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Waterford fabricator, national barbecue champion team up to design and manufacture pits

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Waterford — This is a business deal sealed in brisket, brine and barbecue.

Myron Mixon, the four-time barbecue world champion, author and television celebrity, and Rob Marelli Jr., president of Seconn Manufacturing Group, didn't set out to design, build and sell smokers on the Cross Road opposite Marelli's fabrication plant.

Their collaboration started with a dare in July 2010, when a friend challenged Marelli to get "the winningest man in barbecue" to cater a big backyard party Marelli was hosting at his mother-in-law's home overlooking Long Island Sound.

"'Oh sure, Rob, you're gonna get this guy to barbecue for you,'" said Marelli, recalling his friend's challenge when the idea first came up.

And Marelli thought "Why not?"

He reached out to Mixon, who agreed to fly in from Los Angeles where he was wrapping up filming of "BBQ Pitmasters" and hired him to cook for the party. Then things heated up.

"At that time he was paying me to do it, but soon, we became fast friends," said Mixon, 54, who was in town last weekend to run his first-ever Connecticut version of Jack's Old South Cooking School at Myron Mixon Smokers on the Cross Road.

But that's getting ahead of the story of Myron Mixon Smokers, or the union of Myron Mixon and Seconn Fabrication.

In July 2012, Marelli invited Mixon back to cook for a second party, and that's when the two started talking.

A month later Mixon sent a pit to Marelli and asked him to come up with some drawings that they could discuss. But Seconn Fabrication did more than that. Marelli's team designed and built three custom-model barbecue pits and in October 2012 drove them down to Lynchburg, Tennessee, to the Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbecue where Mixon was competing, to let him take a look.

"He was shocked, absolutely shocked," said Marelli, "And those pits got a lot of attention."

Mixon and Marelli had a chat.

"I remember he said to me, 'Rob, what do you want to do?'" said Marelli. "And I said, 'Myron, I don't know anything about barbecue' and he said, 'Rob, I don't know anything about sheet metal.'"

"Neither of us had to get into the barbecue smoker business to make money, but we're both passionate about it," said Mixon. "And that is how it went, with a handshake, and we moved on."

The two launched Myron Mixon Smokers at 179 Cross Road in January 2013 and business has been growing ever since. They ship pits across the nation and around the world.

Marelli, 50, runs the day-to-day operations and Mixon lends his name and barbecue savvy.

"Rob is really passionate about the smoker. He understands and loves it like I do and that's what makes us great partners," said Mixon, and added, "People talk about Rob and I being partners, but we are the best of friends, too."  

Mixon, who lives in Unadilla, Georgia, has been cooking ribs and chicken since he was 8 and helped out at his late father's take-out place.

Barbecue, he said, "... is the hot food genre now. Its popularity is growing by leaps and bounds."

The reason, said the man who is the four-time world barbecue champion and a judge on Destination America's reality television show "BBQ Pitmasters," is because it's not overly complicated.

"People watch a lot of cooking shows, and they love it, but nine times out of 10 they can't execute a recipe they see on TV. With barbecue, to some degree, they can see it, relate to it, and do it in their backyard. It's attainable. And it's not only growing in the U.S., it's growing all over the world."

Myron Mixon Smokers is a testament to that. Employee Toni Maynard said the business has shipped pits across the country and as far away as Dubai, Israel, London and Sweden, as well as to other overseas locations. Local businesses are buying them, too, like the new Dog Watch BBQ & more in Stonington.

At the hands-on, three-day cook school last weekend, about 35 participants, some who traveled from Texas, Florida and South Carolina, sat attentively taking notes as Mixon demonstrated barbecue techniques with brisket, ribs, chicken and pork and shared tips and recipes. The students had their own time to trim, prep and cook the proteins, and tasted all of them.

While working on whole chickens to ready them for a pit, Mixon fielded questions about how much rub goes inside a bird's cavity and the bird's proper placement over a soda can. And, when he demonstrated how to make a blackberry glaze for the chicken, and how to get it just right on the chicken drumsticks he was also prepping, students leaned forward to not miss a single detail.

Myron Mixon pits come in a variety of sizes suitable for the backyard aficionado to the super-size chain restaurant. Some smokers hold enough meat for a family picnic and others enough for a small army. Buyers decide whether they want a "stick burner" that's fueled by wood — hickory, apple, peach and oak are favorites — or the gravity-fed charcoal or the pellet-fired models.

"Because we are an engineering company and a manufacturing company we had knowledge that could help us be innovative in this industry," said Marelli. "Old-time pit builders think thicker is better — the thicker the material the hotter the heat. But we know of an FDA approved insulation product that we use in similar applications for the war effort that we could put between two skins of material. So you can lean on our pits — touch them — and not get burned."

Marelli started with Seconn Fabrication in 2003, then added Seconn Automation, his robotics automation welding company several years later, and now, Myron Mixon Smokers.

"Seconn Fabrication has allowed us the ability to put our toe in the water to diversify into these other spaces," he said, adding that both the welding robotics and barbecue smoker ventures are doing well.

In three years, Marelli said they've grown from the single prototype stick burner they started with to four models of the gravity cookers, two styles of the charcoal grill, four commercial rotisseries, and three pellet smokers. Prices start around $2,500 and can go as high as $30,000.

"We want to be a smoker solution," he said. "TV has made barbecue so attractive and people are staying home now and hanging out in their backyard — but not everybody has access to wood, or knows how to control a fire, not everybody has time to sit around the pit.

"So we want to make the process easy for you," he said.

a.baldelli@theday.com

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