Pit Barrel Cooker
I posted last weekend that I had received a Pit Barrel Cooker (PBC), and I gave my initial thoughts. Well, the proof is obviously in the pudding, or the meat in this case, so here I'll tell you about the maiden voyage.

I'd seen the videos on the Pit Barrel Cooker Company site that extolled the virtues of chicken and tri-tip cooked on the PBC. Being a huge fan of both, I decided that this would be a great first cook. Each are great barbecued meats, but they are also sensitive to overcooking.

The PBC comes with a 4.7-ounce shaker bottle of each of their "All-Purpose Pit Rub" and "Beef & Game Pit Rub" seasonings. I tasted the rubs, and they seem well-suited to their advertised purposes. The all-purpose rub was a little on the spicy side, but I love spicy.

For my first test cook I decided to use seasonings with which I am very familiar. The thought here is that I would eliminate the added variable of seasoning and focus on the cooking. I felt that it was important to start from a somewhat known baseline of flavor profile.

I started by splitting the chickens (4 1/2 lbs each), trimming the tri-tip (about 3 1/2 lbs each), dusting all of the meat evenly (the chicken more heavily) with seasoning, and refrigerating them for two hours.

Note: I inserted the hooks while the coals were starting.

Pit Barrel Cooker

Next, per the instructions, I filled the charcoal basket level with Kingsford® Original (blue bag) charcoal, doused it with Kingsford® lighter fluid, put it on the PBC and lit it.

I'll admit that using lighter fluid is not as demonic as most of my barbecue brothers would argue. However, letting it burn for only 20 minutes is a little unsettling. In the future I'll light about a third of a chimney of coals outside the cooker, let them ash over/gray, and then add them to the unlit coals in the basket. That's the process that I use in my UDS cookers (a quasi- Minion method).

Here's how the coals looked after 20 minutes.

Pit Barrel Cooker

The instructions indicated that the chicken would take somewhere between two and 2 1/2 hours. The video at their site states that two hours is fine for young or full-size chickens, but the instructions in the box state 2 1/2 hours.

This left me wondering when to plan to add the tri-tip to the cooker. I figured I'd just wing it (pardon the pun) the first time and try to time it by internal temperature. I was cooking for another family and I had a set delivery time, so I didn't have a lot of margin for error. This, by the way, is not a good plan for a first cook on a new cooker.

Pit Barrel Cooker

I let the chickens cook for about an hour and five minutes, then I added the tri-tip.

Pit Barrel Cooker

The way the PBC held an even temperature really impressed me. I stuck the probe of my Thermoworks TW8060 in the hole next to one of the rods and it held 290º +/- 10º for the entire cook and then some.

Pit Barrel Cooker

The chicken was done in an hour and forty minutes (165º breast/181º thigh), and the tri-tip was done after only 35 minutes (135º in the thickest portion). The chicken would have been way overcooked if I'd have followed even the video instructions (two hours). I think that perhaps I was using smaller chickens. I can see where a larger chicken (say 5 1/2 lbs, pre-trim) would probably be just about perfect at two hours.

In the end, the PBC produced great results, despite a little bit of cooking time cipherin' on my part. The tri-tip was just about edge-to-edge perfectly medium-rare.

Pit Barrel Cooker

The chicken had great color and was generally moist and juicy, with slightly crispy skin. Both my delivery family and I felt that the breast was dry, but not so much that it was bad. We both thought the flavor was outstanding all the way around.

Pit Barrel Cooker

Overall I felt that my first cook on the PBC met my lofty expectations. It lived up to its set-and-forget goal, and the results were great. Of course there is always a learning curve with any new cooker, and I greatly look forward to putting this thing through its paces.

Here are some notes that I made throughout the cook:

  • The side handles stay cool enough to rest your thermometer on.
  • The lid handle stays at about body temperature.
  • The feet stay cool to the touch.

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Blogger John Doe said...
How far up the chimeny does it take to fill the charcoal ring with coals? 1/2 of the chimney?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Mr Doe - The charcoal basket holds eight pounds of Kingsford charcoal, so it would be probably a chimney and a half, although I've never measured it.
Anonymous Robyn said...
Just got my pbc in the mail- cant wait to put it together and give it a try!!
Blogger John Dawson said...
Put it together? Do you mean take it out of the box? :-) You're going to love it.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Has anyone ever tried using lump charcoal instead of briquettes?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - Yes, people have, but I don't recommend it. Lump is too inconsistent, unpredictable, and burns too hot.
Blogger John Tanner said...
Got mine yesterday morning here in Toronto....being me, I went to my butcher and got two large chickens, 4 racks of baby backs and a big and thick tri-tip. I used the PBC method per their videos and it all turned out great, especially the ribs. The chicken was good but the skin a bit rubbery--just need to do my usual "tricks" to make sure it crisps up. The tri-tip cooked so evenly....just amazing, very impressive. Good recommendation John. Can't wait for Superbowl Sunday, it's getting loaded up for the boys.
Blogger John Dawson said...
John - I'm so glad that you're diggin' the PBC. It rocks!
Blogger John Tanner said...
Just an FYI.....to get that nice crispy skin, the PBC folks recommended cracking the lid towards the end of the cook...that works nicely. When the meat is around 145-150, I crack the lid open an inch or two, and the heat jumps...as well as the flames. Really nice way to finish chicken in the PBC.
Blogger John Dawson said...
Yup, that's exactly what I do, but I only crack mine about 1/2" so that the fat in the skin renders as it crisps. It's the same concept, just a slower approach.
Blogger John Tanner said...
Good point re: 1/2"...considering I was cooking in -25C weather, I thought, the more air, the better! :-)
Anonymous John H. said...
Some of the results are also based on elevation above sealevel. You have to do more of a bottom-vent opening and more cracking the lid because less air pressure up higher means you have to do more to coax out heat than those of us down at sea level. And, as someone above said, the temps outdoors too. I just did a 4.5lb chicken and used the Kingford blue bag, level basket, ONLY lit 40 coals (~1/4th of whole basket) for 13-15 mins (as per my phone call with Amber Glanville)...So, I did all the chicken recipe as per directions.....I let it go the full 2 hours...breast was overdone, not terribly, but still not really enjoyable...the rest was good, but should be since it is the longer cooking darker meat. I should've monitored it better and checked it earlier. Flavor was good. I tried the corn (husked and wrapped in foil and hung from the rebar..came out a little overcooked, but again, I let it go about 10mins too long I think. The chocolate chip cookies are great! I did them on a foil wrapped pizza stone and used store bought refrigerated cookie dough. One thing Amber said was THE MOST COMMON ISSUE is people lighting too much coal or using too much coal overall....this is meant to only burn at a certain rate and not too much too fast.

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Pit Barrel Cooker