Last year, when most people were planning their Fourth of July menus, Ben Dollar of the Dawson community in DeKalb County was planning how to make his own smoker. After toying with the idea of building one for several years, the time seemed right to try it—and he had great success. He cleaned it up and made an encouraging sell on E-bay. Soon, his new hobby had developed into a thriving business of custom-built smokers known as Dollar Smokers.
Dollar donated a smoker to a fund raising auction for Cornerstone Christian School in Rainsville where his wife, Lisa, is a teacher and seven-year-old daughter, Sagen, attends school. Dollar made six sales off the attention his product received at the auction. As luck would have it, he also met a web designer who offered to build him a website (dollarsmokers.com) to help grow his business. In return, Dollar made him a smoker.
"Since then, I have built over 20 smokers," Dollar said.
While his primary job as poultry farmer raising broiler chickens for Pilgrim’s Pride and his Horned-Hereford cattle operation keep him very busy with daily tasks on his farm, he still finds time to further develop this new business and craft.
A traditional smoker slowly cooks meat with indirect heat so the smoke from the heat source (wood, charcoal or combination) can cook the food making it tender and flavorful. A regular grill cooks over direct heat with the flames of the fire very close to the meat.
The draw, firebox inlets, placement of the racks and quality of material used to make the smoker are all important design factors considered when building his product.
The draw pulls air and circulates it through the cooking chamber to evenly distribute the heat and smoke. If there is not an adequate draw, then the chamber will not get hot enough to cook the meat thoroughly while keeping it tender and adding the signature smoked flavor.
The firebox is where the wood or charcoal burns and is usually located to the side of the smoker where it can be controlled without opening the chamber and exposing it to fresh air. An inlet is an opening connecting the firebox to the chamber where the heat flows to begin smoking the meat.
In the body of a smoker, there are hot and cold spots. Placement of the racks in the perfect location is crucial to the time it takes to cook and flavor the meat. If the racks are placed too low, they will be in a cool spot resulting in a slower cooking time or, if positioned too high, they will be in a hot spot and will cook too fast.
Dollar uses raw material to make each smoker and buys most of his products locally. His material list includes steel, gauges, racks, caster wheels, 1,400o oven paint, metal tubing and other specific items meeting the needs of his clients. As a skilled welder, he puts each part of the smoker together piece by piece with the help of Stealth Wooten, a family friend who also helps on his farm. If taken care of properly, these smokers will last a minimum of 20 years.
"After I build each smoker, I learn something new," Dollar said. "Because they are custom-built to the client’s needs, I haven’t built the same one twice."
Clients contact Dollar and talk about their specifications for their cooking needs and then he starts to work creating a unique smoker. Dollar has different categories of smokers to help his customers get started on their order. Posted on his website, his categories are Backyard Smoker; Towable Smokers 250, 330 or 500; and he also custom builds charcoal grills.
The size of each smoker is based on the type of meat the client cooks and how often it will be used. Dollar builds smokers perfect for occasional cooking on the weekends and for cooking in large quantities for employees or catering.
"Building a smoker isn’t easy, but I enjoy doing it," Dollar said. "I don’t use any blueprints because each smoker I build is specific to what the client wants."
Most of Dollar’s sales have come from local individuals around the county, but he has sold smokers as far as Jasper and Chattanooga, TN.
When his daily farming tasks become mundane, Dollar likes to take a break and work on one of his orders. With each client comes a new challenge, but with each challenge comes a learning curve that helps to make his product a quality investment for fellow smoker enthusiasts.
Anna Wright is a freelance writer from Collinsville.