The Pit Barrel Smoker (also known as the Pit Barrel Cooker) is one of the more popular smokers on the market, but how well does it perform exactly, how portable is it, and does it help you to produce great-tasting smoky meats?
Well, that’s what we aim to answer in this article!
We’ll take you through the unboxing and assembling of this popular smoker, as well as see how it compares with another popular smoking option - the Ugly Drum Smoker, which is a DIY smoker with a simple drum-barrel structure.
But first, let’s start by answering what is a pit barrel smoker?
Essentially, the Pit Barrel Smoker is a convection cooker that uses wood to create a distinct, smoky flavor.
Meanwhile, an Ugly Drum Smoker is a vertical barrel-style smoker that has quickly become a popular alternative to traditional smokers, especially for grilling enthusiasts who like DIY.
The design of Ugly Drum Smokers has stayed consistent over the years, and this is due to the simplicity of the construction.
Put simply, an Ugly Drum Smoker is a ventilated barrel with a lid and a charcoal basket.
The Pit Barrel Smoker on the other hand is an evolution to barrel smokers.
What makes an Ugly Drum Smoker appealing is the fact that you can make it yourself, but for those not into DIY the Pit Barrel Smoker has the edge, as your smoker can just be delivered to your door - albeit with some assembling involved.
There is also the Pit Barrel Junior, which is not only smaller but cheaper too.
The Pit Barrel Smoker resembles a classic Ugly Drum Smoker that is pre-assembled and ready to use straight out of the box - the best of both worlds!
It is designed to easily maintain a consistent pit temperature for an extended period of time, so your smoked meats always come out cooked to your liking, as well as nice and juicy.
We believe that the Pit Barrel Smoker has a better design than an offset smoker and trumps a lot of other smoker styles too.
The Pit Barrel Cooker not only delivers a consistently even cook, but a quicker cook too.
When you receive the Pit Barrel Cooker, it comes in a neat and secure package. It can also be delivered to you for free.
Unboxing the Pit Barrel Smoker is easy! You just have to pop the box open, find the instructions, remove the lid and packaging on top and then remove the Pit Barrel Cooker. Easy!
Once the contents are removed from the box you’ll see the following:
Although the Pit Barrel Smoker comes with a user manual, you’re unlikely to need it too much as the setup is minimal.
In fact, you can have it up and running in 5 minutes! The hardest part of the set-up is attaching the handle to the top of the lid, which takes under 30 seconds with the screwdriver and screws that come in the box.
Then you need to place the charcoal basket inside, and the barrel on top of the stand.
You can then either attach the hanging rods, or place the grill grate on top. When these have been assembled you can start smoking!
Really, the manufacturers have done the hard work for you.
While there is a lot to be said for Ugly Drum Smokers, with these smokers you need to drill the holes yourself with a heavy-duty drill (making sure to drill them in the correct places), before attaching everything.
The most recent iteration of the Pit Barrel Smoker has 20-gauge steel rather than the 18-gauge steel of before.
This makes the smoker sturdier and more efficient in trapping heat. The coating of the steel has also got an upgrade.
The coating is now porcelain enamel coating rather than the previous powder coating.
Enamel coating is also found on classic Weber grills. It’s not only of excellent quality but durable too.
It protects the steel from damage caused by corrosion, rust, and rain.
Plus, there is no need to season the Pit Barrel Smoker. The enamel and steel are ready to go as soon as you’ve set the smoker up!
Ugly Drum Smokers are usually made out of 55-gallon drums. However, the Pit Barrel Smoker has a 30-gallon drum.
Why is that? Well, 30-gallon drums are the ideal size and shape for smoking food, so decreasing the size to 30 gallons from 55 gallons not only ensures faster barbecuing but better barbecuing too!
Plus, a 30-gallon drum smoker is a lot easier to ship, and to handle.
The Pit Barrel Cooker Company tested nearly 30 different barrel sizes and designs to find the best one, and the 30-gallon drum was the clear winner.
It was able to produce the most consistent even temperature and airflow.
