around the barbecue circuit as Dr. BBQ, is a renowned barbecue champion and cookbook author who prefers to slowly cook with a fire beneath the meat instead of with an offset firebox such as with a Klose.
“If you’ve never spoken to Dave Klose, set aside a couple of hours and give him a call,” jokes Dr. BBQ, who does not own a Klose but has used them successfully.
“I actually cooked on one of Dave’s big pits last year in Seattle, and we won three out of the four categories, so I can’t dislike them that bad,” he said with a laugh. “As far as offset cookers go, Dave’s are just beautiful.”
Small field of contenders
There are only a handful of pit makers who produce competition-quality pits, said Bill Jamison, who along with his wife, Cheryl Jamison, has written several cookbooks specifically on smoking.
Jamison cooks on an offset smoker built by Houston-based Pitt’s & Spitt’s, which he says, along with a Klose, has sturdiness and steel thickness. Those qualities help hold heat and use less wood, something that serious barbecuers require.
Klose said that outside of Texas and the South, few people know about offset smoking, which leaves plenty of room for his business to grow. He plans to build a larger facility next year to keep up with demand, but money is not what drives him.
“My favorite thing about this business is turning people on to barbecue at cook-offs,” Klose said. “That’s the greatest reward.”
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Posted 27 March 2007 - 07:28 PM
I think I've got a pic of David at that cook somewhere on my website.....
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Posted 28 March 2007 - 08:02 PM
Klose has great controls for BBQ success. Eliington field is about 10 minutes from my house...and I had some of that BBQ!..Some of my friends helped BBQ..Fahita grills are popular too..
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