About half a year ago, I started smoking meat using a Pit Barrel Cooker. It has been a great thing.
There are a lot of smokers out there. Cabinet, offset, electric, charcoal…my wife put a lot of research into picking a smoker. Ultimately, she went with one that would be easy to use. That it was manufactured by a nearby, likable company was also a plus.
The Pit Barrel Cooker is a modified 30 gallon metal drum. It has two horse shoes welded to the sides for handles, and one on the top as a lid handle. There is a vent low on the side, with a pivoting metal flap so that you can control the air intake. There is also a metal stand for the barrel to sit on so that you don’t have your hot metal drum sitting directly on the mud / your nice wooden deck.
Inside, at the bottom, there’s a removable metal basket for the coals. At the top, you can put in a grill, or a couple pieces of rebar for meat hooks.
Despite the design’s simplicity, I understand the convection physics in these things are pretty sophisticated. So if you run out and throw some charcoal in the nearest oil drum, your results won’t be quite like this thing’s.
Easy To Use
I am an enthusiastic outdoor cook. Not talented or expert. Just enthusiastic. I can grill some decent food. Most of my experience involves camp fires and grills (either charcoal or propane.)
Here’s the routine we follow with the Pit Barrel Cooker:
First step is to prepare the meat. With chicken, we cut each chicken in half and hang it on hooks (hooks are provided with the Pit Barrel Cooker.) With tri-tip and pork, we just hook it without cutting. Get the rub or marinade on.
Second step (or at the same time as step one if you have a helper) is to get the charcoal started. We use a “chimney” to get the starter coals going, then dump those coals into the basket with the rest of the fuel.
Then you wait. That’s pretty much it. There are tricks you can use to adjust heat and cooking rate, like adjusting the air intake valve, or setting the lid askew. We often increase air flow toward the end with chicken to get the skin crispy, but none of that is required. You wait 45 minutes to some hours depending on what you’re cooking, and voila! Yummy meat.
A load of charcoal will keep this going for at least four hours, so there’s enough time to cook a bunch of chickens, and then some tri-tips, and then some pork. Or if you’re not trying for huge volumes, you can throw everything in at once. If you put in everything at once, taking the lid to check fast-cooking things (tri-tip) will make it harder to predict how long it will take to cook the slow-cooking things (pork.) But if you have a meat thermometer, that’s not really a problem.
Nice To Have
I still use my old grill when I’m just whipping up dinner. But when there’s a big family event, or when meat happens to be on sale cheap, using the smoker can be a fun event. The relatives look forward to it. Sharing the bounty is a nice way to meet neighbors. It does produce a lot of yummy-smelling smoke, though, so be mindful of wind direction and your neighbors sensitivities.
Some times we cook a bunch for ourselves, freeze what we won’t eat soon, and have easy access to slow-cooked tri-tip and whatnot for a month or two.
I am happy to have a Pit Barrel Cooker, and my extended family and neighbors are happy I have it, too. For more details on this device, and pictures of some that aren’t coated in desert dust, check out the Pit Barrel Cooker Company web site.