The drum’s cylindrical shape provides the ideal environment for consistent convection cooking, by allowing a heat vortex to rise from the coals until it ricochets off the lid.
When it comes to smokers, offset smokers or gas grills that have a wide or unusual shape, the air and heat is all over the place which leads to inconsistent cooking.
But the drum’s round, narrow shape lets air flow evenly, and gives the heat less room to rise inconsistently.
A 30-gallon drum is the perfect height and size for ideal heating.
Some of this technical detail can be hard to take in.
But put simply, all you need to know is that 30-gallon drum smokers are not just the most consistent way to smoke meat, but the easiest way to do it too.
Another feature that makes the Pit Barrel Smokers great is that you hang the meat in the middle of the barrel with hooks made of stainless steel, as well as having a standard grill grate.
A hanging barbecue makes the most of the smoker’s reliable convection heat and airflow.
You can suspend even heavier cuts of meat above the flames and in the center of your smoker, exposing it evenly to the convection heat, leaving no side more cooked than the other and making your meat tasty and juicy throughout.
Hanging meat also allows you to make the most of the dripping juices on the hot coals, which you can’t do with a pellet smoker or an offset smoker.
This causes the juices to burn and makes what is known as a ‘smoke fog.’
This gives your meat a juicy and smoky flavor while retaining its natural flavor, something that other smokers struggle to do.
You can achieve this type of convection cooking with a grate, but with hanging meat you get more potential for dripping.
However, you don’t really have to choose between these styles of cooking with the Pit Barrel Smoker.
For example, if you would like to smoke a lot of food for a large barbecue, using hooks and grates at the same time with a hinged cooking grate that you can hang your meat on while smoking your vegetables!
As you would expect, smoking with a Pit Barrel Smoker is excellent.
You just fill the charcoal basket with coals (we personally recommend the charcoal briquettes if you’re new to smoking as they are more consistent), set one damper, place your meat in and shut the lid.
Then, you just wait! The smoker will do its job and then when the meat is ready you can return to remove it from the smoker.
When cooking recipes from the official Pit Barrel site, we have discovered that the cooking time is a lot longer than what is stated in the recipes.
Although it’s not really needed, we do strongly recommend using a meat thermometer with the Pit Barrel Smoker just to give you that extra reassurance that your meat is cooked perfectly.
Generally, we’ve found that a whole brisket takes around 6 hours to cook, a baby back ribs take around 3 hours to cook, chicken takes around 2 hours, and tri-tip takes around 30 minutes to cook.
All of these meats will be as juicy as you like, thanks to the melted fat and burnt juices.
One of the few drawbacks to the Pit Barrel Smoker is how it holds up in more ferocious weather.
This is due to the design of the lid which causes water to pool on top and reduces the temperature of the drum quite a lot during rain.
The temperature drops in windier conditions too, but if you crack the lid a little the temperature will rise again.
In snowy weather and environments however, you may find that it takes longer to cook your meat.
Cooking is incredibly easy with the Pit Barrel Smoker.
The airflow, convection heat, and how smoothly it burns charcoal are consistent enough to rival an automatic smoker and a pellet grill.
Once the Pit Barrel Smoker is set up, you then need to adjust the intake vent you can find at the pit of the smoker so it’s in line with your elevation.
For example, if you live in an area that is at sea level or between 2,000’ elevation you need to slide the cap and leave it a quarter open.
If you live between 2,000’ and 5,000’ you only need to leave it half open.
Meanwhile if you live at 5,000’-8000’ you need to leave it three quarters of the way open and if you live over 8,000’ you can just open it completely.
This is a small but crucial step.
If the smoker has an excessive amount of air then the coals will burn too hotly, but if it doesn’t have enough air then the coals also won’t burn enough.
Ventilation is such a precise factor that if the rebar rods are out of place or if the lid is offset then the temperatures can soar rapidly.
Now you just need to fill the charcoal basket until the charcoal is level and flush to the top of the smoker.
You will then have to take out a few handfuls of charcoal, place them in a charcoal chimney with a fire starter, and ignite it.
