The best charcoal smoker for most people is the Pit Barrel Cooker. We have been using this smoker and grill for over 6 years and highly recommend it to anyone looking for an inexpensive, simple cooker. Why? Because it’s awesome!
We consistently use this smoker even though we own pits that cost ten times as much. The food that comes off this pit is amazing, it’s simple to use, and the price for the cooker can’t be beat. Get one today and it will change the way you barbecue.
I own many smokers and grills and have cooked on many others that I do not own. The grills I own include Weber gas and charcoal grills, Big Green Egg, PK 360 charcoal grill, wood burning offset smoker, Mak 2 Star pellet grill, Traeger pellet grill, Blackstone flat grill, and of course the Pit Barrel Cooker.
I have also cooked on a large outdoor stone offset smoker that can accommodate 10-15 briskets, a few other offset wood burning smokers, a Green Mountain pellet grill, and have friends that own RecTec and Memphis pellet grills. Some of these friends even have their own barbecue teams. Of all the smokers I have used and owned, the Pit Barrel Cooker is the first smoker I recommend to friends and family.
The Pit Barrel Cooker reminds me of that feeling you get right after watching a good episode of The Andy Griffith Show… like everything is going to be ok in the world. There is a simplicity to this cooker that harkens back to a day when times were more simple. A day when man and fire worked together harmoniously to get the results they desired. A time when meat was real meat. The world just slows down when you’re cooking on the Pit Barrel Cooker.
The Pit Barrel Cooker is very considerate of your time. It allows you to hang your favorite foods and walk away and produce consistent results time after time. When Saturday morning rolls around and you are ready to throw some meat on the pit after a long week of work, fire up the Pit Barrel Cooker. Throw your favorite cuts of meat on the smoker and then go about your day mowing the lawn, doing chores, or leave the house and run some errands.
Because the Pit Barrel Cooker is inexpensive when compared to other grills, your expectations are set lower when cooking. Don’t let that last statement fool you. The Pit Barrel Cooker will bring some of the highest satisfaction you will ever get out of a smoker due to its sheer simplicity and the amazing results it produces when cooking food.
What’s Included in the Kit?
When I first purchased our Pit Barrel Cooker, they offered only one package and you could purchase additional accessories. Oh, how things have changed. The Pit Barrel Company now offers four different kits. Below is what’s included with the every Pit Barrel Cooker standard.
Everything you need to get cooking is included:
- Selected Size Steel Drum
- Eight Stainless Steel Hooks
- Two Steel Hanging Rods
- Charcoal Basket
- Standard Grill Grate
- Wooden Hook Remover
- Three-Point Barrel Stand
- 5oz. All-Purpose Pit Rub
- 5oz. Beef & Game Pit Rub
The chart below is a screenshot from their website that shows the bundles offered from left to right. The standard bundle is what we have and it comes with everything you need to enjoy yourself and smoke great food.
If I had to do it over again I would have probably chosen the Select bundle because I had purchased my cover separately. The Select bundle comes with a chimney starter, custom fit cover, hinged grate that allows you to use the grate and hang items at the same time, ash pan for easy clean up, and pit grips which keep you from burning your hands. I would say these accessories are essentials to any good barbecue setup. You save $47 buying the select package at the time of writing this article.
If you are wanting the full Monty and the ability to cook anything and everything, go for the Pit Barrel Cooker Prime bundle. It includes everything in the Choice bundle like the turkey, corn, and sausage hangers along with the vertical skewers for seafood. On top of that, you get the longer vertical skewers, custom Grill Grate for searing steaks, four more meat hooks, and all the Ultimate tools offered by Pit Barrel Company. We are talking Ultimate Tongs, Ultimate Spatula, Ultimate Hook Tool, and Ultimate Bottle Opener. You will have all basis covered and smiling ear to ear. The Prime bundle saves you around $139 purchasing everything together in a package.
Super Fast Free Shipping
The Pit Barrel Cooker Company claims they can reach 40% of the U.S. with 2 transit days at no extra cost to you. They offer Free shipping within the continental U.S. on any order over $25 and they ship that order out within one business day. I don’t know who is doing their logistics, but it must be an ex. Amazon employee who designed their shipping infrastructure.
