It’s a hard choice!
Both promise set and forget smoking, both are great quality, and, both have a really loyal following.
But, they’re very different price points, work differently and use different fuels so which one should you buy?
In our comparison of the Pit Barrel Cooker vs Traeger, we’ll walk you through what’s the same and what’s different between these top rated smoker brands.
Now, the purpose of this article isn’t to pick sides (you are, after all, choosing between two great things). But, you’re a person who has different wants and needs to the next person so we’ll help you choose the one that’s right for your backyard.
There’s even a more budget-friendly pellet smoker alternative we’ll mention at the end in case it’s the Traeger price that’s putting you off going pellet (it’s still great quality and the performance is right up there!).
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Table of Contents
The Quick Version: Pit Barrel Cooker vs Traeger
Two set and forget smokers; both high quality, both can smoke some darn good meat but one’s charcoal and the other is pellet.
The first thing we’ll say is that the PBC is a lot cheaper than a Traeger. So, if budget’s an issue, you’ll probably be leaning towards the Pit Barrel. But, if you can stretch it a little, there’s still lower priced Traeger’s that do perform just don’t have all the fancy features.
If price isn’t the main concern, you’re really looking at whether you go charcoal or pellet…
The Pit Barrel Cooker
You’re lighting it manually but once it’s going, you do leave the Pit Barrel to do it’s thing.
It’s predominantly a smoker only. And, by hanging your meat, you’ll fit A LOT inside what’s quite a small barbecue. The vertically hung meat will still be tender and juicy thanks to the lid locking everything in.
You really don’t get any easier than the Traeger.
Load the pellets and your meat, set the temperature and you can smoke, bake, roast, braise, barbecue or grill.
The flavor’s incredible. Meat is tender and juicy. And, depending on which size of model you go for, they still offer a decent capacity.
At the end of the day, which flavor do you prefer? Do you have access to power where you’ll be smoking? And, do you want easy, or, even easier?
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
Designed and owned by US Veteran, Noah Glanville, the Pit Barrel Cooker, or PBC, is the top rated drum smoker in the world.
It’s a basic design that’s done well to take the effort out of charcoal smoking.
With just one vent that’s set based on your altitude, you hang meat inside to let the natural convection of heat evenly cook your food while the moisture is locked in by the solid lid.
The meat turns out great and you shouldn’t have to touch it until it’s time to eat.
A Bit About Traeger
Like Pit Barrel, Traeger are an original and market leader in set and forget smoking. But, instead of being charcoal, Traegers are a pellet smoker that burns 100% wood pellets in a small firepot underneath the racks.
Controlled by a computer system that automatically adjusts the feed rate of the pellets, set your target temperature and your Traeger will keep an even temperature without you having to do a thing.
Effortless wood smoking in a high-quality unit and the results are incredible.
A Quick Comparison of the Pit Barrel Cooker vs Traeger
- The PBC runs on charcoal while Traeger uses 100% wood pellets
- PBC is fixed temperature. You can select the temperature from low and slow to high heat grilling on a Traeger
- Traegers perform better then PBC in colder weather
- You need electricity to run the Traeger
- PBC is lower priced than the Traeger
- PBC is primarily a smoker while you can smoke, bake, roast and grill on the Traeger
- PBC’s vertical design takes up less space
What's The Same?
- Both set and forget smokers
- Quality build that should last years
- Makes great food
- Both can hold large capacity depending on the size selected
An In-Depth Look at the Pit Barrel Cooker vs Traeger
Both are built to last.
The Pit Barrel Cooker is made from porcelain-coated 18-gauge steel. It’s strong, rust-resistant and there’s no paint to flake and peel off.
It’s a basic design. There’s no electrical components to have issues with. Everything is well-made and should be good for a very long time with proper care.
With a Traeger, you’re getting powder-coated steel. So, it’s another durable option that shouldn’t rust, flake or peel.
Depending on the model, you’ve got porcelain-coated or stainless steel grates, both solid choices.
Even the cheapest range is very well constructed and there’s no quality issues there.
Because Pit Barrel’s are designed to hang your meat vertically, the grate widths are a guide, not an absolute.
When it comes to Traeger, there are a lot more models and sizes available.
But, either brand you go for, there’s a size option that should suit your needs.
