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Hearth & Home September 2018

Parting Shot: Train-Smoking

On the day of this writing, Yucca Valley, California, is at 93 degrees F. Wikipedia tells us that the population is around 21,652, and that the town is 27 miles north of Palm Springs. Yes, that Palm Springs where Frank Sinatra had a home in which he threw many a party. In short, he had fun.

The same can be said of Randy McKnight. “I’m just having fun,” he says. “I’m 69 now and I’m tired of doing what everybody else wants. I want to do what I like.”

For 50 years, McKnight worked at his trade, which was structural steel fabrication “for really big, complicated houses, expensive ones, with big arches and strange looking roofs. Basically, I would build a frame out of steel that others would fill in with glass and wood.

“I worked for the most hard-headed architects, engineers, owners, and designers. Now I want to do what I like.”

McKnight likes to create enormous barbecues out of steel, each one with a particular theme and capable of feeding hundreds of people. He considers himself a metal fabrication artist, and has every right to do so.

His latest endeavor is an old-time locomotive. The body is a six-foot area divided into a two-foot section and a four-foot section. A rotisserie shaft goes all the way through. “You could put in a 700 to 800 lb. pig if you wanted; I made everything heavy enough so you could really load it up,” he says. “You can look through the window and see what’s going on; you don’t have to open it.

“The front two feet is all stainless-steel rotisserie with hanging baskets. Then there are three levels of grills in the rest of it, and each rotator compartment has an upper drawer and a lower drawer.

“One of the ways I cook with it is to take a big, juicy steak, maybe a couple of inches thick, and grill it real fast on both sides, just sear it, then set it up on the rack and let it smoke. You might have 20 or 30 steaks in there, and you could certainly feed a lot of people with that.

“Underneath the bottom grill there is a tray in which to put wet chips and let them smoke. Let them smoke for six or eight hours at a low temperature, perhaps 250 degrees. Use whatever kind of sauce you want and let it cook four or six hours, and then you’ll have a steak that is not tough at all.

“In the back there’s a rotisserie with 10 baskets that are 18 inches long and six inches wide; you can put four chickens in each one of them, or some steaks. In the back is the flat grill where you can do bread or biscuits in the oven. Some people are really tuned in to cooking for others; they can feed 500 to 600 people easily.”

Asked what the locomotive grill will sell for, McKnight says, “God only knows. There’s $25,000 in materials in it right now.” Double that, at least, for the labor involved and we might be getting close.

The buyer won’t be a backyard griller or smoker. Most likely it will be a business, such as a Las Vegas resort, where the grill will be an attraction, and well worth the money. It may take a while, but someone will buy McKnight’s Locomotive, and be glad they did.

Meanwhile, Randy McKnight will be off creating another themed barbecue, and just having fun.

Randy McKnight. Phone: (760) 365-9872,

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