I recently ordered some accessory items from the Pit Barrel Cooker Company and was amazed how fast they got to Texas. I placed an order on their website a little after 5 am and I received an email around 7 am saying my order had shipped. It wasn’t 1-2 days and everything I ordered was sitting at my entrance. I was kept informed the whole time by email of the process. Pretty awesome!
Pit Barrel Cooker vs Offset Smoker
If you have ever cooked on a wood burning offset smoker, you will know how much work is involved to properly maintain the fire. Most offset smokers need someone to feed the fire every 30min to 1 hour if you are doing it properly. A proper wood burning fire for smoking is smaller, controlled, and very clean burning with lots of airflow.
When first starting out, many beginners want to load up an offset smoker with lots of fuel (wood) and then choke down the intake vents and smoke stack. You do not want to load up the pit with lots of wood and then choke down the vents because you will end up with a dirty burning fire and your food will reflect that. Instead, you need to maintain a smaller, cleaner burning fire that is getting lots of oxygen and you want to maintain great airflow across the meat and out the smoke stack. This produces the best results.
The problem with an offset smoker for most people is you have to be a full-time pit master to do it the right way. You will need to be close to the pit all day long and it limits your ability to run a few errands on Saturday while the meat is on the pit. Instead, you need to maintain that fire which will most likely bounce around a little even when you are johnny on the spot. This will definitely be true if you purchase an offset smoker with thin metal in the same price range as the Pit Barrel Cooker. DO NOT buy a cheap offset smoker. You will regret it. You can read our article about cheap offset smokers here.
The Pit Barrel Cooker eliminates all these issues. The fire in the Pit Barrel is maintenance free for up to 8-10 hours. There is no constant supervision needed to maintain proper temperature and airflow. By design, the cooker is very simple to use and airflow is maintained by one vent. Once you set up your cook, your free to go about your day and complete any chores or tasks you may have. Heck, you can even leave the house and head to your local brewery for a beer. When you get back, your baby back ribs will be perfectly cooked and you can guarantee you’ll have an appetite after some good local brews.
Best Ribs You Will Ever Eat
If you like cooking ribs, then look no further. The Pit Barrel Cooker makes some of the best ribs anywhere. Not anywhere west of the Mississippi, I’m talking anywhere, anywhere. Because the ribs hang over a live fire, the grease from the fat drips down on the fire creating humidity in the pit therefore tenderizing the meat and providing flavor.
As the grease drops on the hot coals the sizzling steam rises to provide flavor for the meat. There is something magical about hanging meat over a “controlled” live fire. The reason I called the fire “controlled” is because the smoker will cook at a steady, controlled temperature as long as you leave the lid on. There are no adjustments to be made and no charcoal needs to be added for 8-10 hours.
The Pit Barrel Cooker can easily cook eight racks of ribs at once. This is possible due to the fact you are hanging the ribs vertical in the smoker. If you try to cook eight racks of ribs at the same time on a traditional offset smoker you will need a rather large pit. If you have ever cooked ribs before you will know this will feed a large group of people…especially when you add in potato salad or any other sides to the mix.
The Pit Barrel Cooker renders out some of the best ribs you will eat. Doing a quick search on YouTube, you will find many BBQ channels who have done rib comparisons between The Pit Barrel Cooker and other types of cookers. 9 out of 10 times The Pit Barrel wins. There is something magical about hanging meat directly over the fire. As the fat drips down, steam rolls up layering flavorful smoke on the meat for hours. You can feel the magic when you cook on the barrel. It’s special.
Steaks on the Pit Barrel Cooker
Cooking steaks on the Pit Barrel Cooker is possible when you remove the rebar at the top and insert the cooking grate down about a foot or so from the top. The cooking grate sits down on tabs that are welded to the inside. This makes for a nice grilling area that is a good distance away from the fire. You can control the heat by adjusting your bottom vent.
