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On The Road Tailgate: YETI and Meat Church tag team for an Austin barbecue showdown

‘Bama standout and champion pitmaster, Matt Pittman of Meat Church, team ups with YETI for Austin tailgate

A few weeks ago, I was approached to cover an unusual promotional event for the Tailgate that just works: A ‘Bama / Texas barbecue showdown at DKR in Austin, sponsored by YETI’s new line of Wheeled Roadie Hard Coolers. As part of that, I was asked to review the new line of coolers too, and check out the Meat Church. I said I’d check both out, and then candidly assess the Wheeled Roadie 48. I’ve spent the past two weeks demoing YETI’s latest offering, and I’m happy to give it an unqualified thumbs up. Because, we while we are asked to review plenty of stuff, we only publish reviews of those products or services or books that we can personally recommend.

The Barbecue Shootout

The wealth of world class barbecue produced in the Heart of Dixie is legendary. However, it is safe to say that for every hidden gem in a bombed-out dilapidated shack on Alabama’s back roads, there are half a dozen world-class competitors in Texas: Kansas City and Memphis have some claim, but it is Austin that is the beating, plaque-clogged heart of our national barbecue culture. (Some might even call it barbecue Mecca...because irony is dead.)

The format is fairly simple: Pitmaster and ‘Bama fan Matt Pittman of the Meat Church will be bringing his world class ‘cue around to tailgates at three random locations of DKR Stadium. Deep South smokehouse porcine excellence will square off against his take on Texas’ renowned brisket. (Originally, he was going to prepare some famous White Sauce, but fortunately, good sense and taste overcame him: save the chicken for Sunday dinner.)

In honor of playing Tejas, we’ll hit you up with Matt’s tried and true oven/smoker method to properly reheat brisket. Beef is notoriously finicky after refrigeration, brisket even moreso: it is very easy to overcook or dry out the leftovers.

Prepare your smoker, pellet grill or oven at a temperature of 225. Place the brisket on a disposable hotel pan or a sheet pan. The brisket can be unwrapped. If re-heating in a smoker or pellet grill it is also ok for it to be in the butcher paper from the original cook. Do not re-heat in foil or it will steam the bark away.

Cover the brisket with slices of butter. This fat is your friend to provide much needed moisture when reheating.

Reheat until the internal temperature is over 140. This will take 90 - 120 minutes depending on the size of your brisket (158 degrees is the sweet spot).

Remove the brisket from the smoker. You can slice immediately!

I just used this method this weekend, and can testify that it was a roaring success, provided you follow it to a tee, be generous with the butter, and be very mindful of the internal temperature. I raised my 5.9 pound brisket to 156 degrees, and it was fantastic. (I’m more fond of Matt’s sous vide reheating method. But this is a far more accessible option — presumably everyone has at least an oven).

How will you spot Matt Pittman at the ‘Bama-Texas game? He’ll be the delicious-smelling scruffy guy rolling around the stadium with a large YETI cooler (look at that marketing synergy!). Matt will also be featured on Saturday’s College Gameday Taste of the Town.

As part of this piece, I was asked to review the product. I don’t quite think they bargained for such an extensive field test, but put it through the paces, I did. I took the YETI on three separate trips, for three different functions: a pleasant two-hour picnic into a meadow, where it was my seat (tailgate conditions); a two-hour drive with repeated opening/closing (road tripping); and a 1-mile offroad trail run (for those of you, like me, who enjoy camping).

Here’s what I found.

The Erik-Approved Field Test

Let me start by telling you that for all of their viral marketing and reputation, YETI really missed a branding opportunity here. Because I’d actually call this thing The Tank. This isn’t just a sit-around-the-quad, or wheel-it-onto-the-pontoon sort of cooler, though it’s undoubtedly good for that as well. Rather, it’s a nigh-indestructible-cooler for outings that would trash the $80 Walmart special currently sitting in the corner of my garage.

I tried to beat the hell out of this thing, and put it through what I deem to be real world situations (i.e., abusive in ways that would almost certainly void warranties.) But in particular, I wanted to test the latches, wheels, shell integrity, real-world use, and the telescoping handle: these are the areas I’ve found to be points of failure or disappointment in other luggage-type coolers I’ve owned.

