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Pit Barrel Cooker

BBQ Smoker

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#1 mshills

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 10:25 AM

I've been a barbecue fiend for a long time, and part of the enjoyment has been making a good old fashioned Weber Kettle grill into whatever I need it to be.  It takes plenty of work and fussing over the cook to make a kettle into a serviceable smoker, but it can be done.  I've never liked the side / offset smokers that much, and I've not been able to talk myself into dropping the $$$$ for a Backwoods or the $$$$$$$$$$ for a Stumps (the Rolls Royce of smokers.)

I wanted to get something that I can light off in the morning and not mess with it as much.  To keep the temp down in the kettle and keep the fire lit requires some ghetto-rigging and lots of attention and fuss during the cook.

So I ordered a Pit Barrel Cooker this week for the princely sum of $300.  I cannot find a bad review or bad experience with this thing anywhere on the Web.  I fired it up for the first time this morning.  Currently cooking two chickens (four halves) and two racks of spare ribs.  One rub on the chickens, a different one on the ribs.  Going to sauce one of the ribs with a mustard sauce and leave the other dry, I think (but I have a few hours to decide. :D )

Anyone have a Pit Barrel or a similar ugly drum?  Curious to hear experiences with 'em.

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#2 dan360

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 01:44 PM

Built one out of an old wood stove and 55gal drum.  For as much monkeying around as it took for essentially free materials for the time I could've bought a Traeger and been done.  

Or one of those pit barrels. Mine is doing deer jerky currently.

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#3 highergr0und

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 02:10 PM

I absolutely love my PBC. It basically makes you a BBQ master without having to sit and tend a fire for hours on end. The chicken off of it is amazing. Very juicy with a nice kiss of smoke and charcoal flavor. It makes better ribs, brisket, and pork than any restaurant near me.

I'd monitor temps a bit to dial in the cooker, but once you do that don't try to adjust anything. Just follow the starting routine and watch the time.

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#4 highergr0und

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 02:12 PM

And the PBC is nothing like a true drum cooker. It's a very unique thing. It's closer to hot and fast than low and slow, but the food is incredible

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#5 mshills

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Posted 24 October 2015 - 03:16 PM

Just ate some of the chicken.  It took MUCH longer than two hours, but with these results it could take ten hours and I'd be fine with that.  I've made some great chicken -- Big Bob Gibson's white 'Bama chicken, chicken under a brick, Cornell chicken, jerk chicken, Nashville style hot chicken, and many others.  I've never had chicken as good as I just ate.  Breast was the perfect texture and not even a hint of dryness.  Amazing.  My days of damned near getting salmonella with beer can chicken are done -- no more gimmicks.

I think the ribs should be ready to rock and roll in another hour or so.

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#6 DannysDad

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Posted 25 October 2015 - 07:14 AM

Hi ms hills

I bought a PBC this spring after a lot of looking around. I wanted to bbq, but I didn't have the time or interest in a huge learning curve. I liked what I saw on their incredible website and the price seemed fair.

I agree with the longer cooking times than expected. I insert a temp sensor into whatever I'm cooking, set my target temp and walk away. Times vary but an average pork butt is around 2.5 hrs to 165* and another 2 hours to 200* after wrapping. But, the results are fantastic. And there's nothing like the delicious smells that fill the yard all day while it cooks.

I highly recommend doing a roast beef or prime rib in you PBC. I don't think I'll ever cook another in an oven ever again.

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#7 highergr0und

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Posted 25 October 2015 - 11:34 AM

Are you guys doing temp monitoring in the PBC?  Might want to open the vent a bit more.  The sweet spot on it is around 280-290*.  My chicken comes in right at the two hour mark on average, although sometimes it's a bit more.  

I do agree that there are things I will now never cook another way.

