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Mastering the Pit Barrel Cooker

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  • Max Good
    Ash build up for a lengthy cook as you describe could be an issue for air flow. I would think replenishing coal would also be a concern at such a long duration. I have cooked large brisket and pork shoulder on the PBC and finished well within 10 hours. What were you making that took so log? Did you need to replenish coal? What did Noah have to say?

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  • charchamp
    I don't use this style of smoker so my knowledge is nil but could a person drill a hole and insert a sweeper or wire brush on a thin wire to push, sweep the ash out of the way from underneath the coals grate, maybe even in a simple back and forth motion like a fan or windshield wiper, you could make the hole just big enough to push the wire or handle thru to accommodate using the sweeper. then in this way not having to open up the unit in any way and loose precious heat. I saw a wire sweeper made for cleaning under the fridge the other day that had a 3 foot handle on it that would work well for this task. hope my idea either works or spurs a better thought.

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  • Michael Watson
    I must admit that a good argument can be made that the PBC is foolproof and following basic instructions which are provided, results in numerous successful cookouts. This is true and I admit it to be so. Therefore, what is my point?
    So here we go, most meat can be prepared on the PBC within a relatively short amount of time as compared so it’s closest cousin, the Ugly Drum Smoker and other pits. One would suggest that this is due to the 275F sweet spot. And one could also realize many great results from just one lighting of coals in the fire basket during the 3-6 hour window of operation.

    However….there are many postings under the PBC review along the lines of what do I do with the left over coals. And there are a few which run along the lines of how to I keep a fire going for a prolonged smoke session. So obviously there is a range of PBC functionality that is resulting from a smaller difference in approaches to igniting and starting the fire basket. From what I have read so far, most of us are using the chimney approach versus the douse in starter fluid technique. We then attempt to spread the lit coals over the fire basket unlit coals and proceed to wait for an amount of time prior to putting the meat on.

    I have seen numerous moderator postings of helpful suggestions when someone posts that their temperature spike was such and such but their resulting temperature range has not settled into what they expected or even seemed to burn out. This is the initial area of PBC fine tuning that I wish to start the thread with and from that starting point I have cut and pasted my initial observations from the Disqus comments and inserted them below.
    One of the best aspects of the PBC is the fact that Noah intentionally sought to incorporate into his design the ability for the meat to drip down onto the fire basket. This feature is sometimes hard to achieve because too high of a drip rate extinguishes the fire or possibly the opposite result by continually causing a flareup situation. Neither of these would be an ideal situation.

    For all of those who are coming at the PBC from only experiencing the offset firebox designs, the aspect of having your drippings land on the fire and keep on cooking is a grand accomplishment. The juice from your meat that evaporates into the smoke cloud adds tremendously to the taste of your finished meat. There are oil mist particles which are suspended in the smoke that come back in contact with your meat and continue to add to the finished taste.

    And let us realize yet another subtle feature of the PBC. Did you stop to realize that the PBC actually has 2 different dampers? One of the dampers is dynamic and the other is static in design.

    O-K, now that you have paused for a second or two of thought, let us continue. The dynamic damper is obviously the little round hole in the bottom side of the barrel with the little round cutout thingy attached to the barrel with a screw. This dynamic damper is the human controlled source of oxygen.

    The static damper is factory set and was again a deliberate design parameter. Please take a moment to now ponder the design of the fire basket. Especially look at 2 aspects of this design. First of all notice the material that comprises the side of the fire basket and what do you see? It is a SOLID piece of metal band about 4 inches tall. Second of all please now notice the height of the base of the basket off of the bottom of the barrel. These 2 parameters are no accident at all, I have confirmed this in direct conversation with Noah.

    The fire basket design limits all oxygen access to the fuel only from under the bottom edge of the solid sides of the basket wall (remember heat rises). And the total volume of available oxygen is definitely metered by this fixed height of the basket off of the bottom of the barrel in combination with the selected size of the round opening setting. So one oxygen setting is human controlled and the other was preset at the factory.

    O-K is this a good thing or bad thing! Obviously this is a GREAT thing to have. You may now be asking yourself - Why? Because this allows the PBC to be most often used in a set and forget mode. That is, get your initial heat setting configured then comeback to get the meat and have a feast once it is cooked. So what could be easier, answer equals nothing EXCEPT.......there is a potential for problem.

    Alas you say, heresy you claim, I have performed X number of cooking sessions with the PBC and nothing ever turned out wrong nor have I never gotten excellent smoked meat as a result. Alright I accept that answer and those testimonials as fact. HOWEVER what would happen if say during a long cook session that the ashes began to fall through the fire basket grate onto the bottom of the barrel. Would that not in fact alter the factory set damper for oxygen access? In other words would you not unintentionally be altering the amount of free flow air volume into the bottom of your fuel source. Answer is YES.

    And what does that matter you would next argue? It could definitely create no burn areas in your fire basket. I found these to occur later in my first 10.5 hour cook session. The worst case scenario would be that you left the PCB to do it's thing and you come back 5 hours later and you have lost your fire. It can also be more quickly created by human intervention. Let us imagine that you are the type who during long cooks ever so often goes up to the pit and gives it a good shaking. Perhaps you now ask why the heck would you do that? This technique removes the cooked ash portion on the briquets that is still attached to the cube and after shaking you will get a resurrection of higher temperature from your briquets as an intentional result. However the unintended consequence could be a quenched fire or at the very least dead zones in the fire basket because the amount of ash that has fallen through the fire basket is now stacked up to the bottom of the grate.

    I acknowledge that this is a rather long posting to put in a thread. For all of those who have made it through to this point, thanks. Please post any remedies which you may have deployed to address my PBC fire control scenarios described above.

    I also encourage all of you who are working with a PBC to add any other fine tuning suggestions which you have tried and share your results - good or bad.

    Thank you for any and all of your considerations.

    Leave a comment:

  • Michael Watson
    started a topic Mastering the Pit Barrel Cooker

    Mastering the Pit Barrel Cooker

    Question: Have you ever had to reignite the PBC during a smoking session?

    I'll start off by inserting my long reply below.


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