Temperature Range and Control
Here’s where this comparison gets a little more interesting…
The Pit Barrel uses a single fixed vent to take the right amount of air in to keep a full basket of charcoal burning at the right temperature for smoking.
You don’t need electricity. You don’t need to watch the temperature. It doesn’t even have a temperature gauge.
You literally follow the instructions to open the vent the right amount based on your altitude above sea level, light your charcoal, throw your meat in and close the lid.
The smoker sits at about 250-300°F. It’s a little hotter than most people do low and slow. But, because the meat is hung vertically it doesn’t feel the heat as much as it would on a rack, just like your vertically oriented hand wouldn’t get as hot as if it was placed flat over the heat source.
So, the temperature is fixed and well, you can’t control it at all. You set the PBC and forget it until it’s time to eat, or your meat has hit the right internal temperature (the PBC doesn’t come with meat probes. Find our fav’s here).
It’s digitally controlled so you can set the precise temperature you’d like anywhere within a range of about 180-500°F (low and slow, high heat searing, or, somewhere in between).
The computer-based control panel then uses an algorithm to adjust the rate at which it feeds wood pellets into the firepot to keep a steady temperature.
It’s precise and it’s all taken care of for you. But, you get to choose exactly how hot to run it. There’s even WiFi for remote control on the newer models.
How much the temperature fluctuates will depend on which Traeger you’re going for. But, expect it to stay within about 25°F of your target.
If the outside temperature drops mid-cook, the control panel will keep the heat steady for you without you having to do a thing.
Because of this, we do find Traeger’s better suited to more changeable climates where sun, rain and wind could easily all happen over your 8 hour smoke.
At the end of the day, the meat you’re going to pull out of either smoker has the potential to be great!
Charcoal smoked has a distinct flavor that’s usually a bit stronger than using real wood pellets. You can also add chunks of wood to the PBC basket if you want to give it more of a woody flavor. But, the charcoally taste is still definitely there.
It’s personal preference which one you think tastes better.
Some find charcoal smoked to be a little too strong while others think that pellet smoked isn’t enough flavor.
If you’re not sure flavor you prefer, I’d recommend going the pellet smoker route. You’ll have the flexibility to choose different types of woods to suit your meat and taste preference. All the major brands sell a good variety so you can go something that’s stronger like mesquite or more subtle like apple.
One thing you might be concerened about with the Pit Barrel is whether the meat’s going to turn out dry.
Even though it sits with one end closer to the coals when it’s hanging, the lid doesn’t have any vents so all the moisture’s locked in and circulating within.
In general, the meat turns out nicely moist.
A note – the ribs below were smoked with Hardcore Carnivore RED which is why they’re so… red. It’s also why they tasted so darn good! If you haven’t tried it… grab some here. Definitely one of our favorites and staples.
Grilling and Versatility
So, you can grill on the PBC. But, in our opinion, it’s really not set up to do so.
To grill on the PBC though, you’d light your charcoal, trying to get it as hot as possible, place the grate over it and throw your meat on.
Now, why we generally say don’t get the PBC if you want to grill is that firstly, the grate is a long way from the coals so it’s not that hot. Secondly, the whole thing’s been set up for a max of about 300°F. And thirdly, you’re reaching down a fair way to place and flip your meat. It’s a little awkward.
Doable, yes. But not ideal.
Pit Barrel sell a grill grate that helps to hold some extra heat. Or, a cast iron pan will do the trick too.
If you do want to do more than just smoking on your barbecue, a Traeger does give you that versatility.
Most of their smokers can sit between 180-500°F which is pretty similar to a regular oven.
You can smoke, you can bake, roast, braise, broil or grill. All by just setting the temperature to a higher or lower point.
One word of warning about grilling on a Traeger though – it’s indirect heat.
There’s no open flame so it is pretty much like trying to grill in your oven with the heat turned right up.
The barrel’s easy to pick up and move because it’s one piece (the stand is separate though). And, you don’t need to worry about needing electricity.
Both are solid smokers that turn out great results.
The PBC is just a much more basic design. There’s no electrical components or WiFi to add to the expense.
Alternatively, you could check out Z Grills as a lower priced pellet smoker.
They’re not quite as top quality as the Traeger’s. And, there’s no so many fancy features. But, they perform REALLY well and are simply so impressive for the price. Check out our Z Grills vs Traeger comparison to learn more.