FYI, a great way to use up the rest of the charcoal after you're done with your chicken or ribs is to cook up a few fatties.  Get a roll of sausage, jimmy dean works well, but I usually do turkey sausage.  You can do a basic fatty by just taking the roll out of the wrap, hitting it with some rub, and dropping it on the grate.  Smoke it for about 2 hours to a good temp, take it off and slice it up.  Enjoy it plain or use a bbq sauce for dipping.  You can brush it with sauce to set near the end on the cooker as well.  For a more advanced fatty, you can flatten out the sausage into a sheet and put some goodies like cheese and cooked peppers and mushrooms and roll it back up and smoke.  Great stuff

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#8 mshills

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Posted 25 October 2015 - 02:33 PM

This was the inaugural cook, so no temp monitoring on the cooker. I'm in Miami, so had the damper just barely open -- I think I will open it just a bit more for the next cook.

No complaints at all. Things took longer than advertised, but with bbq, patience is always rewarded. I'm happy to wait for the food quality we achieved yesterday. The ribs could have stayed on another hour, but that's all right -- was cooking full spare ribs versus the typical St Louis cut and this of course will take longer.

The ribs were good but I've made ribs of this quality before. The chicken was absolutely off the hook.
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#9 RookieBlue7

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Posted 26 October 2015 - 11:51 AM

I've never liked direct heat. I prefer off set smokers. I'm about to buy an over under myself

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#10 mshills

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Posted 26 October 2015 - 12:01 PM

I have always wanted a Stumps smoker, but the price has always been a bit too high a hurdle.

Friend of mine back in Atlanta had (I assume still has) one and the craftsmanship is top notch.  Stumps now has a couple new additions to the lineup that are more in budget -- perhaps next year!

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#11 HoosierMizuno

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Posted 27 October 2015 - 10:26 AM

i know this isn't the true way to smoke, but i'm considering the Camp Chef smoker, which can be converted to natural gas. I'll have a grill hooked up to natural gas off the back of house, so i'd like to have a smoker do the same and not worry about propane or using wood and having to babysit all day. seems to get good reviews.
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#12 J-Tizzle

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Posted 27 October 2015 - 10:58 AM

If I had more room I'd have a barrel smoker as well, but until that time comes, the BGE will have to suffice for my smoking needs.

Its the only way to cook!  Good luck!
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#13 teeitlow

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Posted 29 October 2015 - 07:48 PM

Offset here.
I looked at cabinet style smokers last year, and I agree "Stump dont build no junk", but cost wise it was a bit out of my league.
Felt I didnt need a gravity fed smoker.

If I do ever pull the trigger on a cabinet it'll prolly be a pitmaker vault, better bang for my buck.YMMV

That PBC, seems fairly priced to me, and I've built one or two UDS's in my time.

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#14 highergr0und

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Posted 30 October 2015 - 05:19 PM

I've got a turkey breast smoking on the PBC right now.....  Tomorrow will be wings.  Just an awesome tool!!

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#15 Spicoli

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Posted 30 October 2015 - 06:13 PM

I've got a big green egg and love it. Probably the most versatile cooker out there.

Low and slow at 250 for 16+ hours... 700+ searing... Wood fired pizzas... Baking/roasting... All are no problems.  The only draw back is grilling for large crowds, space can be limited.  So I have a Weber gas grill for that...

Well worth the high cost.  If you don't knock clumsily knock it over it will last a lifetime.


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#16 mshills

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Posted 12 November 2015 - 07:12 PM

I did a partial trial of the PBC in preparation for Thanksgiving and made a turkey breast.  Conclusion:  There will be no turducken in our house this year.  No need to do all that work.  This turkey breast was absolutely, positively, by far and away the finest turkey I've eaten.

Salted it pretty heavy (under and on the skin) the night before.  The morning of, I made a paste of olive oil, sugar, black pepper, rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage.  Applied it liberally under the skin, then lightly on the skin.

Hung that bad boy and cooked to exactly 160F.  I've never in my life had turkey that tasted so good, anywhere.  It is better than fried turkey and much easier.

Will do a whole turkey with the same technique.  I will probably spatchcock the turkey -- either that or halve it to get even better browning and even cooking.
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#17 highergr0und

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Posted 12 November 2015 - 07:15 PM

I just hung my turkey with 4 hooks last year.  Turned out fantastic.  But with as good as this thing cooks the breasts, I'm not sure if I need the whole bird anymore.