Reverse Seared Steaks
If you want to reverse sear some nice thick steaks, first start your Pit Barrel Cooker in smoke mode. Set your bottom vent based on your elevation for smoking and get the pit up to temperature with the lid on. You can place your steaks on the cooking grate and smoke them until the internal temp is 120-130 or any temp you like. Once you reach your internal temp, remove the steaks and wrap in foil. Now, open your bottom vent wide open and leave the lid off. Your Pit Barrel is going to take off and generate a fire so hot you will have a hard time flipping the steaks during the sear.
Hot and Fast Seared Steaks
If you pick up where we left off in the last paragraph, you now have the bottom vent wide open and the lid off. By doing this you are allowing oxygen to get to the fire so you can get your charcoal up to extreme temperatures for searing your steaks. This method is great for any steak, but especially good for steaks under 1” thick. The Pit Barrel will be blasting concentrated heat up from the charcoal basket putting that perfect crust on your favorite cut of meat. Using a good lump charcoal will get much hotter than standard briquettes which is great for cooking steaks.
You will most likely need good barbecue tongs because reaching down over that hot fire will singe the hair off your hands… ouch! When the bottom vent is fully open on the Pit Barrel Cooker the barrel gets blistering hot and the heat rises up searing your steak with smoke and heat. In the Pit Barrel Cooker your steak is further away from the heat source which will help with flare ups that can quickly ruin a steak.
Turkey Smoked on the Pit Barrel Cooker
There are many ways to cook a turkey, but few will be as tasty and simple as smoking a turkey on the Pit Barrel Cooker. We have cooked turkeys in a kitchen oven, fried turkeys in oil, and cooked them on a pellet grill. There is something magical that happens to a bird when the juices are dripping down onto the fire and steaming back up all over the meat. You end up with a moist, tender breast meat with great smoke flavor. A trick to crispy skin on your turkey is to crack the lid the last thirty minutes of your cook to bring the temperature up in the barrel. This will render out that beautiful, golden brown crispy skin that is loved by so many. Smoking a turkey on the Pit Barrel Cooker can be accomplished by purchasing their optional Turkey Hanger.
Chicken on the Pit Barrel Cooker
Cooking chicken on the Pit Barrel Cooker is about as easy as it gets. Grab some quarter chickens from your local grocer, slap on some rub, and hang them on the pit. As the chicken sweats, it will be falling on the fire creating a humid environment for juicy chicken that is ready to burst. Open up the vent a little at the end of the cook and you’ll end up with perfect, bite through moist chicken with crispy skin.
Sausage on the Pit Barrel Cooker
In the middle of a rib cook, we threw some sausage on real quick. The baking sheet we had the sausage on fit perfect sitting on top of the rebar going across the pit. We were able to smoke jalapeño sausage with the lid closed so the fire did not get out of control. You could throw jalapeño poppers, chicken bombers, or even bake some chocolate chip cookies while hanging meat off the rebar. Just another plus for the Pit Barrel Cooker.
Breakfast Sausage Fatty on Pit Barrel Cooker
The grill grate that comes with the Pit Barrel Cooker allows you to grill and bake like any other pit. We made some cinnamon crumb cake breakfast sausage fatty’s around Christmas time and cooked them on our Pit Barrel Cooker. It took about one hour to finish this cook and the smoke flavor from the charcoal was amazing. If you are not familiar with a cinnamon breakfast fatty, click here to see how we cooked fatty’s on our MAK 2 Star pellet grill or you can click here to see the recipe on the Pit Barrel Cooker website.
Easy to Travel with the Pit Barrel Cooker
Most barbecue pits and smokers are not easy to travel with. Many have horrible casters on the bottom that are hard to pull across the lawn and others are so heavy you wouldn’t even think about lifting them. If you have every tried to lift a Kamado smoker you know what I mean.
The Pit Barrel Cooker is very light and can be put in the back of most vehicles. The unit breaks down so all the accessories can be put inside the barrel and you can load it in the back of your pickup truck or SUV. One person can do it themselves and with two people, it’s an absolute breeze.
You can even use the barrel to hold your charcoal and keep it dry while you travel, store your charcoal chimney or fire starters, and any other accessories you may need for your next cook. It really is that simple. Once you get to your destination, set up takes less than five minutes and starting the fire is all you need to starting smoking. The simplicity of the pit is what truly makes it such a joy to use.
