Pit Barrel Cooker Review
BBQ’ers tend to fall into two groups, those who like to fiddle with vents and temperatures/timings, and those who like to set their BBQ up nice and simple and leave it running doing “it’s own thing”. If you fall into the keep it simple camp, then a Pit Barrel Cooker could be for you.
I’ve been cooking on the Pit Barrel cooker for a months now, as I wanted to get to know it well before writing this review. The Pit Barrel Cooker is new to the UK, but is very popular in the U.S. and Australia, but it is now available from UK Fine Foods
The Ugly Drum Smoker or UDS is a well known homemade barrel smoker, and works really well. The Pit Barrel Cooker uses this as the design basis and simplifies it, so that it’s easy for those new to smoking to get started.
It requires no assembly and is ready to go straight out of the box, it was a particularly solid barrel, of a slightly smaller size (33 gal) to regular barrel smokers (55 gal), it is heavy (18 gauge steel) with a protective porcelain enamel coat, it’s very basic for a drum smoker, but that simplicity is also one of it’s strengths.
You load up the heavy duty charcoal basket with hot coals from the chimney starter and off you go…
The recommended charcoal to use is Kingsford Original briquettes, but these are not easily available in the UK, so I experimented with a few different charcoal types, and settled on Aussie Heat Beads as the best equivalent available here in the UK.
The key it seems with this smoker is to cook at slightly higher temperatures, 140 c (280 f) which is more of a hot and fast temperature. I found the Pit Barrel Cooker holds this temperature with ease, as long as you follow the detailed instructions on the Pit Barrel Cooker Website This is why it will suit a lot of people who are new to BBQ, there are great simple instructions to follow, and very little to go wrong.
I’ve had a few great cooks in the Pit Barrel Cooker, including ribs and chicken. You can use the grate, or hang your food from the rails, on the 8 included hangers. I did this with half chickens with great results.
I found the food to keep it’s moisture really well, with lovely levels of smoke, the food generally cooked a great deal quicker than I was expecting, I’m yet to try this with some larger cuts such as pork butt or brisket, but I’ll let you know how I get on with those. The one thing I didn’t get on too well with were the 2 included rubs, I found them pretty salty, but I was able to rebalance them more to my tastes with a few added ingredients.
I’ve been really impressed with this very simple smoker, it just seems to work.
It’s also worth checking out the Amazing Ribs Review
How are the heat beads in regard to odour? Thinking of investing in the pcb but they seem pretty specific on the kingsford brand which as you stated are an expensive option in the uk.
Hi Ed, I found them nice and clean..would be the closest to Kingsford in the UK I would have thought, I’m trying to find ways to get it going with lumpwood, but finding it runs hot
Just had a few cooks with the Weber briquettes which lasted and were clean, it’s a shame lump wood runs hot as the premium briquettes are bloody expensive!
I’ve been using heat beads which work well, I’m looking at ways of modding it, but it’s a great bit of kit our of the box.
Do you know how long you light the beads for before putting them in the barrel please? Also how many?
Hi Ben, I use a chimney starter full of heat beads, and wait till all the briquettes are lit before putting them in.
Hey, thanks for the interesting review and especially for trying and recommending different charcoal available in the UK. I’m going to get the heat bead to start with. How did you get on with the bigger cuts of meat in the end? Can the air vent be adjusted to get it running cooler for lumpwood? Or plugging one or two of the gaps at the top around the rods? (I haven’t got the bbq yet but have just ordered it! :D)
Hi Andy, you will love it, it’s such a great simple bit of kit. Just make sure your coals are good and hot in the chimney starter before adding, heat beads work well. Yeah did some great cooks with pork shoulders in the PBC. You can adjust the inlet with a screw driver for lumpwood. Let me know how you get on please. Cheers Marcus
I am from Melbourne Australia and I am a new user of a Pit Barrell cooker.
I am using a full bag of Heat Beads brand briquettes in each cook.
