Though originally inspired by Marine Corp BBQs in Iraq, the Pit Barrel Cooker (PBC) is far from a makeshift flaming pit. Now one of the top sub $500 smokers on the market market, this barrel cooks up smokey, succulent meat with ease.
A variation on the Ugly Drum Smoker, what really puts the PBC apart from any competitors in its price range is the “hook and hang” method. The PBC works a little like a convection oven, so it manages to cook with an even heat from top to bottom, whilst the vertically hanging meat manages to smoke itself with its own juices.
While it hasn’t been around as long as some other popular options, we’ve recently included the Pit Barrel Cooker on our guide to the best charcoal smokers for 2017.
So what is in the Pit Barrel Cooker Package?
The bulk of the Pit Barrel Cooker is a 30 gallon/18-gauge steel drum and lid. Strong and uninsulated, it can handle high temperatures whilst the external cooling creates condensation in the barrel for added moisture. Its cylindrical shape allows for convection heat to be distributed evenly throughout the chamber for premium results time and again.
What really makes the PBC stand out though is the 8 stainless steel hooks, and 2 steel bars on which to hang them.
Cooking vertically allows for more space and has gravity lending a hand, basting the meat with its own juices and creating a “smoke fog” that negates any need for a water pan. Hanging the meat also removes any chance of hot conduction points caused by grilling.
The PBC does also come with a removable grill grate if you want to use it as a grill for direct cooking your chicken pieces, steaks, fish or veggies.
The wire charcoal basket is positioned just above the bottom edge of the barrel for airflow which helps achieve consistent set it and forget it temperatures.
The complete package is advertised as 22 x 33 x 22 inches.The drum is about 19 inches in diameter, and on the stand around 32 inches in height. The grill grate has a diameter of 17-1/2 inches. Distance from hanging rod to top of charcoal basket is about 22 inches. Hanging hooks are 4 inches long.
Weight: 63.9 pounds.
What we like about the Pit Barrel Cooker
- The hook system increases your cooking capacity. Because you hang meat vertically rather than laying it out you can easily fit eight racks of ribs or two pork butts.
- This is a very forgiving smoker for beginners and won’t require a lot of babysitting once you’ve mastered a few basics.
- Air tight construction help you achieve very steady temperatures over a long smoke
What we don’t like:
- You are somewhat restricted in how you control temperature. The adjustable plate can vary temperature by 50 degrees or so to account for ambient air temperature and wind but it’s not easily adjusted on the fly. Make sure you read the instructions, and have a good quality wireless thermometer on hand which can easily be threaded through a hole in the barrel.
- While you ‘can’ use this as a grill, it makes a better dedicated smoker. Using the grill grate can be a bit awkward as you need to reach a bit too far in when it’s flipping time. We recommend getting long barbecue tongs to be on the safe side, or just stick with a Weber Kettle for your grilling needs.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
How easy is it to use?
If you’ve struggled with a cheap offset smoker, or even relied on using the snake method on a old Weber kettle, you’ll be very happy with how easy this smoker is to use. We recently included it on our list of best smokers for beginners.
The theory behind the Pit Barrel cooker is the famous minion method. Rather than pouring a chimney full of hot coals in at once and then needing to refuel every few hours, the minion method involves adding a few light coals to a larger pile of unlit charcoal.
As the light coals burn down, the unlit coals below start to ignite. This allows you to get many hours out of a single load of charcoal.
In this video you can see how easy it is to setup and start smoking on the pit barrel cooker.
You can regulate airflow by adjusting the rotatable steel plate over the air hole near the bottom of the drum. The manufacturers also recommend setting the air vent depending on your elevation:
- 0-2000 Ft the vent should be 1/4 open
- 2000-5000 Ft the vent should be 1/2 open
- 5000-8000 Ft the vent should be 3/4 open
- And above 8000 Ft leave the vent fully open.
This smoker isn’t designed to give you a high degree of temperature control. We would recommend against fiddling with the vents, and you are going to get the occasional burst when fat drips from the hanging meat.
This is really is a set it and forget it smoker. The air flow allows you to maintain fairly steady temperatures for 8-12 hour cooks without adding charcoal. And if you really want to dial in your temperatures you can still install a automatic temperature controller.
The stainless steel hooks hang easily on the steel lateral bars at the top of the barrel and the removable grill grate offers no resistance at all. Whether it’s half chickens and racks of ribs, or a tray of salmon, the PBC produces great results with minimal effort. And Its compact size and lightness make it easy to take your barbecuing out on the road without issue.
This unit does require regular cleaning to maintain a top quality cook. For extra ease, there is a removable ash pan that you can add for $29.95 which is recommended if you can stretch for it.
The PBC is made of high quality durable steel. Originally a 20-gauge, it has now been upgraded to a sturdier 18-gauge. Its porcelain enamel coating makes it extremely resistant to weather. It performs well at high altitude, and can keep your meat cooking even if it’s minus 15 outside.
If you are planning to keep it outside in harsh conditions it may still be wise to cover it up if you want to keep it in good shape. You can purchase their own custom-fit cover separately for $29.95.
Pit Barrel Cooker VS Weber Smokey Mountain
If you’re in the market for a charcoal smoker under $500 (and you’re not stubborn or dumb enough to buy a cheap offset smoker), you’re probably stuck deciding between these two smokers.
On the one hand the Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) is a traditional water smoker that’s been around for decades and has legions of pit masters who swear by it.
The Pit Barrel Cooker is newer to the scene, and the hanging hooks and convection style are a little more unique.
With a similar price, size and set it and forget it style, it can be hard to decide which way to go. It will come down to your personal preference, but these factors should help you make up your mind:
- You get more temperature control and flexibility with the WSM.
- It’s easier to achieve lower temperatures on the WSM, and the PBC has been known to run hot (270 – 320 degrees). Sure you can lower the temp by covering up your air holes with foil but that is a little bit of hassle you don’t get with the WSM.
Even though it runs a little hot and you get less temperature control, food cooked in the PBC almost always still tastes amazing. Many people have found that you can cook a pork butt in 6-7 hours rather than the usual 9-10 hours and have it still taste amazing.
While the WSM gives you a little more flexibility, the PBC is a fool proof option that can produce outstanding barbecue.
No Hippie BBQ & Cooking have done a comprehensive comparison between the Weber Smokey Mountain and the Pit Barrel cooker which is really useful if you want to see how these smokers compare side by side.
Should you buy the Pit Barrel Cooker?
For a first time smoker this is a great option. Reliable, durable, consistent and great value for money at its current asking price. That and the fact that it is delivered to your door ready-to-go is a real boon for the newcomer. The Pit Barrel Cooker will have you feeling like a BBQ master in no time at all.
However, what comes as a blessing for the newbie could be considered a curse for the more dedicated hobbyist. There is no room at all for customization with the PBC.
Get the latest price on a PBC from Amazon.
Tips for using your Pit Barrel Cooker
There are loads of great resources for new smokers who want to learn how to get the most out of their new purchase.
- Pit Barrel Cooker have an excellent YouTube channel where you can find a huge range of videos from recipes (check out the leg of lamb for something different!), to getting started, cleaning and maintaining.
- Over at amazingribs.com you can find a large article dedicated to pit barrel cooker tips and technique (be sure to check out the comments at the bottom for even more discussion).