This is a membership forum. As a guest, you can click around a bit. View 5 pages for free. If you would like to participate, please join.

[ Pitmaster Club Information | Join Now | Login | Contact Us ]

There are 4 page views remaining.


No announcement yet.

Mastering the Pit Barrel Cooker

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

    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.

    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.


      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.


      • Michael Watson
        Michael Watson commented
        Editing a comment
        Yes you are absolutely correct in your approach to solve this circumstance. I used a 1/4in round by 36in long rod to do exactly as you suggest. I moved it back and forth to push the build up aside.

      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?


      • Michael Watson
        Michael Watson commented
        Editing a comment
        Max - It was my maiden cook on the PBC and I just hate to waste coals. What I was writing about was my initial observations relative to all that I have read on the Disqus postings. In no way do I consider my first experience with the PBC to be a problem. I just wished to flesh out what may be happening with others when they get to the end of a cook session and there is more coals left over. In fact there may be a number of factors contributing to that issue is all that I was trying to say. If everyone is aware of these factors then they can make adjustments accordingly. Any and all adjustments to fuel air ratio will have an impact on the resulting temperature profile.

        Noah actually confirmed to me that the use of a solid metal ring on the fire basket was no accident and that the gap between the bottom edge of the side ring does in fact place a limit on the amount of air available to the coals. The rest of my tirade was conjecture on my part. But almost all of the fire basket designs that I have seen use expanded metal for the entire enclosure. To use solid metal requires access to the proper diameter pipe (the easiest approach) or the ability to bend the metal band to the proper diameter and then weld it together which is what PBC does (a more time consuming method). This is most often a tool and skill set obstacle for the common backyard pit builder.

      Would using lump for the unlit charcoal be an option? I could be wrong, but it sure seems to me to produce a lot less ash than brigs do.


        A basketful of lump will not be as dense as the same volume of uniformly manufactured briquettes. It will produce less ash but will likely be spent much sooner than briquettes.
        Last edited by Max Good; August 10, 2014, 01:02 PM.


          I have only used the PBC a few times now, but one was for a 12 lb brisket that was done in well under 10 hours. Didn't have any cold spots (that I could tell) and the basket stayed lit for several hours after my cook was done. That was using KBB. I would imagine that if I had an issue with ash build up, I would probably just move everything to the oven to finish the cook. That late into a cook, I would imagine whatever I was cooking would have absorbed all the smoke it was going to absorb and it would be wrapped in foil anyway. I figure the oven would taste the same as the PBC at that point. I could be wrong.

          What are you trying to do with the PBC where you are not only cooking that long, but you are leaving your pit without monitoring for 5 hours?


          • Michael Watson
            Michael Watson commented
            Editing a comment
            I did not plan to have that long of a cook session it just happened. I started with 3 racks of ribs and 1 large hen at about the 3 hour mark they were done and I then put a 1/2 pork loin on after 2 hours I still had plenty of fuel. So I pulled a 1/2 flat brisket out of the freezer and put it in a zip lock bag then placed it in a pot of hot tap water and left the tap running hot water into the pot. After about 1 hour of this the beef still had some frozen center meat and i put it on the PBC for about 3.5 hours.

            From 1:00pm to 11:30pm - I just hate to not use a well lit set of coals. And you are also correct in that most people including me would be through with a cook session in less than 10.5 hours. After having benefited so much from all of the postings about the PBC and different techniques used, I just thought that I owed the PBC community a few of my observations.

          If this happened to me, I might shaking the basket a little then pull it out quickly and sweep the ashes away to the opposite side... then put everything back together. Maybe add some more charcoal at that time too.


          • Michael Watson
            Michael Watson commented
            Editing a comment
            Absolutely another solution to the circumstances.

          I'm 9 hours 36 minutes into a cook with B & B briquettes. Picnic just got wrapped and the PBC is running 338 (ultra mag??).

          It had dropped while at church, so I pulled the rebar, opened the valves, and cracked the lid. Only the lid has been shut.

          No reloading or shaking needed. I'll post a picture of the ash build up, or lack thereof, after the cook.


            This was a 10 hour 40+ minute cook. Average temp was about 250-260. Basket of B & B briquettes. It was full but not to the tippy-top full. It was 4 in the morning, and I was working with a headlight. It looked full enough.

