One-of-a-kind smoker gets strange looks from cooks

Sunday, October 2, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In a city where barbecue is king, serious cooks invest in serious grills, giant forges of succulence, molded from tons of steel for thousands of dollars.

But nobody has a grill exactly like Richard Batliner's.

The Lee's Summit man and his smoker -- which weighs about a ton and was made with quarter-inch steel -- was recently in the American Royal Parade with other local grillers in what organizers called the "pit parade."

Like all conversation pieces, Batliner's grill -- in the shape of a giant pink pig -- has a story.

About 10 years ago, Batliner and his son Chris were riding around one day when Richard spotted the grill in a farmer's front yard. Chris kept driving, but his dad was hooked.

"I said, 'No, stop, back up. That thing's for sale,"' Batliner remembers.

Chris was doubtful, seeing no "for sale" sign. Then his dad reminded him of an unwritten rule: "Anything that's in the front yard of a farmer's house is for sale."

As it turns out, Batliner was right. The old man who lived there, a farmer who did some welding on the side, was ready to sell, Batliner said. The man had made the grill for a catering business, but the transaction fell through. The pig -- this fantastic, one-of-a-kind masterpiece -- had nowhere else to go.

Batliner dragged his new grill to Arrowhead Stadium for a tailgating party, and the response was amazing. Strangers kept stopping to ask questions and take pictures.

Every so often, Batliner gets offered catering jobs, but he's never accepted. He doesn't compete in grilling contests, either.

No, the pig's saved mostly for family cookouts, neighborhood parties and the giant summer luau where the elder Batliner cooks for 350 friends.

If you want a grill like Batliner's, forget about it. The old farmer vowed to never make another, Batliner said. Other people asked him to build giant metal pigs for them. As far as Batliner knows, he never did.

"There's just one of them," Batliner said. "I guarantee you."

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