I’ve been hearing about the Pit Barrel Cooker for a while from my BBQ BFF John Dawn (PatioDaddioBBQ), so I was really excited to test it out when I was approached by Noah Glanville, founder of PBC. It is important to note that John Dawson and Noah competed at a BBQ comp a few months back in Colorado, and using the Pit Barrel Cooker, they beat Johnny Trigg in Ribs. (For those of you who don’t know, Johnny Trigg is a 2 time Jack Daniels Grand Champ, and is known for his ribs). So, that is kind of a big deal.
If you look online and are one of the people who frequent the BBQ forums, there is always talk about the “UDS” or ugly drum smoker. There are kits you can buy, etc to do this and they seem to have a cult following of sorts. I think the Pit Barrel Cooker is an out of the box, ready to go version of this. If you follow the directions on it, you really can’t go wrong. Let me take the time to tell you about the PBC: it is a barrel cooker, designed to be easy to cook on, that comes with a grate for grilling, as well as 2 rods for hanging meat on hooks. There is a basket for charcoal briquettes that goes at the bottom- fill to the top with Kingsford briquettes, no guesswork on the amount required. Evidently, if using the Pit Barrel Cooker correctly, you don’t have to fuss with it. They’ve designed and tested it to take the guess work out for the average user. According to Noah, the people who have the most trouble with these cookers initially are the BBQ people that are used to hyper-intensive cooks where every second of the cook temp is monitored, etc. So, let that be the theme for my first cook on the PBC. Truly, the parts that went wrong were when I didn’t follow Noah’s easy directions as found on his video, and when I got a little antsy and micromanaged the temp.
Being the ambitious gal that I am, I decided to do ribs on my first ever cook on the PBC. Step one as directed by Noah’s video is to remove the charcoal basket, fill with briquettes, and then douse with an ample amount of lighter fluid. Please note, I never use lighter fluid for doing charcoal, so I was a little freaked out, but I didn’t want to not follow directions, so I did it anyway. My mistake was that I didn’t use enough lighter fluid and had to go back and add more. So, just douse the hell out of the briquettes with lighter fluid outside of the grill, put the basket back into the cooker, and then safely add a match.
When you purchase a Pit Barrel Cooker, it will come with Pit Barrel Rub, meant to be use with the Pit Barrel. Silly me, I wanted to use my own rub because that is my schtick (Hey, I’m GrillGrrrl, I need to be able to make my own rub damn it!) but that is where I went wrong. AFTER the cook, Noah told me that the sugar based rubs don’t do well in this cooker. DOH!!! Part one of my rub is smoked sugar. Strike one for me! As discussed, the parts where I messed up on this cook are where I steered away from directions! Us BBQ aficionados can’t stick with the program, we have to do it our way and that is where you are going to have issues. So, follow the directions and use Noah’s rub. Lesson learned the hard way for me because the ribs definitely seemed a little dark brown, I’m thinking this is because I used the sugar base and also overcooked it.
You will let the charcoal basket char-over halfway, and then you need to add your meat. If you let it get all the way ashed over, you risk getting the cooker too hot and overcooking your meat. As the directions state, after the charcoal has been lit, let it go for 20 minutes and then add your meat. During the cook, I was worried that my charcoal wasn’t totally lit on the outside and tipped the lid open for about 15 minutes. I think this was a mistake. I came back and the flames were high and I was like “Oh crap, I think I screwed up”. While Noah’s vid said to just add the rub and put the hooks through the ribs, I slathered mine in olive oil, added my own sugar based rub (a big no-no) and then sliced the St Louis Style pork spare ribs in half before adding the hooks where the meat will hang. (FYI, I did 2 racks of ribs). While you can hang the whole rack as Noah demonstrates in his video, I was worried they would be too near the charcoal, AND, I wanted to have 4 different sets to do a sauce comparison so I sliced them in half so I had 4 separate rib slabs to hang.
On Noah’s video that has been embedded here, he states 3.5 hours on the smoker, and in the last 30 minutes you will add your sauce. I did 3 hours on the smoker, and did the sauce at 30 minutes. I think 1) tipping the lid open and 2) using the sugar based rub contributed to my overdone ribs. The outside was very caramelized, as if the sauce had kind of burned on. However, my husband said they were still really good and I wasn’t too hard on myself for a first time cook. ON the inside the ribs did have a really nice pink, smoke ring look about them, it was the outside that was over-done (which I believe was because of the rub). I really believe if I hadn’t committed 2 cardinal sins- playing with the temp and getting the cooker too hot and using a sugar based rub, that these ribs would have turned out perfectly.
I look forward to cooking on the PBC again and again and getting to know the intrinsic, unique flavor that only a Barrel cooker can provide. There is a reason these grills have a cult following. At $250 retail, and a flexible cooking experience that you can both grill and do slow cooks on, I think it’s a practical investment. It’s also an easy cooker for someone newer to Que, if you don’t over think the cooking process, it should yield quality cooks with minimal effort. I’ll be cooking and reviewing this cooker with more recipes in the future- stay tuned!