The Pit Barrel Cooker is a charcoal smoker that you can pick up for less than $350. We’re going to get under the hood and see if it’s worth your hard earned cash.

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The Pit Barrel standard size cooker is an 18.5″ barrel smoker that’s been taking the outdoor cooking world by storm over the past 5 years.

To put it simply, it’s a 30 Gallon drum cooker. On the competition circuit, you’ll find many teams using drum smokers, but mostly of the larger 55 Gallon variety. The PBC is a little larger than half the size of the big drum smokers like the Gateway drum or the Hunsaker Vortex.

PBC Basics

What is the Pit Barrel Cooker made of?

The PBC is made with 18 gauge cold rolled steel and includes a stainless steel grill grate. The handles on the unit are made in the shape of bent horseshoes, and are of a much heavier thickness than the grill itself.

horseshoe handles on the side of the barrel

What are the dimensions of the Pit Barrel Cooker?

The Pit Barrel Cooker is a drum smoker that measures 18.5″ across the top opening and is 31 1/2 inches tall. The PBC is a 30 gallon drum style cooker with a grate that’s 17 1/2 inches wide. The height from the top of the coals to the cooking surface is between 24″-26″ and the included hanging hooks measure 4 inches in length.

How much cooking space is there on the Pit Barrel Cooker?

The cooking grate has 260 square inches of cooking surface, but if you choose to hang your meat there is much more space. Getting three racks of ribs on the cooking grate would be a challenge, but you could easily hang 8 or more racks in the PBC for much more cooking area.

stainless steel grill grate

Does the Pit Barrel Cooker come with a stand?

Yes, the PBC comes with a metal stand that the barrel sits on to elevate it from the ground by 3-4 inches.

Moving the PBC

Does the Pit Barrel Cooker come with a cover?

No, the PBC doesn’t come with a cover in the box, but there are many accessories that you can order to keep your smoker protected from the elements. The cover is available on the Pit Barrel website for $34.99, or if you order the “Select” package with your PBC, it comes included.

Cooking on a PBC

What temperature does the Pit Barrel Cooker cook at?

When you start up the PBC, you’ll find that it can run between 400°-500° for the first half hour. After it settles down a bit, the cooker settles into a 250° range for the duration of your cook.

Pit Barrel Cooker Co. branding

How do you set the temperature on a Pit Barrel Cooker?

There isn’t really a way to directly control the temperature on a PBC. There is an 3″ air intake hole & cover on the side of the drum a few inches above the ground that you set anywhere between 1/4 open and fully open depending on your height above sea level. There are also 4 holes on the side of the drum where the rebar hangs meat hooks, but there’s no way to limit their opening size. The PBC runs about 250°-300° for the duration of each cook under a full load of charcoal.

Before you fire up the PBC for the first time, the first step is to set the air intake vent to your elevation above sea level. I can’t emphasize this point enough about how important it is. If you don’t get this setting right, your experience with the smoker probably won’t be as good as mine has been.

Here are the settings for the air intake based on elevation:

  • 0 – 2,000 ft. – 1/4 open
  • 2,000 – 5,000 ft. – 1/2 open
  • 5,000 – 8,000 ft. – 3/4 open
  • Above 8,000 ft. – fully open

Can you grill on a Pit Barrel Cooker?

Yes and no. You can achieve grilled food on a PBC, but not in the traditional sense of having food closely hovering over a fire. The PBC has a distance of 24″-26″ between the top of the coals and the grilling rack, so this method would be considered indirect smoking instead of direct grilling.

That being said, you can purchase a set of grill grates custom for the PBC that will help you achieve a very nice sear if grilling is your goal. We have not personally used grill grates on our PBC, but have used them on one of our Kamado grills and the results were simply amazing.

The lid hangs from the handle on the side of the barrel

How to Light the Pit Barrel Cooker

The manual states that lighting the PBC should be done like this…

  1. Fill the charcoal basket with charcoal briquettes up to the top of the basket.
  2. Take out about 1/4 of the charcoal and place it in a charcoal chimney.
  3. Light the charcoal chimney and get the separated 1/4 of the coals good and hot.
  4. Place charcoal basket into the bottom of the PBC.
  5. Spread lit coals on top of unlit coals.
  6. Close the lid and let the PBC come up to temperature.

Faster cooking than other smokers?

If you’ve ever used an offset smoker or a kamado grill for a low and slow cook, know that your PBC will likely cook faster than what you’re used to. In our experience, a pork butt that usually takes around 9 hours to cook on our offset will be finished at 6 hours on our Pit Barrel.