I find they do not generate enough heat and do not last the distance.
I have followed all the instructions for adjusting the air vent at the bottom of the barrell and have it about quarter open.
I do not seem to be able to locate Kingsford brand briquettes here.
Can anyone give me any advice?
There is a great PBC group on Facebook for specific advice, but perhaps try with lumpwood charcoal, or a mix of lumpwood and heat beads.
I used my PBC for the first time over the weekend with a full 4kg bag of Heat Beads. I put probably just over a quarter of them into my chimney starter and lit it. When top layer of briquettes in the chimney starter were well lit on their underside (still black on top), and there were gentle flames between them, I poured em onto the rest of the charcoal and spread em out a bit.
The briquettes were plenty hot enough (if I occasionally left the lid open a crack) and they definitely lasted well (8.5 hours while I was watching but they might well have lasted 12 hours). My food took 25-50% longer to reach the right internal temperature than the PBC website videos, but I only took the meat out of the fridge 30 mins before cooking.
I live in the UK, almost sea level, and the weather was maybe 19°C, not too windy, air inlet open a quarter. The PBC seemed to be running a little cool after say 20 mins (225°F) so I slid the lid open a crack for about 30 mins. Too long!… the temp had shot right up (315°F – too hot). I should not have let it get this hot and it didn’t seem to be cooling down so I plugged the air inlet hole with foil for about 15 mins and that got it down about right again (275°F). For the rest of the cook, I was much more patient. If the temp dropped below 260°F, I cracked open the lid until the temperature reached say 295°F (about 10 mins) then shut the lid again and the temperature would gradually drop (over say 30-60 mins) back to 275°F. Perhaps if I opened my air inlet a little more, the barrel might run at 275°F without any need for me to open the lid occasionally. Although opening it does make me feel useful. And for some cooks I might want a lower temperature.
Hey, I’ve used heat beads three times and they’ve lasted a very long time for me. I put a full 4kg bag on (lighting about a quarter of them in a chimney starter first) and I’ve had it cooking around 250’F for 15 hours. I use a dual wireless thermometer to measure the meat and air temps (so useful – buy one!!!).
I’ve found there are some temperature swings at different times of cooking (I presume as different amounts and different regions of briquettes ignite) and I control this by adjusting the lower air intake by covering it to varying degrees with foil or or by cracking the lid open a bit. But beware, the temperature changes happen slowly! Don’t change the air intake constantly… change it then wait 15-30 mins to see the effect.
These barrels achieve a long slow burn by starving the briquettes of oxygen. So note that every time you take the lid off, you’ll allow the barrel to fill with cool air but lots of oxygen so you’ll get a temp drop (cool air), likely quickly followed a temp spike (more oxygen for burning briquettes) before it lowers and stabilises after say 10 mins. But take the lid off as often as you like! Otherwise it’s no fun – just beware of how it will change the temperature if you’re trying to control it.
If you don’t want to control the temperature, then I’m sure the barrel will work fine – just make sure the initial chimney of coals are well lit so that the PBC gets up to temperature quickly. I have found my meat to take a longer than the PBC website suggests even when I’ve cooked at 275’F. I think the heat beads would probably cook at 300-325’F if used exactly how the PBC website suggests Kingsford briquettes to be used – perhaps the Kingsford briquettes are a little cooler than heat beads.
My friend also has a smoker – a Pro Q smoker. It has some advantages over the PBC in terms of accessibility, etc., but the same amount of fuel lasts 50-100% longer in the PBC because it’s so well sealed. So you shouldn’t have a problem with them “not lasting the distance.”
Heat beads work really well. Fill a small weber chimney with them. Let them all white over and then pour the coals in. It make take an hour to come up to temp but will be awesome. Just let it go
Good advice there, great bit of kit, and heat beads do the job.
Great review and some pretty informative comments too, good work everyone. I have to admit I am not that familiar with this kind of smoker but it looks great. The way the food it hung will definitely increase the juices dripping on the coals that will intensify the fantastic flavours of the meat.
