When Caleb and Matt Johnson opened Lockhart’s Mill Scale Metalworks, in 2018, customers had to spend the price of a small car to buy one of the company’s commercial offset smokers, sight unseen. Every project was made to order, so the brothers didn’t keep any inventory. The welding shop, northeast of downtown, didn’t even show up on Google Maps for several years. It relied on referrals to bring in orders, some from as far away as Aruba, Kuwait, or Singapore. But the shopping experience, for both backyard barbecuers and professional pitmasters, has changed with Mill Scale’s new 10,000-square-foot workshop and retail space, which opened in February just off Colorado Street, the main thoroughfare of the barbecue capital of Texas. 

Mill Scale’s most popular commercial model, the 1,000-gallon smoker, is built from reclaimed propane tanks; it starts at $16,815 and currently requires a four-month lead time. Weekend chefs, on the other hand, can choose the 94-gallon version, made with steel pipe and featuring a 23-by-36-inch cooking grate. And anyone can now check out all the models in person. “One of the big wins with this new facility,” Matt says, “is offering people a place to kick the tires and put their hands on a smoker.” When you can feel the weight of the doors and run your fingers over the smooth joints, you understand why the 94-gallon smoker, which starts at $4,920, costs several times more than its chain store cousins. 

Matt’s welding career began more than a decade ago, when the budding entrepreneur started building out a coffee trailer in China Spring, where he and his younger brother grew up, just outside Waco. He used an entry-level welding machine that his parents bought him for his birthday. “I finally got it built and got the espresso machine in there, and by the time I was done, I kind of fell out of love with coffee,” he says. Welding, however, had stolen Matt’s heart. Caleb put aside his PlayStation to help Matt with welding projects and became hooked too. “We never ended up playing Mortal Kombat, but we both got into welding,” Matt says.

In addition to other responsibilities, Caleb runs the welding shop, while Matt focuses on expanding the business. Matt’s wife, Annie, serves as the operations manager, overseeing the company’s day-to-day dealings, including the store and its stock of apparel, firepits, and grills. The new space sits near Kreuz Market, which dates back 124 years. Of his place among Lockhart’s legends, Matt says, “It’s very cool to be part of such a historic barbecue culture, even though we’re the new guy in town.”  

Fire It Up!

Three more great backyard smokers from Texas. 

Big Phil’s Smokers

Caddo Mills

Philip Kirkpatrick builds a variety of offset smokers at different prices, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, he saw a rising demand for an inexpensive but sturdy backyard smoker. After finding a source that sold pipe sections rejected from oil fields at a third of the original cost, he produced a stripped-down version of his $3,500 backyard model for a fraction of the price. The Blue Smoke Smoker: $2,100; 23-by-48-inch grate; lead time: 12 to 14 weeks. 

Franklin Barbecue Pits


When Aaron Franklin, of Franklin Barbecue, launched a line of backyard smokers, in 2020, the waiting list quickly grew to more than a year. His team produced only ten per week before he scaled up production, partnering with larger shops in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in North Carolina’s barbecue capital of Lexington. His pits are now available at more than fifty retail locations in the U.S. and Canada. Franklin Barbecue Pit: $5,150; 19-by-33-inch grate; ready to ship.

M&M BBQ Company


Goldee’s Barbecue, in Fort Worth, teamed up with this northeast Texas manufacturer on a smoker with a unique design. A curved pipe connects the firebox and the cooking chamber, which Goldee’s co-owner Jonny White says makes for a smaller hot spot on the grate. Goldee’s smokes its turkey breasts on one. Goldee’s Backyard Offset: $4,250; 24-by-50-inch grate; lead time: 16 to
20 weeks.

This article originally appeared in the April issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Weld It, and They Will Come.” Subscribe today.