PBC Frequently Asked Questions

Will hanging meat directly over fire produce chewy food?

This was our thought exactly when we first tried to hang a few racks of ribs directly over the fire. I thought for sure the end closest to the fire would be overcooked and dry, but they turned out amazing. It wasn’t just the end that was hooked that was great, the entire slab was delicious, and honestly I wasn’t expecting it.

stainless steel meat hooks

Unlike offset smokers or even kamado grills, meat juices run off the meat and drip onto the hot coals. This causes instant vaporization of the drippings which then waft smoke over the meat. It’s a glorious cycle where even the drippings have a purpose in your cook to make things succulent.

hook remover and stainless steel meat hooks

Why isn’t there a water pan in the Pit Barrel Cooker?

Many outdoor pitmasters are used to using a water pan to keep humidity in their pit for moist meat. The PBC doesn’t have a water pan option, but we’ve found that water will condense on the lid during our cooks. There’s something about the circular motion of the airflow in the PBC that allows meat to stay moist and the air humid, and we love it.

Can I use temperature probes in the Pit Barrel?

rebar hole

We find that the holes that are used to hold the rebar that you hang meat from are perfect for temperature probes. We used the Thermoworks Smoke 2 channel thermometer for our tests with the PBC, and it worked perfectly. The probe wires fit easily through the holes in the side of the grill, and we were able to monitor grate temp and meat temp throughout the entire cook.

How well does the lid seal on the Pit Barrel?

We find the lid seal on the Pit Barrel to be tight, not allowing any smoke to leak out through the top. Unlike many of the less expensive smokers on the market, the seal on the PBC is perfect right out of the box. We wouldn’t recommend any aftermarket gasket seal since this lid is made to fit like a glove.

Is the Pit Barrel easy to move around?

Using the two handles on the side of the Pit Barrel, you can lift the unit up to move it around. There aren’t any wheels on the PBC, and we recommend vacuuming out the ash before you heft it around. (once it’s cold of course.) With a weight of 57 pounds, it’s no lightweight piece of cooking equipment. Invite someone who works out to the party and let them show off their muscles by moving the grill around wherever you want it to go.

How do I clean out the Pit Barrel Cooker?

The PBC is easy to clean, and we recommend using a Shop Vac to sweep up all of the ash after each cook. If you want even easier cleanup, consider picking up the Pit Barrel ash pan. The pan keeps all of your ash on the bottom of the charcoal basket, so when you lift out the basket, all of the ash comes with it. Simply dump out the ash and get right back to the next cook.

Is the Pit Barrel Cooker an Ugly Drum Smoker or UDS?

The PBC is a type of drum smoker, but it’s not technically a UDS. The “ugly drum” moniker comes from people taking 55 gallon steel drums and modifying them into smoking barrels. The PBC is designed from the start as a barrel smoker, so it’s not technically a UDS even though they look similar and serve the same purpose.

How much is the Pit Barrel Cooker?

There are currently two models of PBC available. The 30 gallon 18.5 inch classic Pit Barrel is $349 and the 14″ Pit Barrel Junior is $249.

What is the best barrel smoker?

The best barrel smoker depends on your situation and cooking needs. The Pit Barrel Cooker 30 gallon drum smoker is considered by most to be the best drum smoker under $400. The best barrel smoker over $400 is going to be the Gateway Drum or the Hunsaker Vortex smoker.

Overall:

So, is the Pit Barrel Cooker any good?

If you can’t tell how we feel about this smoker, let us lay it out in plain English.

We love the Pit Barrel Classic Cooker.

The PBC excels at giving you an excellent product in less time compared to most smokers on the market today. The meat is moist and flavorful, even though you’re cooking over charcoal without a water pan.

The color that you get on the meat from being directly over coals is something that you just can’t reproduce with either an offset smoker or a pellet grill. The Pit Barrel comes with such a load of accessories right in the box that the cooking options are vast.

Would I purchase this grill? Well, I did purchase this grill, and I’d purchase it again. I used it for Christmas to smoke a spatchcock turkey, and it was divine. I just threw the smoker in the back of the minivan like any good suburban dad would and off we went to grandma’s house.

So, yes, it’s portable, as long as you have time for it to cool down after you’re finished preparing the meal. It’s not a grill I’d be ready to throw in the back of the van 30 minutes after I finished a cook.

When it’s all said and done, the PBC is a grill that should be in every outdoor cook’s arsenal.