The Pit Barrel Cooker is Simple
The Pit Barrel Cooker is as simple as it gets, and that is what makes it such an enjoyable smoker to use. At the heart of this pit you have a 30 gallon drum, charcoal basket, single vent, and rebar to hang your meat on. The cooker also comes with a grill grate that sits on tabs down in the smoker for steaks, chops, burgers, etc. There are no other top vents to adjust, no thermometers to watch, nothing to adjust or worry about, that’s it.
I want to stress that this pit only has one single vent at the bottom. The reason this is important is because it takes away all the fiddling and adjusting away that every barbecue fanatic does while cooking their food. The top vents through the four holes the rebar is sticking through. By having the rebar in place during a smoke, you have the correct airflow for the cook designed that way by the manufacturer.
By only having one vent and no thermometer it sounds as if you are limited in cooking abilities, but it is quite opposite. You are free to walk away and let the smoker cook your food. By limiting adjustable vents and thermometers, you spend more time doing what you need to do around the home while your pit barrel smokes away. There is nothing to think about.
Once you get is started and put the meat in the pit, you let it do its thing. The bottom vent is adjusted based on your elevation when smoking. There is a setup guide provided by Pit Barrel Company that shows you how much to open the bottom vent based on your elevation. It’s that simple and a joy to use.
What About Managing The Fire?
If you have ever cooked on an offset wood burning smoker, you know how much work it can be. Many times to cook a brisket you have to get up very early in the morning to start the cook. The reason for this is an offset smoker can’t run un-attended overnight because it needs a pit master to tend the fire. The fire requires wood to be added every 30min to 1 hr depending on the size of the pit. Sometimes even more often if you have a cheap offset with thin metal… they are the most purchased smokers and the worst offenders.
I will admit the process can be lots of fun if you have time to sit by your smoker all day long. You can read a book or magazine, play games with friends and family, or do odd chores around the house. The downside is the traditional smoker will not let you sleep. Heck, it won’t even let you take a nap. If you are not feeding the fire consistently, you will see temperature swings of 50-100 degrees making your bbq cook look like the stock market.
The Pit Barrel Cooker does not need constant supervision like when cooking on an offset wood burning smoker. You can easily smoke a brisket for 8-10 hours overnight without having to add any more charcoal. The fire basket will hold enough charcoal to burn for many hours and by design the smoker will slowly draw air from the bottom and vent out through the four holes on top where the rebar is inserted. At first glance it doesn’t look like that system would work well but it does. It works very well.
The Ultimate Conversation Starter
There is something about the Pit Barrel Cooker that draws people to it. I guess it may be the fact it looks like a trash can or it does not look like the typical offset smoker most people purchase at your big box store. Everyone that lays their eyes on the smoker wants to go lift the lid and look inside… so get used to it if you purchase one. I’m not kidding… everyone! All ages, male and female, everyone wants to know what the heck the Pit Barrel is. It is actually a lot of fun using the pit and talking about the experience because so many people get enjoyment out of it.
People are amazed that you hang the meat on two pieces of standard rebar to cook your meat. Most people have a hard time wrapping their head around that idea. Their first questions is “How do you hang the meat?”… meat hooks of course. The next question is “What if the meat falls on the fire?”… it wont as long as you insert the hooks properly (or leave ribs on too long… can you say fall off the bone?… yeah baby) which is demonstrated very well on the Pit Barrel Cooker website by the owner and founder of the company.
When you lift the lid off the Pit Barrel Cooker while its cooking, beautiful steam and smoke rises up making for a picture perfect view of your barbecue. It is mesmerizing… almost puts you in a spell. The smells that come off the pit are amazing as the meat is dripping down on the hot coals creating moisture that is bathing the meat. The steam and smoke is slowly laying on the meat over time providing flavor, bark, and barbecue goodness. It is a very simple process that has been around since the beginning of time. Pit Barrel Cooker company has done a great job of bringing this experience into your home by shipping this complete package to your door.
