For anyone who loves to use charcoal but wants that set it and forget it style of cooking.. you really can have your cake and eat it too. The Pit Barrel Cooker is a smoker/cooker that you need to take a long, hard look at.
PBC sent me one of these a few months back and I've used it about three times since and every time I'm using it, I just get this feeling that if I had to get rid of every smoker but one, this would be the one I'd have to keep. It's very portable, easy to use, and the food that comes out of this thing is nothing short of amazing not to mention the price is a tough one to beat!
I don't rant like this about too many charcoal smokers because let's face it, charcoaled food tastes great but it's usually a lot of work and not always consistent. Somehow they have taken all of the guesswork out of this to the point where you don't even need a thermometer and in fact, it doesn't come with one.
You always use the same amount of charcoal and the vent at the bottom is always set the same based on your altitude and you get consistent results every time.
Needless to say, I'm a fan.
The Pit Barrel Cooker arrived well packaged in a high quality box
There's not that much to put together other than the horseshoe handles on the lid and smoker body.
The cooker stands 30-inches tall and is 18.5-inches in diameter.
So what all is included when you purchase the standard version you might ask..
- Smoker body
- (3) Horseshoe handles
- 3-point stand
- (2) Steel hanging rods (rebar)
- Standard cooking grate
- (8) Hooks
- Charcoal basket
- Wooden hook removal tool
- All purpose pit rub
- Beef and game pit rub
They also sent me some other “extra” goodies like a stainless steel turkey hanger (which I just used for my Thanksgiving turkey HERE), a cover for the cooker, and some really awesome pit barrel cooker gloves.
The other “extra” they sent that isn't pictured below is the ash pan which connects to the bottom of the charcoal basket. When you pull up the charcoal basket after cooking, the ashes come up with it keeping the inside of your cooker a little cleaner.
I was impressed with the quality of the tools and accessories as well as the smoker.
After putting it together and admiring the other stuff, it was time to get her fired up.
This is a charcoal smoker and in the manual they actually tell you to fill the charcoal basket up level with the top with charcoal briquets. As most of you know, I've never been a big fan of charcoal briquettes but when you are trying out a new product for the first time, it's smart to do it the way they tell you to before making any changes of your own.
Since I obviously didn't have any briquettes on hand, I went and purchased some Kingsford briquettes that had a little mesquite wood embedded in it.
Here's the charcoal basket with the ash pan attached to the bottom.
For my maiden voyage, I followed the manual and filled up the charcoal basket exactly level with the top edge.
Then, per the manual, I removed (40) of the briquettes and placed them in my Weber charcoal chimney and lit 'em up.
If you're not familiar with a charcoal chimney, Here's more information on that.
In less than 15 minutes, they were ready.
I was instructed to pour the lit charcoal over the top of the unlit charcoal in the charcoal basket (now sitting at the bottom of the cooker).
The lit charcoal was then poured right over the top and spread out just a little.
And the lid was placed on top.
There's a small vent at the bottom side of the barrel that you can open/close depending on your altitude. For those of us at or close to sea level, it stays open at the minimal level.
If you are above 2000 feet in elevation, the manual will instruct you on the proper setting.
The holes at the top where the rods go through the smoker act as the upper vent. These are sized so that with the cooker maintains a consistent heat level. For this reason the rebar rods should always be in place even if you are using the included standard grill grate.
It's time to cook.. no need to wait. Easy as that!
I just happened to have some ribs standing by so guess what's for dinner!
The hooks were placed in the rib meat between the 2 and 3rd bone and hung on to the steel hanging rods in the cooker.
You may noticed in the image above that I just had to place some wood chunks in there. (I am a smoker after all and I wanted some real wood smoke, not just charcoal smoke.)
It took a mere 15 seconds to hang the ribs on the rods and replace the lid and at this point the PBC way is to leave it alone for at least a couple of hours so that's what I did.
At just over 2 hours the ribs had reached 190°F and I decided to go ahead and add some sauce. Some say why, I said, “why not?”.
After saucing I put them back into the PBC and cracked the lid for some high heat caramelization and boy did I ever get that!
According to the manual, anytime you need some high heat for crisping chicken skin or whatever, just crack the lid a little bit and the extra oxygen will boost the heat right up. They were not wrong.
Now some of you may be saying that these got done really fast, and they did but from what I've been told, the first time you cook in the barrel, the inside is shiny and it tends to get hotter.
I can't debate the time it took since I'm a new user of this cooker but I can tell you that the ribs were phenomenal.
You can see this complete Texas style rib recipe using my Texas Style Rub and my Original Barbecue Sauce HERE.
After the food was removed, I continue to monitor the Pit Barrel Cooker with the lid fully on to see how long the charcoal would actually last. Mine went for just over 8 hours at temperatures above 225°F. Most of that time was between 275 and 310°F .
I've never been a fan of high heat cooking for most things but I could see myself getting used to it real quick.
I have not performed any modifications but I also think you might be able to add fewer pieces of lit charcoal to the charcoal basket in the beginning to bring down the heat if you want a lower heat cook. I will be giving this a try soon just because I can.
Am I going to stop using all of my other smokers? Not on your life but, like I said, put me in a position where I have to choose a single smoker and this one is going to be at the top of my list for ease of use, portability, and the amazing end result.
I can't speak for durability or how long the barrel will last before it rusts out but I'll be keeping mine out of the weather, covered tight and it wouldn't surprise me if I'm still using this one 8-10 years from now.
Another question I've been asked is how it stacks up against the Weber Smoky Mountain cooker and while the Weber is more “controllable” since it has vents at the bottom and top, it's more hands on than the PBC and doesn't have the option to hang the meat without some modification.
Given the price is the same, I'd have to put the Pit Barrel Cooker a little ahead of the WSM.
You can get the Pit Barrel Cooker in the standard format for $349.99 and it's worth every cent.
I will update this with cook times, etc. as I use it more. For now, just know that everything is going to get done much faster than it does when you are cooking at 225-240°F.
Things I don't like about the PBC:
The lid needs a hook or bracket on the inside so it will hang on the edge of the barrel while you are hanging meat, checking temperature, etc. Several people have since emailed me and let me know that the horseshoe on the top of the lid will allow the lid to hang on the side of the barrel. I still think a small bracket on the inside of the lid would be more handy so you can just slide it open and onto the bracket in one swift movement but the horseshoe works just fine so not a big deal. Problem solved.
- I understand the set it and forget it set up but I would still like to see a thermometer on the lid. It's nice to know how hot you are running.
- The vent adjustment at the bottom of the barrel would be better served with a wingnut for tighness adjustment.