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Pit Barrel Cooker Review: Is It Actually That Impressive?

10-Seconds on the Pit Barrel Cooker

This basic set and forget smoker can cook a lot of great food all at once.

It’s just a barrel, but, it’s consistently rated as one of the top smokers on the market. Loyal users love them. And, the price? Well, it’s one of the most affordable smokers as well.

So, how good can the Pit Barrel Cooker really be?

Is it really set and forget? And, how does it manage to cook food so evenly while it’s literally dangling over the fire?

In our Pit Barrel Cooker review, we answer these questions plus more to give you the low-down on what it’s like to use one of these smokers.

Spoiler alert – it really is one of our all-time favorites, and of course, made our best drum smoker line-up!

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Table of Contents

The Quick Version of our Pit Barrel Cooker Review

The Pit Barrel Cooker is the original and the top rated ugly drum smoker in the world. Thoughtfully designed by a US veteran, the Pit Barrel Cooker uses natural convection cooking to charcoal smoke meat that’s hung inside it’s open barrel.

This means that not only does it hold a huge capacity, it’s also extremely easy to use, and, very low effort. No babysitting or adding charcoal every hour or so. The Pit Barrel Cooker literally is a set and forget charcoal smoker, unlike any other charcoal option on the market.

Because there’s no adjustable dampers, it’s temperature is pretty much set at around the 300°F mark. It cooks faster than your typical low and slow speed, but, still manages to retain all the moisture and flavor you need for really good barbecue.

Ideal for anyone who loves that charcoal flavor but doesn’t want a smoker that’s too hands-on, the Pit Barrel Cooker is affordable, very well-built, and, comes with everything you need for ridiculously good barbecue at home.

The Pit Barrel Cooker really has earnt every single great review that’s been written about it.

About the Pit Barrel Cooker Company

The Pit Barrel Cooker Company is a family-owned business that was started by veteran, Noah Glanville after he returned from Iraq.

Through his struggles with PTSD, Noah made it his mission to design a charcoal cooker that was affordable and easy to use. And, that he has managed to do.

Through years of dedication to the craft, the Pit Barrel Cooker is one of the most well-known and respected smokers on the market.

They have also continued to honor their military roots by continuing to offer GovX ID Military and First Responder discounts.

Overview of the Pit Barrel Cooker Classic

The Pit Barrel Cooker Classic is the full-sized charcoal barrel barbecue, designed and manufactured by the family owned company, Pit Barrel Cooker Co.

Born out of US Marine veteran, Noah Glanville’s dedication and love for that smoky charcoal flavor, he worked to create a cooker that took the guesswork out of charcoal smoking. And, by trialing and modifying 29 different versions of what appears to be a basic barrel drum, the Pit Barrel Cooker was created.

With it, he brought a new kind of smoker to the market that’s as affordable as it is easy to use.

To this day, the design hasn’t needed to be modified. Pit Barrel only sell 3 primary products; the 18.5″ Classic, it’s smaller brother, the 14″ Pit Barrel Cooker Junior, and the newest addition, the 22.5″ PBX.

In this review, we’ll focus on the Pit Barrel Cooker Classic. But, the Junior is just a smaller more portable version while the PBX is for those needing that extra cooking capacity (here’s a link to our PBX review).

Features of the Pit Barrel Cooker

The Pit Barrel Cooker is made from a durable material that won’t warp under heat. It’s also got a rust-resistant finish.

Strong, rust-resistant hooks to hang a lot of meat.

If you don’t want to hang your meat, you can use the included grill grate to cook your meat horizontally.

Simply lower the included charcoal basket to the bottom of the drum for easy coal management.

There’s almost nothing to assemble. And, the single piece build makes this smoker very easy to move.

You set the air vent based on how far above sea level you are and the temperature automatically regulates itself from that. There’s no extra vents to have to adjust.

But, you can’t change the temperature either.

There’s nothing to adjust or do once you’re set up and loaded. Simply pop a meat thermometer in and do something else while your dinner cooks.

How Does the Pit Barrel Cooker Work?

The Pit Barrel Cooker is a simple steel drum with a vent at the bottom for air intake.

By setting the charcoal fire at the bottom of the drum and hanging or placing your meat on the hooks or grate above, the food is cooked from the rising heat and convection currents, dousing it in smoke for a rich flavor.

With only one air-intake valve that you set based on your altitude above sea level, it’s a fixed temperature smoker. That means it just runs as hot as it does, you can’t adjust the temperature and you don’t need to, it’s done for you.

