Tag Archives: Grilling

The SpitJack Rotisserie System – Part Two: Grilling Our First Pig Philippine Lechon Style

In the first post I told you about the buying the SpitJack rotisserie system. I told my wife we better cook a test pig because I didn’t want the picnic the day after the wedding to be my first time cooking a pig. She agreed we better cook a test pig and we decided on July 1st.

The first thing I had to figure out was where to buy one. I’d read you can often get them at Hispanic groceries and while we tried, there was a big language barrier so we decided to keep searching. One of my best friends, John, recommended I try a local butcher shop down in Buchanan, Michigan, named Lowery’s Meat and Grocery. I talked to a great lady named Wanda who patiently answered my questions and offered up advice. Whatever size pig I ordered was the minimum weight and I would pay for the final weigh when I picked it up.

We settled on a 60 pound pig at $2.99/pound to be picked up on Friday, June 30. It would be a freshly slaughtered pig and I would need to put a deposit down two weeks before. “Cool” I thought and we made the 22 mile drive and paid our deposit. We knew where the store was but had never gone despite living in the area for almost 30 years.

As time got closer, my wife realized we had invited a lot of people and maybe we better bump the pig up to 70 pounds. I called Lowery’s, talked to Wanda again and if I ordered a 75 pound pig I would get a discount and it would be about $2.74/pound but the pig would likely be at least 8 pounds as they were having problems finding smaller pigs. “Ok – cool” I told her.

What is the recipe for lechon?

To keep the timeframe somewhat right, let’s switch gears to the recipe. My wife and I watched videos on Youtube, read blog posts and recipe websights about how to do lechon. It dawned on us that the recipe depends on the family – even the individual. Like so many recipes it can vary tremendously – one family will add hot peppers to the stuffing and another will not. One will use banana leaves and another will not, etc. There are no measures because it depends on the size of the pig, how firmly you stuff it, what ingredients you prefer, the ratios you prefer, and so forth.

We knew our pig was going to have a pretty big cavity to stuff but really had no idea for sure so we bought extra of everything. Here is our list for the stuffing:

  • Coarse salt
  • Bay leaves
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic
  • Green Onions
  • We put in fennel but will not do so again
  • Lemon grass – it looks like thich stalks of green onion and has a slight lemon smell but without the acid taste of the citrus fruit
  • Shallots
  • Banana Leaves
  • Sinigang Mix – this is a tamarind soup mix and two popular brands are Mama Sita and Knorr. We used Mama Sita.

What to baste with was all over the board as well – evaporated milk, canola oil, olive oil, drippings, and even Sprite. Well, we figured we would rub the skin with salt and maybe some drippings.


This is something you are going to need a lot of. I was told to plan at least a pound of charcoal per pound of pig and have 20 pounds just in case. So, an 80 pound pig would take 80 pounds of charcoal plus 20 pounds just in case is 100 pounds. Well, I went to Sam’s club and bought 120 pounds of Kingsford hardwood charcoal.

Over the coarse of a week I also made about 40-60 pounds of charcoal from our own wood supply. I’d put 2-4″ logs in my smoker, get it good and hot and then close the dampners and smother the fire. I’d let it sit and then scoop out the big chunks and dispose of the ash and tiny stuff.

This means your’s truly had at least 160-ish pounds of charcoal on hand because I didn’t want to run out while cooking. I also figured I could use whatever was left over when we cooked the wedding pig in October.

By the way, a caution I read that makes total sense that I will pass on to you is to not get any of the match light charcoals. They have a fuel impregnated in the charcoal and will pass the taste on to the meat – only use all wood charcoal.

By the way, my youngest daughter’s boyfriend also hooked me up with a bunch of dried cherry wood that I cut into small discs/chunks and put in water on the 30th to let it soak so I could add it on the charcoal for more taste. In general, the trees we cut are oak and maple and they make great for great grilling.

June 30th arrived

Okay, Jeff Lowery, the owner of Lower’s called and told me the freshly slaughtered pigs had arrived and they were all over 100 pounds. “Holy shit” I thought. “So much for starting small and learning”.

My wife, eldest daughter and I drove my truck down there. I had bought a body bag off Amazon to put the pig in and ice to keep it cold. I also had a few tarps to throw over it to help insulate and keep it cool.

A really nice fellow helped me take it out to my truck, slide it in the body bag and put it in the truck. I was really surprised how stiff the pig was. We poured in the ice, put the tarps on and drove home.

The pig in a plastic bag and then surrounded by four bags of ice were put in the body bag in the back of my pickup. The tarps were to help insulate it.
First we removed the bags of ice and then my eldest daughter helped me move the 101 pound pig from the truck to the kitchen.

We took the ice bags out of the body bag and carried it into our kitchen where it spent the night on our big kitchen island with all of the ice bag in the bag and covered with towels. It was nice and cold – no worries there,

We covered it with towels and some clean throw rugs to help insulate it. When I walked in the next morning it startled me a tad because it looked like a body on the island before I turned on the light.

We cut up the vegetables for the stuffing as we knew we were looking at close to 12 hours of cooking and we got everything ready that we could. Repeated advice, that I will pass along because I can tell you it is critical, is to prep everything you can the day before.

July First Arrived

My wife is a night owl and had stayed up until almost 3 AM cutting the vegetables and getting stuff ready. I got up at 4:30 and read messages from her about some last minute stuff I needed to buy at the 24 hour grocery, which I did with coffee on hand.

I woke up my brother-in-law, Banduy, a tad after 5am to help me. He and his wife and come down from Toronto and, like me, he loves to cook. He has a natural gift for it.

So, we take the pig in the body bag out to the picnic table in the yard near the grilling area to attach it to the spit and stuff it. Now this is where things went sideways.

Remember how I said the pig was stiff? We cut open the plastic wrapping and the porker was frozen. I had a serious WTF? moment. We didn’t have time to thaw it but what choice did we have. We took a hose and just started hosing it down. In fact, that is what we did for the next three and a half hours. I was not a happy camper. My wife started contacting guests and telling them we wouldn’t be beating until closer to 7pm and that was a best guess.

Yeah, they are stiff when frozen. Sheesh. The body bag worked great. We only had some small leak on the end where the back legs were. I rinsed it out with bleach and water, let it dry and saved it for the next use.

Luckily running cold water is far more efficient at thawing than air alone – something like 9 times morre efficient if I recall right. At any rate, at about three and a half hours we attached the pig to the pole as best we could.

