TVWB celebrates its 16th anniversary on June 12, 2014. It's hard to believe that the website is 16 years old!
Back In June 1998...
It seems like only yesterday that I started on this barbecue adventure. If you're interested in learning about how it all happened, read on...
Stumbling Into The BBQ Forum
In April 1997, I was sitting in my cubicle at Hewlett-Packard when a colleague, Duncan Engel, called me over to his desk. "Hey, check out this barbecue website," he said. It was Ray Basso's Kansas City Barbecue Connection, which featured a prominent link to The BBQ Forum.
I spent the rest of that afternoon and a good part of the following day reading most of the archives of The BBQ Forum, something that one could actually accomplish back when that forum was only about two years old. Up until that time, I had never contemplated making my own slow-cooked barbecue. Yes, I had grilled ribs on my Weber Genesis gas grill, and I enjoyed eating barbecue at Armadillo Willy's, my favorite local joint, but it was not until I stumbled into The BBQ Forum that I realized that people actually cooked real barbecue in their own backyards. So I owe Ray Basso a great big "thank you" for introducing me to the wonderful world of barbecue.
What's This WSM Thing?
As I read through the posts, a cooker called the Weber Smokey Mountain kept popping up again and again. People were using it in the backyard and in competition, and they were winning contests with it. I read posts by Mike Scrutchfield and Elizabeth Lumpkin and Jim Minion, all singing the praises of this cooker. I figured that if this WSM thing was good enough for them, it would certainly be good enough for me, and I was already a big fan of Weber products, so all the more reason to buy one.
On April 17, 1997 I went to Barbeques Galore in Palo Alto and bought a WSM for $189. This was back in the day before the WSM was widely available online at places like Amazon.com.
My First Cook
I used my new WSM for the first time on April 19, 1997. I know the date because it's the first entry in my cooking log. Keeping detailed notes in a cooking log was another thing I learned from people on The BBQ Forum.
I fired up the cooker using the instructions in the Owner's Manual (the first of many mistakes made over the years) and cooked two slabs of baby back ribs using a commercial rub from the grocery store. I finished the ribs with Armadillo Willy's barbecue sauce about 40 minutes before the end of the cook.
My notes from those first ribs:
Attending Paul Kirk's Class
A few days after my first cook, I learned that Paul Kirk would be coming to Northern California to conduct his Barbecue School of Pitmasters class at Armadillo Willy's. How cool would it be to hang-out all day in the parking lot of my favorite barbecue restaurant, learning how to make barbecue from one of the best in the business?
I attended the class on May 3, 1997 and cooked my first brisket, pork butt, spare ribs, and whole chicken on that day. Surprisingly, my cooking partner and I won a 2nd place ribbon for pork butt in the mock competition during the class!
Beginnings Of A Website
After about six months of WSM ownership, I had a fair amount of cooking experience under my belt, and I'd collected a lot of tips and tricks about how to best operate the cooker. I kept all my notes neatly organized by category in a bright red binder. One day, as I was leafing through the binder, it dawned on me that I had enough information for the makings of a website. Wouldn't it be great to put all this stuff online into a single, well-organized site that was dedicated to owners of the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker? And what about people who wanted to see the WSM before buying it, but couldn't find one in a local retail store? Maybe I could include photos showing what the cooker looked like and how all the pieces went together.
So, in the Fall of 1997, I started tinkering with a website. I didn't know much about web pages or HTML at the time, so I thought this would also be a good opportunity to learn some new technical skills. However, I soon got distracted by other things and lost interesting in the website.
Fast forward to May 1998. I was still cooking up a storm on my WSM and collecting information in my now bulging red binder. One day I was browsing several barbecue websites, and I thought to myself, "I can make a site that's every bit as good as these." In the interim, I had acquired more HTML skills, so I felt more sure of my technical abilities. I also felt that the WSM was a fantastic product that didn't get the attention it deserved from Weber; in fact, it barely got a mention on their corporate website.
With new motivation, I dusted off the web pages that I'd set aside and started work again. I took photos of the WSM with my 35mm film camera and used a scanner to get them into electronic format.
The website started out with just four sections, all of which fit on a single floppy disk—with lots of room to spare:
On June 12, 1998, I uploaded the site to the free hosting space provided by my Internet Service Provider, and The Virtual Weber Bullet was born. The URL was www.concentric.net/~callingh until September 1999 when I registered the domain name www.virtualweberbullet.com.
Here We Grow!
From those first four sections in 1998, TVWB expanded to include a cooking section (1999), a discussion forum (2000), a shopping section (2000), and a videos section (2007). Today, the site features over 200 articles and videos covering a wide range of topics, including recipes, cooking techniques, usage tips, and WSM modifications.
In 2000, my friend Kevin Kawahara encouraged me to create a bulletin board dedicated to the WSM. While not wanting to take anything away from other forums, I felt that the WSM had a large enough following that it deserved its own place for discussion on the Web. After all, if the Big Green Egg, Kamado, and Klose cookers had their own dedicated forums, why not the WSM?