And, once you’ve lit the coals and added your meat, simply wait until it’s time to eat.

The Pit Barrel Cooker is set and forget charcoal drum smoking.

Specs for the Pit Barrel Cooker Classic 18.5"

Barbecue type: Charcoal drum cooker

Barbecue material: Porcelain-enameled, 18-gauge steel

Grate material: Stainless steel or regular steel depending on accessory

Cooking capacity: Varies depending on accessories used

Heat Range: 250 – 300°F

Fuel type: Charcoal

Price guide: $$

Model: Pit Barrel Cooker

Assembled size (in): 21″ W x 31.1″ H x 21″ D

Weight: 57lbs

Warranty: 1 year

Comparison With Other Pit Barrel Models

The 18.5″ Pit Barrel Cooker Classic is the original.

But, you can also get a smaller Pit Barrel Junior and a larger PBX that’s only available through the Pit Barrel website.

Pros and Cons of the Pit Barrel Cooker Classic

Pros
Cons

Our Experience Using the 18.5" Pit Barrel Classic

Before we wrote this review, we used the Pit Barrel Cooker Classic very often over a period of a few months.

We tested it’s performance by smoking a wide range of meats in different weather conditions to see how this smoker really works.

All of these tests were done at or near sea level. We have not tested the Pit Barrel Classic at altitude but with our experience, we would expect the smoker to perform much the same, as long as the recommended vent settings were adhered to.

Nevertheless, we have also drawn upon our experience using a range of other barbecues to draw conclusions about how well this product works and how it compares to other smokers on the market.

Here you’ll find everything about our experience using the Pit Barrel Classic Cooker.

Unboxing and Set Up

Because the Pit Barrel is one big barrel, it’s probably the easiest smoker you’ll ever put together.

Pull everything out of the box, screw the horseshoe handle on the lid, set the barrel on the base and you’re ready to burn it in.

It even comes with a screwdriver and wrench so you don’t need to grab your tool kit.

Burning Brisket kid with Pit Barrel Cooker

What Does the Pit Barrel Cooker Classic Come With?

The standard Pit Barrel Cooker Classic package comes with everything you really need for smoking or grilling. You’ve got the drum itself with a stand, 2 hanging rods, 8 stainless steel hooks, the charcoal basket, standard grill grate, and, a wooden hook remover.

Pit-Barrel-Cooker-Unboxing

Construction and Build Quality

The Pit Barrel Cooker’s build is easily described as basic and high-quality.

It’s essentially a 30 gallon drum with feet, a vent and handles welded to it. But, it’s made from 18-gauge steel with a porcelain-enameled coating for premium durability, strength and rust-resistance.

At the base, there’s a charcoal basket to hold the coals. And, in it’s most used setup, 2 steel rods hold 8 stainless steel hooks so that you can hang your meat to get the full benefit of 360° cooking and the most bang for your buck in terms of usable space.

Inside the Pit Barrel Cooker

The Classic version also comes with a standard grill grate that you can use for wrapped meats or grilling.

There’s no temperature gauge to measure the heat inside the drum.

Simply set the bottom vent to the recommended position based on the elevation at your location, light it and leave it to do it’s thing.

Pit-Barrel-Cooker-Classic-Set-Up

When it’s going, you’re looking at hitting between 250 and 300°F with a full basket of charcoal.

It’s the closest thing to hands-off pellet smoking. Just with charcoal and no power needed.

Easy, simple, well-built and durable.

Capacity

With an 18.5″ diameter, cooking on the standard grill grate gives you a modest 240 square inches of cooking space.

But, that’s not really how this thing’s meant to be used.

When you hang meat inside, not only do you get the benefit of cooking with natural convection heat, you also increase it’s capacity dramatically.

Pulled-Pork-on-the-Pit-Barrel-Cooker
Meat-Hanging-Inside-Pit-Barrel-Cooker-Classic

There’s no specs on it. But, in the Classic, you can easily hang 8 full racks of ribs at one time or 2-3 whole briskets. It’s a huge amount of real estate for how much space this barbecue takes up on the ground. Plus, there’s also a hinged grate available so you can cook on the flat and hang at the same time.

Sounds too big? There’s also the smaller Junior version available that holds a 14″ grate instead.

And, if it’s too small, there’s the 22.5″ PBX that can hold 20 racks of ribs.

Smoking Performance

Smoking in a Pit Barrel Cooker is truly incredible!

