Pit Barrel Cooker 18.5 Smoker Review

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Pit Barrel Cooker 18.5 Smoker Review

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.

Check Out the Pit Barrel Cooker and PBC Accessories

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.

Please note that my rubs and barbecue sauce are now available in 2 formats– you can purchase the formulas and make them yourself OR you can buy them already made, in a bottle, ready to use.

AND.. we are running a limited-time 30% off sale on the DOWNLOADABLE RECIPES ONLY. Click HERE to purchase the instantly downloadable recipes (formulas) for both of my rubs and barbecue sauce for the lowest price I've EVER offered. Somebody pinch me! Or better yet, just go get them 😉
Note: The coupon should be automatically applied OR use JOY30 during checkout if necessary.

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 $299 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.

Check Out the Pit Barrel Cooker and PBC Accessories

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.
  • 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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2018-12-05T17:24:26+00:00By |14 Comments

About the Author:

Long time Industrial Engineer turned self-proclaimed fire poker, pitmaster and smoke whisperer and loving every minute of it!

14 Comments

  1. Nathan December 6, 2018 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    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!

    • Jeffrey Hatwig December 6, 2018 at 10:58 pm - Reply

      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.

  2. MICHAEL S FLORES December 6, 2018 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    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.

    • Jeff Phillips December 6, 2018 at 4:47 pm - Reply

      Michael, sounds like you’re a big fan of the PBC! I can see why and I look forward to cooking on it even more 🙂 Great information on the lid hanging.

  3. Holly Helm December 6, 2018 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    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.

    • Jeff Phillips December 6, 2018 at 4:23 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Holly! I will give that a try and update my review.

  4. John O'Kefe December 6, 2018 at 1:07 pm - Reply

    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.

    • Jeff Phillips December 6, 2018 at 4:37 pm - Reply

      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.

  5. Tom McIntyre December 6, 2018 at 10:48 am - Reply

    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.

  6. Tom McIntyre December 6, 2018 at 10:47 am - Reply

    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!

    Tom

    • Jeff Phillips December 6, 2018 at 11:14 am - Reply

      Thank you Tom! I look forward to doing a brisket on my Pit Barrel Cooker soon!

  7. LEWIS NITKIN December 6, 2018 at 9:45 am - Reply

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

    • Jeff Phillips December 6, 2018 at 10:13 am - Reply

      Will do, Lew! Who’d of thought cooking in a barrel like this PBC would be this fun, easy and inexpensive!? Have a great Christmas!

  8. Andy December 6, 2018 at 8:14 am - Reply

    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)?

    -Andy

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