In the late 1990's George Black decided to build the world's longest barbecue grill and maybe get himself into the Guinness book. Part of his core business is metal fabrication. One of his sidelines is barbecue catering. He'd built many such grills before, so this should have been no special trick. He called England, and upon inquiring as to the present record, was told there was no category. So he made one seventy feet long, thereby establishing a record and a category. Unfortunately he let his plans slip to a Houston resident, an old buddy who also had a metal shop.

Predictably, the Texan (Mr. Black declined to give me his name.) built a grill a few feet longer. George Black's grill was the world's longest trailer-mounted grill for just a few days. An arms race ensued, the Magnolia grill was extended to eighty feet and then extended again. Potential competitors take note. Mr. Black has anoter ten-foot extension prefabricated and ready to attatch at a moment's notice. Here it is at ninety feet long in 2003, decorated as a rocket because it makes for a comical scene when it's in use. Here you have this MX missile lying on its side with smoke oozing from seams in the metal and a guy turning ribs on it. Attracts photographers. Mr. Black also has some grills made to resemble steam locomotives for similar reasons. Just as clever, but the rocket is the photo op.

The grill is built in six-foot segments with two side-by-side covers accessing each compartment. Opposite each cover is a grating that can be withdrawn so that the fire can be tended from the backside without bothering the cook.

This ninety-foot rigid trailer has some serious cornering problems and can only be taken on the road by special permit, so understandably it's never been taken out of its home base of Magnolia. Most years it's used only once, during the annual Blossom Festival, when the local ROTC unit carts it to the town square, where it invariably knocks down all the signage around the county courthouse during cornering maneuvers.

The ROTC uses the grill in the annual Worlds Champion Steak Cook-off, which is the highlight of the Blossom Festival. It's a big deal by Arkansas standards. Top prize is called the Governor's Trophy and it comes with a check for a couple thousand bucks. There are lesser categories for hardware, parade and showmanship, each carrying prizes of $500. There's a group from Cincinnatti that comes down about every year and puts on a show while grilling. In 1998 they won a money prize as an a capella group. They dressed as cavemen and called themselves the Flint - Tones. There's a lot of that kind of stuff. Costume themed cooks. Wacky artistic barbecue hardware.

In toto the rocket provides about 240 square feet of grill space, at four burgers per foot and seven minutes per burger and elbow room enough for 26 cooks, the theoretical output of the Mother of all Trailer-Mounted Charcoal Grills is a little over 2000 burgers per hour. This capacity has never been approached. The grill is only used in isolated sections because 1) they've just never needed that much fire in one place and 2) the concentrated heat might weaken the structure and cause it to sag. You'll notice all the weight is borne by the central castors.

Mr. Black told me about a trailer-mounted grill in Bratwurst, Nebraska that was eight-by-forty-eight feet, exceeding the rocket's grill area while not approaching its length. Back in 1998 the Johnsonville Sausage Company's Bratwurst touring grill visited the University of Nebraska at Lincoln on the occasion of the Nebraska/Texas game. I wonder if he might have confused the reference.

Johnsonville, Wisconsin boasts of having the "World's Largest Touring Grill," but much of its largeness comes from frivolous add-ons like hot and cold running water, and the word "touring" differentiates it in class from the Magnolia grill's "trailer-mounted." As mentioned above, the Magnolia Rocket doesn't tour, so depending on how you parse your claim, any number of small towns can boast some kind of world's record. The grill space on the Johnsonville grill is about half that of the Magnolia grill, and the Johnsonville grill can accommodate only twelve cooks. If you're interested in taking a look at the Wisconsin grill, here's a link to the Johnsonville Sausage Company website.

Guinness lists the longest barbecue as having taken place in Sicuani, Peru in 1999. It consisted of 536 individual grills laid end to end for a total of 2011 feet. To my mind that's not a record for a barbecue, but possibly one for a hot buffet.

You can personally view this barbecue of mass destruction in Magnolia at Big Boy Toys, 2410 North Dudney along highway 79. Take Main Street west from the town square. Turn left onto 79 at the light at Wal-Mart. It's about a half-mile down on the right. Phone 870-234-8899.

Big Boy Toys offers a good deal more than fanciful charcoal grills. The core business is equipment rental, but there's also an art gallery, antiques, museum, vehicle restoration, catering, picture framing shop and more. Dang near anything Mr. Black can cram into his building is either on display or on sale or both. Here's a picture of the interior just to give you an idea.


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