Another Head Bead questions – do you just let them go for 20 mins or so in a chimney and then start cooking? Or do you let them sit in the basket for a bit with the lid open? I’m finding the temp drops off when I put the coals in the PBC and add the food straight away (drops down to around 220 – 240).
Until heatbeads are all white, then into pbc, let stabilise for 10-15 mins then cook…
Yeah just let it burn for 10 with the lid off. If not don’t worry too much. SometimeSorry I just dump the meat. It can take up to 90 mins to come back up to temp if you put meat straight in. Still works!
‘ can’t wait for mine to arrive! I must have read almost every review available (forums & Youtube). Unfortunately I can’t find a Pit Barrel Cooker/smoker available anywhere in the UK so I’ve had to “bite the bullet” and order direct from Colorado and pay the extra shipping costs + import duties & V.A.T. ❗️’ hopefully it will be worth it? I’ve asked them to throw in a bag of Kingsford briquettes before shipping just to start me off – (we’ll see if they do). Thanks for all the comments about which charcoal, to use I’ll experiment with Heat Beads, Weber and others and post the results. If I can’t get successful results I’ll look at the possibilities of importing Kingsford at a sensible price. If a group of us can do it together this may be practical??? Currently I’m using a CharBroil infrared Tru grill that I’m very happy with as a gas bbq and Bradley Original smoker that is sort of okay but I’ve outgrown in the two years I’ve had it.
Thanks for this great review and subsequent posts.
Can anyone tell where I can get one from in the uk?
Hi Jon, not easy to get hold of now as the distributor decided not to continue with them.
Good luck, let us know if you manage to find one.
I tried, without success, for a couple of months to find a supplier in the UK. Last October I ordered one directly from the Pit Barrel company. I use it often. I love it! It didn’t arrive with Kingsford briquettes (see my post above) so I paid over £50 for a 15lb from a UK company via Amazon so that I could test results as per Pit Barrel’s videos & instructions. I then tried various other briquettes (including Heat Beats) before reading an article in this (UK BBQ Mag) online magazine about charcoal etc. from The Green Olive Firewood Company. I ordered two bags of their Long Burn Briquettes and have since ordered four more. These briquettes are excellent in the Pit Barrel Cooker and better than the Kingsford. I don’t think I need ever try any others. It’s as if they were designed to go together!
Well only just found this! I bought my pbc 2 years ago and have never looked back. I’ve tried so man6 bbq and smokers over the years including kamado joe, which cost a fortune. The pbc ‘smokes’ them (sorry) all.
For the simplicity, the results are outstanding.
I can vouch for the Green Olive briquettes, they are very consistent. I have also found the cheap supergrill briquettes, which can be found at petrol garages ok in a pinch and incredibly fuel express which can be found at home bargains for £2.99 ok too.
Just used my PBC ordered from the Netherlands. Bit disappointed with first cook, rubs seemed too salty and the ribs and chicken took a lot longer than expected to cook. Looks like I did not have it lit properly as 7 hours later it’s burning away better than during the cook. Does anyone have any tips using Weber briquettes as these are the only ones I can find locally at the moment.
Does anyone know who stocks the PBC in the UK. I cant seem to find it anywhere.
I believe garden gift shop are looking to start importing again
Thanks. I never managed to track one down in the UK, eventually got one from Holland. Well worth it but expensive
Now available, in the uk and in stock with 24hr dispatch available.
Feel free to call on 01522 704505
I noted you tried get the PCB going with lumpwood and find it runs too hot. If one were to block the air vent to less than 25% open would this would reduce the air intake and further reduce the temperature of lumpwood?
I was thinking of making a larger vent disc, one that totally covers the barrel hole and trying different positions less than 25% to ascertain if this would reduce the lumpwood temperature.
Do you have any thoughts about this?
Thanks in advance,