To smoke in one of these, you simply fill the charcoal basket with coals (we’d recommend using charcoal briquettes if you’re new to the PBC because they’re more consistent), set the one damper as per the instructions, put your meat in and close the lid.

Then go and find something else to do for literally the whole time.

Pit Barrel Cooker Classic Loaded at Start of Cook

The smoker will just do it’s thing and you can come back after the recommended time to get your meat out.

If you’re following the recipes on the Pit Barrel website, we’ve found most of our cooks tend to go on the longer side of the times they recommend.

And, although you don’t need it, we 100% recommend using a meat thermometer with the Pit Barrel. It’ll just give you that extra bit of feedback to tell you exactly when your meat is perfectly cooked.

Chicken Out of the Pit Barrel with MEATER Plus

Our go-to with the Pit Barrel is the MEATER Plus. There’s absolutely no wires to get positioned with the lid so it’s as easy as you want with a low-fuss smoker.

On average, you can do baby back ribs in about 3 hours, 2 hours for chicken, 30 minutes for tri-tip or 6 hours for a whole brisket.

The results? Friggin juicy as, evenly cooked meat that’s got that distinctively charcoal smoked with burnt juices and melted fat.

Adverse Weather Performance

The only time we really struggle with the Pit Barrel is when the weather’s pretty wild.

Because of the way the lid is designed, water pools on top causing the drum temperature to drop significantly when it’s raining.

If it’s very windy, we usually find the temperature drops as well. Crack the lid (even though you’re technically not meant to) and it’ll come up again.

And, if you’re smoking in snowy condititons, you’ll probably find your cooks take a lot longer.

Grilling Performance

The Pit Barrel Cooker is primarily a smoker. It’s what it was designed to do and what it does best. But, using the included standard grill grate, you can grill on it as well.

The grill grate sits about 25 inches above the charcoal. So, it’s not as close as you’re probably used to and won’t be as hot either. But, if you don’t want to have two barbecues sitting around and are just using it occasionally, the results aren’t bad.

You can grill directly on the grate, or, we like using a cast iron pan to block the flare-ups and keep all the juices in too.

Pit Barrel also sell custom grill grates that do make grilling on the PBC more effective. The sear marks are next-level and it does a better job than the cast iron pans because the valley’s vaporize the drippings for even better flavor.

Cleaning the PBC

When it comes to cleaning, you’re also getting simple, straight-forward and not very time intensive with the Pit Barrel Cooker.

Basically, you’ve got to clean the meat hooks and/or grill grates after using just like any smoker. Plus, you’ll need to empty the ash from the bottom of the drum.

The PBC Ash Pan makes this super easy but is an extra only available from the Select Package up (or individually).

Bascially, it hooks on to the bottom of the charcoal holder and collects any ash so you can literally pull the whole thing out and empty in less than a minute.

Without it though, it still won’t take you long to empty it. You could use a shop vacuum if you’ve got one handy.

And that’s it! Leaving the drum itself will just season the inside even more and doesn’t really need to be touched.

Portability

The full 18.5″ Classic PBC is decently large. But, it’s easy to move because it’s just one piece (except for the stand) and everything can stay inside of it.

You will need to wait at least 30 minutes to let the drum cool down before you put it in the back of your truck. Longer if you’re throwing it in the back of a car. But, it’s a great option for portable smoking because it cooks faster than most too.

And, if the 18.5″ sounds a little too large, there’s also the PBC Junior. With a 14″ grate diameter, it still holds a decent amount of meat but won’t take up as much trunk space.

The Pit Barrel Cooker vs Regular Drum

We had to ask ourselves, how can the Pit Barrel Cooker really be so much better than a typical drum smoker? How does the meat stay so moist without a water pan? And, what makes it cook so evenly cooked when one end is so close to the coals?

Well, it turns out that the key to everything is in the drum itself.

Designer Noah didn’t waste any time experimenting with different drum sizes and different venting configurations to get the perfect conditions. And, you don’t have to either since one of these is literally the blueprint to fast, set and forget charcoal smoking.

Think of it like this, when you turn your hand vertically over a hot grill, you won’t feel the heat nearly as much as if you put it palm down. The surface area just isn’t as much. So, when you hang meats for smoking, you’re sticking them right in the center of the heat.

From there, the natural convectional movement of the heat creates an even temperature throughout the drum. The lid, and fact that there is no upper vent, locks in the moisture.

From there the moisture drips back down onto the meat along while the juices fall onto the charcoal, giving you even more flavor than you’d get on an offset smoker or even the Weber Smokey Mountain.

