We met “Waylon” and “Willie” recently at Pinkerton’s Barbecue in Houston.
“You know how to tell the difference?” Grant Pinkerton asked, setting up a punchline about his two big Klose pits.
“Willie is always smoking,” Pinkerton said.
Why do we have nicknames for BBQ pits and other machines we love?
A few years ago, The Atlantic magazine tackled that question and basically determined that we apply human characteristics — names — to machines because it makes us think the machines work for us. Maybe.
As a railroad buff, my favorite passenger train is the “Empire Builder,” named for Great Northern founder James J. Hill. I haven’t yet named any of my barbecue pits or grills. But we did call one of our first sailboats “Rocky Horror,” after the movie and our sailing ability at the time.
Among his many pits, the Posse’s Marshall Cooper has an oversized Jambo J3 that he calls “Jumbo.” His newest pit, from Pitts & Spitts, is named the “Beast.”
At 2M Smokehouse in San Antonio, Esaul Ramos and Joe Melig call their pit “El Mexicano,” while “Django,” “Chapo,” “Megatron” and “Malcolm,” the one in the middle, toil around the clock for Stiles Switch BBQ and Brew in Austin.
At Pecan Lodge in Dallas, owners Justin and Diane Fourton used to name their pits, but have gotten away from the practice in recent years. The last one named was the first one built for the joint’s Deep Ellum location. It was called “Big Cat,” in honor of chef and friend Randall Copeland, who had died.
Now, the place has five additional smokers.
“We gave names to our pits in the beginning and they were very personal,” Justin Fourton explained.
As cooking volumes and the number of smokers increased, however, pit management — when stuff goes on and when it comes off — became much more complicated.
“At this point, trying to discuss the cooking status with pit names is too hard,” Justin said.
“Depending on the time of day, we can have food cooking for the following day's lunch, food finishing for the current day's lunch, food cooking for dinner and food cooking for catering orders later in the day.”
When we first met Justin and Diane, they were using a pit named “Lurlene.” In fact, at the inaugural Blues, Bandits & BBQ cookoff in Oak Cliff in 2010, the Posse spent a memorable night cooking on the street near the Kessler Theater, not far from Justin, Diane and “Lurlene.”
In judging that year, Justin took first in pork ribs and Bryan Gooding with the Posse took first in chicken.
“Lurlene” is retired now, except for special events, but we’ve never forgotten her. In the end, maybe that's really why we have nicknames for BBQ pits.