By 6amwe were chugging coffee and taking turn hosing down the pig.
Apparently smacking a pig on the butt and telling someone “that’s a firm butt” is a lot funnier before 7am than it is the rest of the day. There were a lot of jokes going on along with the coffee.

Attaching an animal to the spit is known as “trussing” and there are tons of ways to do it. We were supposed to be able to use some nice 5.5″ stainless U-bolts that came with the system to clamp the spine to the spit but they were too short. Well crap, another lesson – bigger pigs need bigger clamps. SpitJack sells 7.5″ U-bolts and I would recommend them. You can’t adequately secure pig without them. We did use one long threaded rod that came with the system to help secure it but it wasn’t enough. If we had two threaded rods it would have been better.

The 5.5″ U-bolts that came with the CXB85 were not long enough to clamp thhe pig’s spine to the spit. If we had bought the XB1225C it would have had the 8″ U-bolts plus two of these threaded rods. We only had one and centered it. If we had two of them we would have been fine. One rod along would, and did, let things shift.

One of the interesting parts of the SpitJack is a shackle system for securing the back legs so they are splayed out. The front legs are secured to the snout via a large hose clamp. Now we ran into another issue, With the legs outstretched the pig was longer than the cooking area. We decided to amputate the pig’s rear legs at the knee to make it shorter.

Given the size of the pig, we did install the recommended counter weight opposte of the bulk of the pig and moved the weight out as far as it would go on its retainer rod. This would help balance the load when properly trussed.

The rear legs were going to stick back past the cooking area so Banduy cut the rear legs off at the knees and we installed the shackle. You see the counterweight here too and it is used to help balance the relatively heavy big on the other side. The ball pein hammer was used to drive the threaded rod through the spine – we did what we could with what we had.
We used the large pipe clamp to tuck the front legs up under the jaw and pushed a large spit fork back to the head and front of the pig from moving. We eventually needed to put a piece of wire around to kleep the ears from flopping out. As the pig cooked and shrank, the for was just barely in the skin. We really needed the u-bolts.

As we were trussing as best we could with what we had, we discovered the pig was a bit rear biased towards the motor. This is not a problem from a turning perspective but if we had looked a tad more carefully we may not have needed to cut the rear legs off below the knee. We were in a rush and just overlooked the bias. Lesson learned – center the pig on the spit, step back and look at it before you start trussing.

SkipJack gives you a spool of butcher’s twine and a giant needle. Banduy was a doctor years ago and had a ton of experience suturing. He stuffed the pig with the ingredients and then sutured it shut. I joking told him the pig wouldn’t have a scar he did such a good job!

Prepping all the ingredients the night before really paid off. Bandu rubbed coarse salt all over the inside of the cavity.
The big was stuffed full!
Banduy did an internal stitch and then a stitch across the top. There was no way that was opening up.

As he was stuffing the pig, I started the charcoal and let it get good and hot. I had an old landscaping rake for moving the coals around. The pig cooks from indirect heat from the sides – you don’t put them right under the pig or you will constantly be fighting flaring flames as dripping fats ignite.

The SkipJack XB85 comes with one dual zone thermometer and we bought a second. They report to you the heat from the coals that is reaching the surface of the pig and the internal heat of the meat like a regular meat probe does. We stuck one on the thick shoulder and one in the rump. They are totally worth it.

The big carcass weighed 101 pounds and with the stuffing and trussing I guessed it was pushing somewhere around 110-115 pounds. I knew there was no way we could safely attach the motor over the fire so we attached the motor to the spit. I did have to turn it off and on a few times to bump it around so the coupler would like up with the spit attached to the heavy pig.

We installed the motor with the pig on the table. Trying to line up the spit to go in the coupler with the heavy pig wasn’t something I wanted to try,

We then carried the whole thing over – pig and motor to the jack stands over the fire, Holy crap was it hot. We decided going forward we would move the stands and everything to the side before we changed anything vs. trying to work on them close to the coals.

Cooking the pig

We turned on the power and the pig started rotating. As the bulk of the pig passed over the top it would shift slightly because it wasn’t adequately trussed. Oh man – what to do?

I had some really thick steel wire – maybe 1/8″ or thicker in the shop and thought maybe it would work. Some guys use chicken wire to secure their pig. So, we lifted the whole rostterie system off the coals and set it down to the side. We had high temp barbeque gloves so we could hold the hot metal. It was a three person job. Two people moved the pig, spit and stands and the third made sure everything lined up as we set it back down.

After some trial and error I found that I could put the wire on the pig, twist it down lightly and then use my big linesman’s pliers to twist the wire and form a jig or step about 3/4ths of an inch and what that did was take up some of the loose wire and make it tighter and tigher, So, after adding 4-5 of these impromptu bands on the pig, we put everything back. Also, to make sure the jack stands didn’t move we put a 25-40 pound patio block on the legs for each stand.

The wire bands are what you see going across the brown skin, They did help secure the pig against the spit but the trade off was that the skin tore around them vs, staying intact. Note the piece of sheet metal at the fair end serving as a heat shield to direct heat away from the motor.
See the wire with the kink/jigs bent into it? You can also see the SpitJack dual zone thermometers. The drip pans didn’t really work well. We wound up raking the coals to the sides and had a bare spot in the midde. We did have one tray for collecting some drippings – we may try a different approach next time. Note there are way too many coals we had the pig pretty low. We found a good happy height one hole from the top and fewer coals.

From here we started the long cooking process. You’ll hear guys say “low and slow” and I now know what they mean. The pig cooks over a low heat for a long time. I got the fire too hot at one point and burned some of the skin that we scraped off. The goal is to hit 160F internally – that is the target temperature recommended by the FDA for food safety. You don’t need an insane amount of heat – somewhere between 160 and 200F is fine. You can’t rush it.

We did experiment with the height a bit. You need to be about 8″ off the coals. We also moved two windshields around to block the breeze.

What was driving me nuts was that maybe a couple of hours in the thermometers still hadn’t moved off their minimum low-end pegged position. Were they broken? I went and got another basic meat thermometer from our kitched and shoved it into the shoulder – same thing. You know what? We had thawed most of the pig but not down deep in the thick shoulders and rump. Well, shit. It was what it was.