The 18.5″ Pit Barrel Cooker takes a considerable 8 pounds of pellets per smoke. That should last for 9-12 hours depending on the type of charcoal and how hot it’s running. But, if you cook for less time, you’re still using the same amount of charocal.
On the Traeger, you should bet about 1 hour of low and slow smoking time per pound of pellets.
Once you’re done cooking, you simply turn it off and won’t waste any excess fuel like you will in the Pit Barrel.
If you run it hotter, you’ll use more pellets faster. But, when you’re pellet smoking, you pay for what you use.
Quality pellet or quality charcoal are fairly similar prices so we’re going to have tos ay that the Traeger is probably going to cost a bit less to run than the PBC. But, we haven’t done a full analysis of how much it’d cost to run the Pit Barrel Cooker vs Traeger.
Regular maintenance on the PBC pretty much looks like cleaning the hooks or grate after each use and emptying the ash out of the barrel.
To empty the ash you’ve got to tip the whole thing up, have the ash pan attachment for the charcoal basket, or, you can use a shop vac to vacuum up the ashes once they’re 100% cold.
It can get a bit messy. But, it’s simple and you don’t need to clean the inside of the barrel itself. Regular use should just season it more.
To clean a Traeger will take a bit more time.
After every 20 hours or so of use, scrape down the grates (wood is easy and will keep them in better condition), throw out the disposable liner or foil you’ve used to line the drip tray, vacuum the ash out of the firepot and surrounds (it’ll be a lot less than the PBC) and wipe out the chimney.
To do the occassional major clean, the Traeger All-Natural Cleaner is worth it’s weight in gold! A bottle should last a long time and can be used on any barbecue.
And, while longer is always better, I wouldn’t discount the PBC based on the warranty alone.
It’s a very basic design with no electronics so unless there’s a warranty-related fault within the first year, we feel you’re probably going to be go to go for much much longer without any hassles.
But, that’s just our two cents worth.
Both are large, reputatable companies and have a good customer service reputation.
The Actual Grills - Pit Barrel Cooker vs Traeger
What’s your money actually going to get you if you’re looking at the Pit Barrel Cooker or Traeger?
Here, you’ll find the 3 PBC’s next to comparable Traegers.
PBC Junior vs Traeger Tailgater
Porcelain-enameled steel with steel grates
Powder-coated steel with porcelain-coated steel grates
250 - 300°F
180 - 450°F
154 square inches of cooking space or 4 rib racks hanging
300 square inches of cooking space
8 pound hopper
1 year warranty
3 year warranty
PBC Classic vs Traeger Pro 780
Porcelain-coated steel with steel grate and stainless steel hooks
Powder-coated steel with porcelain-coated steel grates
250 - 300°F
150 - 500°F
254 sq. in. of cooking space, or 8 rib racks hanging
780 sq. in. of cooking space
Holds 8 pounds charcoal
18 pound hopper
1 year warranty
3 year warranty
PBX vs Traeger Timberline 1300
Porcelain-coated steel steel grate and stainless steel hooks
Double side walled, insulated, powder-coated steel with stainless steel grates
250 - 300°F
150 - 500°F
380 sq. in. of cooking space on grate, or 16 rib racks hanging
1300 sq. in. of cooking space
24 pound hopper
1 year warranty
3 year warranty
What Should You Buy?
A Pit Barrel Cooker or Traeger?
They’re both great quality and are obviously, very loved brands. So, the one that’s right for you is really going to depend on a few things…
The Pit Barrel Cooker is ideal for people who:
Have a smaller budget
Like the stronger, charcoal-smoked flavor
Are looking for a dedicated smoker
Want to be able to cook a lot of food
Need a barbecue that doesn’t use electricity
Aren’t smoking in all over the place weather
A Traeger is the way to go if you:
Like to have total control (while also not having to do anything)
Want versatility in terms of temperature range
Appreciate the clean, wood smoke that pellet smoking will give you
Have access to power
Are cooking in changeable weather conditions
Don’t want to have to light charocal or other fuels
So, which one will you be smoking on next weekend?
A Great Quality, Lower Priced Pellet Smoker Alternative
For the price, they’re exceptionally well-built, have very reliably temperature controllers, and, have all the necessary features to get the job done easily.
We’ve actually made some of our best brisket on a Z Grills.
Check out our comparison of Z Grills vs Traeger to see how these brands compare.
Or, browse our full Z Grills range review.