There’s a lot of die-hard PBC fans that will tell you to go that way every day.
But, with it’s long list of features promising notable improvements over the PBC, surely the Bronco is worth considering in the hunt for a drum smoker, right?
Yes, you’re 100% on to it, and, this comparison is worth reading before you buy. These smokers both made it into our best drum smoker line-up because they’re both really great.
So, let’s help you decide which one’s right for you.
We’ve used both and in this comparison, we share our experience cooking on the Pit Barrel Cooker vs Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco.
Smoking, grilling, quality, ease of use, it’s all here….
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(Valid on the Pit Barrel website only)
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Table of Contents
The Quick Version: Pit Barrel Cooker vs OKJ Bronco
When it comes to the PBC vs OKJ Bronco, there’s really one big difference.
The Pit Barrel is designed to primarily be a smoker. It’s what it’s great at. And, yes, you can grill. But, it’s not the ideal setup.
The Bronco on the other hand, has been built with versatility in mind.
You’ve got a similar setup on both for vertical smoking. But, you can flip the heat diffuser to move the charcoal basket up and grill at full height on the Bronco.
Plus, because it’s got dampers, you get to set the temperature to whatever you want unlike the fixed temperature range of the Pit Barrel.
The downside to that is that the Bronco isn’t set and forget like the Pit Barrel. It shouldn’t need too much babysitting. But, you will have to keep an eye on how it’s running and adjust the vents if necessary.
So, the PBC is great if you want total set and forget charcoal smoking.
The OKJ Bronco is a better choice if you’re after versatility.
Both are of a similar quality, although the PBC does take the edge. And, both are a similar price.
So, ask yourself, what do you want to do? Smoke only? Or, smoke and grill?
Use our code – BURNINGBRISKET – at the checkout for 10% off your Pit Barrel purchase (Valid on the Pit Barrel website only).
A Bit About the Pit Barrel Cooker
The popular Pit Barrel Cooker was designed by US Verteran, Noah Glanville.
It’s basic setup aimed to make charcoal smoking set and forget. And, it’s quality, ease of use, and, competition quality results have led it to become the top rated drum smoker in the world.
There’s only one vent that you set based on your distance above sea level. Then, letting your meat hang inside, the natural convection of heat will evenly cook while locking in the all-important moisture.
Now, the Pit Barrel Cooker Co is a family affair. The company is run by Noah and his wife.
They’ve expanded their offerings from the original 18.5″ only, to also include the 14″ Pit Barrel Junior and massive 22.5″ PBX,
A Bit About the Oklahoma Joe's Bronco
Oklahoma Joe originally just made offset smokers. But, after building a reputation for very usable designs at a reasonable cost, they’ve since branched out into a whole heap of different types of smokes.
The drum-style, Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco is one of those. And, they haven’t just replicated a plain old drum.
Instead, Oklahoma Joe’s have brought innovation to the game, adding features that combat some of the not so good things about the typical drum smoker.
A Quick Comparison of the Pit Barrel Cooker vs Oklahoma Joe's Bronco
- PBC is set and forget, you’ll have to monitor temperature on Bronco
- PBC runs at fixed temperature that you can’t change, you’ve got control over temperature on the Bronco
- PBC is optimized for smoking, Bronco was designed to be more versatile
- PBC does NOT have a temperature gauge (you don’t need it), Bronco does
- Bronco has attached side shelves
- Lid hangs on side on PBC, Bronco has hinged lid
- PBC uses steel rods to hang, Bronco has steel inserts
What's The Same?
- Both charcoal drum-style smokers
- Large capacity
- Small footprint
- Can hang food or use the included grate
- Stainless steel hooks
- Porcelain-coated charcoal basket
- Similar price
An In-Depth Look at the Pit Barrel Cooker vs OKJ Bronco
The Pit Barrel Cooker is made from 18-gauge steel with a porcelain exterior coating to protect it from rust and other damage.
There’s no paint to peel off. And, it’s such a basic design that there’s really not much space for something to go wrong quality-wise.
Look after it properly and the PBC should stay in good nick for a very long time.
Oklahoma Joe’s don’t have the best reputation when it comes to quality. Their steel isn’t the thickest and they’re known to rust out easily if they’re not well looked after.
And, yes, your Bronco will rust if you don’t season as per the instructions (we took a short-cut, it happened to us and can be fixed). But, as someone who’s used other Oklahoma Joe’s, the Bronco is surprisingly well-built.
The whole thing feels solid, the parts fit together nicely, the lid opens smoothly, the gasket is quality, and, although it’s not porcelain-coated, the outside of the drum provides good weather resistance.
We don’t advise it, but, our Bronco has smoked and been left in the rain on numerous occasions and no rust.
The internal components (grates, charcoal basket, ash pan, heat diffuser) are all porcelain-coated for extra durability where it’s really needed.
It’s overall, definitely decent quality for it’s price.
With the PBC you get a choice of 3 different sizes; the 14″ PBC Junior, 18.5″ PBC Classic and the huge 22.5″PBX.
Oklahoma Joe’s give you two size options.
The standard OKJ Bronco has a 18″grate while the Bronco Pro is on par with the PBX with a 21.5″ diameter.
So, if you want smaller and more portable, Pit Barrel is the only choice.
But for standard or super-sized, both brands are still in the running.
Remember that because both the PBC and Bronco are designed for hanging meat, you’re going to get a lot more in than you could squeeze onto the horizontal grate alone.
The PBC Junior will do 4 racks of ribs, the Classic doubles that at 8, and, the PBX can do 16 racks of ribs.
On the Bronco, both sizes come with 9 hooks for hanging. So, that’s 9 racks of ribs on the standard or 9 on the Pro.
