When Ben Ringel, lead guitarist in rock band Boy Orbison, had to put his touring life on hold due to the Corona Virus pandemic, he wasted no time in pursuing a new creative venture as Make Nashville’s newest welder.
“I’ve been smoking barbecue my whole life and have been a professional cook for about 10 years,” the musician explains.”I was ready to get a really nice smoker but they are all wildly expensive, generally starting around $2,500 or more and I figured I could spend a little less than half of that [in addition to] learning a trade, if I built it on my own.”
A newcomer to the world of welding, the Louisiana native states that he learned the trade through “YouTube University.” “I severely underestimated, like most people do, just how difficult blue collared trades are to learn,” he admits. But once the basics were established and Ringel gained the confidence to wrap his hands around the welding gun, he took his barbecue smoker plans to Make Nashville’s welding workshop and got to work.
Going big, Ringel purchased a propane tank in Alabama, which would soon be transformed into a Texas-style smoke chamber. “This is type of smoker is called an offset smoker. It’s very traditional in Texas,” Ringel explains. “In this style, either propane tanks or oilfield pipes are the perfect size and shape ergonomically and it’s a cheap way to get your cooking chamber. I got this [tank] for about $123 whereas buying a new steel pipe this size would be $500 to $600. It’s also always nice to be able to recycle or reuse something.”
A workshop romance, it took no time for sparks to fly (literally!) as the welder sliced into the tank’s belly with angle grinders and plasma cutters in order to create hinged chamber doors and various other cuts to enable optimal performance of the smoker’s smokestack and log-burning firebox.
A steel beast, Ringel laughs about it’s size. “My wife is nervous! I’m still figuring out where it will go. It wasn’t until I got [the tank] mounted that I realized it was much bigger than I thought it would be.” Weighing in at about 1,200lbs with the capacity to smoke 10 pork butts, eight briskets or 12 racks of ribs at max, this smoker is no joke. But, that’s not to say that Ringel hasn’t enjoyed his time making it. “A really fun part of this project has been the critical thinking,” Ringel expresses. “An interesting part has been figuring out how to problem solve and the cool part about this shop is that for every major hurdle, there is always someone around to bounce ideas off and that’s been quite helpful. It’s pretty awesome to have a place like this where you pay a pretty reasonable monthly due and you get to create.”
Nearing the end of his project, it took the new welder just under three months to bring his smoker from conception to completion. And for his first smoke? A bunch of turkey legs for a covid-style renaissance fair with friends. As for the future, Ringel is cooking up ideas for BBQ pop-ups and perhaps one day, an even bigger smoker. As for now, we can only imagine that he is mostly looking forward to a well-earned smoky feast.