The Bottom Line
The Pit Barrel Cooker is a simple, easy-to-use charcoal unit that can cook up to eight racks of ribs at once. Designed to operate consistently at around 300 degrees F, this cooker needs little attention and can be relied upon to turn out some great food in a relatively short period of time. While there are those that might argue that it isn't a real smoker, it does create smoke flavor and great food.
I say this is a smoker in the very classic sense of the word.
- Easy to use
- Simple design
- Solid construction
- Versatile cooker
- Designed for a specific brand of charcoal
- One 240 square inch cooking grate
- Two suspension rods with 8 stainless steel meat hooks
- Preset intake vent with adjustable cover
- Removable charcoal pan
- High-temperature porcelain coated steel construction
- Made in the USA by Pit Barrel Cooker
Guide Review - Pit Barrel Cooker
The weekend after the invention of the steel drum, someone invented the steel drum barbecue. Strong enough to take the heat (at least for a while) and large enough to do some serious grilling, handmade drum cookers can still be found in small towns across much of the south. Unfortunately, many of these homemade cookers lack the kind of airflow control that provides the versatility most people wanted.
The Pit Barrel Cooker is a top-loading steel drum cooker that is designed to work at a specific temperature.
Sometimes called an ugly drum smoker (UDS), this style of cooker puts foods directly over the fire in a closed space that limits airflow to hold temperatures low and consistent. Simply put, this style of cooker is a steel barrel standing upright on legs with vents in the bottom, a basket for charcoal in the bottom and racks or hooks for holding the food towards the top, just under the lid.
It is worth mentioning that the Pit Barrel Cooker isn't marketed as a smoker, but rather a cooker. It is one of those charcoal-powered units that sits somewhere between an enclosed grill and a smoker, capable of doing both, but not traditionally seen as either. This is not to say that it isn't effective as a grill or a smoker.
While the Pit Barrel Cooker comes with a 240-square-inch cooking grate it is primarily designed for hanging meats. There are two metal bars that fit through holes towards the top of the barrel. The unit comes standard with 8 meat hooks and a lifting tool that allows meats to be hung from the bars over the charcoal fire. Everything from racks of ribs to whole briskets can be hung inside the cooker. The advantage of this method is that it maximizes the cooking capacity. The single cooking grate is actually quite small and would hold two racks of ribs at best. With the hooks, eight racks can be cooked at a time. The cooking grate would only be used for more direct grilling like hamburgers or fillets of fish for instance.
The Pit Barrel Cooker is specifically designed to work at a cooking temperature around 300 degrees F. The bottom vent is adjustable, but the manufacturer's instructions say this is only to accommodate different altitudes and not to moderate the cooking temperature.
To achieve this constant temperature the manufacturer very specifically states that only Kingsford charcoal should be used. Of course the greatest virtue of Kingsford Charcoal is its consistency of burn, however, different charcoal can be used. Lump charcoal, in particular, burns at a higher temperature and there is no real effective way to adjust for this so the cooker runs hotter.
Purists might argue that this isn't a smoker, that the 300 degrees F operating temperature is too high for true low-and-slow barbecue. Regardless of the classification, the Pit Barrel Cooker is an excellent charcoal-powered roaster. It produces great food with a mild smokey flavor (additional wood chunks can be added to increase this flavor) easily. The burn time is well over 6 hours and at its running temperature that is enough for almost anything.
Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.