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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Pit Barrel Cooker
Daddio has a new toy! The great folks at the Pit Barrel Cooker Company sent me one of their cookers to test drive. I haven't fired it up yet, but I wanted to give you an introduction and share my first impressions.

I'm very familiar with drum cookers. I built two of what is known as an "Ugly Drum Smoker" (UDS) in 2008 for use in competition, and they've become my go-to smokers. Drum cookers are very simple in design, easy to use, extremely versatile, and they generally produce consistently outstanding barbecue.

When I first saw and read about the Pit Barrel Cooker (PBC) online my first thought was, "OK, it's yet another incarnation of a UDS." However, as I looked beyond the surface I discovered that, while it is similar to a UDS, it's also really different.

Homemade drum cookers are usually made from recycled 55-gallon drums. The PBC is made from a brand new 30-gallon drum. Once you get past the size difference the rest of unit is very reminiscent of a standard drum cooker — except for a few major differences.

The first major difference is that the PBC is very well-made. The thing is quality from top to bottom. Even the packaging was first-class. Here, let me show you what I mean.

Pit Barrel Cooker

As soon as you crack the box the horseshoe handles are a great testament to this being a made-in-America cooker, and to its western (Strasburg, Colorado) roots.

Pit Barrel Cooker

Pit Barrel Cooker

17 1/2" rack, hanging rods and hook grabber (more about those later).

Pit Barrel Cooker

The charcoal basket is built like a tank!

Pit Barrel Cooker

It has a separate base with horseshoe feet to elevate it to keep it from burning your deck or grass.

Pit Barrel Cooker

Check out the durable and weather-resistant high-heat powder coat finish.

The next major difference is that the PBC is designed and built to be a set-it-and-forget-it cooker. You don't have to guess about how much charcoal to use, or how to set your intake and exhaust dampers. You load the same amount of coals each time, and the intake is pre-set (though still adjustable — see the picture above). This is a great feature. Most folks don't want to deal with tending a fire and managing airflow.

Undoubtedly the biggest difference is how you cook on the Pit Barrel Cooker. While there is a standard rack, as you see above, the preferred method is to hang the meat from rods using the included (eight) stainless steel hooks (shown in the second picture).

Pit Barrel Cooker

This is the part that intrigues me. Hanging the meat certainly maximizes the cooker's capacity, but I don't know how it works with food that might fall, like ribs. I suppose that's where the rack comes into play.

I'm really excited to get this thing dirty. If it cooks half as well as it's built it will be an outstanding addition to my barbecue stable.

While you're waiting for my post-cook review, head on over to the Pit Barrel Cooker Company site and check out some how-to videos. You can also read an interview with the president of the company, Noah Granville at Grilling.com.

Disclaimer: The Pit Barrel Cooker was provided to me free of charge for the purpose of this review, but the thoughts expressed are entirely my own.

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Cheater Homemade Pastrami

Homemade pastrami is something that has been on my barbecue bucket list for a long time. Even this cheater version turned out better than I expected, and I'd be hard-pressed to go back to the standard grocery store version.

This is a cheater version because I started with store-bought corned beef, as opposed to corning the brisket myself. I'll try the "real" version sometime, but for now this at least gives me a baseline for comparison when I do.

This might look like a lot of work for a "cheater" approach, but it's really pretty straightforward. Here, let me show you.

Ingredients
4-5 lb Corned beef, flat cut
2 Tbsp Yellow mustard, the plain stuff
3 Tbsp Brown sugar, light
1 Tbsp Ground coriander (not six months old, please)
1 tsp Ground allspice
1/4 cup Black peppercorns, coarse ground

Method
Combine the mustard, brown sugar, coriander and allspice in a small mixing bowl and whisk until the sugar is dissolved.

Remove the corned beef from the package, rinse very well under cold running water, then pat dry with paper towels.

Coat all sides of the corned beef with the mustard mixture then coat it completely and evenly with the pepper. Place in a lipped non-reactive pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Cheater Homemade Pastrami

Note: Some folks recommend soaking the corned beef in water for about 24 hours, changing the water a few times. I decided to skip that step this time, so I don't know how that might have affected the final product.

Remove the corned beef from the refrigerator about an hour before you're ready to start cooking.

Start your smoker and prepare for indirect cooking at medium heat (300-325º).

About 15 minutes before you're ready to start smoking add three medium-sized chunks of smoke wood to the fire. I used 2/3 cherry and 1/3 hickory.

Cook the corned beef indirect until it reaches 175º in the center of the thickest part (about 2-3 hours).

Cheater Homemade Pastrami

Move the pastrami to a steamer rack in a large non-reactive stock pot with about 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and steam over medium heat until the center of the thickest part reaches 195º (about 30 minutes).

Cheater Homemade Pastrami

Move the pastrami to a lipped pan, cover with plastic wrap, and let cool.

Slice thin, pile it on some good dark rye smeared with mustard, add a couple slices of Swiss cheese and warm until the cheese just starts to melt.