Around 10am I called Lowery’s and spoke to the owner, Jeff, and told him what happened. I could hear him shout out to someone named “Nate” and asked him if the pigs that were supposed to arrive fresh were instead frozen and I could hear Nate confirm they were. Jeff apologized profusely and gave me a discount. I really appreciated that.

Back to the cooking – the pig actually shrunk dramatically as the fat between the skin and the muscle cooked and dripped off. We had to tighten the fasteners 2-3 times over the hours it cooked. Any hope I had of nice crispy lechon skin disappeared as the wire cut up the skin.

You can see the skin was tearing.
This was shortly after I got it too hot. Banduy scraped the burnt skin off with a knife. We started basting at this point. The Sprite did’t really work very well so we switched to drippings.

BTW, we did trying using Sprite for basting towards the end and it seemed to burn. So, while some may use it – we will not next time. I think we’ll stick with salt and oil to start and switch to drippings as we collectt enough.

We figured out the cold shoulder and rump really set us back. It took quite a while before the internal temperature started comking up. Note the third meat thermometer confirming that the insides really were taking forever to cook.

We cooked the pig for over 10 hours and then decided to pull it from the spit and anybody with rare meat who wanted it cooked more we would grill it the rest of the way on my CharGriller wood grill. So, with high temp gloves on, we carried it over to the picnic table and Banduy started carving off the meat and 90-95% of it was cooked all the way. The deepest parts of the shoulder and rump were the only ones that were rare so we set them to the side.

Weptu the pig back on the picnic table. We put a couple of pieces of cardbard and two layers of aluminim foil on top to hold the pig. The high-temp BBQ gloves were my best friends at this point. A big thank you to Ken for helpign me carry it over.
Banduy immediately started carving it up. We had a bunch of hungry people waiting on us by that time.
Here’s another view. He literally cut up the whole pig separating meat from bones.

People were very happy with the results. The meat was moist and delicious. So, from a 101 pound pig, let’s say we got 50 pounds of meat. We only had about 10 pounds left when everyone went home for the night – some with to-go plates. Banduy then made a traditional stew from the rare meat and leftovers called “packsiw” that was absolutely delicious.

So, the day started out stressful but Banduy and I actually had a great time – I couldn’t have done it without him. I really did learn a ton and he said he did too – there are more things he wants to prepare in advance such as the lechon sauce. Both he and I are ready to tackle the wedding picnic pig now.

Lessons learned

Here is what I learned from doing this first pig:

  • First and foremost, inspect your pig and confirm whether it is frozen or not despite what the seller says. I feel pretty stupid on this one. The pig was stiff when we loaded it and I thought it was just the way they were. If we had known it was frozen we could have used cold water to thaw it overnight all of the way. A big chunk of my confusion and adding more heat than I needed stemmed from the pig being frozen in the deepest parts of its shoulders and rump.
  • Prepping all of the vegetables and stuffing ingredients the night before really helped.
  • The tip I was given to get a body bag off of Amazon worked amazingly well. Having the ice and towels, everything stayed cold which is ironic given it was mostly frozen. In hindsight we could have run a hose into the body bag and mostly sealed it so the water could circulate but ruin out thaw it overnight had we known.
  • Center the pig on the spit before you start clamping it.
  • Make sure you have the right size of clamps for your size of pig. The longer U-bolts or one or two more long clamping bolts would have done the trick.
  • We bought the CXB85 SpitJack and upgraded the spit and motor to save money. We should have bought the CXB125 to get the longer U-bolts and threaded rods. If you think you are going to do a pig that might be 100-124 pounds – get the CXB125. Bigger than that and you will need to get one of semi-custom or custom trailer from what I saw.
  • Do not try and rush things – you will only burn the skin. Towards the end, we raked the coals to the front and end of the fire tray / charcoal tray to concentrate the heat on the rump and the shoulders.
  • As the pig cooks it shrinks so the various clamps will need to be tightened down periodically.
  • I think I will either get some cinder blocks or sheet metal to make side walls so we can capture more of the heat and direct it to towards the pig. We had a large heat shield and a smaller one that I made out of left over steel but they weren’t enough.
  • We used all of the home made charcoal and were on our last bag of the commercial charcoal. That means we used 120-140 pounds of charcoal. Note – the walls would have reduced that plus I wasted some making the fire too hot for a while but that is quite a bit of charcoal regardless.
  • We had two pair of high-temperature barbecue gloves that can be used for meat – they are some form of insulated rubber and allowed us to move things around. Due to the coating you can actually safely handle hot meat and was very happy we had them for moving the relatively hot spit around.
  • I need to learn the practice of “low and slow”. Getting frustrated that it wasn’t heating faster caused me to add charcoal and I should have just rode it out. Again, next time I will be sure to check out the pig and decide what to do if it is frozen or thawed/fresh.


Doing a test pig vs. cooking one for the first time at the wedding picnic was very much worth it. I would have hated to run into the above issues for the first time with a ton of people waiting. The SpitJack system worked without a flaw – the sizing issue with trussing was my inexperience vs. any equipment issue.

Cooking the pig on a spit rotisserie is one of those things in life where you can read and read but sooner or later you just need to do it and learn. I’d tell you to do a test one also before you really need to count on it. If I can do it – so can you.

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The SpitJack Rotisserie System – Part One: Getting Ready

For my daughter’s wedding, we plan to cook a whole pig on a spit with the spirit of traditional Filipino “Lechon” in mind. My wife is from the Philippines and we’ve been married for 28 years so I’ve met tons and tons of close and extended family. Over the years, there have been tons of barbecues and Filipinos seriously know how to grill. When my wife first brought up the idea of our cooking a whole pig and making lechon, I got excited because it would combine some things I really like doing – grilling, figuring out some mechanical stuff and bringing family together.

How do you cook lechon?

In the traditional manner, a bamboo pole serves as the “spit” rod. The pig is cleaned, filled with a stuffing that varies from family to family. The spit is rested on two posts and the pig is turned over a charcoal fire that is in the a trench in the ground. The family members will then turn the pig continuously for 4-6 hours usually while drinking alcohol the whole time :-). In the next post I will get into the details of the recipe but you get the idea – it takes a long time and the Filipinos will tell you “low and slow” meaning it is relatively low heat and it’s going to take a while – as in and hour and 15 minutes per 10 pounds of pig slow. Now, your’s truly can’t sit still for hours so I needed to figure out how to do this mechanically and that is really the focus of this first post.

How do you make a rotisserie big enough to turn a pig?

