The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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EZ-Up Version 2

First Image
In October 2006, I bought my first EZ-Up portable shelter. It was a 10' x 10' (3m x 3m) model with a white roof and open sides. I did buy some side covers for it which I never ended up using. Each year the EZ-Up gets set up in April and comes down in early November. With this type of usage it lasted through the fall of 2011. When I took it down in the fall of 2011 one of the scissoring roof truss members broke at the joint and also tore a long hole in the tent material. This marked the end of the six year lifespan of my first EZ-Up. I spent the winter trying to decide what to do about a shelter for my grills. This blog is about my first EZ-Up and its replacement which is another EZ-Up which I just erected this weekend. I'll also discuss some of the other options that were available to me, and why I chose to stick with another EZ-Up.

At the time this was written, I expressed some concerns that the new design of this shelter, which omitted the trusses at the 4 roof ridges might not hold up as well as the older shelter that it was replacing. Sadly these fears were realized and the shelter didn’t last the summer. If you were considering following my lead here and using an EZ_UP shelter 24/7: DON”T. Please refer to my 08-18-12 blog entry: EZ_Up, EZ-Down-Don’t Try this at Home for further details.



“Second“Third

While it is possible to grill or smoke in all kinds of weather, there is no need to do so. Smoking this Boston butt in 12 hours of monsoon-like rain was the impetus for my getting my first EZ-Up shelter.

I decided to get my first EZ-Up shortly after I got my Chargriller Smokin’ Pro smoker in the fall of 2005. One of the first smokes that I did was a 14 hour Boston butt smoke that I used to make pulled pork sandwiches. It was a request for a family member’s birthday and even though we had monsoon-like rains, I did not want to cancel the cook. It rained very heavily for the last 12 of the 14 hours it took to smoke the Boston butt. After some people on the Barbecue Bible message board saw the pictures I posted of the rain soaked cook, they started suggesting that I get an EZ-Up shelter. I knew nothing about them but I became intrigued and started researching the shelters. International EZ-Up had three lines of shelters: An inexpensive home owner line-for occasional backyard use on weekends, a mid-priced line-intended for more frequent use at one or two day trade shows, and a professional line for more frequent use and longer uses. The line for home use was too cheap for what I wanted to use it for and the pro line, though closest to my use case, was too expensive. That left the mid priced line. My use case was definitely not the recommended use. The shelters are made to be put up and taken down in a given day or at most be used for two days in a row at a weekend trade show. My intent was to erect the shelter in the spring and leave it up through late fall. I would take it down just before the first snow was set to fly. This was definitely not the intended use. The company took great pains to explain that the shelters were not intended to be 100% waterproof. They were intended to be for protection from the elements but, they were not a substitute for tent. The question for me was would they survive my intended use and for how long? I hoped to get three or four years out of the shelter and anything above that was a bonus.

“Fourth

While it is raining when this picture was taken, you can clearly see the ground under the EZ-Up shelter is nice and dry.

So I ordered my 10’ x 10’ (3m x 3m) EZ-Up shelter in the fall of 2006 in late October. The 10' x 10' (3m x 3m) size was big enough to cover both my six burner gas grill and my new smoker. Plus this left a center aisle space in between the two grills for me to stand in out of the rain. There was also enough space for a couple of other folks to get out of the rain and I keep several plastic chairs out there for visitors. This first EZ-Up shelter that I ordered was just the basic shelter. The removable side panels and the 12 inch (30cm) stakes I ordered with it were all a la cart. I thought I would use the side panels to help block the wind from the smoker in the gas grill, but I never did use them. I was always afraid that the high winds I was trying to block would treat the side panels like a sail and try to blow the EZ-Up to Kansas, Oz and beyond. While I was concerned about the wind blowing the EZ-Up away when it used the side panels, I only took it down twice for wind related reasons in all years I had it. Both of these times it was for hurricane force winds which I certainly would not expect the EZ-Up (or any other tent or shelter) to stand up to. At other times when we had winds gusting up to 40 mph (64 kph), the EZ-Up was always okay. The EZ-Up was held down with the 12” (30cm) long stakes which I would drive into the ground at a slight angle. I never had any problem with the stakes pulling out of the ground-not even a little bit. In fact the reverse was sometimes true: when I went to take the shelter down in the fall I often have great difficulties getting the stakes back out of the ground.

