OBR in Washington IL

Unfortunately too often it takes someone else’s tragedy to remind you of how lucky you really are.

This past week my wife and I went to Washington, IL to help Operation BBQ Relief serve meals to those that were affected by the tornadoes on November 17. Many didn’t think that a November tornado outbreak was possible, but that quickly changed for several towns throughout central Illinois, non more than Washington, IL with 1 dead and 125 injured. We were even reminded of how lucky we are with a tornado that went through the Westville, IL area. Fortunately no one was killed.

There are so many adjectives for how I felt while waiting, responding and serving the Washington IL area, but no one single word fits or feels right. Words like excited, eager, humbled and sad all describe what we felt.

When I say excited, it’s not a happy kind of excited, but more of a eagerness to make sure no one is hungry.

Sad came when we reached the path of the tornado. Looking into a field of debris and seeing mattresses, clothes and memories started the eyes to feel a bit moist. Then came pulling down the drive of the church and seeing piles after piles of debris. By the time we arrived, it had been only been 2 days and yet the community had already came together to start the cleanup. It felt like I had a golf ball in my throat. As we drove past the entrance of the church there sat a pile of muddy stuffed animals waiting for their owners to come claim them. This just reinforced the reality of who this disaster impacted.

We arrived to our site location and immediately began breaking down pork butts to get out to the church. I took on the responsibility of getting food to the church and trying to make sure the order information was accurate, that almost seemed like a winless battle.

While taking on this responsibility, I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing woman, Nicky ( I apologize if I spelled it wrong). Nicky was an energetic 60 yo give or take. It took a little bit to talk to her because she always seemed to be about 2 locations ahead of where someone last saw her. After about the 15th trip across the parking lot, I was getting pretty good at how to guess where she would be. I kinda started to feel a need to look after her and was afraid that she had forgotten to think about her self every now and then. I’m no spring chicken, but am also nowhere near a slow down phase, and I had a hard time keeping pace with her. I just learned to talk and walk with her.

She had made a comment that they were having a hard time storing all the food. Luckily I had brought all of my insulated food transporters and offered them up for their use. I truly believe that even that little contribution made a huge difference. Not only were they able to store more food, but they were able to use the drink carriers to get drinks out to the people working in the fields. I still think that is where the one unaccounted drink carrier is.

Throughout the days we were there I never met a past friend only strangers, but that quickly changed. From locals like Ron, Kevin and Dennis, to those that traveled from the south like Jason, John and JD. JD was a young kid that missed a few days of school to help. That didn’t mean that he missed out on school work though, the church was nice enough to allow his homework to be faxed to him. Ron was the VP of a local company that owns several Famous Dave’s and Alexander Steakhouses. This guy was an amazing man and never once thought that he was too good to do something. From washing dishes, to picking up around the site to flipping burgers for 4 hours straight, Ron was on top of it. Colete was from Indiana and was a huge help in not letting any insurance agents try to intimidate my wife. Believe it or not, I’m not sure I’d like to have a “Good Neighbor” like that. Then there was Dot she was wonderful enough to make deliveries even at 10pm.

I know there were many more people that busted their rears that I might not 100% remember and I do sincerely apologize. You were just as important as the others. Even Famous Dave Anderson himself showed up to see an operation in progress. He said he is going to use this as an example to get other franchises on board to help out in the future.

It may only be cooking and preparing food, but I will honestly say that exhaustion easily took control by the end of the days. I’m not sure that there was any part of the body that didn’t feel the effects of the work. I had even made the joke to my wife that I didn’t even have time during the day to check Facebook. I did however make time to check it at night and can not say how much I enjoyed/appreciated all of the comments of support that we received. It helped to keep us going.

Speaking of time to do something, it is amazing at the places you find to relax. Mine was a port-a-potty, to be specific it was the northeast one. It seemed to be the one spot to unwind without interruption and to check Facebook. So trust that when teams and volunteers respond with OBR it is a serious job that we take on. The only exception is after all the night meals have gone out and the food is on to cook, that we stand around a fire and have a drink or two.