Okay, I have no experience with big spit rotisserie systems so I had to start reading and talking to people. They say you get about half the weight of the cleaned pig in meat – so if you get a 100 pound then you get about 50 pounds of meat. A number of folks told me to think of the pig as presentation and do extra meat via pork butts to keep things easier. At any rate, my wife was thinking 75-80 pounds – maybe 100 pounds so I figured I needed something that had a working load around 85 pounds.

In reading about rotisseries, I found guys either built or bought them. Well, I have never seen a rotisserie for a full size pig – just cooked pigs. I watched a few videos and decided I better buy one to get started. That way I could see one first-hand and learn what worked and what didn’t.

Since we were planning a 100+ pound pig, that ruled out all of the little rotisseries and we would also need the longest spit pole I could find – they tend to be 72″/6 feet max. If you plan to only do 40 pound pigs you can get a lot smaller units – including the enclosed ones that will cook the pig faster since the heat surrounds them kind of like an oven.

In my case, I couldn’t justify some of the beautiful trailers and the custom rotisserie systems that were out there but I did read the read-to-go units very carefully. I also decided to go with something largely ready to go vs. making it piece by piece – why? Again, brand new territory for me. Nobody had written a “here, now think about these things to build your rotisserie system” guide. I found some posts that touched lightly on it but not enough for me to gamble on building a machine I had never seen in action.

Moving on, I read just a tons of Amazon product ads, reviews, forum posts and Youtube videos about pig/hog rotisseries. One thing I noticed were recurring warnings that many Chinese rotisseries way overstated their weight capacity and also the capacity of the motor they used.

Need a quality motor

One of the things vendors do with the rotisseries is to brag about how many watts their motor is. That drives me nuts. “Watts” are a measure of energy transfer over time. A poorly made motor may draw more watts and have have less output power than a high quality motor that draws fewer watts but outputs more power to the spit. So, to brag that a motor uses 40 watts doesn’t help matters – you will see this a lot when vendors try to hype up whatever they are trying to sell with an electric motor – vacuums, tools, or in this case, spit motors.

The quality of the motor is extremely critical – it will need to turn whatever size pig (goat or whatever) that you plan to cook for hours and hours. By the way, a 100 pound pig / 10 x 1.25 hours per 10 # means it will be turning for 12.5 hours and need to handle a load that is relatively balanced while also being exposed to some degree of heat.

I read once that cook an animal on a spit is a big deal – if you fail then there are going to be a lot of hungry disappointed people who know it. Bottom line, don’t get a poorly made system or motor.

Some vendors fluff up the weight capacity of their rotisseries

The second thing some vendors do is to overstate the weight capacity of their system. This is where you need to read up on each vendor using Amazon and Internet in general to find out what people say. You also need to look very carefully at the design.

The capacity of the system will be limited by the motor, the spit (how thick and long it is) and how you support the loaded spit.

What is can you look for in photos to start to form an opinion about the quality of the rotisserie?

When I look at a product, I look at the design and look for weaknesses. If a person is going to turn a relatively heavy load, what would be critical? How the spit is supported and how it connects to the motor. Now this is how we can immediately set apart the serious contenders. If I were to design a rotisserie, I would put the spit on sealed roller bearings that at least contact it on the bottom and then I would have a way to take the strain off the shaft of the motor. Boom – immediately something I could look for in productt photos that would rule a model in or out. The cheap ones connect the spit pole straight to the motor shaft via a coupling and/or have the spit sitting on a piece of sheet metal vs. bearings.

I went with SpitJack

Now that you have some background, I went with a brand known as SpitJack. You can find many of their products on Amazon or deal with them directly. Spitjack was formed in 2014 by Bruce Frankel who has a passion for grilling and is a former chef and restraunteur in the Northhampton, MA, area. I called their 800# and Bruce himself answered the phone. He did a great job at answering my questions and you can see from all of the photos and YouTube videos that these are quality systems.

They have two models of complete systems that I considered – the CXB85 – rated for 85 pounds and the CXB125 – rated for 125 pounds. I wound up doing a bit of a hybrid. Since I was talking to Bruce, I ordered the CXB84 with the accessories that come with it but upgraded the motor and spit to the ones from the CXB125. In hindsight, I would tell you to get the CXB125 so you have more accessories for fastening bigger pigs – I found this out when we cooked our 101 pound pig that I will tell you more about in the next post.

While the SpitJack systems are more expensive than their imported competitors, the engineering and build quality are far superior plus Bruce and team support what they sell.

What arrived?

The system arrived very well packed and Bruce will tell you to inspect everything and test it. Their system comes with instructions and suggestions plus their videos help. As far as assembly goes, it was simple. Three screws and nuts to fasten the upright columns of the stands to their bases, I had to tighten the screws on the roller bearing assembly on the end column and that was it.

Now this is where customer services makes a huge difference. When I looked at the motor, they had shipped the standard 40 watt motor vs. the 125 watt model I had ordered. I called Bruce and he told me to use the 40 watt motor if I needed to, he would get the 125 watt model out that day via UPS and then send the 40 watt motor back. He would include a UPS label for that also. Wow. No hassle and he moved fast to make it right. Folks, that kind of customer service is worth a lot to me. No filling out forms, no arguing just a rapid correction of an honest mistake on their part.

Making a rotisserie grill area

One of Bruce’s recommendations was to just dig a slit in the ground for the charcoal and cook the first time to see how things go. My wife didn’t like that idea and wanted it to be neater so we did two things – we made a 4×8 area with patio blocks and I welded together a 36×54″ firebox from 1/8″ thick steel to hold the charcoal.

