I receive a lot of calls regarding our experience with smoke scrubbers and the typical call starts with a restaurateur wanting to put a smoker in a big city, high rise or densely populated area and them getting push back in regards to smoke. Considering very few Barbecue restaurants have installed scrubbers and even fewer restaurants with offset BBQ smokers have done so, it is relatively uncharted territory. Terry Black's BBQ Austin might be the only one to have installed one on an offset smoker. I guess that makes us the “go to guys” when you have questions! Below I'll answer questions that have been asked as best I can and constantly update this post as more relevant questions come in.
First, I'll give you a little back story... We opened our doors on Barton Springs Road in Austin, Texas in June of 2014. Shortly after opening, our neighbors behind us complained of the smoke produced by our pits and so the smoke scrubbers were installed. That is a very short version of what happened and if you're curious, you can read about it on the web. Some of what you'll read is true, most is false but none the less, we live and learn.
At Terry Black’s Barbecue Austin, we use five 1000 gallon decommissioned propane tanks turned in to offset BBQ smokers. Each BBQ pit consist of a wood burning firebox, cooking chamber and an 18 foot smoke stack connected to a smoke scrubber. We have two smoke scrubber systems. One system is connected to two smokestacks and another system is connected to three smokestacks. In order to service each scrubber system, we had to have a platform built with a ladder and walkable space. Each system requires plumbing and electrical.
Q&A section: My answers to the questions below are solely based on my experience and opinion alone. When I refer to “it” I’m referring to the smoke scrubber.
-What type of system do you use? -Smoki USA Smoke Zapper 300. Go to the link provided to learn more about their systems. https://smokiusa.com/smoke_zapper/
-Does it work? -Yes, and it works great. The smoke goes into the scrubber and comes out in the form of steam, quickly dissipating.
-Does the smoke scrubber negatively affect the quality of your food? -No, none so ever.
-Does it mess with the draw of your pit? -Yes and no. If connected to only 1 pit, you’re fine. If connected to 2 pits, you’ll be slightly affected at times. When the cooking chamber doors on both pits are closed, you’re fine. If you’ve got the doors open on one pit and not the other, your draw will get a little wonky and you’ll start having back flow out of your firebox. When you close all of your doors and resume cooking on both pits, the draw will quickly correct itself.
-How much was the system? -Don’t quote me on this because it’s been a while but if I recall correctly it was around $17,850 for each system plus shipping. So, we paid a total of $35,700 for both systems. We might have gotten a small discount for buying two systems at once but I can’t remember the exacts here. It’s been 4’ish years! You’ll have to contact them direct for up-to-date pricing and availability.
-How much was the total cost of everything? For two platforms, two scrubbers, permits, electrical, plumbing, install and all of the other things involved; my best guess is it cost us $150,000. Now that doesn’t include any legal fees but hopefully your situation doesn’t go there!
-Was there permitting involved? Yes. We had to submit plans to the city since we had to build a platform on top of our pit house that consisted of a ladder, walking area to service the equipment, electrical to power the unit, plumbing to drain the tank, connect a water hose to refill and clean the interior of the unit.
-Can you put one system on 2 smoke stacks? -Yes. It will work fine. See my answer above to the question regarding the draw on your pit.
-Can you put one system on 3 smoke stacks? -Yes. But I wouldn’t recommend it. We unfortunately did so at our restaurant and have learned to live with it but it does drastically affect the draw of your pit at times and cause headaches. We found that there’s too much pressure with 3 smokestacks going into one unit. At times you’ll get some air back flow coming out of the firebox. Unfortunately, we’re forced to deal with it and we make it work but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it.
-What's the daily cleaning procedure look like? They recommend you clean your water tank out every 2 weeks but we run so much smoke through them, we clean them out daily and it works well. To drain the water, spray out your tank and refill, it takes about 10 minutes.
-What does the yearly maintenance look like? Clean your water tank daily and give your sprayer heads (assembly tree) a thorough cleaning every 6 months.
-How long has your system lasted? -Were going on about 4 years. We run our system 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and haven't had any significant problems. We did blow a fuse and had it fixed by an electrician the same day. That's about it though. Cleaning is key.
-What's the biggest issue you had? When we first built out our set up, Smoki USA's plans didn't inform us we needed an access point to the top of the scrubber unit where the stack attaches. You need a removable section to access the sprayer heads (Tree assembly) to clean them. It typically takes 4 hours to clean the tree and I recommend they be cleaned every 6 months.
-How was Smoki USA to work with? At the time they were good to work with. I have no idea who's working there now or if the guys we originally worked are still there.
With all of the above being said, take this information for what it is... one man’s experience and opinion. There’s plenty of smoke scrubber systems out there and we decided this was the best system for us. Overall, we’re happy with our decision.
Disclaimer: I get no kick back from Smoki USA and haven't talked with them since we first bought the system. I hope it continues to work great and we have no need to speak with them!
**UPDATE(2/25/21): Texas saw unpresented freezing for multiple days this past week. Pipes burst all across the city of Austin and state of Texas. How did our scrubber system hold up? Pretty well other than our 3/8 inch cast iron drain pipe on the roof, which froze and cracked. It did so because it didn't have the proper slope in one spot causing water to pool, freeze and expand. We opted to leave the system running through the storm but looking back on it, I will shut it off next time. Here's what we'll do going forward... turn system off, drain all water from the tank, install a shut off valve at the building, insult all of our pipes including the drain pipe.