Friday, September 20, 2013

Product Review: Pit Barrel Cooker

In the Orange and Bourbon Brined Turkey post, I mentioned that I used a Pit Barrel Cooker.  I received one to try two weeks ago and I have been putting it through its paces for this review.

I first learned about Pit Barrel Cookers through John Dawson of the website Patio Daddio and competitive BBQ team.   He was really talking the PBC up while we were at Kingsford Invitational last Fall.  Coincidentally, John just won a Grand Championship using only two Pit Barrel Cookers last month! 

So what is a Pit Barrel Cooker?  
In my own words, I'd describe it as a simple to use, low cost, highly efficient smoker/grill with some unique features.  It is similar to an Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) but it is smaller in size, already assembled, and is engineered to eliminate some of the guess work.

It arrived via FedEx and I'm not kidding when I say that you can be smoking within 3 minutes after opening it.  Here's what comes in the Pit Barrel Cooker's light 57lb package.
  • 30 gallon drum smoker
  • 2 hanging rods
  • 8 stainless steel hooks
  • 1 stainless grilling rack
  • 1 hook lifter tool
  • raised base
  • 1 charcoal basket
  • 2 containers of Pit Barrel Cooker rub
The drum, lid and base are all powder coated to create a durable, heat resistant, and attractive exterior.  Just like Model T cars, you can buy the Pit Barrel Cooker in any color you like, as long as it is black.   Actually, most grills and bicycle shorts are traditionally black for a good reason - to camouflage the inevitable grease stains.

Shown with both the hanging rods and grate in place, normally you'd use one or the other.

Looking down, in the PBC.
A unique feature of the Pit Barrel Cooker is the system of hooks.  This lets you fit more meat into this compact cooker than a larger grill.   It may seem unconventional but it harkens back to the old smoke houses where hams were hung on hooks and rails.  How do the rib ends hanging near the fire box NOT burn?  I don't know, I think President, Noah Glanville, uses some kind of voodoo magic or something.

I was immediately impressed with the heft and quality of the charcoal basket.  This baby is going to last a while, it's not going to burn through any time soon.

The Pit Barrel Cooker using Diamond brand horseshoes as decorative handles and on the raised base, a nice touch.  (But do NOT buy one at Christmas and tell your wife that you "bought her something with Diamonds on it" unless you just like being in the doghouse.)

Another unique feature of the Pit Barrel Cooker is the preset intake vent, based on your location's elevation/sea level.   It is not designed for frequent adjustments.   It may seem counter intuitive but the point is to not chase temperatures.  I didn't touch it and it worked fine the several cooks I have done.  It was a weird feeling to give up that control but the KISS concept makes this a perfect cooker for someone just getting into smoking. 

The horseshoes aren't just pretty, they are also functional.   I guess that makes them pretty functional!

How Does The Pit Barrel Cooker cook?
To test this cooker out I have used it to cook 2 pork butts, a turkey, side dishes, and a prime rib.

Two 9lb boneless pork butts, tied, injected, and rubbed.  Notice the meat hooks here are going in straight and the top of the hooks are at an angle.  It should be the other way around.  The meat should hang straight and the hook angled upwards.  This came back to haunt me later.

I used the chimney method to light my fires for the Pit Barrel Cooker.  Others swear you can not taste lighter fluid if you follow the directions but I just couldn't bring myself to try it.

Coals ready to go.

I used about 6 small hickory splits like this.

Once loaded and closed, the Pit Barrel Cooker had about a 15 minute peak and then it steadied off at about 275f. 
 At a few hours in, when the butts were almost 160f, one of them fell off the hooks (because of how I had them inserted) but I caught the problem almost immediately and no harm was done.  I switched to the grate at that point anyway.  

The pork turned out very good and I learned a lesson about making sure the hooks tips are angled upwards.

The next thing I cooked on the Pit Barrel Cooker was a pan of BBQ beans and a pan of Mac and Cheese for a cook out at the doctors' office where Alexis works.  No pictures but I fired up the PBC and left one of the rods out, allowing more air flow out of the top and a higher temp of 325 to 350f.   The beans and mac and cheese turned out perfectly.  So it can be used as an outdoor oven too.

Next was the Orange and Bourbon Brined Turkey that I did on the PBC.  You can read about the details by clicking on the link but the Pit Barrel Cooker nailed that turkey perfectly!

Finally, I did a prime rib last weekend and I went very simple.  I tied the roast and slathered it with olive oil and Pit Barrel Cooker's Beef and Game Rub.

Tied and slathered.

Hung over the coals, never flipped.
 I don't know what temp the pit was running because the probe was in the beef roast.  We had several guests who preferred their prime rib medium to medium well so for a rarity (see what I did there?), I cooked the roast to 132f internal temp before removing.  Normally that or even lower is my targeted final temp after resting.

This picture cracks me up.  It looks to me like a fat piggy stuck on his back.  But the smell was no laughing matter, this smelled fantastic and I loved walking it through the house, past the guests.

I was surprised.  I haven't had medium well prime rib in 15 years but I actually enjoyed this one.  Maybe my dad and all those people who like it more than medium rare aren't freaks after all ;)  The cook took about 2 1/2 hours for one half of a whole ribeye.

Final Thoughts
I'm impressed after these cooks, the Pit Barrel Cooker is quite a good cooker.
  • The Pit Barrel Cooker is as simple and straight forward as it gets.  It is a perfect fit for someone wanting to get into cooking their own BBQ.
  • The Pit Barrel Cooker is extremely economical.   Priced in the mid $200 level (shipping to your door included), this is cheaper than even entry level smokers.  
  • The Pit Barrel Cooker is efficient.   One basket of coal provided more than enough fuel for my cooks, even the 10+ hours that the butts took.  
  • The Pit Barrel Cooker is relatively small and lightweight.  This makes it a great for tailgating, catering, or competitive bbq cooking. 
  • It cooks more towards the "hot and fast" temps that a lot of teams are using on the competitive BBQ circuit these days.
If you're interested in knowing more or wanting to order one, check out the Pit Barrel Cooker website.  

Also, owners Noah and Amber Glanville are in the running for Intuit's Small Business-Big Game contest where a small business owner will win a Super Bowl commercial.  Check out their story and vote for them here.

[Standard Disclaimer]  I received my Pit Barrel Cooker at no cost from Noah and Amber, but all opinions are my own.