Cheater Homemade Pastrami

Serve and enjoy!

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Laquered Island Chicken

Last weekend I was craving some grilled chicken and I had a category-three brainstorm. The idea was to brine chicken parts in a soy-infused brine, slowly grill them indirect, then glaze them heavily in a homemade teriyaki sauce made from reduced pineapple juice.

Teriyaki chicken is one of my wife's favorite meals. I typically serve it with grilled pineapple and zucchini, as you see here. The rice is Vigo Yellow Rice, which I highly recommend.

This chicken was outstanding, if I do say so myself. In fact, it was so good that I'm seriously contemplating using this recipe as my chicken turn-in at my next barbecue competition. The sauce takes some time to make, but your effort will be well rewarded.

Ingredients
10-12 Chicken parts, (skin-on/bone-in is best)
Brine (recipe follows)
Teriyaki sauce (recipe follows)

Brine
1 quart Boiling water
1/2 cup Kosher salt
2/3 cup Brown sugar, light
1/8 cup Soy sauce (I used Aloha brand)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart Cold water
7 cups Ice

Teriyaki Sauce
46 oz Pineapple juice
1 cup Brown sugar, light
1/3 cup Rice wine vinegar, seasoned
1/2 cup Soy sauce (I used Aloha brand)
1/3 cup Dark sweet soy sauce (I used ABC brand)
1 tsp Ground ginger

Note: If you can't find sweet soy sauce, just add another 1/8 cup of soy sauce and 1/2 cup more brown sugar.

Method
Combine all of brine ingredients, except the cold water and ice, in a stock pot. Whisk well until the sugar and salt are dissolved, then add the cold water and ice and stir to cool.

Add the chicken parts to the brine, cover, and refrigerate 4-6 hours.

Bring the pineapple juice to a boil in a large non-reactive sauce pan. Reduce the heat to a high simmer and let cook until the juice is reduced by half, stirring occasionally (about 30-40 minutes).

Reduce the heat to a low simmer, add the remaining sauce ingredients, stir well, and let cook another 15 minutes.

Remove for the heat, cover and set aside to cool.

About 2 hours before you want to serve, start your grill and prepare for indirect cooking (heat to one side) over a medium fire (325-350º).

While the grill is heating, remove the chicken pieces from the brine and pat each dry with paper towels.

Grill the chicken over indirect heat until the internal temperature in the thickest part of each is about 140º. Gently remove the skin from each piece, brush each side with the sauce, and continue cooking with what was the skin side up.

Continue cooking, saucing each side about every 10 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165º.

Remove the chicken from the grill, tent with foil, and let rest five minutes.

Brush each piece with sauce, serve and enjoy!

Laquered Island Chicken

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Longboard Burgers

As the name implies, here's my version of a California burger. It's a half-pound burger on a rustic roll, topped with melted pepper-jack cheese, grilled onion slices, and lots of chunky funky guacamole.

I'll admit that, seasonally speaking, this is probably a little premature, but the mood hit me and I went with it.

Ingredients
3 lbs Ground beef, 80/20 please
1/4 cup Water, ice cold
1 Tbsp Montreal steak seasoning (I used McCormick brand)
2 Tbsp Soy sauce
6 Rustic hoagie rolls
12 slices Pepper-jack cheese
2 large Sweet onions, sliced to 1/3" (12 slices)
1 1/2 cups Chunky funky guacamole (recipe follows)
Canola or vegetable oil

Guacamole
2 Ripe avocados, diced to about 1/3" (approx. 1 1/2 to 2 cups)
3 Tbsp Mayonnaise
1 Lime, juiced
1 jar (4 oz) Pimientos, drained
1 can (4 oz) Fire-roasted green chiles, drained
2 tsp Garlic salt

Method
Combine all of guacamole ingredients in a medium mixing bowl, stir well, and refrigerate at least one hour.

Put the beef, steak seasoning, soy sauce and water in a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to mix the ingredients very well. Yes, it'll be messy.

Divide the meat into six equal portions and form them into evenly-sized balls.

Longboard Burgers

Gently roll each ball between your hands to form a log shape about four inches long. Lay the log on wax or butcher paper and press to form a long patty about 2 1/2" wide, 5 inches long, and 1/2" thick.

Use your index finger to put three holes evenly spaced lengthwise along the center of each patty and set them aside.

Longboard Burgers

Lightly oil both side of each onion slice.

Start your grill and prepare for direct and indirect cooking (heat to one side) over a medium-hot fire (375-400º).

Grill the onions over direct heat for about two minutes per side, then move them to the cooler side of the grill.

Lightly oil both sides of each burger.

Grill the burgers over direct heat for three minutes, then flip them and cook another three minutes.

Move the burgers to the cooler side of the grill and top each with two slices of the cheese and two grilled onion slices.

Toast the rolls over direct heat.

Smear the lower half of each roll with about a tablespoon of the gaucamole, add a burger, then top with another 3 tablespoons of guacamole.

Longboard Burgers

Serve and enjoy!

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