Wheels: Built around a hard-shell core, the Roadie rolls on never-flat rubberized tires akin to what you find on a zero-degree mower. It effortlessly pushed forward and pulled-behind on smooth paved surfaces, and freshly-mown grass. The bottom-heavy weight of the Roadie made pulling it though deep, wet meadows painless. It handled a 1-mile muddy offroad trail run without a hitch: going through muck and leaves with ease, and going over random woodland debris and tree roots just as easily. The axles held up without accumulating gunk, and easily cleaned off with a hosepipe.

Handle: I have to confess, this is the one I was most nervous about. At rest, the telescoping handle has heft, and collapses quietly and smoothly into itself. But would that hold up in the real world? When filled to the brim with food, ice, and beverages, I was pleasantly surprised that it did. So far, so good.
But what about abusing it? Because, we know in the real world we don’t ever really follow manufacturer’s recommendation. It is rated for 39 pounds, so, I intentionally broke the rules. I stacked 70 pounds of disc weights in the bottom, filled the rest of cooler with 5-pounds of ice, and then carted it around from my car, over deep wet grass, and to a clearing about half-a-mile away. This was what surprised me: the telescoping handle did not experience warp and the telescoping mechanism did not collapse, even when significantly overloaded. Further, It wiped right down without getting clogged with grime stuck in the telescoping mechanism.

Shell and Latches. I sat on it for two hours during a picnic to see if it would warp. It did not. I slammed it into a tree trunk a few times to see if the shell would crack. It did not. I knocked it over on all four sides to see if the hinged-latches would pop open. On all-but one occasion, both latches stay closed. The one time it did not, was because I intentionally rolled it down a hill, where it would undergo 720 degrees of rotation and abuse. Even then, just one latch popped open: the other stay closed, and I suffered no spillage. And despite plain abuse, the shell has not formed divots, cracked, or begun to lose integrity: it is still keeping items as cold as it did out of the box, without smells emanating from the lid or leakage.

I took it on a two-hour drive around town, donating water bottles to the homeless folks in underpasses, and it was remarkably quiet in the third-row. Most importantly, it didn’t overturn, leak, or sweat. Or squeak, god that squeaking from some coolers was not apparent in my two-hour test.

Cooler Functioning, Dimensions, and Capacity: The Wheeled Roadie is rated for 42 beverages or approximately 39 pounds of ice. It is a big cooler. The interior is 15.7”H x 14.5”W x 11.6”D; externally, it’s a big bigger: 20.5”H x 19.8”W x 19.9”D. Dry and unloaded, it weighs about 28 pounds.

While I did not try to place 42 full cans in there, I was able to fit two pallets of bottled water (48). And on another occasion, I easily fit a 6-pound brisket, sauce, slaw, beans, drinks, bananas, and cookies with room to spare. And, though it is rated for 39 pounds of ice, I easily got two 20-pound bags inside it. The divider makes sorting the drinks from the food a snap, and I really enjoyed the functional top-rack dry-food container.

Cooling? We know you’re supposed to begin by pre-chilling all coolers with ice. But, in reality, most of us do not. So, I experimented with a few different methods in the 90-degree muggy weather.

I left it sealed in the garage and threw a bag of ice in there, with some hot soda cans. Impressively, though rated for 12-hours when used from a heated state, drinks were cold for about 17 hours before I needed to completely replenish ice.
And, when used as directed, I was able to keep things cold, with still-visible ice floes, an insane three days before having to drain it. When mixing it up with a combination of ice and ice packs, food and beverages, the food I placed in there was still good to eat after two days.
When repeatedly opening and closing over the course of a few hours on an 89-degree humid day, with direct sunlight on the cooler, it kept water bottles cold throughout, and the ice would not fully melt for about 11-12 hours.

All in all, it was an impressive display, honestly, and reminds me that sometimes price is about quality and not solely the marketing: you really do pay for quality. And when you find it, it’s worth it. Lifestyle branding and trendiness aside, this is a serious piece of equipment for people serious about outdoor excursions: from the backyard to tailgates, camping, hunting, boating. Being one of those people who does venture out frequently, I walked away thoroughly impressed with the functionality, build quality, and small touches that add up to a premium product.

Thanks to YETI for letting me test this bad boy out for a few weeks. For those of you interested, here is the direct webpage with all the specs and a very short promo video detailing the goo-gaws and the bells and whistles that make this thing awesome.

And, if anyone ever need me to beat the hell out of some camping equipment for a few weeks, just let me know. I’m up to the task.