Made in Texas: Gator Pit BBQs

by Michael Satterfield

It was it hot and humid in Houston and it was only 9AM, it was even hotter in the metal fabrication shop at the Gator Pit, where we all stood waiting for the rest of our group to arrive. I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed that we were looking at cold rolled steel, welders, and trailer, instead of wrestling alligators. The press-briefing for this trip only marked our first stop as "Gator Pit" without explanation, so visions of grappling with an alligator had kinda gotten me a little excited. We were on a BBQ tour and in the south, it isn't uncommon to have roadside attractions where you can see and even wrestle live alligators, then head inside and sample a reptilian menu. But this was a press trip with a range of invitees that included everyone from local magazine journalists and newspaper writers to mommy bloggers and social media influencers. So hoping for reptile combat might have been a little optimistic.

Instead, we were greeted by Ritch "Gator Man" Robin the founder of 'Gator Pit' who would take up several hours of our road trip time to tell us about the necessity of a 1/4 inch firebox and how there is a two-year waiting list for his custom BBQ pits. While I was more interested in eating BBQ than how the pits are made, Ritch has built himself a pretty substantial business. His clients include major celebrities, sports stars, leaders of business, and restaurants around the country. His pits have been featured in Texas Monthly Magazine, Better Homes and Gardens, Southern Barbecue, BBQ Masters, and they even won "Best Mobile Barbeque Pit" by the Houston Press Association. BBQ is serious business in the South and Ritch is serious about building the best BBQ Pits. 

So what does make gator pits different? Well, firstly they are only made out of 100% new steel, no recycled propane tanks or 55-gallon oil drums here. Each pit is made by hand in Houston by Ritch and his team of skilled craftsmen, from a standard back yard pit to custom mobile commercial BBQ pits each one is purpose built and even features custom details to the owner's specifications. It is not unlike ordering a bespoke car, you sit down and pick specifications, colors, wheel options, and all the little custom touches that make your pit standout from all the other pits on the block.

Consumer home pits start at around $1,700 and their "TailGator" hitch mounted BBQ Pits starting at $1,500. Large custom BBQ Pits can cost tens of thousands of dollars and can be built for a stationary restaurant location or built as a custom mobile unit for events. These are not your mass produced BBQs you can pick up at the local home and garden center on sale for $199. These are meant to be used for many years and even come with a limited lifetime warranty, if any part of a Gator Pit fails, they fix it. But as you might expect most of their repairs are from damage or mobile pits getting rear-ended.

If you want to do more than just grill and smoke, Gator Pit has you covered with fryers, end burners, and fire pits. So you can fry a turkey for Thanksgiving, have a crawfish boil, or melt some marshmallows for smores.

If you are a reality TV show junky, you might remember Gator Pit from the 2013 Discovery Channel show "The King of the Grill" where Ritch and his crew built custom themed BBQ Pits, similar to the car and motorcycle builder shows the network is famous for. The most complicated pit they built for the show was a 21-foot-long BBQ Pit that looked like a space shuttle that shot flames out of the rocket exhaust ports.

If you are looking for your own custom BBQ Pit check out

Chevrolet invited me out to get behind the wheel of their latest Silverado and Colorado trucks while learning about the roots of Texas BBQ culture.