This month, David B. Knight, president and founder of Ole Hickory Pits commercial barbecue smoker ovens, will be formally inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame during The American Royal 2016 World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City, Kansas. One of three 2016 inductees, Knight has been an industry influencer since he created his first brick barbecue pit in 1974 at Port Cape Girardeau, his restaurant in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
You operated Port Cape Girardeau for almost 20 years before selling it. How did the restaurant inspire the creation of Ole Hickory Pits? Back then, there was no modern technology. To match the restaurant’s building, I built a brick pit, which is what I was familiar with from growing up around Pruett’s Pit Barbecue in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. But there was no good way to control the fire. By the third time the fire department came to put out a fire, I realized the need for a different type of pit.
How are the pits you manufacture today different from the first pit you built in 1974? Back in the day, controlling the fire hazard was a big deal. Imagine having 600 pounds of pork butts igniting and then turning into rocket fuel – inside a historic building that was built in 1837! We now have control over the fire and are able to smoke meat safely and much more efficiently with the pit’s heat- and smoke-circulation systems. The new designs have been phenomenally successful in the barbecue-competition world, as well.
Where are Ole Hickory Pits used? Worldwide. My son [was recently in] Sweden representing the company at a barbecue event. In [the] St. Louis [area], some of the restaurants that use Ole Hickory are Pappy’s [Smokehouse], Bogart’s [Smokehouse], Sugarfire [Smoke House], The Shaved Duck, and on and on. In Kansas City, Arthur Bryant’s has been cooking on our equipment for more than 30 years. My old friend Mike Mills [uses Ole Hickory] at 17th Street Barbecue in Murphysboro and Marion, Illinois. Mills and I have collaborated on projects, [too], like the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in
New York. Hundreds of thousands of people show up to enjoy real barbecue.
Do you compete in the barbecue-competition circuit yourself? No. Our role
is to help you barbecue at your best. We don’t try to compete with our customers. Our greatest success is to shine in the reflected successes they achieve.
You’ve had a big year. What’s next? We’re collaborating with Carnival Cruise Line and Guy Fieri, who is a friend of mine. His [Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse] restaurant is onboard the Carnival Magic and will soon be on the Carnival Vista and Carnival Dream using custom Ole Hickory Pits smokers.
Ole Hickory Pits, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, 573.334.3377, olehickorypits.com