You could buy a few more hooks to boost the capacity of the Pro. But, the extra width is most appreciated when you’re using the grate, or, take the ribs, pork, brisket, etc., off to finish it on the grate.
Temperature Range and Control
The Pit Barrel Cooker is a set and forget smoker. How do you manage to make a charcoal smoker set and forget you ask?
There’s one vent at the bottom of the drum that you set based on your altitude. Then, simply fill your charcoal basket, light it according to the instructions, load your meat and put the lid on.
It should keep a steady temperature of about 250-300°F for around 9 hours on a full basket (they say up to 12 but we get more like 9).
It’s a little hotter than most people smoke. But, will cook your meat faster too. And, because you’re using the space vertically, minimizing the surface that’s taking the full brunt of the heat, your meat won’t burn (think of it like placing your hand horizontally over a fire vs vertically, up and down won’t be so hot).
There’s no temperature gauge. Some people do fit them. But, the PBC is designed not to need one. Load it up and leave it alone. Watch the game, play with your kids, work on your latest project. You’ve got time for other things with the Pit Barrel. That’s one of it’s pluses.
We do recommend using the Pit Barrel with a wireless meat thermometer like the MEATER Plus. That way it’ll do the watching and will tell you exactly when your meat is perfectly done.
The Bronco is more like your regular charcoal smoker in terms of temperature control. There’s two dampers you adjust to change the temperature.
The air intake damper sits at the top of the smoker. But, pulls the air down below the charcoal basket to keep the fire burning steadily.
Like the PBC, you’ll load and light your charcoal basket and it’ll burn steadily for 9-10 hours depending on your temperature. But, unlike the Pit Barrel, you can choose where you want the temperature to sit be it true low and slow, or, a little hotter.
There’s also a heat diffuser plate on the Bronco that’s not part of the PBC’s design.
It does take the edge off the heat. We find you don’t get that boarderline charred bottom rib on the Bronco that’s easy to get on the PBC.
The Pit Barrel runs a little hotter than your ‘normal’ low and slow temperature so things usually take a little less time to cook on one.
If you follow Pit Barrel’s brisket recipe, it should be done in about 6 hours.
Cooking times on the Bronco are what you’d expect on any other smoker.
Etiher way you go, both the Pit Barrel Cooker and the OKJ Bronco are quality smokers that can produce some darn good meat.
Being a charcoal smoker, the flavor will be strongly smokey. If you’re after something more subtle, try a pellet smoker instead.
But, you can expect good smoke rings, nice bark and bold flavor.
The ribs below were smoked on the PBC and Bronco respectively.
They’re so red because they’re smoked with Hardcore Carnivore RED. If you haven’t tried it yet, DO IT! It’s one of our all-time favorite dry rubs.
Grilling and Versatility
You can grill on the PBC. Some people modify them, some use it out of the box for charcoal grilling. And, the results are okay.
But, there’s no denying that the Pit Barrel Cooker is primarily meant to be a smoker.
You can’t lift the charcoal up. So, the temperature at the grate isn’t going to be that hot. And, the grate sits a reasonable distance below the top of the barrel, making it a bit awkward to place and flip your meat.
If you do want to grill regularly on your Pit Barrel, grab one of their grill grates that hold extra heat. Or, use a cast iron pan or griddle.
But, the Bronco will give you a better setup for grilling.
Oklahoma Joe’s have designed it to be more versatile than your standard drum smoker.
You simply flip the heat deflector and place the charcoal basket on top to move the fire up. Then, the grate actually sits in line with the top of the barrel (thanks to the tall, hinged lid).
It doesn’t feel like you’re compromising to grill on the Bronco. In fact, you could use it as a grill first and foremost. It really does a great job of both.
If you’re looking for portable. Pit Barrel is going to be your better option.
The Bronco is large and heavy. The wheels make it easy to move around your yard. But, loading it on the back of truck isn’t a one person job.
The PBC is much lighter. It’s also available in the smaller Junior version.
The only annoying thing is that the stand on the Pit Barrel isn’t fixed. You’ve got to pick the barrel up, move the stand and then put the barrel on top unless you weld it together yourself.
But, you can easily load the Pit Barrel up for camping or a tailgate. Even the Classic is pretty easy to take with you.
Cleaning the PBC and the Bronco are pretty similar.
Like all smokers, scrape down the grates when they’re still a little hot.
Then, after the ash is cool, you’ll need to clean that out.
The Bronco comes with an ash pan so you simply lift it out and tip the ashes out (it catches most). You can buy an ash pan for the Pit Barrel. But, it doesn’t come included with the basic package.
If you don’t have the ash pan, pick the barrel up and tip it out. Or, use an ash vacuum.
The stainless steel hooks on both smokers are dishwasher safe. And, you don’t need to worry about cleaning the inside of your drum. The natural seasoning will protect it.
For the standard sized PBC or Bronco, they’ll both set you back a similar amount of dough.
The Junior is a little cheaper. And, the PBX is more expensive.
But, the larger Bronco Pro is significantly more expensive than the PBX.
You can get some great value add-on packages for the PBC on their website. We’d recommend at least grabbing the Select with the ash pan and cover. The hinged grate is a nice extra.
We do have an exclusive 10% off code for the Pit Barrel (valid on the PB website only). Use the code BURNINGBRISKET at the checkout.
What Should You Buy?
A Pit Barrel Cooker or OKJ Bronco?
The Pit Barrel Cooker is ideal for people who:
Primarily want to smoke
Want quality and durability over anything else
Like the idea of set and forget
The Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco is the way to go if you:
Like to have more control over your cook
Want to smoke and grill well
Value the hinged lid design
What will you be smoking on next weekend?
Use our code – BURNINGBRISKET – at the checkout for 10% off your Pit Barrel purchase.
(Valid on the Pit Barrel website only)