Food & Drink

How a Texas Mill Turns Propane Tanks Into Famed BBQ Pits

As told to Wildsam Editors

Wildsam

Matt and Caleb Johnson | Mill Scale Metalworks

Updated

12 Mar 2024

Reading Time

6 Minutes

Mill Scale Metalworks Ships Its Burly Products Around the World. It All Starts in the Yard.

Since 2018, some of the barbecue world's most prized gear has come from Mill Scale Metalworks, a family operation in the BBQ mecca of Lockhart. From backyards to celebrated professional pits, Mill Scale wares are prized for their brawn and quality—no accident, given their origins. Matt Johnson, one of Mill Scale's founding brothers, talks about where the gear begins:

For our big smokers, the 500- and 1,000-gallon ones, we use decommissioned propane tanks to make the main smoke chamber. The tanks are salvaged and no longer rated for use because of a dent, or a valve or data plate’s missing—something like that. We’ve done lots of different things to get them. We’ve bought them from local farmers and ranchers, and they’re like, “I went to buy chickens, and I saw these propane tanks. I wanted to see if you guys want them.” We literally bought them to a truck like that. 

We have a safety process that we follow because that’s kind of a scary thought, cutting into a propane tank. We fill them up with water and soap and let them sit just Texas-style, out in the yard. After that we get to it, first with a safety cut. Then we drain them and clean them really well. We bring them in and start turning that into a barbecue pit–welding, cutting, adding a firebox. 

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Mill Scale Metalworks

It’s taking trash or junk and turning it into this vessel that’s celebrated. They become iconic, and I really love that. It’s like you get to give something a second chance at life. It’s pretty romantic. 

Within six months of opening Mill Scale, we were booked up for about a year and a half of work making barbecue pits. Our first one went to New York, and then, even in the first six months, we were shipping them to Berlin, the U.K., Sweden, Copenhagen, Chicago, California. They went all over, and it was really shocking to us to see how powerful barbecue is and how much of a global curiosity and interest it is. 

For Texans, everybody you know has a barbecue pit in their backyard. Everybody’s dad cooks a brisket. Maybe I didn’t really fully understand how special it was until I saw the reactions of other people across the world.

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