Thousand-Gallon Propane Tanks Live A Second Life As Barbecue Smokers

Texas Monthly Barbecue Editor Daniel Vaughn says refurbished tanks can go for up to $20,000.

By Casey CheekSeptember 13, 2018 12:23 pm

The first rule of Texas barbecue: meat needs to be smoked. So why a sudden demand among pitmasters for 1,000-gallon propane tanks? Daniel Vaughn, the barbecue editor for Texas Monthly, explains the phenomenon.

“Well, it’s those old, recycled propane tanks that you might have seen in a lot of rural houses,” Vaughn says. “When they wear out, these days they are fetching a pretty penny for welders who want to turn them into barbecue pits.”

These huge smokers have become so popular that people all over the world are buying them for their restaurants, causing a major spike in the price.

“The tanks themselves used to be like, nearly free,” Vaughn explains. “Nowadays they can go up to $3,000 just for the tank. Now, once that gets turned into a smoker, I mean, we’re talking anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 for the finished smoker.”

Vaughn says the raw, industrial look of the tanks is part of what draws buyers.

“It’s really become a symbol for Texas barbecue,” Vaughn says. “When you open up your barbecue joint and it’s got this thousand-gallon smoker there, it’s like the symbol that I’m doin’ it serious. I’m really taking this seriously. There’s no stainless steel gas ovens here. This is some raw steel and cookin’ barbecue with all wood.”

Written by Morgan Kuehler.