The biggest advantage of an automatic-fed pellet smoker is that you’re not supposed to have to think much about them.
Fast Eddy Maurin thinks about them a lot. The former Kansas City firefighter and purse-chasing competitive barbecue cook has been involved in the pellet scene since 1990, when he met the first seller of wood pellet grills in the Midwest. “It can produce the same product every given time once you learn to use it well, and it’s labor-less,” he says. “The problem is, like anything else, when something gets so easy, people get so lazy.”
Maurin was an early user of Traeger, the Oregon-based grill builder that popularized the auger-fed pellet smoker that’s the standard today. As a firefighter, Maurin understands airflow and the physics of fire better than most. He put that knowledge to work modifying and then building pellet grills. He bought an old fire station in the East Bottoms, which is now owned by J. Reiger & Co., and eventually partnered with a builder. You can still find his designs for sale under the Cookshack Fast Eddy’s Pellet Grills nameplate.
But that’s not what led me to Fast Eddy. Rather, it was a bag of his custom pellets, which was delivered with a Kansas-made Yoder pellet smoker I’m reviewing at my day job.
“These are the best pellets anywhere in the world—it’s a local guy,” said the delivery driver.
Indeed, these pellets were noticeably better than any others I’d used, producing a steady burn and more smoke flavor than I’ve had with others. I decided to track down Fast Eddy Maurin by phone.
Maurin is a “Pellethead,” a subset of barbecue enthusiasts who swear by pill-sized capsules of wood. This group was built off Pelletheads.com, which went dark when forum founder Larry Hill died in 2017.
“It was amazing—that forum got more than two million clicks a month,” Maurin says. “That’s one of the biggest mistakes I ever made, not buying that forum and keeping all of that information intact. The amount of information that was on there was just unbelievable.”
Maurin’s got plenty of his own info, of course. “I’ve been in the pellet game a long, long time, and there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in this pellet world,” he says. “I’ve used everybody’s stuff.”
A few years ago, Maurin made a breakthrough when he met a man who owns a mill in Southeast Missouri. “He’s hugely passionate about barbecue, and he and I got to talking and it was like ‘holy cow,’” he says.
Before long, the two were teaming up to bag and sell pellets made from a blend of post oak and red oak. “There are some secrets to the quality of the wood we get and how we handle it,” Maurin says. “I would say it’s the greenest that anyone can press a wood pellet. That’s what gives you more flavor.”
The wood listed on a typical bag of pellets has “a lot of hocus-pocus,” Maurin says, as most pellets are made from whatever is convenient to the mill that’s pressing pellets.
“There’s a lot of material from flooring plants, which is mostly white oak,” he says. “White oak is a good wood to cook with, but it’s a mild flavor.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get much else out of Maurin. While the internet has turned many of the techniques used to make great ’cue into common knowledge, the secret to great pellets is still closely held. Maurin says the pelletizing process his partner uses includes some secrets “that he won’t give out to anybody.” The “he” is also a secret, as Maurin won’t disclose the name of the log broker he works with.
“It really comes down to the type of wood and trying to get your hands on that much post oak and red oak,” he says. “Post oak is a very pungent wood and it’s very hard to come by. I had not run across anything like these pellets in the marketplace.”