Some of the gushing testimonial letters from consumers that were posted on the EZ-Up website implied that the shelter could easily be put up by one person. While I have no doubt that may be true for the 6' x 6' (2m x 2m) shelter, it is not necessarily the case for the 10’ x 10’ (3m x 3m) shelter. I have put up or taken down the 10’ x 10’ (3m x 3m) by myself, but let's put it this way: it ain't pretty! With a helper it takes under five minutes, and usually only one or two minutes. The first time you set up the shelter, you have to put the tent cloth over the trusses. This is relatively easy process and is something you only do once and it is definitely worth having a helper for. Once the tent material was in place, you and your helper basically stand facing each other at opposite sides of the shelter and put your hands underneath the horizontal trusses running from post-to post. You then start walking backwards, away from each other while supporting the underside of the trusses and lifting the whole assembly off the ground. Lifting the shelter up slightly keeps the legs up off the ground while you are spreading the shelter open. The shelter spreads out this way until the tent’s roof material is drawn almost tight. At this point you put the shelter down and go to each of the 4 corners where you push up on the bottom of the trusses while holding the leg in place. This lifts the trusses up until they reach their maximum height and they lock into place at the corner post. There is a spring-loaded button that pops out through a hole in the side of the leg to let you know that the particular corner is locked into place. After the four corners are locked into place, you raise the adjustable height legs until the roof of the shelter is at the height you need.

Once again there are holes in the sides of the legs, about midway up, which allows you to raise the shelter to several different heights. When you raise the lower leg a spring loaded button pops out into one of these holes when it has reached the right height. If you want to go higher you simply push the button back in, and raise the legs further. There are 4 different holes representing 4 different heights you can set the legs to. The normal procedure is to erect your shelter over it’s final location and move your tables, chairs and shelves into place underneath the shelter afterwards. In my cast the grill and smoker are already in place, so I must start on the grass away from the grills and raise the roof high enough so I can then I can walk the shelter to my terrace until it is over the grills. Since I need to move the shelter, I raise the shelter high enough to clear the grills, but I don't adjusted to its final height until it is in position over the grills. By keeping the shelter this low it is easy to move it by grabbing the horizontal trusses which are only 4’ (1.25m) or so above the ground. I stand on opposite sides of the shelter from my helper and walk it over to it's final location over my grills. Once it is in it’s final position, I raise it the rest of the way up. To raise the legs you start at two adjacent leg posts and raise these two adjacent posts. Then you walk to the other side of the shelter and raise the remaining two adjacent leg posts. The last step is to stake the shelter into the ground using 12 inch (30cm) long stakes. I put the stakes in at an angle just as you do with tent stakes so that they're not likely to pull out of the ground. My new shelter came with 4 more posts as part of the base package, so I now use two stakes per leg for extra safety.

Once the shelter is up, it stays up until fall when it's time to take the shelter back down. To take it down you reverse the procedure: Lower the shelter to 4’ (1.25m), move it away from the grills, lower it the rest of the way, pull out a pin to unlock the top corners from the post and then stand on opposite sides of the shelter and walk towards your helper. Unlike several tents I’ve owned, the first EZ-Up actually fit into it’s storage bag without any problem or drama. I will see this fall whether the second shelter fits easily into it’s bag. The first shelter I had, which lasted five years, began to develop a drainage problem at the end of its second year. Rainwater began to collect at the bottom of two sides of the sloped roof. What was happening is the tent material was sagging at the very bottom of the slope portion of the roof. These sags were lower than the horizontal trusses supporting the bottom of the roof. This would block the rainwater from running of the tent roof. The added weight of the rainwater would make the roof sag more, which would collect more rainwater which...You get the idea. the sagging roof served to pull the tent material up on the vertical sides. So what I began doing was to take some white 3” (7.66cm) fiber glass reinforced tape and place several strips vertically running down the horizontal tent material. I would pull this piece of tape down, which would serve to pull the sag in the roof material back up. Once I had the sag out the roof, I would take the tape and secure it by wrapping it around the inside of one of the trusses around a truss member. Typically this solution would last about half of the season, after which I have to put on new pieces of tape. I would also use a stick to push up the underside of the tent material if I saw a sag filling with rain.

Other than the sagging roof, everything else held up relatively well. I did have to replace one of the angled roof truss members when a branch came down on it during a wind storm. But this was to be expected based on the size of the tree branch. I was surprised it didn't actually tear a hole in the roof material. At the time it happened EZ-Up sold repair parts, so I was able to buy just the new corner ridge truss I needed. At one point EZ-Up also sold replacement tent covers, but over time that practice was discontinued. After five years I could no longer buy any replacement parts for the particular model I had owned. I think this was because that model was being discontinued around the time I bought it, which also helps explain the sale price I got. Over the years the white tent material became less white over time. Some of it was a darker stain which I think was from air pollution or possibly wood smoke, and there were also lighter green stains caused by the tree pollen that we get every spring. Once again this was normal and I have no complaints. Towards the end of its life, I was starting to see some areas in the roof material where the sun was shining through a little brighter than other areas. No doubt these were potential holes starting to form. If one had ever developed into a leak, my plan was take more of that fiberglass reinforced tape and just patch an area on top of and beneath the hole-essentially a sandwich made out of the tape. I think EZ-Up may have sold patch kits, but I never had to look.