After about 12 minutes, tip the charcoal back into the basket, ensuring the lit coals are evenly spread across the unlit coals.
Now the charcoal basket is completely loaded, mix the wood chips in. You will then need to take a handful of coals to ignite in the chimney.
When the chimney coals are ready, return them to the charcoal basket so you can start cooking.
Straight away you can immediately hang your meat, as the burning charcoal will give you enough heat to ignite the charcoal as they burn through and keep the temperature consistent throughout.
According to the Pit Barrel Cooker Company, a full basket of charcoal will last up to 12 hours, but we found that on average they lasted up to 9 hours.
This might have been due to not filling up the basket enough, or running the smoker at a higher temperature than normal which will of course burn more fuel.
But if the temperature stays consistently at 225 °F then a basket of charcoal should last for 12 hours.
If we could describe the temperature control in one word it would be consistency.
When the charcoal is piled up evenly and the perfect amount of charcoal is lit, the temperature should stay at a consistent 240 °F to 265 °F for an extended period of time.
We did experience some issues with keeping the smoker hot, and achieved temperatures closer to 250 °F to 265 °F.
However, it still maintained that temperature for hours.
However, no smoker works perfectly all the time, and you will always have to adjust your smoker and take some time finding the right temperature for you.
A few things will affect temperature consistency, such as how many coals you light inside the chimney, the moisture of the meat, the temperature of your environment, the humidity, the elevation, and any high winds.
When initially lighting a fire in the Pit Barrel Smoker, you may notice it reaches a high of 350 °F and hotter before dipping and then evening out to 245 °F.
This increase in temperature doesn’t last too long and most barbecue enthusiasts think that such a spike in temperature creates the ideal bark.
A lot of traditional cooking techniques require you to start hot, and running hot is seemingly par for the course with the Pit Barrel Smoker so try not to worry too much if you experience this.
When checking the internal temperature of your meat with a thermometer you’ll soon notice that it’s increasing quicker than normal.
For example, we’ve mentioned that a 16 lbs brisket can be cooked in around 6 hours with this smoker, which is around three times faster than most smokers.
We’re sure you’ll be delighted when your meat is as tender and juicy at these temperatures as it would be if it were smoking at 225 degrees over a longer amount of time.
Pork rump and brisket will have a crispy bark and a tasty, juicy flavor. You will also have ribs that just fall off the bone with a perfect smoke ring.
Another plus for the Pit Barrel Smoker is how it creates consistent, smooth smoke.
They have plenty of ventilation to prevent smoke from building up and also prevents meat from having an unpleasant flavor.
The smooth-burning charcoal allows for a steady, gentle smoke that delivers pleasant flavors.
Hanging meats also turn out evenly, even though just one end is hanging above the coals.
You may think that this results in a drier and stringier end, but this is not the case.
The dripping juices help to cool down that end, slow the cooking down, and help the meat cook evenly all the way through.
Cleaning the Pit Barrel Smoker is also straight-forward, simple, and can be done in no time.
You just have to clean the metal hooks and the grill grates after you’ve used them as you would with other smokers, as well as removing the ash from the bottom of the drum.
This is made super convenient with the Pit Barrel Smoker Ash Pan. You can buy these individually or with certain packages.
You just hook it on to the bottom of the charcoal holder, and it collects ash so you can just pull the holder out and empty it in under a minute.
But even if you don’t have this ash pan, emptying the Pit Barrel Smoker still isn’t time-consuming. Even a shop vacuum would do!
Leaving the drum, however, will season it even more and can be left alone.
Pit Barrel Smokers are pretty big but are still easy to move as they are one piece, not including the stand and you can keep everything inside it.
However, you will need to allow the smoker half an hour to cool down before you attempt to move it, and even longer if you’re moving it into a small space.
Still, it’s an excellent portable smoker.
Plus, with the PBC Junior the grate diameter is 14”, which is enough to smoke a good amount of meat while not taking up too much space.