By the end of our time there, people had heard about us and frequented our area to say thank you and how much they appreciated everything we were doing. There really is genuine appreciation for all that we do when we are on site. So much so that after delaying our departure by a few hours, Nicky came over and was shocked that we were still there. She about brought me to tears when she said “What am I going to do when you leave? Who is going to get my meals?” I reassured her that John is more than competent and would ensure she had everything she needed. She then said ” Well I’m not going to have any young men to hug to get warm”. So I gave her one last long hug, before she was off running again.

As of noon on Saturday, Operation BBQ Relief provided it’s 500,000th meal since the first one in Joplin, MO. This is an organization of compassion and caring along with a skill set of great cooks. None of this is possible without the support of those that donate, whether it be monetary, time or resources. I say thank you to all of you. You help build OBR into the organization that it is and into what it will become.

This disaster reaffirms that no matter where a disaster may hit, if there are people to feed OBR will be there.

Now I need to go get a glass of water to help swallow this lump in my throat that the memories have brought back.


Washington IL, OBR pre-response


Yesterday the midwest was ravaged by tornadoes, 89 sightings if I remember correctly. The area of Washington IL took more than it’s fair share of damage. As I type we are awaiting the word from Operation BBQ Relief to deploy to the area to help provide meals to those that were affected and to the police/fire/EMS that are working tirelessly to ensure everyone remains safe and gets the help that they need. Please take time to provide a small or large donation to OBR as they operate on donations. This is an organization that we strongly believe in and support. If you would like to volunteer please register on their website and please DO NOT SHOW UP ON YOUR OWN, this actually hampers efforts.

The build

Getting to build stage seemed like it just wasn’t going to happen, a little dramatic but I am impatient. Which really doesn’t seem like that would be a trait that someone that smokes food would have, Oh look right turn Albuquerque.

Sorry back on track.

It seemed like my UDS kit, yes I bought and kit instead of doing it all myself, was never going to get here. I really wish UPS would allow you to track the exact vehicle that your package is in, but I’m pretty sure Homeland Security has issues with that. Damn you government regulations, DAMN YOU!!! I think I can give up some security to know where my package is.

Of course the tracking info said that it would be delivered by the end of the day, but that means at the end of their day come to find out, which is 7pm. I mean honestly who wants to get a package at 7 pm? Not this guy. OK if it came to it yes I would accept the package at 7, but I wouldn’t have a smile on my face. OK yes I would have a smile but only after closing the door on the delivery guy.

Back to the topic.

After pacing around all day, checking the status and finally getting a text from my mother-in-law that it was delivered at her house. I had my package in hand


I immediately torn into it with great care. This was one project that I was going to savor every moment.

The great thing about this kit is that there is no cutting or welding required. Only drilling.

I really didn’t feel like working outside that much so I figured inside the house was a pretty warm place to work.

uds in home

I believe my wife’s exact word was “JASEN?!?!?!?” Which translates into, “I don’t know what you think you are about to do but if it is what I think you are going to do you will be sleeping on the couch for a long time if you don’t take that outside right now”.

I told her “What? I am only bringing it inside to make the holes. I’m not dumb enough to drill into metal on the carpet” actually I probably would have done the drilling inside also had she not caught me.

I pulled up the official UDS build video on YouTube to give some extra guidance. The kit came with paper templates which was a huge help. The videos instructions were pretty clear, except for the part where you drill 4 holes for the food rack and not 3. Yeah I goofed up one part.

Drilling the holes took a bit to get the drill to bite through. By the time I drilled a hole, my hands were cramping so bad. Getting older is a real pain.

The overall build part took a bit longer than I had hoped it would take. All in all about 4 hours +/-.

complete 1382332_10201137289818502_1682447964_n

578446_10201137339819752_1439438331_n 482401_10201137334899629_1465755875_n

The test burn was a success as well as the actual cooks. The temp held at 250* pretty easily for nearly 6 hours with only 1 charcoal chimney’s worth of charcoal.

