Corby Ferrell didn’t get the barbecue joint he was hoping for, but he did get to keep the smoker. Peggy Sue BBQ in University Park, which opened in 1946, closed for good in 2020, and Ferrell had plans to buy the restaurant in a joint venture with Benchmark Bank, where he is the president of the Park Cities branch. They were going to call it BBQ, with the bank’s logo making up the “BB,” and hire Matt Dallman, formerly of Dallas’s 18th & Vine BBQ, as the pitmaster. But developer Jim Strode was the winning bidder for the property, and he had plans for demolition. “Can I have the smoker?” Ferrell remembers asking Strode. The answer was yes, as long as Ferrell arranged the removal crew and paid the expenses; otherwise, “it’s headed to the dump,” Strode told him.
This January, they hoisted the five-thousand-pound Oyler rotisserie smoker out with a Bobcat and placed it on a trailer that hadn’t felt that kind of load before. “The tires compressed right down to the rims,” Ferrell said. They added some air to the tires and hauled the Oyler down to Tool, on the shores of Cedar Creek Lake, and to M&M BBQ Company in hopes they could bring the neglected smoker back to life.
“Oh my God, what did we get into?” Mike Miller Jr. remembers thinking when he saw the rusted-out smoker arrive. His father, Mike Miller Sr., had seen some smokers in rough shape before. He had been the one-man smoker-repair division for J&R Manufacturing, the company in Mesquite that still builds Oyler rotisserie smokers. The company closed the repair division when Miller Sr. left twenty years ago to start his own smoker repair business, M&M BBQ Company. When he saw what had arrived on the trailer, he just shook his head and asked Ferrell, “What do you want us to do with this thing?” Ferrell replied, “We’re trying to save a piece of history here.”
That piece of history cooked the first barbecue meal I ate when I moved to Dallas in 2001 and visited Peggy Sue BBQ. The smoker was made years before, on April 4, 1984, according to the serial number stamped on the side, and had been churning out barbecue ever since. Miller Sr. even remembered servicing it when Peggy Sue was still operating. Now, the father-and-son team, plus partner Matt Sutton, had to figure out what it was going to cost. They tallied up the parts and labor and told Ferrell the repair was going to run about $25,000. It helped that the bank agreed to cover the expenses in return for having an official Benchmark Bank smoker.
When Miller Jr. joined his father’s business, he wanted to focus as much energy on building new smokers from scratch as repairing old ones. “I’ve always wanted to build,” he told me. They built their first wood-fired rotisserie smoker seven years ago. Miller Jr. mentioned to Ferrell that for $34,000, he could have built a brand-new rotisserie similar to the one M&M was repairing. If you’ve seen an Oyler, the M&M rotisseries will look familiar, but the company has learned a few things from those decades of repairing the competitor’s smokers. And in the wood-fired rotisserie smoker game, Oyler is about the only other option available in the world.
“I build these to do as little maintenance on them as possible,” Miller Jr. said of the M&M rotisseries. M&M changed the firebox design, upgraded the bearings, and moved the oft-malfunctioning limit switch that stops the rotisserie from spinning when the door opens. It’s the rotisserie function—the multiple metal racks spinning inside the smoker—that causes most of the maintenance problems. Well, that and lack of cleaning. “I build the pits and I work on the pits,” Miller Jr. said. “I don’t do the cleaning.” M&M will sometimes be called for a repair when the only work that needs to be done is a good scrubbing. “We’ve seen some so dirty, they were dipping the racks into the grease at the bottom,” he said. But cleaning isn’t the company’s department.
M&M’s pit-building operation is unique. In addition to the rotisserie models, which it built for 225 BBQ in Arlington, Brett’s BBQ Shop in Katy, and Miller’s Smokehouse in Belton, it also builds thousand-gallon offsets, like the ones it recently delivered to Hurtado Barbecue in Arlington and Hutchins BBQ in McKinney. M&M is also working on a line of backyard offset smokers and has even built a first-of-its-kind backyard-size rotisserie smoker. Even with all the custom building, “I will never abandon [the repair] part of the business,” Miller Jr. said.
The men refurbished Ferrell’s smoker for months, but they had it done in time for a debut at the AT&T Byron Nelson golf tournament in McKinney in May. Ferrell and his crew smoked ten briskets, 22 pork shoulders, and two hundred chicken legs on the smoker’s first run. I saw it at the Big Texas BBQ event at Fair Park put on by the Touchdown Club a few weeks ago. Benchmark Bank fielded a barbecue team for the pork-rib competition, which I judged, so I got to see it in action. If I hadn’t known the pit’s backstory, I would have guessed the shiny black smoker they call the Peggy Sue was brand-new.
Ferrell’s wife and neighbors quickly tired of seeing the Peggy Sue and its trailer in the driveway, so he made Matt Dallman its official caretaker. Dallman is smoking ribs, brisket, and burnt ends on it for Father’s Day weekend through his Live Coals catering company. Ferrell has also ordered a new trailer for the smoker, with serving tables and more robust tires, which should be completed soon. Then it will be time for the renewed smoker’s official debut at a barbecue party, open to the public, at the Benchmark Bank branch just up the street from the old Peggy Sue BBQ location.