Pit Barrel Cooker Junior vs Classic
The 18.5” Classic Pit Barrel Cooker was the first model released and it has been a huge success. The size is quite a bit smaller than a 55 gallon drum as it measures around 36” tall with the lid and stand. The width comes in at 25” including the side handles. Compare this to the Pit Barrel Cooker Junior which stands at 33” tall and just over 21” wide. The difference in weight is 57 pounds for the Classic and 32.7 pounds for the Junior.
If you travel a lot with your smoker and will be cooking for a small crowd, the Junior will fit the bill just fine. It can do everything the original Classic model can, just in a smaller footprint. The Classic model is not super heavy, but it can be awkward for one person to move when the fire basket and charcoal is inside. The 24 pounds you shave off going with the Junior model will save your back if you spend most of your time loading and unloading it yourself.
Ultimate Hook Tool Also Opens Bottles
The Ultimate Hook Tool comes standard with the Pit Barrel Cooker Choice and Prime Packages. It is used to grab the stainless steel hooks so you can remove the meat off the pit. The tool is heavy and robust with a signature wood handle and stainless steel finish. One end features a bottle opener which is par for the course when cooking some barbecue. The bottle opener hangs nicely on the rebar which gives you a place to put it while smoking. You can purchase the Ultimate Hook Tool separately if you already own a Pit Barrel Cooker.
Which Charcoal to Use?
The Pit Barrel Cooker can use regular briquette charcoal or lump charcoal to fuel the fire. The pit is very simple. There is only one vent on the bottom and you set it once based on your elevation. That’s it. There is no top vent to control or adjust, there is no thermometer to watch, it is the ultimate smoker for sheer simplicity. It is you, metal, and fire making beautiful barbecue and you will find it is the ultimate conversation starter.
The Pit Barrel Cooker does not burn wood and I would not recommend using it in the smoker. You can add a few small flavor chunks but that should be the extent of it. We find best results using regular charcoal briquettes during long cooks because briquettes are more uniform in size which makes them burn more evenly. If you choose to use lump charcoal, try the Rockwood Lump Charcoal. We have found the smaller sizes of the lump charcoal in the Rockwood works good in the Pit Barrel Cooker because they are more uniform. Good lump charcoal like Rockwood is more flavorful due to the different types of wood used to make the charcoal. If you have lump charcoal with larger chunks, that will not work as good. The fire will not burn as consistent through the cook and could even stall.
When using lump charcoal, be sure to lay out the charcoal in the basket so the larger chunks are spread out and smaller chunks are in between. This will prevent the fire from stalling during the cook and provide a more consistent burn. You can break up larger chunks with a hammer if need be which will help. It can be a little messy. A good lump charcoal like Rockwood is recommended because the pieces are smaller and more uniform than other options on the market. Larger pieces might be great when cooking steaks over a blazing fire, but they can cause issues on slow cooks.
How to Light the Charcoal in Your Pit Barrel Cooker
Starting the fire in the Pit Barrel Cooker is simple. Your first start by filling up your charcoal basket and then remove one third of the charcoal and place it in your chimney. You can use fire starters, newspaper, or a piece of your charcoal bag and place it under the chimney. Light the paper or fire starter and let the chimney burn for about 10-15 minutes until the charcoal ashes over. Once it’s ready, pour it on top of your unlit charcoal in your Pit Barrel Cooker charcoal basket. Adjust your bottom vent based on your elevation, install rebar in place, and put the lid on immediately so the cooker doesn’t get too hot. You’re ready to cook… its that easy.
The Pit Barrel Cooker Co. makes their own charcoal chimney which is smaller than the standard Weber charcoal chimney. They did this on purpose so you never have to question how much charcoal to use to light your Pit Barrel Cooker. The custom chimney started is built to accommodate the exact amount of briquettes or lump you need to light the perfect set-it & forget-it cook. It takes the guess work out of starting your fire every time you go to use the pit.
