The classic Pit Barrel Cooker is a charcoal smoker that you can pick up for less than $400. We’re going to get under the hood and see if it’s worth your hard-earned cash.

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The Pit Barrel standard size cooker is an 18.5″ barrel smoker that’s been taking the outdoor cooking world by storm over the past 10 years.

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To put it simply, it’s a 30 Gallon drum cooker. On the competition circuit, you’ll find many teams using drum smokers, but mostly of the larger 55 Gallon variety. The classic Pit Barrel is a little larger than half the size of the big drum smokers like the Gateway drum or the Hunsaker Vortex.

Pit Barrel Cooker Basics

The Pit Barrel is a drum smoker that measures 18.5″ across the top opening and is 31 1/2 inches tall. It is a 30 gallon cooker with a grate that’s 17 1/2 inches wide. The height from the top of the coals to the cooking surface is between 24″-26″ and the included hanging hooks measure 4 inches in length.

The Pit Barrel is made with 18 gauge cold rolled steel with porcelain enamel coating and includes a stainless steel grill grate. The handles on the unit are made in the shape of bent horseshoes, and are of a much heavier thickness than the grill itself.

horseshoe handles on the side of the barrel

The cylindrical shape of this smoker promotes convection heat throughout the cooker.

How much cooking space is there on the Pit Barrel Cooker?

The standard grill grate has 260 square inches of cooking surface, but if you choose to hang your smoking meat there is much more space. Getting three racks of ribs on the cooking grate would be a challenge, but you could utilize the hanging feature of the Pit Barrel for much more cooking area.

You could easily fit 8 racks of ribs, 2 to 3 pork shoulders (pork butt) or brisket, or even 2 13-16lb turkeys (using the turkey hangers) on the classic size Pit Barrel.

If you’d like the best of both worlds, Pit Barrel Cooker Co. offers a hinged cooking grate that allows for grilling on one side of your cooker and hanging on the other. The hinged grate is available for the classic and small sized cookers.

stainless steel grill grate

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What does the Pit Barrel Cooker come with?

The Pit Barrel comes with a metal stand that the barrel sits on to elevate it from the ground by 3-4 inches.

Moving the PBC off of the metal stand

This 30 gallon steel drum cooker comes standard with 2 hanging rods and 8 stainless steel hooks, as well as a wooden hook remover.

The PBC doesn’t come with a cover in the box, but there are many accessories that you can order to keep your smoker protected from the elements. The cover is available on the Pit Barrel website for $37.99, or if you order the “Select” package with your PBC, it comes included.

Cooking on a Pit Barrel Cooker

When you start up the Pit Barrel, you’ll find that it can run between 400°-500° for the first half hour. After it settles down a bit, the cooker settles into a 250° range for the duration of your cook.

Pit Barrel Cooker Company branding

There isn’t really a way to directly control the temperature on a Pit Barrel. There is a 3″ air intake hole & cover on the side of the drum a few inches above the ground that you set anywhere between 1/4 open and fully open depending on your height above sea level. There are also 4 holes on the side of the drum where the rebar hangs meat hooks, but there’s no way to limit their opening size. Thanks to this air flow, the PBC runs about 250°-300° for the duration of each cook under a full load of charcoal.

Before you fire up the Pit Barrel for the first time, the first step is to set the air intake vent to your elevation. I can’t emphasize this point enough about how important it is. If you don’t get this setting right, your experience with the smoker probably won’t be as good as mine has been.

Here are the settings for the air intake based on elevation:

  • 0 – 2,000 ft. – 1/4 open
  • 2,000 – 5,000 ft. – 1/2 open
  • 5,000 – 8,000 ft. – 3/4 open
  • Above 8,000 ft. – fully open

Can you grill on a Pit Barrel Cooker?

Yes and no. You can achieve grilled food on a Pit Barrel, but not in the traditional sense of having food closely hovering over a fire. The PBC has a distance of 24″-26″ between the top of the coals and the grilling rack, so this method would be considered indirect smoking instead of direct grilling.

