Here we take an in-depth look at the Pit Barrel Cooker by the Pit Barrel Cooker Company. We have extensive experience smoking food on this drum style smoker – it’s one of our favorite smokers – and we’ll share with you everything you need to know about this unique cooker.
Pit Barrel Cooker Design
Thomas Edison was accused of failing 10,000 times perfecting the consumer light bulb…he said he just found 10,000 ways it wouldn’t work before finding the right one. Some 70 years ago the 40th version of the water displacement fluid we now know as WD-40 was perfected and is still in the market. So apparently, we shouldn’t be surprised that the founder of the Pit Barrel Cooker Company (PBC) was on his 30th iteration of the concept when it was finally ready to go.
On one level, the temptation is to think that is an inordinate number of tries to make what appears to be a simple device. Then you get your hands on it, or even better taste some of the food that it cooks, and there is no question that it was worth every refinement to get such a workable product to market and available to backyard BBQ-ers everywhere.
Circles are the most common shape in nature. Natural physics will create circles in all fashion of movement dynamics. We’ve all seen the swirl of smoke from an open fire on a breezy day, the dust devil whisking across a dusty field, or the awe-inspiring pictures of nature’s wrath in a tornado’s cyclone. It is a smaller version of these energies that PBC harnesses in each and every cooker because of the cylindrical shape which encourages heat convection in the vortex shape.
The charcoal holder keeps the coals accessible to air to continually fuel their fire. The bottom vent is a set and forget for functionality based at the operating altitude of the specific locale. The single offset lower vent adds to this Coriolis effect. So, while it may not be actual rocket science, that’s pretty dang close for cooking food. The lid is nothing fancy, but provides just the right seal to keep all the goodness where it belongs, right on the food. Every piece of the clean design lends itself to giving great results.
REAL MEAT HOOKS
We mentioned the charcoal basket, but the same simplicity of thought has been applied to the design of the other interior components. An effective smoke cooker has a straightforward goal; bring food in contact with smoke and heat. The PBC approach harkens back to a much simpler age…because it works. After creating a great environment delivering a circulating column of smoke and heat what could work better than hanging your food right in the center to take full advantage.
For that reason, each cooker comes with multiple stainless steel serious meat hooks. These guys are capable of holding the weight of a lot more meat than you could even pack into the entire drum. The other end is hooked on iron rebar that fits through the pre made slots at the top of the drum. In short, a nearly indestructible and sturdy system.
Not everything lends itself to a meat hook. Chicken cut into pieces, seafood, vegetables and more, all need a rack to cook on. PBC Includes a fitted chrome grill allowing you to cook the most delicate of foods.
We mentioned the charcoal basket before. It should be noted that this is also built for durability and longevity. Like everything else BBC, they take their engineering seriously so that you get years of worry-free cooking. The charcoal basket, the entire barrel and the lid with its horseshoe handle are all porcelain coated for a good look and long-term rust resistance.
PIT BARREL COOKER STYLE POINTS
Interestingly, the PBC is a pretty portable unit to take your cooking on the go. It is after all a barrel, so not only can you store the components you need for cooking, there’s room for charcoal, starter, implements…you get the idea.
The PBC also has a fairly small footprint in terms of the amount of space that is required to use it. Yes, you do not want to put it right up against any part of your structure while in operation. Being solid metal, it will convey the heat outward. For cooking, with awareness, and for storage, the device can get by in minimal area, making it ideal for smaller patios or limited space locations.
AVAILABLE UPGRADES FOR THE PIT BARREL COOKER
The PBC comes well equipped, with very nominal assembly you are ready to fire it up, season it and start cooking. That being said, people who can deliver this level of product can certainly imagine some mighty fine addons for you to consider. These guys make their own charcoal starter chimney, which is a fine product. Regardless of where you acquire it, a starter unit is the must have accessory for firing things up.
Pro tip; if you do not already own one, get a thermometer that you can leave in the meat throughout the cook to monitor the progress, preferably Bluetooth to send the results to your phone.
We like easy. So, the detachable Ash Tray is probably our favorite accessory. Every job has a clean-up stage and anything that minimizes the effort is worth it in our book. This is an easy-to-use detachable solid piece of metal that lifts out with the charcoal basket to keep everything contained while you clean up.
The Hinged Grill is our next favorite, although it fits in with a gang of items that allow easier cooking of different foods. This hinge allows for flat grilling and hooked meats to cook simultaneously. Additional hangers for brats, corn on the cob, or just a basket, increase the versatility of the PBC. Lastly, hanging skewers open other doors for a gang of new foods to cook.
A GREAT STORY TOO
Many folks can write a good story and spin a fun yarn. But reality is so much better. In the case of PBC, their founder Noah Glanville and his journey is truly amazing. After serving our country in the military, he continued to serve through private companies with future tours in the middle east. When he came back, the familiarness of home with the smells of barbecue were all it took to light up his passion.
After that storied past, he still had the gumption and wherewithal to prototype and test the PBC. With his family, they brough the product to market and continue to get stellar reviews from everyone that uses it. Even better, PBC pays it forward with discounts for fellow vets and first responders. The only thing better than buying a quality product, is buying it from a quality company.
BEST PRACTICE TIPS FOR USING THE PIT BARREL COOKER
This will come as no surprise to anyone playing in this sandbox we call barbecue; every device comes with a learning curve. Fortunately, the PBC does a great job to minimize that aspect of getting started. Let us help that along for you with tips and tricks so that you know what to expect and how to get the most out of a PBC.
Fuel and Temperature
As we have mentioned, the PBC is well engineered to give specific results. One full charcoal basket will deliver 6 to 7 hours of cook time. Because it is sized to the specific unit and model, this holds true across the product line. The parameters include the lid seated virtually throughout the cook, opened minimally if it all, and the rods in place.
The temperature range is expected to be 275 to 310 degrees through this process. Interestingly, you can expect to hit the higher end of that range at the earlier parts of the cook. The fuel will even out and the temperature will stabilize, so be patient and you will be enjoying quality barbecue before long.
Leaving the lid offset or completely off will generate a spike in temperature. This may be desirable if you are using your PBC for flat grilling, steaks and such, versus making low and slow cooked foods to enjoy. Become aware of how the lid will affect your cooking options.
Chips and Chunks
You are not limited to charcoal, or just briquets either. A word to the wise though, get to know the PBC performance with standard charcoal before mixing your fuel choices. Lump charcoal will work fine. Be aware that the uneven shaping may give varied heat production across the charcoal tray. This will come into play more with flat grilling, lid askew or off. The natural convection of slow cooking will minimize the variation. The only other point of awareness for chunk charcoal is the disparate shapes may give different burn duration for your cooking.
Wood is fine to add in judicious amounts. Either chunk or chip will bring specific flavors to your smoked foods, so this is a great arena to experiment and learn more. At the risk of stating the obvious, wood burns. Throwing chunks or pieces on top of the charcoal can create open flame affecting your cooking temperature. Keeping them mixed in or under the charcoal will help make them part of the controlled burning process.
There’s always more to learn when it comes to cooking great food. From equipment to technique, feeding our passion along with friends and family, make this a great learning journey. The PBC represents a modern made device that does an excellent job of taking classic barbecue cooking back to its roots and easily approachable. Enjoy!