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#18 Hit 'Em Straight

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Posted 12 January 2018 - 10:49 PM

PBC is as good as it gets.  So much more simple than tending an offset.  Such a unique taste with zero babysitting.  

I've consolidated down to the PBC for bbq and a Weber charcoal for grilling.  

I've used the kamado cookers and like the PBC plus Weber combo better for less money.

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#19 Fellaheen51

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 05:29 AM

Hmmm.  Looked at PBC but ended up getting a 24" Camp Chef propane smoker over the holidays.  Only smoke periodically and this seemed to tick most of the boxes.  Needing one that was reasonably portable, didn't require periodic reloading with charcoal, decent quality and at reasonable price.  Just one smoke so far, a shake down with a turkey breast.  Apple and cherry wood chips, 6.5 hours.  Came out great.  Getting use to dialing in a steady temp was a bit tricky, then again I was using it when it was 0* outside.  One mod has already been discovered, need to adjust the vents so that I can close them down a bit more than how they're set up now.  And invest in good digital thermo that I can monitor externally.  

Wasn't exactly a set it and forget it setup, but I was sort of babysitting as I monitored what was going on the first time.  Had to reload chips every two hours.  Using larger wood chunks should help with that.  A big improvement over the POS cheap charcoal smoker I was using.  

Weber kettle.  Still have one, over 30 years old.  Still gets the job done, the go to for grilling up some premium steaks over charcoal.   If I had to choose only one smoker/grille, I'd take a Weber.  So versatile.  And with mods, can turn it into a very effective smoker.
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#20 Hit 'Em Straight

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 02:06 PM

View PostFellaheen51, on 13 January 2018 - 05:29 AM, said:


If I had to choose only one smoker/grille, I'd take a Weber.  So versatile.  And with mods, can turn it into a very effective smoker.


Couldn't agree more.  It lacks volume once you set it up for smoking.  But other than perhaps that capacity issue, there is nothing you cannot do and do well on a simple Weber charcoal.  All of these other smokers are just awesome luxuries.

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#21 llamont

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 02:57 PM

I have a 22" Weber Performer (kettle) that I use for charcoal grilling and smoking.  It takes a little trial and error, and a good thermometer, to figure out a smoking routine but once you find it you have it...  The big smokers are nice but for function and practicality the kettle works for my grilling/smoking needs.
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#22 Hawkeye77

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 03:39 PM

Have had a PBC for three years and absolutely love it.  Use it for ribs and pork butt for pulled pork and it is hands down awesome!  Also have used the wire rack and used it as a traditional charcoal unit for the big, thick cowboy ribeyes!

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#23 llamont

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Posted 13 January 2018 - 04:09 PM

View PostHawkeye77, on 13 January 2018 - 03:39 PM, said:

Have had a PBC for three years and absolutely love it.  Use it for ribs and pork butt for pulled pork and it is hands down awesome!  Also have used the wire rack and used it as a traditional charcoal unit for the big, thick cowboy ribeyes!

Well done Hawkey... Well done... (no pun intended)
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#24 Hit 'Em Straight

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 09:56 AM

View PostHawkeye77, on 13 January 2018 - 03:39 PM, said:

Have had a PBC for three years and absolutely love it.  Use it for ribs and pork butt for pulled pork and it is hands down awesome!  Also have used the wire rack and used it as a traditional charcoal unit for the big, thick cowboy ribeyes!

How do you get the sear on your steaks on the PBC?

I've made thick steaks on the PBC, but usually bring them up to rare on the PBC and then flip them over to a roaring hot bed of charcoal on my Weber for a quick reverse sear, medium rare finish.

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#25 Hawkeye77

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 10:08 AM

View PostHit, on 15 January 2018 - 09:56 AM, said:

View PostHawkeye77, on 13 January 2018 - 03:39 PM, said:

Have had a PBC for three years and absolutely love it.  Use it for ribs and pork butt for pulled pork and it is hands down awesome!  Also have used the wire rack and used it as a traditional charcoal unit for the big, thick cowboy ribeyes!

