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My First Experience/Process with the Pit Barrel Cooker

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    My First Experience/Process with the Pit Barrel Cooker

    Hello, all.

    I recently acquired a Pit Barrel Cooker. After reading numerous comments about member experiences with the PBC here on the forum, I thought I would share my first experience. (This a long post, as I have detailed my "process.")

    On Father’s Day 2020, I decided to cook some Pork Spareribs using the PBC. To start, I decided I would try to stay as close to the manufacturer’s instructions as possible, with as little “added technique” as possible. (All temperature references are Fahrenheit.)

    THE MEAT:

    As far as meat preparation, I had two pork spareribs purchased at a local grocery, that weighed about 5.5 lbs. each. I initially trimmed the ribs and applied Morton’s Kosher salt and placed the ribs back in the refrigerator for two hours. Just before placing the ribs on the hooks, I coated them in the PBC Beef and Game Rub. I did not use any mustard, honey, or other sauce at this point, as the rub adhered to the meat quite well without any sauce. Since my two ribs were quite long (approx. 22 inches), I cut them in half to avoid having meat laying on top of the charcoal.

    THE COOKER:

    The instructions say to set the intake air flow opening based on altitude. I am at about 2,060 feet above sea level. The instructions indicate 1/4 open for 0 – 2000 ft., and 1/2 open for 2000 – 5000 ft. That puts me right at the high end of the lower setting, and the low end of the higher setting. Since I was just over 2000 ft., and I had seen some posts indicating people were having problems with the cooker being starved for air, I set it to the 1/2 open setting to start.

    THE PROCESS:

    I loaded the charcoal basket with Kingsford Original Blue Bag charcoal. Then, I counted out 40 briquettes (roughly 1/4 of the total amount of charcoal.) I placed those in to the PBC Starter Chimney (purchased with the PBC). I placed one of the same waxed square fire starters that I use with my Big Green Egg on the grate, lit it, and placed the chimney starter on top of it.

    The manufacturer indicates that it should take about 12 minutes for the charcoal to start and become covered in white ash. It took about twice as long for my charcoal to reach that stage. (I attribute that to using a different, and smaller starter source.) Rather than try to use time as a reference, I did wait until the charcoal in the chimney starter was all covered with white ash. At that point, I emptied the hot coals from the chimney starter evenly on top of the unlit charcoal in the charcoal basket.

    Next, I inserted the hanging bars into the cooker, and added my ribs via hanging hooks. I also put two temperature probes into the cooker… one into the thickest part of one of the ribs, and the other just hanging in the cooker a few inches below the hanging bar. Those probes were then connected to my external digital thermometer monitor. This allowed me to monitor the internal temperature of the meat, as well as the ambient temperature inside the cooker. Then, again following the manufacturer’s instructions, I placed the lid on the cooker.

    Initially, the ambient temperature inside the cooker started climbing steadily, as was to be expected. The temperature rose to a little over 260⁰, but then started to fall rather quickly. My assumption was that the unlit charcoal had not yet sufficiently started, and the coals were beginning to cool. I opened the lid and slid it to one side to allow about a 2-inch gap. Temperatures inside the cooker soon started to rise. I left the lid partially open for about 10 minutes, until the internal temperature reached roughly 290 degrees.

    NOTE: During this “lid partially open” phase, it seemed to me that the cooker was heating up more rapidly then I would have desired. Therefore, I adjusted the air intake setting downward from 1/2 open to 1/4 open. This seemed to slow the “heat up” process a bit. (Other than that, adjusting the opening in small increments between 1/2 and 1/4 open had little effect on the temperature in the cooker once the lid was fully closed.) Once the lid was fully closed after the initial startup, I resisted the urge to check on the progress of the meat, and I did not open the lid again until I was ready to remove the ribs to add barbeque sauce.

    The manufacturer states that the cooker should run from 275⁰ to 310⁰ if their instructions are followed. My first thought was that the cooker would maintain a steady temperature within that range, depending upon the setting of the air intake opening. But again, once initially adjusted, I did not change the air intake setting during the cook.

