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Barrel Smoker Review

I have seen these smokers in action and now finally got the chance to try one for myself.  The smoker is a barrel smoker, that’s right, a barrel, a 55-gallon drum.  Who would have thought that this would work at all?  We used these drums for trash barrels when I was young.  Let me tell you more about what I found out.

I wanted to find a smoker that was rather simple and easy to use that had good quality and was affordable so that a beginner might enjoy using.  As a beginner, getting into smoking meats can be a bit intimidating and confusing with so many choices on the market today.  I wanted a smoker that anyone could get the hang of quickly and not be scared of ruining that really expensive piece of meat, brisket.

Smoking meat is one of the most satisfying hobbies a person can get into.  It’s relatively easy to pick up and the result is delicious food the whole family and friends can enjoy. One of the keys to making sure your food is consistently delicious is to not get in over your head with an expensive cooker geared towards experienced pit masters. Another pitfall many make with their first smoker is grabbing a $75 offset smoker special from their local big box store. Most of these have poor build quality and even worse air flow control. This can make managing your target temperature a chore resulting in a bad time and ruining that expensive meat, the brisket.

When looking for the best smoker for beginners, here is what I believe is important.

  • Quality:  One of the most important things to consider with a smoker at any price range and skill level is its build quality.  If the unit leaks air or has super thin walls, regulating the temperature can be a huge chore.  Obviously, for charcoal powered units your heating element is as good as the charcoal you buy.  That’s why I only recommend using lump charcoal instead of charcoal briquettes.  See here for additional information.  Also see here for the amount of heat produced by charcoal and the best type to use.
  • Efficiency:  A smokers efficiency is directly related to how much fuel the smoker must use to hold a good solid smoking temperature.  This all goes back to the quality of the smoker.  If a smoker is leaking heat and smoke in places that it shouldn’t be, then it will have to burn more fuel to maintain the temperatures you want to stay at.  This is especially frustrating when using a charcoal unit that requires pulling the food out just to add fuel.  No fun.
  • Value:  As with everything else, we want the best value for the dollar.  It may hurt to spend more than $150.00 for that first smoker but what really hurts is buying that cheap big box smoker special and finding out that it is cheaper than you thought.  It will remain almost unused and end up being sold or finding it’s way to the landfill.
  • Support:  It’s much easier starting with a unit that has a solid community built around it.  Most smokers on the lists have multiple youtube videos and forum write-ups on how to cook certain cuts of meat, how to light and heat up properly and how usually some fun DIY improvements.  This is rarely an issue with charcoal based units because there’s nothing to break.
  • Fuel Source:  Perhaps second only to the quality in importance is the fuel source.  Choosing the correct fuel source can make a huge impact on your food and more importantly, how often you use your smoker.  I personally believe the best flavors come from lump charcoal.  The downside to using charcoal is it is generally messier and it has a slightly higher learning curve along with slightly higher preparation time.

So What is the Best Charcoal Smoker for Beginners?

I’ll make this easy for you. If you are a beginner and want the easiest to use charcoal smoker then go no further than the Pit Barrel Cooker. I was absolutely blown away with how easy it was to use.  What makes the Pit Barrel special is there is no temperature regulation, they have it all set up for you already.  The venting is perfectly set, no bother, no worries.  One other thing I like so much about this unit is most all the meat is hung inside by supplied hooks.  Not long ago the makers of this little unit changed from a powder coat finish to a porcelain enamel finish somewhat like the Weber grills.

When getting ready to cook on this unit, simply remove the charcoal basket and fill it up to the top.  Then remove about a quarter of the charcoal and place them into a charcoal chimney such as the char-griller chimney starter

and light them.  Place the unlit charcoal basket back in the unit and pour the lit charcoal from the chimney on top.  After doing this you can add a couple chunks of wood for smokey flavor if desired.

Depending on the weather outside and the type of charcoal used, this smoker should last up to 10 hours on one load of good lump charcoal.