When I bought my first EZ-Up shelter, I had a choice of three colors: red, white or blue. I chose the white mostly because I did not feel like standing in red or blue tinted light while preparing food. This would be exactly what would happen when the sun shined through the translucent roof material. I figured blue or red would be kind of depressing light to be grilling under and might affect your perception of how the food was doing. What I didn't realize is that the white material made the roof of the EZ-Up a perfect bounce flash target. I've written a blog on the advantages of bounce flash in taking food photos (see links below), and the white roof material proved to be a wonderful bounce flash target. With the tall trees near my grills, I am often taking photos where I am in shadow. I need to use a flash to have enough light. So instead of having harsh direct lighting in the flash photos that I take outside while grilling, I now have the nice diffuse light you get with bounce flash. I can always tell the photos I take in the winter when the EZ-Up is down for the season and I have to use direct flash. The lighting is always much harsher with more glare and they are not as evenly lit when the EZ-Up is not around to use. You can even take bounce flash pictures at night when the EZ-Up is set up. If you are into grilling and food photography and are thinking of getting some sort of tent like shelter, definitely choose a white material. In my case the first time around it was a happy accident, but now I would never buy a shelter that wasn't white.

Day to day the EZ-Up performed extremely well and did what I expected of it. When you got heavy rain, there were some places where the roof dripped a little. But once again EZ-Up stated that this was not meant to be a shelter from the rain, nor was it supposed to be a tent where it remains set up for days or weeks at a time. And before you think it leaked badly, let me just say the leaks I was talking about would probably happen three or four times across the 10' x 10' (3m x 3m) area covered by the shelter. I never had any issues with high winds, although I did take it down twice when hurricanes were predicted for our area. Over the time I owned the shelter, it became a little less EZ to set Up from year to year. During the course of the years, the joints would get a little stiffer and you would have to pull or push a little harder to open or close the shelter. Some of this may also have been due to the near zero temps present when I’d be pulling the shelter down in the fall. Since the shelter was a series of interlocking scissor trusses, it wasn't really practical to try and lubricate all the joints. There were just too many of them and I would need a tall ladder to get access to the joints near the roof peak. In late October 2011, I took the shelter down a few weeks early because we were getting an early blizzard and I knew the shelter would not be able to stand up to all of the heavy wet snow we were destined to get. As I tried to collapse the shelter to fit into the storage bag, it was resisting my efforts more than usual. Suddenly one of the joints in the horizontal trusses that support the bottom of the roof let go. The truss member that had broken loose ripped a large hole in the roof material and made a hole right out through the side of the bag thus ending the life of my first EZ-Up. I did try to look at the price for the replacement roof material, but EZ-Up no longer offered anymore replacement parts for my shelter.

“Fifth

You can see the set up I use for the grill & smoker. The grill is on the west side facing east & the smoker is on the east side facing west. This leaves an 3’ (1m) aisle in the center where I can stand and work either or both grills. The smoker position also allows the typical prevailing wind to blow the smoke out from under the shelter.

So what was I going to do to replace it? In the time I had owned my EZ-Up, various companies started offering outdoor grill shelters. These were made out of metal, plastic and glass and some of them looked quite attractive. They also have the advantage of being able to be left up year round. The downsides of these more building-like shelters, at least for my application, was that they were too small to effectively cover my two grills. The shelters were typically 6' x 8' (2m x 2.4m) or 6' x 10' (2m x 3m). These sizes allowed you to cover round type grills such as Weber kettles, or small gas grills. The problem was typically the 5’ or 6’ (1.5 to 2m) depth dimension was too small. It allows you to put two smaller grills side-by-side and have a 3 foot aisle in front of them. But I needed to have a 8’ to 10’ (2.5 to 3m) dimension so I could have my smoker on one side, then a three-foot aisle in the middle and my six burner gas grill on the opposite side. This I certainly could not do in the 5’ to 6’ (1.5 to 2m) that these shelters provided. I looked into trying to buy two versions of some of the shelters and join them together. Besides being prohibitively expensive it really just wasn't practical. Another concern was whether the shelters would really be able stand up to the snow load that we get sometimes in bad winters. The truth of the matter is: I don't mind grilling or smoking in the snow, it is the rain that I don't like and the EZ-Up has me covered there (in more ways than one). I looked into building my own shelter, but this proved to be either ugly if I used inexpensive materials or too expensive if I used nice materials. In some cases they proved to be both ugly AND expensive. I did sketch up several schemes which I liked very much, but I just didn't have the budget to cover them.