Second, the Pit Barrel Cooker Chimney Starter was designed to fit perfectly within the barrel of the Pit Barrel Junior or the Classic model. This smaller design with a more compact handle allows you to easily tilt the chimney over and pour your lit charcoal over your unlit charcoal sitting in the fire basket at the bottom of your cooker. You know how hard this can be if you have tried this with the large Weber charcoal chimney. You usually end up missing the charcoal basket. 😳
The Pit Barrel Company website has instructional videos showing you how to light your smoker. They have done a great job from the very beginning getting in front of the camera to show new users how to use their product. Their marketing skills, videos, and website have all gotten better over time so there is a wealth of information available to show you how to get the best results from your smoker.
How to Clean the Pit Barrel Cooker
As you cook on your Pit Barrel Cooker, the inside of the smoker will start to season and accumulate layers of smoke and grease. This is a good thing. Your pit will start to cook better with time due to layers and layers of smoke accumulating on the inside of the barrel. While the layers of smoke are good, the ash accumulating at the bottom of your barrel will need to be removed.
Whenever it came time to remove ashes from the Pit Barrel Cooker, I would pick up the cooker and place it over a trash can so I could remove the ashes through the bottom vent. I would usually use one of the rebars that came with the cooker to tap the barrel which would make the ash fall down to the bottom vent hole. You can then use the rebar to push the ashes out the hole down into the trash can. Make sure to never do this with hot ashes unless you are shoveling them into a metal trash can.
You can also use the rebar to scrap the edges and the bottom of the barrel which will remove built up ash and grease. This is important because you want to maintain good airflow under your fire basket. Airflow is everything in a slow cook so you want to make sure you maintain the cooker. The buildup you scrape off will usually fall off in chunks. Thats it… very simple process.
As your charcoal burns down, it will drop the ash down through the bottom grate in your fire basket. This will either fall directly on the bottom of your barrel or you can purchase the optional Pit Barrel ash pan which makes for easy clean up. They did not offer the ash pan when I purchased my Pit Barrel Cooker over 6 years ago, but it would be a welcomed addition to the smoker. The fire basket attached to the ash pan allowing you to pull out the basket and ash pan at the same time so you can easily dispose of the ashes. This makes cleanup much easier as you don’t have to find a way to get the ashes out.
Teach a Kid How To Cook on the Pit Barrel Cooker
The Pit Barrel Cooker is the perfect smoker for any kid to learn on. The process is simple and it will produce amazing results time and time again. Getting your child out of the home and involved with something outdoors is always a good thing. Learning how to smoke and grill food teaches them a new skill they will use the rest of their lives. It’s also a lot of fun. Combine grilling and smoking outside with BBQ games and you’ll have the whole family involved.
The Founder is a Military Veteran
When I first discovered the Pit Barrel Cooker, one thing that drew me into purchasing was the founder of the company was a military veteran. I have always loved our military and no one would be able to do what they love without the sacrifices that have been made by our military and first responders (and their families). Thank you!
They are headquartered in Louisville, KY where they ship the product from and they can reach 40% of the continental US within two transit days. Shipping is FREE over $25 to all states excluding HI and AK.
The founder talks more about his military career on The Pit Barrel Cooker website. He also goes into a little more detail about how The Pit Barrel Cooker came to be. You can read more about the owner and founder of The Pit Barrel Company here.
I Will Always Own a Pit Barrel Cooker
I have owned many barbecue pits including Weber gas and charcoal grills, Big Green Egg, PK 360 Charcoal grill, wood burning offset smoker, Mak 2 Star pellet grill, Traeger pellet grill, Blackstone flat grill, open-top fire pit/grill, and of course the Pit Barrel Cooker. There are very few grills I can say I will always own, but The Pit Barrel Cooker is one of them.
You can say maybe because it’s unique, maybe because it produces exceptional food, or maybe because it does not cost much. There are other drum smokers on the market that cost three times what the pit barrel does, and they are loaded with additional vents, gauges, and features.
There is something special about the simplicity of The Pit Barrel Cooker. I can’t say this enough. It may not be the same experience for everyone but based on the reaction we get from most people asking what it is, I think most feel the same way. It is similar to that feeling you get sitting around a campfire, staring at the glowing flames as they dance before your eyes. It is magical, it is fun, it is The Pit Barrel Cooker.