We picked an area, put down leveling sand and made a 4’x8′ area using 12″x24″ patio blocks from Lowes. They are nice and thick too.
We then brought out the newly assembled SpitJack system. I had plugged the motor in and turned it on in the house just to make sure it would start. The 125 watt motor had so much torque that I could not stop it by hand. I ran it for maybe 10-20 seconds and turned it off. Read the instructions that come with the unit – they have some warnings you need to be aware of – don’t run it without load or try to turn it by hand for example.
This is a view of the oppose end. The spit is basically on stainless jack stands. Note how the spit is on the roller bearings. On my unit, I did have to tighten down the bolts holding the bearings. I’m not sure if they were installed loose on purpose or not so just double check your’s.
Note how the load of the spit is on the roller bearings and not on the shaft of the motor. On cheaper models there are no external bearings and they make the motor’s bearings take the load. Not a good idea. By taking the load off the motor’s bearings, the motor will last longer. I had worried about vertical play in the spit but after having the pig on there it seems like most of the force is downward plus maybe a bit of left and right play due to the 4-6 RPM rotation speed. Note, the spit goes into the collar you see and is secured by the bolt and nut you also see. We found it easier to truss the pig to the spit and install the motor onto the spit on the table and then take it all over to the charcoal. It’s not a super easy fit so plan accordingly. Using a gear or chain would have made it so but the costs of such a design and price of the model would have jumped for sure. By the way, the motor assembly, bearings and mount were all pre-assembled. I didn’t need to do anything.
The motor must not be over the fire when you are grilling the pig so your actual cooking area is about 54-57″ long once you factor in the distance between the bases and how much of the spit you want to extend past the jack stand on the opposite end. The spit tracks true is what I found out but I want a safety margin of a few inches vs. having the last set of roller bearings being too close to the end of the spit and risk falling for whatever reason.
The spit comes in three stainless steel parts – the two tubes and then a solid stainless rod that goes inside and connects them. To handle the weight of the pig, the XB125 spit is heavier gauge stainless tube. Be sure to tighten these down with a wrench and not just by hand.
Each end of the rotisserie can be raised or lowered on the jack stand. Locking pins hold it in position so you can find your sweet spot.
I was relieved to find that assembling the jack stands just meant installing three bolts and nuts on each side of the stainless steel channel that forms the upright column.
View from one end
View from the other. By the way, 125 watts is not much draw – although probably higher when first turned on. I just ran a decent 15 amp rated extension cord from a nearby shed and didn’t have any problems at all.

Making a firebox

Again, to look cleaner, my wife had me fabricate a firebox. A pig is cooked via indirect heat so you have a 4″ wide gap or so right under the centerline of the spit with charcoal to the left and the right. I made mine 36″ wide, 3″ tall sides and you will need to confirm your length – it will likely be 54-57″.

I don’t have the strenghth to easily muscle around this much steel all at once so I made 12″ wide sections that I could bolt together.
I used my Miller 211 MIG to do the welds. I love this machine. I will tell you I ran out of my normal Lincoln .030 wire and tried some cheap PGN brand .035 wire off Amazon and it spattered so much that I thought I was running flux core wire. I’ve had very good luck with Lincoln wire and ordered another 10# spool after this project. The PGN will either go in a garage sale or the trash – yeah, I didn’t like the spattering.
Before I put the firebox in place, I applied to coats of grape seed oil and heated it up with a ground torch. Because food would be above it, I did not want to apply any paint that would bake off contaminate the meat. Grape seed oil is commonly used to season cast iron pans and in this case I just want to slow up the rust some. Combine the 1/8″ thick steel with the grape seed oil and hope it will be around for a while.


I felt really good about the SkipJack rotisserie. We had it assembled, tested, the firebox ready – now it was time to test cook a 60 pound pig so we invited some friends over for a cookout on July first. How did it go? How did we season the pig? What were my lessons learned? I’ll tell you in the next post.

By the way, jumping the gun slightly, I can tell you I now recommend SkipJack wholeheartedly and they sell just a ton of stuff for grilling – rotisserie-style and otherwise – check out their Amazon store.

If you find this post useful, please share the link on Facebook, with your friends, etc. Your support is much appreciated and if you have any feedback, please email me at info@roninsgrips.com. Please note that for links to other websites, I may be paid via an affiliate program such as Avantlink, Impact, Amazon and eBay.

An Update On My Char-Griller Competition Pro Grill

Back in July of 2020, my kids bought me my first new grill in years – a Char-Griller model 8125 grill that I then converted to use firewood. I wrote a blog post about the conversion work including making the firebox and adding in heavy aftermarket grates [click here to read it]. At any rate, here we are three years later and thought I would write an update – why? Because I love grilling and smoking.

All in all, the grill has been great other than the ultra cheap low temp paint they coated the grill with at the factory. That stuff would regularly bake off in an unchanged area and then I would have to touch it up with Rustoleum High Heat Ultra – that’s the best paint I have found for a grill.

Way back when I bought a cover for the grill and was pretty good about keeping it on for the first year. For the last two years it has largely stayed off because I would forget it at first and then the rodents got to it and it has a bunch of holes now.

At any rate, I was grilling this spring before we were going to have a bunch of relatives over and realized I really needed to wire brush the grill to get off loose paint and rust and then put on some new coats of paint.

The rust was superficial and the trick is to keep it that way – either keep paint on it by touching uop the spots needed or if it is past that, like this one is, wirebrush and paint it when needed.
I use a circular wire brush in my drill to go all around and remove as much surface rust and loose paint as I can.
Go all around and get the front, back and sides – don’t forget the bottom either. If yyou keepo your grill painted it will last for years and years. Kind of an interesting note, the firebox I added worked wonderfully – the botttom is in great shape with hardly any rust or loose paint. If the burning wood were to sit right on the bottom steel of the grill, it would be in far worse shape.
Rustoleum High Heat Ultra – specifically the Ultra blend – is the best paint I have found for the grill. No finish is perfect and this grill gets real hot as I burn down wood to embers so the finish will burn/oxidize over time. I keep a can on hand and do spot touch ups regularly but sooner or later you will need to wire brush and redo certain areas.
Follow the instructions for curing the paint. I’ve found it makes a world of difference if you do. I apply 3-4 coats on the areas that get really hot – for me it is the two ends of the main body and nearly the entire back plus the front below the door.
Here I had just started a fire and was getting ready to grill. Again, this is after curing the finish per instructions.
I’m letting the wood cook down. You can see why the sheet metal gets so hot.
Kind of off topic but this is what I was grilling chicken that night – I do find the use of hot and cold zones (or some folks call them direct and indirect heat zones. Here, the open lid has really allowed the embers to flare up and I then closed the lid and to dampen (reduce) the flames by controlling the amount of air that can get to the chicken.

By the way, the aftermarket grates I put in it have been awesome from the start. They’re nice and thick and cook the food evenly. Totally worth it. There are photos and information about them in the first post.


I still like my Chargriller. It was a great gift from my kids and by keeping it painted it ought to last a long time. If you need to touch up your grill – definitely try out Rustoleum High Heat Ultra. I’ve found it to hold up the best but you will still need to do touchups.

