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Pit Barrel Cooker 18.5 Smoker Review

PBC LS 10 cropped

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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 while back and I've used it quite a number of 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

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There's not that much to put together other than the horseshoe handles on the lid and smoker body.

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The cooker stands about 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.

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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.

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For my maiden voyage, I followed the manual and filled up the charcoal basket level with the top edge.

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Then, per the manual, I removed (40) of the briquettes and placed them in my Weber charcoal chimney and lit 'em up.

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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.

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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 minimum 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. 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.

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You may have noticed in the image above that I placed some wood chunks in there. (I am a smoker after all and I wanted some real wood smoke, not just charcoal smoke.) PBC recommends a handful of wood chips.

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 (88°C) and I decided to go ahead and add some sauce. Some say, “why”, I said, “why not?”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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  1. One thing I noticed from the start is that there ought to be hooks that face the other direction so you can insert from both sides. Otherwise, the only issue I’ve had is ribs falling into the fire.

  2. I have had my 18.5 PBC for 6 or 7 years now and still going strong. I have many smokers and this one is great. If I have a busy day planned in the backyard and want bbq later this is the one to use. You can get it going and check on it very little and still have that great-tasting food.

  3. Very little mention of adding wood in this forum. For me that’s #1. If you add wood on top of the charcoal isn’t it going to ignite fairly quick and now you have a flame raising the temperature tremendously.

    1. Because the air flow is very controlled, the wood does not burn up very quickly. Many Pit Barrel Cooker owners use wood chips instead of chunks and they say it lasts for a long time as well. Because the wood burns so slowly, the barrel is able to maintain a temperature of around 275°F for 9+ hours.

        1. No.. I recommend using dry chips. When you use soaked wood chips, it not only cools down your coals but you don’t get good smoke flavor until the water evaporates. This doesn’t take long but it’s just not necessary.

          If you’re having trouble with the chips burning up too quickly, wrap a big handful of chips up in an 18×18 pieces of foil. poke a few small holes in the foil pack with a fork and place the pack right on top of the coals. Make several of these packs so you can replace them when they stop smoking.

          1. The Barrel House cooker you can take the barrel off the top and load the charcoal in the bottom. Much more convenient

  4. I dont see the big deal with a barrel,, we made these things 50 years ago and the old man made them back in WW2 in the islands. It aint nuttin new!

    1. You are correct.. it’s certainly not a new concept. The PBC is just the product of someone wanting to perfect the process and make it very affordable. I know plenty of people who find the materials and make their own and then they spend a while tweaking it to cook the way they like. That’s fun for some. Others enjoy buying it already tweaked and ready to hold a perfect temperature for 8-10 hours at a time.

      The company is veteran owned and I am a big fan of what they’ve done with this thing.

    1. The grease splatter is what you want. It seasons the pit. Don’t ever clean it off. When I build one the first thing I do is to smoke the cheapest link sausage and burn the fool out of it. Throw the sausage away because it will taste like metal. But the grease will season the barrel.

  5. Was “gifted” the PBC about 3 years ago – used it half a dozen times but couldn’t get that rich, smokiness that I had become accustomed to with my heavily-modified cheap offset. Contacted the Manufacturer to ask about return/refund and was told “no”, it’s marketed as the Pit Barrel COOKER and isn’t intended to be a true ‘smoker’. Bottom line (for ME) – I LOVE the versatile results from my Weber Kettle (with mods) I can grill (hot/direct, i.e. COOK), Sear, and low n slow anything (SMOKE!). AND, with my 15″ Lodge Cast Iron pizza griddle atop the Weber charcoal baskets I can use the entire 22.5″ cooking surface for big cooks!!

    1. As with most things, it’s not everyone’s “cup of tea” but for those who love charcoal cooking but want the ease of a pellet smoker, this could be a great option.

      If you’re already getting great results in a weber kettle, there’s no reason to make a switch and it sounds like you’ve got that thing down to an art 😉

  6. So, how does clean up go? Seems like the juice and grease dripping would drip down into the coals and cause flair ups and a great big mess to clean up. Is there a drip pan I am not seeing? How does that work? Seems like it would be a mess.

