Gene Copeland opens his smoker to reveal several pork rumps and chicken thighs slowly cooking inside. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson/sdickerson@madisoncourier.com)
Gene Copeland opens his smoker to reveal several pork rumps and chicken thighs slowly cooking inside. (Staff photo by Steve Dickerson/sdickerson@madisoncourier.com)
When Gene Copeland lifts the lid of his custom smoker to reveal large cuts of pork and chicken thighs resting inside, it's the first time the meat has seen daylight in hours. He keeps the lid closed so the meat can keep soaking in the flavor of the hickory wood burning in a separate compartment below.

The smoker - a repurposed 250-gallon propane tank - took Gene three months to complete after buying it from scrap and fixing it up.

Right now it's the centerpiece of Butts-N-Racks, the barbeque catering business he started with his brother, Brent.

A smoker of that size, Gene said, will hold its temperature for around two hours. So, to keep the meat cooking and to keep adding flavor, you have to continually feed the fire.

"If you ain't got no wood in the box then you ain't got no smoke and that's where all the flavor comes from," Brent said.

Together, they will cook just about any cut of meat imaginable.

They started in 2008. The brothers entered the Madison Courier Backyard BBQ at Ribberfest and took second place at the amateur competition.

It wasn't long before their success vaulted them into the professional ranks. In 2009, they entered the professional Kansas City Barbeque Society competition at the Ribberfest. They're continuing the run this year.

"We were just dabbling as a hobby," Gene said about creating the business with his brother.

Each year the duo adds new pieces to their operation. Recently they bought a food truck they can take to events and competitions.

They gutted the inside and added sinks, counter space, a refrigerator and a pellet smoker before getting the truck certified by the Indiana Department of Health.

They've also tried cooking with different meats. They've recently started getting pork belly to make their own bacon, and during deer season, they'll make salami.

The brothers now are working to perfect their own rub for the meat they cook.

"We just keep adding a little bit at a time," Brent said.

"We like to experiment with a little bit of everything," Gene added.

The brothers also acquired another propane tank, a bigger one that will allow them to cook a whole hog.

Even though the business is growing, the two say they're just doing this for fun. They cater a few events every year, but they know their limits. The largest event they've hosted was for 200 people.

"That's still a lot for us," Brent said.

They each work full time in addition to the work they do with the catering business. Gene works animal control with the city, and Brent works at Sunrise Golf Course. So the business, they said, is still just for fun.

"We're not getting rich off of this," Gene said.

Part of the problem, the brothers said, is because they really like their product.

"Well, we like to eat," Gene said.