The Pit Barrel Smoker is backed by a 1-year warranty, which is a bit modest considering the smoker is well-designed and provides great performance.
It is highly likely that a Pit Barrel Smoker will outlast its 1-year warranty, and since it has little electronic features there is a small chance of it malfunctioning.
Still, Pit Barrel Cooker Company has excellent customer service, and are guaranteed to solve any problems you may have, so despite the limited warranty you can still buy the Pit Barrel Smoker with confidence.
The standard Pit Barrel Cooker Classic Package has everything you need for grilling or smoking.
It has all the usual features included, like a drum, stand, 8 stainless steel hooks, 2 hanging rods, standard grill grate, charcoal basket, and a wooden hook remover.
However, you can also get some additional useful extras via the Pit Barrel Cooker website.
For example, the ash pan, cover, and hinged grate all come in the PBC Select Package and are totally worth it.
Yes, we would say so.
While we’re sure DIY enthusiasts would love to take on this project, for those not so skilled in DIY it’s really no contest when you consider the accessories you get and the price point.
Yes, it is, as the temperature is a bit higher than you would usually set on a smoker.
Plus, the natural convection movement of the heat helps to cook meat quickly.
In fact, you can cook food on a Pit Barrel Smoker in half or ⅔ of the time you can on any other smoker.
You would think so, but you don’t have to as long as the meat is away from the coals.
When cooking ribs you may notice that the bottom rib is on the crispy and dry side, but you may like it that way!
No, the Pit Barrel Smoker doesn’t have a water pan and honestly, it doesn’t need one.
As there is no top vent the moisture is kept inside the drum and circulates around the drum to keep the meat juicy.
Yes, you can and we recommend you do so. Wires can be run through the hanging holes, or even underneath the lid.
But a wireless heater is ideal because it means you don’t have to run wires.
No, and we wouldn’t recommend you do so. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! There is no need to make the lid tighter and it’s not meant to be adjustable.
Those who have modified their Pit Barrel Smoker usually express regret about doing this.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when using a Pit Barrel Smoker.
Since the smoker has a steel lid handle it can get very hot, so make sure to use gloves when touching it.
If you would like to smoke turkey, then there is a stainless steel turkey hanger by Pit Barrel Cooker Company that might come in handy.
Taking the Pit Barrel Smoker on a camping trip is a breeze. It’s easily portable, and even though it’s made out of solid steel it’s light too.
You can easily load it into a car and take it to a campsite or a beach.
If you would like to hang some ribs, we recommend cutting them in half, as the ribs might be so long that they touch the coals.
When smoking a large amount of meat at one time - like briskets or cuts of pork - the ambient temperature may reduce to 10 °F - 20 °F.
Evaporating moisture will be responsible for this.
It is recommended to use a kind of multi-probe thermometer as you need to be aware of how hot the smoker is and when your meat is going to be cooked.
While we don’t recommend modifying a Pit Barrel Smoker, you might improve the barrel by adding more pins at the pit of the cooker, around 4 inches higher than the coals.
You can then place the cooking grate directly above the coals to make the grilling more efficient.
If you’re into DIY, you can do this simply by welding or drilling in a bracket.
Overall, the Pit Barrel Smoker is a brilliant smoker that we would highly recommend buying.
It’s not just us, the Pit Barrel Smoker is an incredibly popular choice of smoker.
There is practically zero assembly needed, and can easily maintain a consistent temperature due to the 3-gallon drum.
It’s also user-friendly. What’s more, the Pit Barrel Smoker is made in the USA and Pit Barrel Cooker Company is a family-run business, run by a family who is passionate about barbecue.
You can find a decent amount of tutorials and videos on their website. Their customer service is unparalleled, with a telephone support hotline.
If we had any complaints, it would be the strangely modest warranty and the fact the Pit Barrel Smoker does run on the hot side, which can take some getting used to.
Still, despite this higher than usual heat, barbecued meats still end up juicy, soft, and - most importantly - smoky, a lot quicker than other smokers.
There is no reason not to buy the Pit Barrel Smoker, especially at the price point.
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