    1. Ryan, there is a really handy ash pan available as an extra purchase that attaches to the bottom of the charcoal pan. Most of the stuff that drips down, just burns off and you’re left with pretty clean ash.

      The airflow is very controlled so the flair ups from grease and meat juices aren’t significant.

      When you pull up the ash/charcoal pan you can then dump the ashes and you’re ready to start again. It’s not bad at all.

  7. One thing I’ve always wondered with barrel cookers, how much more done do the ribs get on the bottom side by the heat versus the top with the hook in it? And do people flip them and put the hook in the other end half way through?

    1. I use a half basket of charcoal in the chimney and pour it over lump , which I prefer.
      Works fantastic!

  8. I’ve had my Pit Barr l for two years and love it as does my wife. I got tired of wasting charcoal as every thing cooks so quick To solve the problem I purchased a galvanized trash can with a lid. I also bought some 1/4 stee goes l rods about 36 ” long. At one end i bent the rod end into a U shape and the other end into an L. When I’m done smoking I use the rods to lift the ash pan out of the smoker and lower into the trash can and put the lid on it. The charcoal goes out and can be reused. To help with this I bolted the ash pan to the charcoal basket. You can reuse half or more of your charcoal this way.

    1. They do tend to get a little more done on the bottom so sometimes I put a hook on both ends and flip after an hour or so.
      I also split them and hang them.

  9. I have seen comments about cool weather, but how will the PBC Act in Phoenix where most every day in summer the temp will reach at least 100 degrees plus

  10. I admit I’m confused. My belief is that slow, high humid, low temperature are the keystone characteristics of smoking. If this is not correct, why can’t I simply remove my water pan and save the $300 for a new smoker.

  11. Hey Jeff, I’ve had a PBC from the start. It’s the best thing sence sliced bread. I’ve done a 16lb. Brisket in 6 hrs and 1 hr wrapped and it was fantastic. Not much I haven’t smoked on it, but you shoul try lobster on it. I now put the lobster in Mac-cheese and smoke it..have not had any problems with it rusting. Just keep it covered and out of the weather. When it got cold here in Claremore I put a couple 2×4 pieces of plywood around it to help keep the heat in..that worked great. Would like to meet up with you and compare notes.

  12. The only problem I’ve has is the first time I did back ribs, they got done and dropped off the hooks into the charcoal. Easy fix. Take the charcoal grate from a standard Weber kettle and set it on bricks placed endwise around the PBC charcoal pan. No more mishaps! Also, I agree with another poster that a thermometer would be nice, but I have not had a problem with too hot temps.

    1. we fixed that problem by adding an additional hook in the middle of the rack and then another attached to that hook on top to hang from. the additional support keeps the ribs from breaking apart and falling. haven’t had a mishap since we started doing that.

      1. I imagine any grate cage style holder, like what you might use for fish, will hold the ribs all together so when they do fall apart the pieces all stay in the cage.

  13. I have had mine for a year and used it monthly. I’ve tried propane, charcoal and wood smokers, this is as easy and foolproof as it gets.Light it and leave it, can’t get any easier. Pork roasts, cornish hens, ribs, chicken, turkey breast-everything comes out right, no drying out. Make sure to brine. Five stars from me!

    1. Actually, Somehow, because of how the heat moves in the barrel I guess, the entire rack gets done at the same time. The very end closest to the charcoal gets a little darker than the rest if they are hanging too close to the fire but even that was still edible. It’s uncanny.

  14. How well do you think this would work in northern climates, i.e. Minnesota? I like to smoke and grill year-round. I’m kind of weird that way…

    1. Me too;-) I use mine all year round and can’t imagine going all winter without some smoke! I have been using the PBC all winter here in Oklahoma with temperature between 15 and 45°F. Not as frigid as you guys but it’s had no trouble maintaining 260-275°F. In high wind you might consider setting up a wind block of some sort.

  15. I’m ready to purchase my cooker, but have one concern. Obviously any fat from the meat drips onto the coals. I would think this would cause ash to drift up towards and onto the meat.
    Anyone have thoughts on this?I’m

    1. Rolf, I’ve done quite a bit of cooking on mine and haven’t had an issue with ash all over my food. Maybe others can speak up and let us know if they’ve seen or heard of this happening in the PBC.