Optional Extras

But, there’s actually some add-on packages you can get on the Pit Barrel Cooker website that have a few useful extras and are really great value.

The cover, hinged grate and ash pan that all come in the PBC Select Package and up are WELL worth it! Check out their website for more details.

Warranty

The Pit Barrel Cooker comes with a 1 year warranty. After seeing how well-built this smoker is and how incredible it’s performance is, it’s pretty surprising that they don’t offer a longer warranty.

Like, any PBC should WELL outlive a 1 year warranty. And, because it doesn’t have electronics or even much in the way of moving parts, there’s not a lot of room for things to go wrong with it anyway.

Regardless, we’re letting you know, the warranty is 1 year. Their customer service is great though and you shouldn’t have any problems sorting any issues out.

I’d still buy confidently despite the shorter than expected warranty period.

Should I Buy the Pit Barrel Cooker?

Perfect for anyone who’s looking for a smoker that’s less hassle and more hands-off, the Pit Barrel cooker is equal parts easy, well-priced and top performing (that’s why we rated it as one of the best smokers out there).

It’s ideal for the person who’s been considering a pellet smoker but doesn’t quite have the budget. And, the Pit Barrel Cooker isn’t a second-rate solution.

Because it doesn’t have any electricals or much in the way of moving parts, this smoker will last years to come.

Plus, the distinctly charcoal-smoked flavor means that it’s also perfectly justifiable to sit in your backyard beside a wood-based option for flavor alone.

Incredible results that are easy to achieve in a large capacity, super durable body that’s also one of the cheapest options out there. Um… what?!? How?!? Yep.

We’d only steer you away from the PBC if having control and being able to adjust and finely tune your smoker is your thing. In that case, check out the Weber Smokey Mountain for a similar charcoal-based option.

What Other Barrel Smokers Should I Consider?

If you’d like something that  does a better job of grilling as well as being able to smoke, we do love the Oklahoma Joe Bronco.

Oklahoma Joe Bronco
  • Properly set up for grilling
  • Able to adjust the temperature
  • Choice of hanging meat or sitting on regular grat

FAQs About the Pit Barrel Cooker

Hell yes!! Noah, the founder of the Pit Barrel Cooker Company, made a lot of prototypes before settling on the final design of the PBC. And somehow, it’s just WAY better than any other UDS we’ve ever used.

Plus, if you consider all the accessories it’s got included, the price is, in our opinion, well-justified. We’d buy it again and again. Except we shouldn’t need to, this thing will last.

Yes. The temperature sits a bit higher than you’d normally set a smoker. And, the natural convection movement of the heat helps to cook meat faster. When cooking on a Pit Barrel, plan on it being done in half to two-thirds of the time you’d expect on any other type of smoker.

It seems like you’d need to but, no. As long as the meat isn’t touching the coals, she’ll be right. We find that the bottom rib can be a bit dry and crispy though. I usually eat it because I kind of like it that way sometimes.

No, you don’t need a water pan inside the PBC. There’s no top vent so all the moisture is locked inside the drum and circulates around keeping the meat moist. It really does work.

Using meat probes with the PBC is a really good idea. You can run wires through the hanging rid holes or under the lid. But, we recommend the completely wireless MEATER Plus because it removes that hassle and is just a great unit too.

No. Honestly, it’s made not to be messed with. You don’t need to seal the lid tighter and it’s not meant to be all-adjustable. In our experience, people who have modified their PBC’s usually regret it.

The Pit Barrel Cooker and Traeger pellet smokers are some of the most popular set and forget smokers on the market.

When deciding between these two, we always ask people what fuel flavor they like the best.

The charcoal smoked Pit Barrel will give you that heavier, charcoal smoked taste while a wood pellet smoking Traeger gives a more subtle but still very much there, woody flavor.

There’s more that sets these two top choices apart. For all the details check out our Pit Barrel Cooker vs Traeger comparison.

Jared Brown, an avid lover of all things meat has a fearless enthusiasm for experimenting with anything that's grilling, smoking or outdoor cooking. With a wealth of experience across a range different barbecue types, Jared's got a real knack for helping others make a decision they're happy with, ensuring they find the perfect fit regardless of conventional notions of the 'right' choice. This unique approach has made Jared a trusted guide in the world of barbecue.

About Burning Brisket

Burning Brisket is one of the leading, independent authorities on all things barbecue. Family-owned and run, it's our mission uncomplicate the art of smoking to help you enjoy making incredible food at home for your family and friends to create memories over.

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