If you find this post useful, please share the link on Facebook, with your friends, etc. Your support is much appreciated and if you have any feedback, please email me at info@roninsgrips.com. Please note that for links to other websites, I may be paid via an affiliate program such as Avantlink, Impact, Amazon and eBay.

Restored A BHG 4-Burner Stainless Outdoor Gas Grill / BBQ

This past June, my wife and I spotted a big stainless four burner BHG gas grill with a side burner at a neighbor’s house set up for trash pickup.  It looked to be in a pretty good shape so I stopped and took a look.  The drip pan had rusted away and dropped rust everywhere in the grill plus there was minor rusting elsewhere but it was in very good shape otherwise.  My wife asked if I could rehab it because we had a bunch of family coming for a visit a month later.  I said “yes” so it went in the back of the Highlander leaving a trail of rust everywhere.

It looked like the grill was used and then left to sit and rust but it was actually in quite good shape.  Besides the drip pan, the only other items in tough shape were the heat plates also sometimes called diffusers that sit over the burners. They had rusted significantly and were an eyesore.

What Gas Grill Was It?

“BHG” stands for “Better Homes and Gardens” and the model number was BH13-101-099-01.  I don’t really have much more info than that – it’s a big generic stainless grill that was imported from China by Blue Rhino Global Sourcing.  You may not recognize the name but when you see their logo – they sell propane tanks, grills and what have you through a ton of stores under their own brand name as well as Mr. Bar-B-Q, Chef Master, Endless Summer, Grill Mark, Mr. Pizza, and Uniflame. BHG is no longer listed by them so one must surmise other brand names were used in the past as well.

According to a sticker, it was made in January of 2013. From there, I bet they were sold through retail stores but I really can’t find any more details after searching but I will say it appeared to be a decently made gas grill.

If you hunt around on a grill, you can almost always find an information sticker that at the very least has the model and maker listed.

Armed with the model number, I could go digging for parts.  There is a whole cottage industry of parts suppliers out there when you search but the challenge was finding what I wanted in stock and that the price they wanted plus shipping wasn’t astronomical. In some cases, the part price was low but shipping was sky high.

Note, I also found that most parts places are selling parts that will fit the grill but most advise you to confirm dimensions before you buy. The grill is over 9 years old and these places are selling generic parts – so be sure to check dimensions and even that the seller is legit.

The Drip Pan

Okay, the drip pan was trash.  You see, at the end of the day, they are made from steel and salty liquids are dripping on them.  If you don’t keep them clean or put foil on top of them, they will eventually rust out. 

The drip pan had rusted to pieces so the inside of the grill looked far worse than what it was. I think the neighbor took the cover off after maybe a season or two of no use, saw the rust everywhere and pulled it to the curb for trash pickup … or for me to pick up depending on how you look at it.

You need to double check the measurement of your pan – mine was a loose fit in the grill so you have wiggle room in terms of dimensions.  Mine was about 15-1/4″ deep x 28-5/8″ wide.  The replacement pans will all be in the ballpark but you want to make sure that pan reaches from left to right so it is properly supported.

After a lot of digging looking for an affordable exact match to the original pan, I decided to order a 30″ adjustable pan off of Amazon.  The problem I was running into was a combination of the total cost including shipping and also lead times and availability.  So, I went with an adjustable model and you know what?  It’s just fine. 

The AJinTebby pan is 15.5″ deep and can adjust from 27 to 30″ wide. Yes, it is pricey at $46.99 but there is a 5% discount coupon you can apply and if you have Amazon Prime, shipping is free (technically it’s factored into the price but you get the idea – it’s a good deal). Click here to open the Amazon page in a new tab.

An adjustable pan lets you adjust the width to fit your grill. It’s the width that adjusts but not the front to back depth so you still need to make sure of that plus the how much adjustment the model has. The is an AJinTeby 30″ pan that can adjust 27-30″ and has a depth iof 15.5″. It fits the BHG.
The drip pan comes with a nice small drip cup that slides in or out of place under the main pan. Drippings ooze into there and are collected so then you can dump and clean it as needed.
I painted the drip pan and it’s drip cup with Rusto-oleum BBQ & Stove 1200F paint to slow rusting. It has three coats of paint
To further lock and seal things, I put 3M High Temperature Flue Tape on the top of the joints. FYI – the oval hole is where fluids drip through to the aptly named “drip cup” under it that can be emptied as needed.

The Heat Plates

I had to decide what to do with the heat plates.  They had rusted to the point of being pretty thin – the heating and lots of salty fluids had really taken their toll on them. 

You can see the brand new AjinTebby drip pan under the original heat plates and they looked awful. The grill saw quite a bit of use, that I have no doubt of, and then it sat and rusted even more.

My first thought was to try and save money so painted them with Rustoleum’s Ultra High Temp BBQ paint first to try and save money but I could’t get past all the bumpy look from years of rusting.  There are so many affordable replacement options, I decided to go that route.

I painted the heat plates plus I put three coats of Ultra High Temp Rustoleum on the drip pan to slow up the rust. I could have stopped here but the really worn plates were bugging me so I decided to replace them.

The BHG uses 15″ long x 3-13/16″ wide heat plates and they are very readily available in a variety of metals and finishes.  I bought a set of five stainless steel replacement heat plates made by Shinestar off of Amazon – click here to open the listing in a new tab.

Here’s a look at the new Shinestar plates prior to installation.
The 15″ Shinestar heat plates are nicely made and are going to last for a long time. I definitely liked them more than the painted ones.

The Gas Regulator Turned Out To Be Bad

During initial testing, the grill ran just fine but then it started getting flaky and finally would barely produce flame. This is usually due to a regular failing and/or rust or a spider web getting stuck somewhere. I pulled the lines and blew everything out with compressed air. Sometimes that fixes the problem but not in this case.

Now, I made a bit of a costly mistake here because I was in a rush. We had an Ace Hardware nearby and I bought a Weber regulator that fit but was a tad short for $44-46 if I recall rgiht. Because it was short, I took a piece of 2×12 lumber and cut a hole in it with a jig saw to hold the tank. A week later, I was in Home Depot and found out they had a ton of gas grill repair parts in stock (I didn’t know they did) including the exact hose and regulator I needed for half the price of the Weber.