  16. I’ve been a Pit Barrel guy for over five years now and still using my original model. As someone else mentioned use the horseshoe handle on the lid to hang off the side of the cooker or through one of the barrel handles. I also use a two prong wireless thermometer to monitor the meat (if needed), and one probe I hang from the rebars with a piece of stainless wire to monitor the internal barrel temp. Once you get the knack of how the thing works you don’t even need the thermometer. If you notice the internal temp falling, as it sometimes will (maybe due to wind, temp drop, rain), don’t be afraid to crack the lid for a few minutes, just don’t forget to reseat it because it’s easy for the temp jump to extreme levels. Always make sure the lid is sealed there should never be smoke coming out of the edge of the lid only from the rebar holes. As a rule of thumb when I start a cook I crack the lid slightly to ensure the thing does come up to temp which I find usually runs 260-275. My main use of monitoring the internal barrel temp is to get an idea of timing, especially if you are cooking for a function and need to eat at a certain time. Again, once you get the gist of the thing, thermometer isn’t necessary. I’ve cooked/smoked ribs(all types), chicken(whole and parts), salmon, meatloaf, chicken wings, pizza, tri-tip with stuffed portabelos or twice baked potatoes, pork shoulder, whole ham,whole turkey, chuck roasts, corned beef brisket for pastrami, your jalapeno poppers, etc, etc. The thing just works! Love the PBC! Happy cooking!

    1. I see you do cook smaller things in the barrel, so it must have a food grate correct? And i wont have to hang the ribs if i would rather use the grate right? Cuz I don’t like idea of hanging food, if something happens it could fall in the fire, then meal ruined. Would prefer a grate

      1. I’ve had mine a while but it came with a grate that allows you to lay things flat if you so choose. This does cut down on the available space though so you’d have to get creative with it to make things fit.

      2. Had a barrel for 4 yrs and right after I got it I put a guru onto to lower the temperature. And it works great. When thru cooking shut the air off guru and you save the charcoal

  17. have been using for 4 years..love my PBC..did a 13 hr cook of 2 boston butts at the same time.8 oiut and 5 wrapped..and 3 hrs chillin in cooler..mens group ate all of it..do this monthly..turkeys..sausages.and wings are incredible..45 minutes on each side.basting with sauce when you flip them…project smoke studied a half dozen cookers and recommended pbc..ordered mine at 2 am after watching those videos..chill on with the pbc…

  18. Jeff, Thanks for introducing me to the PBC. It is by far the best cooker i have ever owned. People that have trouble with keeping temp try playing with the vent door on the bottom or crack the the lid a little bit. I made ribs and the chicken and they both were awesome. Brisket is next. Jeff, your texas rub works great on both. Thanks again.

  19. Jeff, I been a fan for years now and I personally want to thank you for introducing me the pit barrel cooker. It will be my go to. I made ribs in it and some chicken and was impressed on the outcome of the results. It is very easy setup and cook. I can say you have never let me down with your advise over the years. The customer service from the pit barrel co was the best i ever dealt with in some questions i had.

  20. Question: I am not yet a PBC owner and would like to know if anyone uses half a basket of coals (instead of a level-full basket) on shorter cooks… I just can’t get my head around having to use a full basket if half the coals are gonna be wasted. I cannot think of any scientific reasoning to fill the basket level for a shorter cooks. Please enlighten me. THANKS! Jer

    1. That works just fine but it is a whole new set of rules for temperature and timing. Experiment to you hearts content knowing that you really can’t screw things up badly. Enjoy !!

  21. Andy, if I may I will answer your question. Since the PBC has no water pan, and assuming you hang your meat on a hook (the preferred way of smoking most meat on the PBC) to add wood you simply drop the fresh wood from the top of the barrel, past the meat directly into the charcoal. That’s it. Simple and easy. It will ignite and start smoking within a few minutes. Tom

  22. Jeff,
    I’ll be keen to read how your brisket cook goes. I have to refill the coals at least once to get to 203. In the 2 years I’ve had it I have yet to get close to the seemingly miraculous cook times on their videos. That being said, the food always comes out great!