How do you get the sear on your steaks on the PBC?

I've made thick steaks on the PBC, but usually bring them up to rare on the PBC and then flip them over to a roaring hot bed of charcoal on my Weber for a quick reverse sear, medium rare finish.

I honestly can't explain other than I let it run pretty hot for those and only partially close the lid a bit, or just have it off to sear, so it's not like a slow cook. I wouldn't say it's a sear like I can get on my gas grill, but I seem to get better looking color (more uniform without burning) with the PBC and charcoal overall for sure, which is really nice.

Oh, and tip for you PBC people.  They recommend (but when I got it don't really remember them insisting, lol) some kind of buffer between the bottom of the PBC and your deck - GET SOMETHING!

I'd used mine for two seasons thinking I didn't need one since it sits up. Never had a problem. Last summer, while cooking some of these very steaks and running hot I'm sitting out there with my dad, and I'm chatting aimlessly (surprise) and he says quite calmly, "I think your deck is on fire." Sure enough the surface of the deck was lit under the PBC.  Got the little extinguisher out and put out the fire and monitored and continued the barbecue.  My first thought was maybe I had some kind of hole in the bottom, but it was just the heat from the PBC to the deck.  Don't know if having a new oil finish on it was a factor, or just too damn hot and it had been really dry, but learned my lesson.  Concrete pavers seem to work fine. I guess it is fire after all and I was reminded why I do keep a little extinguisher handy, so at least I had that part right,  but first time I've ever had to use it in 30+ years of grilling.

Edited by Hawkeye77, 15 January 2018 - 10:10 AM.


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#26 mshills

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Posted 15 January 2018 - 06:34 PM

^^^^  The warning about the deck is no joke!  Earlier this fall I cooked a GOOSE in the PBC -- couple hours in I go outside to have a look and see a jet/flame whistling out of the bottom vent!  So much fat had rendered from the goose that it had created quite a grease fire in the base!  I was grateful that I had it set up in my driveway and not on my deck -- that could have been BAD.

Slightly less important, but I salvaged the cook.  :-)  Apparently the grease fire had not been going very long.  Grabbed the bird out of the cooker, left the lid off, and let the fire burn out.  Took a while, and with the lid off, it was quite a fire!  Re-lit the cooker and went back to business.  :-)

Hawk, those steaks look fantastic.  Nice work!

On using a Weber Kettle for a smoker, yep, it can be done.  I enjoy it, as I've found it requires some attention and some fussing (which I find fun), but here is a tip.  Get a Lodge or similar cast iron Dutch oven.  Fill it about halfway or 2/3 full with water and put it in the bottom of the grill.  Build the fire on the other side.  The cast iron and the water give you the much-needed heat sink for temperature stability -- the temp will rise more slowly and you can maintain a low(er) temperature with less fussing over the coals.  I never mastered brisket on the kettle grill, but made some great Boston butt pulled pork this way.
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#27 USAF Retired E7

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Posted 16 January 2018 - 08:44 AM

Hawk, those steaks look great.

I've had a Rectec 680 pellet smoker for 2 years and love it.  Set it and it'll run forever.

Recommend checking out a Fireboard thermometer.  Wifi allows me to monitor my grill from anywhere.

Brisket, ribs, pork and beef, turkey, chicken, pulled pork....everything is great, but our favorite is reverse sear filets.

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#28 Hawkeye77

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Posted 16 January 2018 - 01:33 PM

View PostUSAF Retired E7, on 16 January 2018 - 08:44 AM, said:

Hawk, those steaks look great.

I've had a Rectec 680 pellet smoker for 2 years and love it.  Set it and it'll run forever.

Recommend checking out a Fireboard thermometer.  Wifi allows me to monitor my grill from anywhere.

Brisket, ribs, pork and beef, turkey, chicken, pulled pork....everything is great, but our favorite is reverse sear filets.

All looks great, but I'm craving that brisket right now!

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