The old regulator went straight in to the tank and the Weber unit is at a right angle.
Quick comment – when you are working on gas fittings, there will almost always be a way to support the existing tube/hookup and ou need to do that. See the small nut formed into the black tube? You need to hold that with one wrench while either tightening or loosening the hose fitting. If you don’t support the tube you run the risk of it bending or breaking free. Just remember. always do what you need to do to support what your line is connecting to. Don’t just torque on the hose’s fitting alone.
Because the Weber hose was too short, I took a piece of scrap 2×12 lumber I had, traced the outline of the tank’s botton on it and cut the circle out. Note I drilled four holes so I could start the jig saw blade that did the actual cutting.
There it is – nice and stable. Again, if I had known that Home Depot had a bunch of repair parts, I would have taken the busted regulator in there and found a match.

I could have saved even more if I had the time to order a hose and regulator from Amazon. They have them for $15-18 depending on the length of hose you need. Click here for to open a new browser tab with the Amazon listings – be sure to get the hose length you need and round up vs. down if need be.

Other Minor Touch Ups

  • I ran a 180 grit sanding mop in the same direction as the stainless “grain” finish and removed surface rust.
  • Sprayed the inside of the grill so it looked better
  • One hinge had a missing Cotter key that I replaced
  • Put a wire brush wheel in my drill and cleaned up the grill grates so they had a nice clean brushed look

The Result

It turned out quite nice and gave us another grill to use during a family reunion we had during July.

The cabinet cleaned up really well.
So did the inside. There is a smoker box down on the heat plates to add a bit of smoke flavor.
Here’s the restored BHG next to my pride and joy Chargriller Competition Grill that my kids got me for Father’s Day a few years back and I converted for wood (click here if you want to read more about that).


One man’s trash is another’s treasure I suppose. The grill turned out nice. The only things it really needed were a new drip pan and the regulator replaced.

I hope this post helps you out.

Note, I have to buy all of my parts – nothing here was paid for by sponsors, etc. I do make a small amount if you click on an ad and buy something but that is it. You’re getting my real opinion on stuff.

If you find this post useful, please share the link on Facebook, with your friends, etc. Your support is much appreciated and if you have any feedback, please email me at info@roninsgrips.com. Please note that for links to other websites, I may be paid via an affiliate program such as Avantlink, Impact, Amazon and eBay.

Upgrading A Char-griller Competition Pro Model 8125 Smoker For Use WIth Firewood

As a father’s day gift this year, my kids chipped in and bought me a brand new grill. My wife helped them hide it and together they surprised me. Man, that really touched me. I’ve had a Char-griller Super Pro 5555 grill for almost 10 years – we’re not exactly sure how old it is but it was rusting through in a number of spots. The kids know that I love to grill and decided to go in together to buy me a new 8125 Competition Pro Offset Smoker Charcoal Grill. I had made a few assumptions about that grill that didn’t quite turn out as expected but with a little bit of work I was able to make a grill I really like.

Eye catching packaging and it weighs a ton – 140 pounds.
My two daughters helped me assemble it. The size and weight of the components really make it a two person job.

My biggest problem has to do with my preference to cook with wood and not charcoal and some usability issues this created. Here are my observations after using this for a few weeks:

#1 – The 8125 was really designed with charcoal in mind and they say that right up front. It has a fairly small fixed gap between the grate that holds the charcoal and the expanded metal cooking grates. It would work for a layer or two of charcoal but not for wood.

You can see there’s not much room between the lower rage and the shelf that would hold the cooking grates. Note the expanded metal food grates sitting on the left end of the shelf.

#2 – The paint they put on the 8125 flat out burns right off. What in the world were they thinking? I’m sure this is why the manual says not to exceed 400F but come on. My old grill never did that.

Yeah, the junk paint came right off where it got too hot. We read this might be a problem so it was entirely a surprise but for the price they could have used a high temp paint.

#3 – The expanded diamond-pattern sheet metal is really thin and doesn’t help at all when it comes to transferring heat. I prefer a heavier grate that will help conduct heat to the food.

#4 – Maybe because I am using wood but I can’t seem to run the little smoker piece as well as the big section. Not a big deal but definitely an observation. I’m not even going to worry about this and save the little side smoker box for when I do really want to smoke stuff.

So what did I do?

In looking at the grill’s performance there were three things that I needed to do – retrofit it to use wood, replace the thin expanded metal cooking grates with cast iron and to use a high-temp paint vs. whatever stuff Char-griller chose very poorly to use.

Welded Fire Plates To Burn Wood

Okay, my old grill had a relatively thin sheet metal cradle that you could raise and lower to adjust the heat. The nice thing was that I could lift it out and dump the ash. What was real important is that is shielding the bottom from the burning wood. I really wanted that.

I bought some 14 gauge mild steel and cut it into strips. I did the wings at 4″ and the base at 5″ wide. If I had it to do over, I would have done the base still at 5″ wide but the wings at about 4-1/2″ to get a tad closer to the shelves that are tack welded from the maker. You could go in with a cutting disc, cut the tacks and remove the lower shelf supports really easily if you wanted to. I decided to just leave them.

Laying out the 14ga sheet metal to cut my fire plates. The straight edge helps me make clean cuts with my Hpertherm Powermax 45 plasma cutter. I could have used a cut off wheel too but at this thickness, a plasma cutter is nice and fast. I tend to spend more time setting up than I do actually making the cut.
I’m always impressed by how fast the plasma cutter goes through steel. Wow. The Powermax 45 is nice and straight forward. Amperage, air flow is indicated on the top right and the bottom three position toggle is for the type of cut you are doing.

Yes, I did think about doing more strips because the grill’s bottom is round. That would have let me follow the contour even more closely but I just wanted to keep it simple. If I were to go this route, I would cut the strips such that they came close to 14-15″ across or whatever you want really.

To form the angles, I actually took a simple short cut. I did three small tack welds to hold the plates together – one at each end and one in the middle. I then took the assembly to the grill and pushed/whacked it into place. This caused the sides to bend up and I got just the angle I wanted with the base plate centered. I then removed the unit and did the final welds all the way around.

Here are the two raw plates. My next step was to paint them with 2000F paint – yes, there is such a thing.

Now the interior length of the grill is about 40-3/4″. The 14ga sheet metal I bought was 24″. I thought about cutting and welding the sheet metal but instead decided to let the two pieces simply overlap in the middle.

There are rivet nuts installed at each end of the grill to hold the legs. These stand that plates off from the bottom of the grill at each end. I put a spare piece of folded 14 ga sheet metal in the middle to lift the plates off as well.