That being said, you can purchase a set of grill grates custom for the Pit Barrel that will help you achieve a very nice sear on your meat if grilling is your goal. We have not personally used the grill grate system on our PBC, but have used them on several of our Kamado grills as well as our gas grill and the results were simply amazing.

applying fire to the spit of pork when making tacos al pastor on the Pit Barrel

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How to Light the Pit Barrel Cooker

The manual states that lighting the Pit Barrel should be done like this…

  1. Fill the charcoal basket with charcoal briquettes up to the top of the basket.
  2. Take out about 1/4 of the charcoal and place it in a charcoal chimney.
  3. Light the charcoal chimney and get the separated 1/4 of the coals good and hot.
  4. Place the charcoal basket into the bottom of the Pit Barrel.
  5. Spread the lit coals on top of the unlit coals.
  6. Close the lid and let the Pit Barrel come up to temperature.
charcoal basket with wood chunks

If you’ve ever used an offset smoker or a kamado grill for low and slow cooking, know that your Pit Barrel will likely cook faster than what you’re used to. In our experience, a pork butt that usually takes around 9 hours to cook on our offset will be finished at 6 hours on our Pit Barrel.

Will hanging meat directly over fire produce chewy food?

This was our thought exactly when we first tried to hang a few racks of ribs directly over the fire. I thought for sure the end closest to the fire would be overcooked and dry, but they turned out amazing. It wasn’t just the end that was hooked that was great, the entire slab was delicious, and honestly I wasn’t expecting it.

stainless steel hooks from Pit Barrel Cooker Co.

Unlike offset smokers or even kamado grills, dripping juices run off the hanging meat and onto the hot coals. This causes instant vaporization of the drippings which then waft smoke over the meat. It’s a glorious cycle where even the drippings have a purpose in your cook to make things succulent.

hook remover and stainless steel hooks

Many outdoor pitmasters are used to using a water pan to keep humidity in their pit for moist meat. The Pit Barrel Cooker doesn’t have this option, but we’ve found that water will condense on the lid during our cooks. There’s something about the circular motion of the airflow in the Pit Barrel that allows hanging meats to stay moist and the air humid, and we love it.

Be sure to use code: BBQLAB to save 10% off on your order!

Can I use temperature probes in the Pit Barrel?

rebar hole in the Pit Barrel Cooker

We find that the holes that are used to hold the hanging rods are perfect for temperature probes. We used the Thermoworks Smoke 2 channel thermometer for our tests with the Pit Barrel, and it worked perfectly. The digital thermometer probe wires fit easily through the holes in the side of the grill, and we were able to monitor grate temp and meat temp throughout the entire cook.

How well does the lid seal on the Pit Barrel Cooker?

We find the lid seal on the Pit Barrel to be tight, not allowing any smoke to leak out through the top. Unlike many of the less expensive smokers on the market, the seal on the Pit Barrel is perfect right out of the box. We wouldn’t recommend any aftermarket gasket seal since this lid is made to fit like a glove.

The lid hangs from the handle on the side of the barrel

How hard is the Pit Barrel to move around?

Using the two handles on the side of the Pit Barrel, you can lift the unit up to move it around. There aren’t any wheels on the Pit Barrel, and we recommend vacuuming out the ash before you heft it around. (once it’s cold of course.) With a weight of 57 pounds, it’s no lightweight piece of cooking equipment. Invite someone who works out to the party and let them show off their muscles by moving the grill around wherever you want it to go.

I used it last Christmas to smoke a spatchcock turkey at my parents’ house, and it was divine. I just threw the smoker in the back of the minivan like any good suburban dad would and off we went to grandma’s house. It’s not exactly “portable”, but I would say it’s much more portable than most of the other smokers I own.

How do I clean out the Pit Barrel Cooker?