With Kevin's help, The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board went live on February 6, 2000. It used Infopop's Ultimate Bulletin Board software and ran on a server with a Comcast high speed internet connection in Kevin's spare bedroom. Kevin was system administrator for the bulletin board until June 2004, when Comcast cracked down on bandwidth usage and ruined the nice little arrangement we had going. After a few frantic days of transition, the bulletin board moved to Infopop's Groupee hosted service on June 9, 2004.
Over the next 8 years, the discussion forums grew tremendously, with over 8,000 registered members and hundreds of thousands of posts. In 2011 and 2012, it became clear that The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board needed to move to a new platform, as the hosted service was not staying competitive with other platforms, both in terms of cost and features. With some help from a company called URLJet, we moved the forums to vBulletin software on a new, more efficient hosting service in July, 2012.
But back to Kevin Kawahara for a second...I can't thank him enough for his generous contributions to our online community in those early days. Without him, the bulletin board would not have happened.
I've had the privilege of using TVWB to help charitable causes over the years, but there are two instances that really stand out for me, and both had to do with customized WSMs.
The first was working on The Little Red Bullet Project. This customized WSM helped raise $1,520 for the American Red Cross in the aftermath of 9/11. The other was The Two-Tone Blue Bullet Project that raised $1,476 for Florida hurricane victims in Fall 2004.
Something Old, Something New
In the past few years, my focus has been on going back and re-cooking, re-photographing, and re-writing some of the earliest articles on TVWB. I've learned a lot over the years, and I would not necessarily do things today the same way I did them 10 or 12 years ago, so a lot of effort has gone into updating some of the oldest content on the website.
One of the really satisfying things to have happened in the last few years is Smoke Day. Started in 2005 at the suggestion of discussion forum member Joel Kiess, Smoke Day is held each year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. On that day, WSM owners from around the world barbecue with family and friends, then report back on the bulletin board with their results and photos. It's great to see the fun that people have in their backyards with the WSM, and it's amazing to see the scope of participation. For Smoke Day 10 last month, there were hundreds of registered participants on the Smoke Day Map in the U.S. and many countries around the world.
Another focus over the past 5 years has been Q&A sessions on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board. We've had great discussions with the likes of Harry Soo, Jamie Purviance, Gary Wiviott, Kevin Kolman, and "Famous Dave" Anderson.
And TVWB has reached out to you via Facebook and Twitter, as well as through our monthly newsletter, to keep you informed about what's happening with the website and to provide you a chance to talk back to TVWB!
Support From People Like You
Today, we live in a world where so many services are available online for free, including web searches, e-mail, photo sharing, video sharing, blogging, podcasting, and so much more. But companies have to pay for the free services we enjoy, and they usually pay for it by trying to sell advertising.
From the very beginning, TVWB has provided you with quality information that is offered free of charge. But there is a fair amount of cost associated with delivering a website that serves up millions of pages a year to hundreds of thousands of readers. I've paid for some of that out of my own pocket, but TVWB readers have graciously supported the website by shopping Amazon.com, with each sale generating a small commission that helps defray the cost of bringing you TVWB. The creation of a dedicated shopping page in 2000 and the addition of new support methods like PayPal donations and TVWB logo merchandise have made it even easier for people to help support the site. I want to extend a special thanks to all that have contributed throughout the past 16 years!
Gonna Keep On Truckin'
Like I said before, it's hard to believe that 16 years have come and gone so quickly. Yet sometimes, it feels like I've been at this for a very, very long time! Month after month, creating new content and updating old articles. Fixing broken links. Replacing old photos with new ones. I can't even begin to count the hours I've spent sitting in front of my computer creating and maintaining TVWB.
Why do I keep doing it? Certainly not for money. Certainly not for attention, because I'm not very comfortable in the spotlight and prefer to stay in the background. Certainly not for status in the barbecue community, because I'm no expert—I'm just a backyard barbecuer like most of you. Heck, I've even been accused of being the "Betty Crocker of Barbecue"—not a real person at all, but a fictitious persona dreamt up by the marketing gurus at Weber.
Well, I'm here to say that I'm not Betty Crocker, and I don't work for Weber. I am a real person, a humble student of the art and science of barbecue, and I publish TVWB each month because it's fun. I get a great deal of satisfaction from writing about barbecue. It's an outlet for my creativity. It gives me a chance to tinker with projects like cooker modifications. It gives me a reason to buy toys like remote probe thermometers and digital cameras. It's a way to share my enthusiasm for barbecue and the WSM with others.
But most importantly, I do it because of the e-mails I get from people like you telling me how much they enjoy the website and the discussion forum. How it's introduced them to the joys of owning a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker and preparing delicious food for family and friends...making barbecue for a daughter's wedding rehearsal dinner...winning a ribbon in a barbecue contest...being a hero in your own backyard. Those e-mails make it all worthwhile.
So in closing, let me thank each of you for coming along with me on this 16-year adventure into the world of barbecue. Thanks to those who have offered words of encouragement along the way, and thanks for taking interest in the content I've provided over the years. If it weren't for all of you, there would be no point in my doing any of this.