Yes, Virginia, there really is a 2000F heat resistant paint. This Rust-oleum High Heat paint is really interesting stuff and has a staged heating protocol you will need to follow to get the best temperature resistance.
I first sprayed the plates down with brake cleaner to degrease them and put on rubber gloves to avoid contaminating them with oil from my skin. Boy, they got hot in the sun and dried really fast. There are four coats on each side of the
I then installed the two plates into the grill. Next up was to load wood into the smoker unit and heat the grill up following Rust-oleum’s prescription.

Here’s what Rust-oleum recommends in case you have access to a big enough curing oven: “Bake at 400°F (204°C) for 30 minutes and allow 30 minutes to cool. Bake at 600°F (315°C) for 30 minutes and then allow 30 minutes to cool. “

In my case, I loaded the smoker up with wood and used it to heat the grill. I’d open both dampers and hit the recommended temp for at least the allocated time and then close the both dampers to smother the fire and let it cool down. My thinking, and time will tell if I am right, is that you need to hit the target temperature for bonds to be made and then cool down sets them — at least that’s what I think is happening. If it all flakes off then my assumptions will be proven flawed.

Note, I did install new grill plates and baked them at the same time so let’s talk about them next.

Bought Quality Cast Iron Grill Plates

Alright, the expanded metal cooking plates really are a joke. I’m sure they made sense to someone looking to cut cost but you really want a nice thick metal to sear meet and also to evenly spread the heat. My old 5555 grill had cast iron and they really did a nice job. Based on that, I really wanted to upgrade to heavy cast iron.

I did a lot of digging and hit on the perfect cast iron cooking grates on Amazon. These things are amazing!

The replacement cast iron cooking grates I ordered off Amazon fit perfectly. They are very thick and heavy, which will help cook food evenly.

The grates are Vicool model 7526s and measure just over 17-1/8″ deep and about 11-7/8″ wide and almost a 1/2″ thick — they are heavy! The grates come two per package and this meant I would need to order two sets to go the length of the grill.

The inside of the smoker has tabs to limit travel of the grates they installed. I could set in three complete grates. For the last grate, I marked where I needed to cut it and used a grinder with a cut off wheel to cut the last piece to size and drop it in. Since I don’t grill to the far left, that’s where I put the partial piece. It really turned out nice — I am very, very happy with these grates and definitely recommend them (the link is above or click here for the Amazon page).

I used a cut off wheel on my Dewalt 4.5″ grinder to quickly and easily cut the piece off the last grate. I cut the piece slightly too big and then sanded it down to fit perfect. Since I will need to remove the grates too add more wood, I wanted them to not slide all over the place but also easily lift out when hot and the metal has expanded.

One last comment, these grates are heavy. You will need a tool to move them out of the way when they are hot. I bought the following tool – it’s well made and up to the task.

Started Touching Up With Ruse-Oleum High Heat Ultra Spray Paint

The paint that Char-griller put on a supposed competition-grade smoker sucks. I’m not going to mince words – somebody made a very, very poor design decision. Yes, in their documentation they say not to go over 400F but why the low limit? Of course the cooking chamber or the side unit will go past that.

Rust-oleum High Heat Ultra is perfect for replacing the OEM paint that will literally curl and come off your grill.

Dealing with it is a nuisance but not hard and there is a good paint to use to do the touch ups. Rust-oleum High Heat Ultra comes in a semi-glass black version that works great. I use a wire brush wheel on my cordless drill to remove the loose paint and then apply 3-4 coats of the High Heat Ultra. Let it dry for at least an hour and then heat it up to 400F to cure it. Note, they do not recommend it for direct contact with flames which is why I used the 2000F paint mentioned above on my fire plates.

I use a wire brush in my drill to remove the curling original paint. It’s happening less and less now that the high-heat areas have largely shed the original paint.

So far, this paint has held up with no problems. When ever the original paint curls back, I wire brush it and apply the High Heat Ultra. It’s annoying but I don’t feel like using a chemical stripper to remove all the old paint so I just keep doing this over and over.

If you have a BBQ or grill that you want to touch up, this stuff rocks and you’ll see why so many people recommend it.

A Cover

I do want this grill to last so I bought a cover that fits it pretty well. It’s made by iCover and is intended to fit 60″ offset smokers. I bought it due to reviews and wanted to save some money compared to the Char-griller cover and am happy with what I got. We’ll see how it holds up over time including Michigan winters.

Hint: Break In The Grill

If you don’t break in your brand new grill, you run the risk of your food tasting funny not to mention eating some chemicals you really shouldn’t be. Before you use a grill to cook food, get it good and hot – 350-450F and hold it there for at least a half hour to get rid of paints, oils and what not. For example the 8125 came coated in some kind of oil or corrosion protection agent that needed to burn off. After that, I close the dampers and let a good coating of smoke go around and coat stuff inside and let it all cool down. After that, you ought to be ready to use it for cooking.

I’m seasoning the grill here. You can’t tell from the angle but there is over 6″ from the bottom of the grill to the wood. I’d stocked it up more than normal to season the grill and to get ready for cooking out that night. I split oak and maple from our property for cooking with plus whatever else my buddy John gives me such as cherry and hickory. The cherry is simply amazing to cook with.


My kids really surprised me this year. They knew my old grill was on its last legs and really wanted to get me something nice. They were way more upset than I was when the paint started coming off and that it really couldn’t handle the wood I wanted to burn. To be honest, the 8125 is a pretty good platform to make improvements on because they did use relatively thick sheet metal in the construction. You can take the base 8125 and make it do just what you want – that’s what I did and I honestly had some fun working out the details. I am thrilled with the result and want my kids to know they are awesome!!

I have a nice bed of coals going on and am getting ready to do hotdogs the night of July 4th. It did a great job. Those thick cast iron grates do an awesome job of helping to both sear and cook the meat evenly thanks to their ability to conduct heat and thermal mass.
It did a great job on this chicken. The thick grates seared the meat and I could dial in the temperature right where I wanted it.
Pork steaks too!

7/21/2023 Update: I published a blog post yesterday about how the grill is holding up and refinishing it. Click here if you’d like to see the post.

If you find this post useful, please share the link on Facebook, with your friends, etc. Your support is much appreciated and if you have any feedback, please email me at info@roninsgrips.com. Please note that for links to other websites, I may be paid via an affiliate program such as Avantlink, Impact, Amazon and eBay.