Walter "Stump" McDowell has been active in the competetive barbecue circuit for more than two decades and over the years has accumulated a large collection of trophies.
The founder of Stumps Smokers also helps with fundraisers and has cooked a seemingly unbelievable 700 Boston butts in one go. In his time, McDowell has used almost any type of cooker you can think of, including charcoal grills, wood smokers, pellet cookers and fire-pits.
"I know my way around pretty much any grill there is and any meat there is," McDowell said. "It was because of all that cooking that he decided he wanted a better smoker."
Walter's desire to do something about it was borne from the amount of time that was required in order to cook well on a smoker.
Q'ing large pieces of meat can take anywhere up to 18 hours for a whole hog and most smokers require that fuel be added at regular intervals to hold the correct temperature, and this drove McDowells plans forward.
"I just wanted some rest," McDowell said. "I didn't want to get up and throw wood every 30 minutes." He studied the smokers available on the market and wasn't satisfied that any of then would meet his requirements, so he decided to build his own.
"I love to learn new things, and I don't mind a challenge," McDowell said. "The word can't ain't in my vocabulary."
He developed a gravity charcoal feeding system and airtight box with extra insulation to minimize heat loss and maximize temperature control and by using his previous experience gained from his profession in the air and heating industry, he designed an ingenious diffuser plate to distribute the heat from the firebox evenly throughout the convection chamber.
This plate effectively created a reverse-convection-oven effect. Despite McDowell's many great ideas, the first prototype he produced was a failure.
"I couldn't cook on it because it got too hot with the insulation, but I learned a lot," he explained.
McDowell took his creation to barbecue competitions and asked people to try it out, and among the first people to try a Stumps Smoker, was Rob "Rub" Rugby, who is currently ranked number one on the competitive BBQ circuit and is the president of the Florida Barbecue Association.
"That first one was so ugly, we called it Frankenstein!" Bagby said.
In 2004 McDowell quit his job to channel his time and energies into the fledgling company with a $35 investment and a borrowed welder.
Today he can't build them fast enough to satisfy demand.
Currently there are six different versions of Stumps Smokers, comprising of the vertical models which include the Baby Stump which is intended for home use and the Platinum series which is a large volume cooker capable of holding a massive 700 pounds of meat at a time.
McDowell is always cooking up new ideas for his business and has desires to expand into the home market by operating his own retail store that will be stocked with charcoal, rubs, sauces and Stumps Smokers.
McDowell's determination to succeed has been rewarded with thousands of loyal followers, repeat sales and glowing recommendations of his work, some of whom have purchased a Stumps Smoker purely on looks alone!
Examples of Stump's Smokers cooker designs.
The Baby Vertical Smoker
The Classic Vertical Smoker
Platinum Series #5
Stumps Smokers have no shortage of loyal customers and fans of their work.
Jim Kinman, President of Lowe Electric
"At Christmas time, I'll cook 400-500 Boston butts, to give away to customers. It used to take about 150 pounds of charcoal. With a Stump's, it takes 25 to 30 pounds, plus it will hold heat for 20 hours.
I can put all the butts on and come back in 10 or 12 hours, and they're done. I don't have to add charcoal or touch the dampers. I don't have to do anything. I've had fouth other brands of smokers before I got a Stump's. It's by far the best."
Thad Estes of Estes Electric Company
"With a Stump's, we don't have to worry about the fuel or the heat. No other smoker has this gravity feed system and reverse airflow. If you look at the mechanics of it, the smoker was a dreamer's dream."
Rob "Rub" Bagby President of the Florida Barbecue Association
"When you're cooking for competitions, one of the most important things is a steady temperature. If you have a smoker that fluctuates a lot it can affect the juiciness of the meat. The thing about Stump's Smokers is the temperature is so precise. If you set a Stump's at two hundred fifty degrees, it might move three or four degrees, that's it. They will hold a tighter temperature range than an electric or gas oven."
You can find out more by visiting Stump's Smokers.