    1. Nathan, I’ve had my PBC for about 3 years and cooked at least 1/2 dozen briskets….and I’ve never had to add charcosl, not once. I just did a 12# Brisket for Thanksgiving and it was at 205° in just under 6 hours. I think if you feel you need to add more charcoal you’re probably doing something wrong. I also use a thermometer probe that’s wirelessly connects to a readoud that I can watch from inside away from the PBC. My coals easily last 8 hrs.

  23. Hi Jeff, I have been using the PBC for a year. I’ve smoked spare ribs, three briskets (two at one time, 28lbs of meat), rib roast, Chickens (4 at one time + two racks of spare ribs), beef ribs, chicken wings, burgers, bacon wrapped pork loin, and for Thanksgiving a 15lbs bird! I used your dry-brining method for the turkey. I will never use a wet-brine again! The PBC is fantastic and continues to amaze me and those who get to eat the bounty it delivers. My other smoker I would have thermometer probes in the smoke, in the meat, and re-check with another all the while chasing the temperature. Now with the PBC I actually set it and forget it. I use a ThermoWorks instant read and time, which is now cut in half. I am now free to sleep, make sauces, clean up the kitchen, and or party with guests, without being exhausted from watching a fire/chasing temps. As for hanging the lid, I just hang the lid on the side of the barrel when I’m loading / unloading or tending to the pit and on the other side I hang the supplied rack. I appreciate your site and excellent tips.

  24. Hi Jeff,

    Great review. I noticed the comment in the dislike section about wanting a hook or a bracket to keep the lid attached. The horseshoe handle on the lid hangs right inside of the horseshoe handle on the side of the barrel.

  25. I’m curious – when you need to add charcoal, how easy is it to do that? I currently have a Brinkman “noob” smoker which I’m happy with and I can separate the area that holds the coals from the rest of the smoker when I need to restock.

    1. John,

      I haven’t been using this thing for long, but because it cooks at 275+, it’s 8 to 9 hour cook duration on one load of charcoal will probably be more than enough for almost anything you cook. If you really did need to add more charcoal, it would be pretty easy.

      I’m not sure what the procedure is from PBC HQ but I would light 40 more briquettes and once they are ready, unhang the meat and into a covered pan, pull up the charcoal pan and dump it into a metal bucket/container, fill it back up with charcoal, remove 40 pieces back into the bag, place the charcoal basket back into the bottom of the barrel, pour the lit charcoal on top, rehang the meat and replace the lid. That would get you another 8 to 9 hours.

      That sounds like a lot of steps but I think I could do all of that inside of 3 to 4 minutes very easily once the lit charcoal was ready.

      If you only needed another few hours, it is possible that you could simply unhang the meat, pour more lit charcoal on top of what is already there, rehang the meat and presto.

      Maybe someone who has more experience can enlighten us on this procedure.

  26. Just open the lid and drop the wood past the hanging food, directly into the fire. There is no need for and it does not have a water pan.

  27. Jeff, I have been using the Pit Barrel for about a year now. I was initially afraid of the higher temps but the meat came out perfect every time! I can say, that after you use it half a dozen times, the temps tend to run somewhat cooler, perhaps due to the grease and smoke accumulation on the barrel interior as they do tell you not to clean the barrel interior as a part of you cleaning process. My very first brisket was a 5lb flat from Costco. I was nervous as a cat as I was feeding about 15 folks and the brisket was most of the meat. I followed the cooking instructions on the Pit Barrel site and it was amazing! And it cooked perfectly in just under 4 hours! I am with you on the Pit Barrel being my number one. And by the way, your recipes using the Pit Barrel’s recommended cook times are turning me into (at least perceived by my guests) a pit master!


  28. Good work Jeff! Now you know why I prodded you to try the PBC. Please keep using it and sending your excellent recipes.

  29. Thanks Jeff,
    I have an ECB and use regular charcoal. I generally need to throw in a piece of wood every hour or so to keep the smoke going. The ECB has a handy little door for doing this. Does the barrel smoker have anything like that? I didn’t see one. If not, how can you keep the smoke going for as long as the charcoal will last (e.g. 8 hrs)?