Garth Richards used to be a barbecue guy. Then he had smoked tri-tip.
Now he’s in the business of making customized smoker barrels at his home business: Garth’s Custom Barrels.
He lives in Madera Ranchos with his wife Kaitlyn and his two sons Brayden and Ryden. After the birth of Brayden, Richards’ friend brought over some smoked tri-tip to help out the family.
“That was the best tri-tip – the best way I’ve ever eaten it. And I found out it was smoked,” Richards said.
Richards’ day job, so to speak, is doing radio sales for Spirit 88.9 – a contemporary Christian radio station. In his spare time, Richards, who got a degree in entrepreneurship from Fresno State in 2003, looked around the Internet to learn how to make smokers. Then he discovered the smoker barrel.
I started making them for my friends, and I thought that I could probably do this as a side, hobby business.
He built one at his home in November 2014. Soon his friends began asking him to build them a smoker.
“I started making them for my friends, and I thought that I could probably do this as a side, hobby business,” said Richards, who still makes the barrels out of his garage. “So I put them on Craigslist, and I had a really great response. In that first year, I sold over 100 of them.”
The smokers are made with food-grade barrels. The basic model costs $150, but Richards offers more deluxe models which have additional features and can even be customized for sports teams.
“The Raiders and the 49ers are tied in popularity right now,” Richards said, “and then Bulldogs and Giants are next. And I hate the Giants; I’m a Dodgers fan, but that’s how God humbles me.”
The process Richards uses to customize the barrels has been refined and takes him about one hour to complete. He uses barbecue paint to give the barrels team colors.
“The best thing about a smoker is that you can set it and forget it,” Richards said. “Once you learn how to get the charcoal to the right temperature, you just put in the meat, and it will slow cook until it’s done – unlike a barbecue where you have to constantly watch it.”
Richards said you can put a Thanksgiving turkey into one of his smokers and let it slow cook for eight hours – a process, he maintains, that is far better than baked or even deep-fried turkeys.
A completed barrel weighs between 30 and 40 pounds, Richards said, and it even fits into the back of his Honda Civic.
He’s donated about a dozen barrels to silent auctions, where they tend to bring in around $500.
... and then Bulldogs and Giants are next. And I hate the Giants; I’m a Dodgers fan, but that’s how God humbles me.
Richards credits his wife as being “very gracious” about having him spend all of this extra time out in the garage. “Mostly she’s just happy that this gives us some side income to support the family.”
Richards said he wants to enter into a barbecue contest at the Madera Elks Club over the summer. A win against traditional barbecue would be “good for business.”
He said every meat he has used to cook on a barbecue comes out much better in his smoker. From tri-tip to steak and chicken wings to sausage – “It’s all better. Someone using the smoker can go and do yard work or kick back and watch a game on TV while they are waiting for their meat, unlike where you’d have to sit over the barbecue so you don’t burn it.”
“Simplicity,” Richards said. “It doesn’t take a lot to make an amazing product.”
For more information, visit www.smokerbarrels.com.