This is going to be a well used cooker for sure, even if it is only at home.

chicken brisket

rib sliced ribs

Connect, dress, spray. Repeat

I’m not saying, just saying. I tend to do a fair amount of BBQ’n at home. I have burnt through 2 smokers in the short time that I have been smoking food. So I was currently out of a small cooker for personal use. I still had our large offset that I could use when the need for Que had to be fulfilled, but that needed a lot of wood and time for just a small amount of food. So what happens when you come across a problem? You create a solution.

My solution was building a UDS. For those of you that don’t know, a UDS is an abbreviation used for “Ugly/upright Drum Smoker”. These smokers are made from 55 gallon barrels.

55 gallon barrel 

If you aren’t lucky/rich enough to acquire an unused barrel that doesn’t have a liner in it AND has only been used for food products, then this is where the fun begins. For my project I located 2 barrels that were used for food, but had a liner in them. So the liner needed to be removed or the potential for nasty flavors would end up in the food. There are typically 3 options to go about this.

Option #1 Burn the liner out: While creating fire is a hobby I enjoy, I don’t particularly want to spend a bunch of time and wood burning out a liner. Scratch that idea.

Option #2 Grind the liner out: Sorry, say what you want but that just sounds like too much manual labor and too much time.

Option #3 Use a sand blaster: Now we are talking. Power tool, plus low physical activity, plus quick. How is this NOT the only option?

After making a call, because I have never used a sand blaster, much less own one, I borrowed one from a co-worker. He tells me that it is pretty simple and easy. Hook it up to an air compressor, turn the valves on in order, squeeze the handle and blast away. Oh yeah this is going to be so much fun. He did warn me about protective clothing.

I was getting excited. Within a day I will be creating a smoker.

Game on barrels!!! Prepared to be bare metal.

I loaded up the barrels and the sand blaster and off to work I went.

After getting everything done around the station I recruited my partner and got ready to blast the barrels. I even went and bought a hood and gloves. I surely don’t want to get hurt. Once everything was hooked up, I proceeded to get dressed with a sweatshirt, hood and leather gloves. That is pretty warm when it is in the 50s-60s.

Let’s do this. Air is flowing and I hear a brief 1/2 second sound of media hitting the barrel. Nothing.

No problem, he said it might have settled a bit. Get undressed, shake the blaster, get dressed and spray. Nothing!

OK frustration is starting to build. This is suppose to be the simple way of doing it. Maybe the hose or valve is clogged. Get undressed, disassemble the hose and unclog it. Put everything back together, get dressed again, turn it on and another 1/2 second of spray. Damn you blaster!!! DAMN YOU!!! Maybe we missed a clog somewhere, the scene of Clark Griswald standing outside with his son asking if they checked all of the bulbs came to mind.

After numerous repeats and lack of success. I finally gave in and said forget it. The picture below shows the progress that was made. Notice the barrel on the right with the silver dot next to the logo? That’s progress.


I got home the next day and took the barrels out back to have a “wienie roast”. I forgot to pick up the hot dogs. Oh well I am not going to let that little detail stop me. Let the creation of fire begin!!


Within no time  we had more progress than I had made all morning the day before.


That there is paint burning off <try using the voice of Hank Hill with that comment>.

After nearly 4 hours +/- we were nearly complete. But still had a little at the top of the can.

I called the friend that loaned me the blaster and he thought it might not have had a big enough tip. That was reassuring, so I didn’t worry about anymore burning.

With a new larger tip on the blaster, it was off to work again. This time we had a bit more success, about 2 seconds worth of progress each time.

I finally had enough progress to be satisfied with the results and move the project to the paint booth.

After about 3 coats one of the cookers was ready.


The other one could use another coat or two.

Next: The build