            I had 10 hour cooks with Kingsford whereby I had to reload to finish. The ash build up had the expanded metal imprint in it, from the bottom of the charcoal basket.

            As you can see here, no where near the ash I would get with Kingsford.

            Click image for larger version

Name:	pppb5.jpg
Views:	67
Size:	179.2 KB
ID:	9128 Click image for larger version

Name:	pppb6.jpg
Views:	66
Size:	160.7 KB
ID:	9130


            • Michael Watson
              Michael Watson commented
              Editing a comment
              Jerod - once again thank you for your input. You have profiled both a solution to the issue, use an alternate fuel source and manage the higher temp profile. And you validated my situation encountered with the use of K B&W charcoal. I am in no way attempting to bash the capabilities nor limitations of PBC. My intentions is to bring forth a recognizing of how the PBC functions and what techniques those of you have found to mitigate these issues.

              Thank you for your participation.

            jerod is that a metal plate with cables that you lower into your PBC with the coal basket?!?! wtf!! i am new to the PBC(see my prior panicked post regarding the relight, btw the shoulder came out great!) and this looks genius!


              I didn't like the thought of dumping ash out. So I built a temp plate before that one came in. Had to cook on the PBC right away.

              It is the same diameter of the outer diameter of the stand. At first I had a simple chain that you use to hang potted plants....then duuuhhh, how about small diameter cable using those cable crimp sleeves. You can see the bottom one better.

              I have two cables crossing each other. I have three cut outs to miss the grate tabs but most times I just tilt the plate when inserting and removing.


                Could it be that the ash production of kingsford may be the reason it's recommended? I.e. to act as a throttle so that a more uniform temperature profile will be the result?


                  After having spoken with Noah I do believe that you may be right. His R&D was extensive and when you combine the performance of all the other parameters, he could possibly have been targeting a cooking temp range as one of his design goals. Or if you look at it from a business perspective, it does not hurt to have your hot new product specifically endorse a brand of charcoal that invests heavily in the competitive BBQ brotherhood.



                  No announcement yet.
                  Rubs Promo


                  These are not ads or paid placements. These are some of our favorite tools and toys.

                  These are products we have tested, won our top awards, and are highly recommend. Click here to read how we test, about our medals, and what they mean.

                  Use Our Links To Help Keep Us Alive

                  A big part of this site is our unbiased equipment and product reviews. We love playing with toys and we have no problem calling them the way we see them. Some companies pay a finder’s fee if a reader clicks a link on AmazingRibs.com and buys a product. It has zero impact on our reviews, zero impact on the price you pay, and the sites never tell us what you bought, but it has a major impact on our ability to keep this site alive! So before you buy, please click our links. Here’s a link that takes you to a page on Amazon that has some of our favorite tools and toys: https://tinyurl.com/amazingribs

                  A Propane Smoker That Performs Under Pressure

                  The Masterbuilt MPS 340/G ThermoTemp XL Propane Smoker is the first propane smoker with a thermostat, making this baby foolproof. All you need to do is add wood to the tray above the burner to start smokin’. Click here to read our detailed review.

                  GrillGrates Take Gas Grills To The InfraredZone

                  GrillGrates amplify heat, prevent flare-ups, make flipping foods easier, kill hotspots, flip over to make a fine griddle, and can be easily moved from one grill to another. Click here for more about what makes these grates so special.

                  Amp Up Your Outdoor Cooking Game By Joining The Pitmaster Club

                  AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Club
                  Now the largest membership-based BBQ and grilling community in the world, the Pitmaster Club is sure to step up your outdoor cooking game. Experience the countless benefits — from monthly giveaways, to free products, to exclusive content, and more– by signing up for a 30-day free trial below! Get a free 30-day trial here.

                  Is This Superb Charcoal Grill A Kamado Killer?

                  The PK-360, with 360 square inches of cooking space, this rust-free, cast aluminum charcoal grill is durable and easy to use. It is beautifully designed, completely portable, and much easier to set up for 2-zone cooking than any round kamado. Click here to read our detailed review of the PK 360 and get a special AmazingRibs.com price!