    I watched the temperature closely during the next 3-1/2 hours. The internal temperature of the cooker initially rose to about 307⁰, and then fell back to an average of about 295⁰ for the first hour. (I use an “average” temperature reference, as I noted that the temperature could fluctuate by about 5⁰ above or below that average point. I assume that part of this variance is due to fat and juices dripping on to the coals, varying the temperature a bit.) The average temperature inside the cooker during the second hour was about 285⁰. The average temperature inside the cooker during the third hour was about 275⁰. The temperature of the meat climbed at a stable rate over those same periods.

    By the 3-1/2 hour point, the internal temperature of the meat was 296⁰. At that time, I opened the cooker, removed the ribs, and put the lid back on the cooker. I was pleased to see that the meat had a lovely bark. I applied barbeque sauce to three of the four ribs, and then opened the cooker, hung the ribs back on the hanging bars, and once again closed the lid.

    After a few minutes, the cooker came back up to about 265⁰. I left the ribs in the cooker for another 30 minutes, and then removed them. The internal temperature of the meat was a little over 200⁰. The ribs were cut into individual ribs and served. They garnered great reviews from the family, who enthusiastically support the idea of further adventures in barbequed ribs on the PBC!

    What I found interesting was that during the cook, the internal temperature of the cooker ranged from 275⁰ to nearly 310⁰, which is right in line with the manufacturer’s claim. But rather than finding a temperature in that range and staying there for the whole cook as I had expected, it appears to vary depending upon the consumption rate of the charcoal. I also had a total cook time of 4 hours, which was also right in line with the manufacturer’s general estimate.

    Another thing that I have learned is that the “set it and forget it” approach to this cooker seems to be correct. Unlike my BGE, which I expect to be able to get to a very specific temperature and then hold it there, the PBC’s design causes temperature to fluctuate up and down, within a range of about + or – 5 degrees. If I had been constantly adjusting the air intake to hold a specific temperature, I believe I would have been very frustrated and would have had a much less successful cook!

    So, there are the results of my first foray into the World of the PBC. Hopefully, what I encountered will be of help to others. And of course, if anyone sees things in my “process” that could be improved, I gladly welcome your comments! This was my first-time cooking ribs, and my first time using the PBC. The outcome was very good, but I know that there is still a lot to learn, and my goal is to get better and better, until I can cook… AmazingRibs!

    Cheers!
    Last edited by RogoTBull; June 25, 2020, 09:22 AM.

    #2
    Congrats on your first and successful cook on your PBC! I think its a good idea to follow the manufactures recommended instructions for the first few times. Once you find your sweet spot for the intake you can just leave it alone. I recommend you look at some of the info compiled here if you haven't already. https://pitmaster.amazingribs.com/fo...-barrel-cooker Lots of good info. The starting procedure is the most important part of cooking on the PBC. I wouldn't worry about the temp swings you were seeing. You will buld a nice layer of insulation on the inside of the barrel with your future cooks. That said it will never hold rock steady temps like a BGE. Enjoy and welcome to the PBC club! PBC, PBC, PBC!

    Comment


    • RogoTBull
      RogoTBull commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks. Interesting that you should mention the layer on the inside of the PBC. When I removed the ash basket with ash can from the cooker, I noted a layer of solidified fats or grease on the bottom or the barrel. I sent an email to PBC and asked them about that, and they recommended not cleaning it out. They said it would burn off during subsequent cooks and would help to season the inside of the barrel Another lesson in the proper use of the PBC! Pbc! PBc! PBC! I like it.

    #3
    Great writeup!

    One question; IIRC the PBC brand rub has a lot of salt. Did adding kosher salt make them a bit too salty?

    When I do BBs I never bother with monitoring the drum temp. Others here have found wide temp variations depending on where the probe is. I don't do SLC ribs so I don't know how effective probing the ribs would be. I just look for meat pullback.

    I'd recommend using the lighting procedure stickied here in the forum.

    You're off to a great start!

    Edit to add the lighting technique here.
    Last edited by N227GB; June 25, 2020, 09:39 AM.

