While Smoke 'n Fire would be a cool name for a barbecue joint, you can't eat at the place in Overland Park, KS (see map). It's a superstore for barbecue smokers, grilles, inside and outside fireplaces, and barbecue accessories along with spices, rubs and sauces. I had seen their ad on TV when I was in Kansas City recently and I took the time one day to run out there to check the place out.
Jim and Joan Cattey first opened Smoke 'n Fire in 1998. How they got into the business is rather interesting. They used to run a farm feed and seed store in Northern Missouri. Through a number of sales contests, they ended up winning some barbecue grills. They had a friend who was selling wood-fired stoves and they sort of partnered up in selling fireplaces, stoves and grilles. The location on 151st St. in Overland Park is the third location Smoke 'n Fire has been in - each location more than doubled the size of their previous site.
Jim Cattey (right) is sort of a local celebrity in that he has a half-hour barbecue show - Xtreme Barbecue Radio - on WHB radio from May thru October each year, plus he stars in his own commercials that air on TV. Cattey has also authored a book called "Backyard Grilling" along with his wife and chef Richard McPeake. In fact, Richard McPeake conducts a number of barbecuing and smoking classes at Smoke 'n Fire. When you buy selected smokers or barbecue grilles at Smoke 'n Fire, they'll throw in a basic class for free.
McPeake also has authored a couple of books on his own on backyard smoking including "Backyard Barbecue - The Art of Smokeology". He's a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and is a certified judge for the Kansas City Barbecue Society. He has conducted over 300 classes for over 9000 people in his association with Smoke 'n Fire. He is also the guy behind the great barbecue web site, Rib Stars, where he sells copies of his books and his own barbecue rubs.
I'd finished a morning meeting at a dealer I've been chasing off and on in the Overland Park area and it turned out that Fire 'n Smoke's location was not far from the dealer's store. Being the grilling and smoking nut that I am, I wanted to go over and check out this place.
As I walked in the door, I was met by two of the new style Weber "Bullet" Smokers. One was the regular 18' size, but they also have a new 22" smoker that's available for $399. The biggest difference between the Bullet smoker I've had for about three years now and the new style is that the new ones have a built in thermometer - my biggest bitch when it came to my smoker. It also appears to be a heavier gauge of metal in the new ones. I immediately wanted one.
In addition to the two Weber smokers and a large array of Weber grilles, they also had a wide variety of smokers and grilles including some pretty heavy-duty, industrial style smokers that I wouldn't mind having. But the prices certainly weren't cheap at Smoke 'n Fire. The quality of the grilles and smokers they had were top-notch. They featured a large selection of grilles and smokers from Lynx, Beef Eater, Primo and Ducane. They also had one of the famous Big Green Egg ceramic grill and smoker. Those things are not cheap.
The place was just huge. I was walking around in a literal daze just looking at everything they had to offer. It was a barbecue paradise for me. They had everything you needed to make any type of backyard grilling a success. My head was spinning at each turn looking at some of the neat accessories they had to offer. There were little knick-knacks like aprons, mitts, thermometers, grilling tools, cleaning tools and cleaning brushes. They had knife sharpeners, meat marinators and tenderizers, grid lifters (I almost got one of those myself), and something called "Grill Floss". It cleaned the underside of your grill grate. That's a little anal for me.
I was back in the corner of the store and I found their area that featured a number of rubs, sauces and spices. I took a quick picture of the area and a lady popped around the corner and she said, "Sir, we don't allow pictures or videos to be made in the store."
I was incredulous. "Really," I asked. "Why's that?"
She said, "The owner feels that it's his intellectual property and he doesn't want someone coming in here to take pictures so they may get ideas for their own place."
I said, "Oh, OK. Sorry. I live up in Iowa and I wanted to show some of my friends this place. You've got a mecca for grilling and smoking here."
I went back into another corner of the store and I found shelves of wood chips in all sizes of bags - from 100 lbs. down to 10 pound bags. They had all different types of wood from mesquite to hickory to alder to cherry to... Well, if you can think of a type of wood that you can use to smoke with, they had it at Smoke 'n Fire. They even had different varieties of flavors within some of the wood chips they sold. I had to get a picture of this, so I snuck one last picture.
I was still wandering around when I heard the lady who initially accosted me about taking pictures with my cell phone say to another guy, "Yeah, that's him back in the corner. He says he's just looking around."
This guy came up to me and asked if he could be of any assistance. As I told the lady before, I told him that I was a big barbecue aficionado and that I saw their ad on television the night before and wanted to check the place out. He asked me where I lived and I told him I lived back in Iowa. He said, "Well, before you leave, give us your name so we can put you on our mailing list." He said it with sort of an untrusting tone of voice. I mean, I guess I can see why they would be worried about people coming in and taking pictures to get ideas. It was a helluva business for them.
I did give my name, e-mail and mailing address to the lady at the counter before I left. I'm not certain she actually added it to the list as I've not seen anything from them either via e-mail or regular mail, and it's been awhile since I've been in. In the back of my mind, I think they probably wanted to take down my name and address in case they found that I was going to open my own style of Smoke 'n Fire store so they could sue me at some point in the future. I'm now probably labeled as an "undesirable" in their system.
And as I left I did see a sign near the front door that said, "No Photo or Video Cameras". I may or may not have seen that when I came in...
But Smoke n' Fire is truly a mecca for those of us who are heavily into barbecuing and smoking. I didn't buy anything this trip, but I'll be back to Kansas City in a few weeks and I'll have to block out an hour or so during the day to come in and look for some stuff. The only problem is that they close at 5:30 every day so I can't spend some time some evening there. But that's OK - I'd rather be eating good barbecue at that time rather than looking for stuff to buy.