The Pit Barrel is easy to clean with a little bit of elbow grease, and we recommend using a Shop Vac to sweep up all of the ash after each cook. If you want even easier cleanup, consider picking up the Pit Barrel ash pan. The ash pan keeps all of your ash on the bottom of the charcoal basket, so when you lift out the basket, all of the ash comes with it. Simply dump out the ash and get right back to the next cook.

wrapped brisket smoking in the PBC

Is the Pit Barrel Cooker an Ugly Drum Smoker or UDS?

The Pit Barrel is a type of drum smoker, but it’s not technically a UDS. The “ugly drum” moniker comes from people taking 55 gallon steel drums and modifying them into smoking barrels. The PBC is designed from the start as a barrel smoker, so it’s not technically an Ugly Drum Smoker even though they look similar and serve the same purpose.

smoking a pork shoulder in the PBC

How does the Pit Barrel Cooker compare to the Weber Smokey Mountain Grill?

While some may believe that these two grills fit in the same category, they really are quite different from one another. The Pit Barrel does include a grill grate, but the magic truly happens when the food is cooked hanging over the burning coals.

In contrast, the Weber Smokey Mountain includes 2 grill grates and no ability to hang food vertically.

So while they are both charcoal grills sharing a somewhat similar size and shape, they do perform their jobs differently from one another.

Classic Pit Barrel Cooker

  • Dimensions: 36″H x 25″W x 19″D
  • Diameter: 18.5″
  • Primary Cooking Area: 260 square inches (horizontal), lots more when hanging vertically
  • Weight: 57 lbs.
  • Accessories included: 2 hanging rods, 8 stainless steel hooks, wooden hook remover, 2- 5oz. rubs
  • Price: $399 (Check latest)

Weber Smokey Mountain

  • Dimensions: 41″H x 19″W x 21″D
  • Diameter: 18″
  • Primary Cooking Area: 481 square inches (2 grates)
  • Weight: 39 lbs.
  • Accessories included: cover
  • Price: $379 (Check latest)

Be sure to use code: BBQLAB to save 10% off on your order!

What is the best barrel smoker?

The best barrel smoker depends on your situation and cooking needs. The Pit Barrel Cooker 30 gallon drum smoker is considered by most to be the best drum smoker under $400. If you’re planning on spending a little more than that and are looking for a drum smoker that’s more custom and high-end, take a look at The Pillar by Next Level Ironworks.

Classic drum smoker

Our Final Thoughts:

So, is the Pit Barrel Cooker any good? If you can’t tell how we feel about this smoker, let us lay it out in plain English. We love the Pit Barrel Classic Cooker.

The Pit Barrel excels at giving you an excellent product in less time compared to most smokers on the market today. The meat is moist and flavorful, even though you’re cooking over charcoal without a pan of water.

The color that you get on the smoked meats from being directly over coals is something that you just can’t reproduce with either an offset smoker, propane smoker or a pellet grill. The Pit Barrel comes with such a load of accessories right in the box that the cooking options are vast.

The Pit Barrel Cooker co. has given us a unique design that eliminates the guesswork of temperature control. It just does what it does, giving you consistent temperature throughout your cook.

Would I purchase this grill? Well, I did purchase this grill, and I’d purchase it again.

One of the things I love the most about this grill is that it comes out of the box with essentially no assembly required. And from a guy who assembles 20-30 grills a year, that’s a real bonus in my book!

When it’s all said and done, the Pit Barrel Cooker is a grill that should be in every outdoor cook’s arsenal.

There are currently three models of Pit Barrel Cooker available. If you do make a purchase, be sure to use the code BBQLAB to save 10% off on your order!

The 22.5 inch PBX is their largest and newest model currently selling for $599.

The 18.5 inch classic Pit Barrel is $399.

The 14″ Pit Barrel Junior is $299.

Be sure to use code: BBQLAB to save 10% off on your order!