    Comment


    • RogoTBull
      RogoTBull commented
      Editing a comment
      Hi, N227GB,

      You are spot on about the salt! I love salt, but even for me, the combination of the Kosher salt and the PBC rub as, as you said, a bit too salty! Lesson learned.

    #4
    You said you put the ribs on right after you dumped the lit coals on the unlit ones. I find it works better to not put the food on right after dumping the lit coals. After dumping the lit coals, I let it go for about 10 minutes with the lid off and then put the lid on and let it go another 10 minutes to get up to temp, before adding the food.

    Comment


    • RogoTBull
      RogoTBull commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks, wrgilb!

      That was what the PBC web site said to do, so that is what I tried. I'll give your recommendation a shot on the next cook, as that is what is what I usually do when putting food on a grill.

    #5
    Sounds like a great cook! I don't have a PBC, but do cook ribs on my Weber Kettle and my offset smoker, and ribs are one of the few things I cook by time. I tend to run a little lower than you, but I usually don't bother monitoring the smoker temp too closely when doing ribs, and I don't bother with my automated temperature controller (Party Q) either, for cooks of 5 hours or less.

    Comment


    • RogoTBull
      RogoTBull commented
      Editing a comment
      I probably won't monitor the cooker temp in the future. I just wanted to have a reference point to begin with. As N227GB noted, the meat pullback is a good indicator. Once I have a bit more experience, I'll have a better idea of things like that to look for. I also suspect that if I let the PBC get started good before I add the ribs, the actual cook time won't be quite as long. Another theory for me to test!

    #6
    The Grilla folks (completely unrelated) say to trust the swing. The swing is the temp fluctuation. It supposedly helps with smoke generation. Pellet problems.

    I think with the PBC, you gotta trust the fluctuation. But also, I don't think it should be that swingy.

    Comment


    • RogoTBull
      RogoTBull commented
      Editing a comment
      I was surprised by the amount of swing. I don't have any experience with pellet cookers, although maybe I need to get one for the experience. Unfortunately, SWMBO thinks I have enough toys at the moment!

    #7
    Thanks for the write up and glad you enjoyed your successful first cook.

    I do a few different things compared to the PBC instructions to start it up, generally following the approach laid out by fzxdoc

    After lighting the chimney and dumping it in the basket, I let it go for 10 min with no lid and rebar and then an additional 5-10 with rebars and lid on. This ensures the coals are lit enough that the temp doesn't plummet which is what I experienced when I just dumped and started cooking right away.

    I always use ~40 briquettes in my chimney starter but now I eyeball it after originally counting them out the first couple of cooks. I fill the basket based on how long my cook is. For something short, like sausage or chicken, I basically use a single layer covering most of the basket. For longer cooks, I fill the basket - less the 40 or so that are in the chimney. Haven't had a cook longer than 6-7 hours yet but still had coals in the basket when I pulled on my longest cook

    Comment


    • RogoTBull
      RogoTBull commented
      Editing a comment
      I had read the post by fzxdoc with a detailed start up. However, I wanted to do it at least once as per the PBC instructions, so I could see if I could figure out the PBC. But, I'm already starting to see a consensus here about a better way. I'm glad I tried it "their way" to begin with. Now I have an excuse to go get more ribs to try again!

    #8
    Sounds like a good cook! Great write up.

    (The PBCs default settings are pretty good.)

    BUT, we require pics of said ribs!

    Comment


    • RogoTBull
      RogoTBull commented
      Editing a comment
      I'll try to remember to take pictures next time. This time I was just focused on trying not to end up with sparehockeypucks where my spareribs should have been!

    #9
    Great Post and Great Cook RogoTBull . You reminded me of my first cooks on my PBC. It's definitely good to not chase the PBC Temp.

    Comment


      #10
      Nice post and great cook. I think I’ll dig some leftovers out of the freezer—make me hungry for ribs.

      Like many others, I let the charcoal ash over a little more like the fzxdoc method. The cook time was about what I experience on my PBJ, maybe a little more. After reading many posts here about the temp fluctuations, I’ve never checked the internal temp during a cook. Based on the great advice here, I just decided to let ‘er buck.

      Have fun with it.

      Comment

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