So to my surprise I was back to purchasing another EZ-Up shelter. When I began looking on line, I saw they still had three levels of product. I didn't even consider the low-priced homeowner line. The tent material was only available in blue which would not work as a bounce flash friendly material. This had become a big advantage for me in shooting my food pictures at the grill. I also figured the less expensive model wouldn't hold up very well over time. So for not much less money, the homeowners line was really no bargain. While I looked at the commercial grade line for a while, at nearly double price it just wasn't in the cards this year. When I looked on the International EZ-Up website, where I bought my shelter before, I saw that the equivalent shelter had gone up about $50 in price. When I looked more carefully, I saw that this time they were throwing in the stakes and a nicer rolling bag/cart. The first time around I had to buy the stakes a la carte and the bag did not have wheels. When I looked on
amazon.com I found the shelter for $70 less with free shipping. That was a no-brainer I ordered the 10’ x 10’ (3m x 3m) Express II model in white. With the free ground shipping, it took approximately 6 days to reach me.

“Sixth“Seventh

The new EZ-Up has a redesigned roof structure. Instead of having sloped roof trusses running under the 4 corner ridges of the roof, the new model had 4 horizontal trusses running from each corner to the middle of the shelter at ceiling height. Where these trusses meet in the middle, there is one post that rises up and extends up to support the peak of the roof. The roof is also steeper. This may be a better design, but the cynic in me notes it uses less materials, so it could be to allow them to keep the price down by using less materials-the so called value engineering. It will be interesting to see if this shelter has less roof ponding than the first model.

What I didn't realize until I got the shelter set up, was some value engineering (cheapening) may have been done. The other shelter had horizontal trusses running along the base of the roof from post to post. There were also sloped trusses running from the corner post up to the peak of the roof under the ridge lines. This new model keeps the horizontal trusses, which do seem to be deeper, and omits the sloped trusses running from corner posts to the roof peak. To replace them there are additional horizontal trusses which run from the corner to the center of the shelter forming a X pattern at what would be the ceiling level. Where the trusses meet in the middle, a single post goes up to the peak of the roof. At the top of this single vertical post is something that looks like a hockey puck with a sloped top that helps support the roof in the middle at the peak. Since there are no ridge trusses I think this will be more prone to sags in the roof, but my brother seems to think the opposite will be true. He pointed out the slope of this rood is much steeper than the old model. Therefor the runoff would flow faster and be less likely to collect at the bottom. The vertical pieces of tent material around the perimeter of the roof (think the fascia board on a conventional roof) are about twice the depth as the old shelter. So maybe this additional depth and the deeper horizontal trusses around the perimeter of the shelter will help keep the base of the sloped roof sections from collecting water and sagging. But the addition depth may be so they could use two deeper scissor truss sections per side vs three on the older model. Less truss sections equal less money. Only time will tell how this new design will affect drainage.

“Eighth“Ninth

“Tenth“Eleventh

As you can see from these pictures, the newer EZ-Up (left) has a much steeper roof slope than the earlier model (right). The question is whether this was a design feature to improve the drainage and eliminate ponding at the edge of the roof, or it was the result of value engineering where the steeper roof allowed them to use less materials. Only time will tell.

So EZ-Up number two is set up and is in operation in my backyard as of last Saturday. If I get another 5 to 6 years out of it, like I did the first one, I will be very happy. If you are looking for a large and relatively inexpensive unit to cover your grilling area, definitely consider one of these EZ-Up shelters. There are some limitations, particularly in a climate with 4 full seasons. But the price is right and you have the advantage of being able to use it as a bounce flash target when you shoot pictures of your food on the grill, an added bonus I never expected. The biggest advantage, is the weather independence that such a shelter gives you. You can grill or smoke in any weather except for all but the most extreme conditions. There is a wonderful freedom in not having to take the weather into account every time you want to grill outdoors.

___________________
SOME RELATED LINKS:
Here is a link for the blog article with some food photography tips, including how I use bounce flash for food photography.
  FOOD PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS 2010 Blog Entry

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