North Peorian dentist has his own custom grill shop in North Pekin.
For one North Peoria dentist, shiny grills — the cooking kind, not the brace kind — are his passion.
Dr. Bill Cusack, 64, a periodontist, treats gum disease and works with dental implants at his 5013 N. University St. office in Peoria.
When Cusack, who lives in East Peoria, is not working, he spends his time at his other business, a custom smoker and cooker shop in North Pekin.
“I started grilling because I come from a large family of 11 children,” Cusack said. “We would have big family reunions that would require quite a bit of cooking in large quantities.”
Growing up on his father’s farm at Oak Hill, Cusack said he first learned how to weld while repairing his father, Patrick’s, tractors.
Cusack made his first pig cooker and smoker as a high school student in 1969 at Spalding High School in Peoria, with the help of a classmate.
“I made the first one because of our large family cookouts,” Cusack said.
Cusack said he always enjoyed working with his hands, which led him to become a dentist.
Cusack attended the University of Illinois Dental School in Chicago and worked as a general dentist in both Dekalb and Anchorage, Ala., before receiving his degree as a periodontist.
Cusack also teaches a periodontist class at Illinois Central College in downtown Peoria.
“It is a true joy to help people with their dental work,” Cusack said.
The same could be said of helping a customer buy a custom made grill.
About eight years ago, Cusack met Young La, a man from Cambodia, who he hired to help make his custom smokers and cookers since the demand for his grills was more than he could meet on his own.
Now, La is his foreman, manager and co-designer at the shop’s new location at 550 S. Main St. in North Pekin, which opened last August.
Cusack said his business, Peoria Cookers, developed after requests for smokers and cookers began picking up four years ago. At that time, the business, called Peoria Custom Cookers, was located on Upper Free Bridge Road in East Peoria, near the McCluggage Bridge.
Although Cusack said he still occasionally welds, most of his free time is spent designing new smokers or cookers.
“Most of the smokers or cookers I designed come from trial and error,” Cusack said. “I arrive at them by trying to solve a problem with cooking.”
Cusack said his grills are made for people who want a high- quality cooker and the best flavor results possible.
Because of the emphasis put on flavor, Cusack sells wood or charcoal cookers, with the option of a propane starter or burner.
Cusack’s staff of welders include Limestone High School and Illinois Central College students.
“We train them (welders) because there are different things we want to see in our welds,” Cusack said.
Graham Worley, 18, started working for Cusack a few months ago.
“It’s a good job and a great opportunity to practice doing different welds,” Worley said.
All of Cusack’s smokers are made from one-fourth inch thick mild steel.
“The thickness of the steel separates our cookers from what you can buy in a department store,” Cusack said. “It provides superior insulation and cooks better, especially in cool weather.”
Cusack said he has customers from New York, Florida, Colorado, Maryland, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
“I have several restaurants, caterers, competition barbequers and individuals with a large family that have bought one of my cookers,” Cusack said.
Some customers chose to drive down and pick up their cooker, while other customers either have the cooker shipped by truck or delivered to them.
Meat Monster and other cookers
“A quality cooker has to be able to cook a large quantity and a small quantity with the same cooker and has to do both well,” Cusack said.
Cusack invented and designed the Meat Monster cooker about five years ago, for which he has a patent pending.
Cusack said he sold his first Meat Monster two years ago and only recently started advertising the cooker because he made improvements to the original design.
The Meat Monster ranges from a small, eight foot version to 15 or 21 feet long, depending on what options a customer decides to add. It costs between $6,000 to $9,000.
In the main cooking chamber, the Meat Monster has an upper and a lower level, which can either be used individually or together for grilling.
“Only the mobile Meat Monster is fully insulated with a two-inch thick ceramic fiber,” Cusack said.
Cusack’s company is a member of the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers and follows its guidelines for making trailers.
A fire box attached at the end of the main cooking chamber is also fully insulated.
Several options available for the Meat Monster include: a charcoal basket; stainless steel grills; a rotissare, open pit grill or a single or a double fish burner, all of which can be added to the front of the trailer.
Pat Alwan, of Alwan & Sons in Peoria, purchased a Meat Monster two years ago.
“It has done wonders for our business,” Alwan said. “It’s easy to use and ‘old reliable’.”
Alwan said his employees use the Meat Monster every day, all year-round.
“It will outlive any of us,” Alwan said. “Everyone should have one.”
Alwan said he found out about the cooker from Cusack, a regular customer for the last 20 years.
Besides the Meat Monster, Cusack also makes and sells the following: a 24-by-48-inch backyard grill; an open pit grill that offers 961 inches of grilling area; a 24-by-72-inch mobile pit; a 30-by-96-inch mobile pit; and a 36-by-120-inch mobile pit.
For more information about Cusack’s cookers, visit the company Web site, www.peoriacustomcookers.com, or call the shop at 699-4745.