What Customers are Saying:

  • Super easy to use, even for a beginner
  • Incredible and easy to use
  • Gold standard smoker
  • Worth every penny

I am not saying this is the only smoker for a beginner but it is a great smoker for a beginner.  In my opinion, if you are a beginner in smoking meats, you won’t be disappointed at all in this unit and will be a great unit to start learning all the other things you need to learn about smoking.  This is a great one to start with.  Good luck and don’t worry much about ruining that expensive meat.

8 thoughts on “Barrel Smoker Review

  1. Hey Bob:

    Oh! This is exciting! I’ve been thinking seriously about starting a search for a good smoker.

    The 55-gallon drum design is so retro and reminds me of my late father-in-law who used to have a huge cooker for making laulau (steamed packets of meats and fish all wrapped in taro and ti leaves).

    The laulau we made were for the feasts that our extended family was always putting together. (When you have a lot of kids running around, there are always first-birthday luaus, graduation parties, weddings and on and on happening.) It was such a treat (and also major work). Our parties could have 300 guests and more at times.

    Daddy K steamed the packets stacked on a wooden platform set inside the barrel which held a quantity of water. The platform kept the prepared packets from getting soggy. He kept adding water as it all cooked into yummy.

    He cooked the laulau over a cooking fire in an old shed in the back yard. The smell of cooking laulau drove everybody in the neighborhood crazy. ‘Course they were all invited and they were busy making stuff for the party too.

    Now we have really small parties and the old cooking shed is long-gone. (We just use a big old three-tiered steamer set on the range.)

    I’m bookmarking this one!

    1. Thanks for stopping by my site Netta.

      I myself enjoy cooking laulau, I cook porkbelly that way sometimes and it makes for a wonderful sandwich.  So I am aware of that cooking technique.  Nice.

      I also understand cooking for 300 plus, I do that almost daily.  I own and operate a BBQ food truck that keep us busy cooking for large parties.  

      If you are looking for an easy to use smoker, this is the one for you.  Although it is easy to use, it is still a smoker and requires lots of time to get set up and cook with this unit.  The food hangs inside this unit and gives a really great smoke to whatever you decided to place in it.

      Good luck with your purchase of your smoker and if you ever have any questions as to what may be best or how to smoke a particular meat, please let me know and I would be happy to assist you in any way I can .

  2. I have been doing some research lately on this very topic, smoking meat. It’s something I have always wanted to do, but until recently never did anything about it. This is a very interesting option, my only concern is storing it. Can this replace a traditional barbecue? Or is going to be an additional item? I would be curious to find out how long it takes cook as well. My neighbor has a giant smoker and he will be at it for most of the day. Sometimes he starts the burning process the night before. This sounds like a good entry level model. Please let me know your thoughts on my question above. Thanks for the great information.

    1. Thanks for the comment and stopping by my site Steve and Kris.

      Smoking meat is something that does take some time and the more you do, the better you get and the less time it takes.  If you have never done it before or don’t do much of it, the time spent learning and actually doing the cooking may be quit long.  Good luck, it is well worth the wait and suffering thru the learning curve.

      This unit you have asked about is a smoker and only a smoker.  If you want something that could work as a smoker and a grill, it may be best to look at another unit.  I also have information about smoker/grills on my website.  

      This smoker may also not be the best if you have limited space to store items.  There again, please check out other pages on my site and please come back to see other items or units that would be best for you and your family along with storage contraints and other issues.

      Thanks so much Steve and Kris for stopping by.  Good luck with smoking and feel free to ask me any questions you may have.  Thanks

  3. Growing up, we always had a smoker. My dad smoked everything, but then I lived in Alaska and he was a hunter. So we had a variety of smoked meats and fish. I love this barrel smoker. I have been wanting a smoker, because I love the flavor, but also the meat seems to be so much more tender than in a traditional grill. I do have a couple of questions. I have never owned a smoker before. I hesitate on getting a “beginner” smoker, because then down the road I know that I will want a better smoker. So I guess I want to ask what is the best smoker to get, if I want to dive in and get a really good one that I will have for a long time? Also, we never used charcoal in our smokers growing up. This one looks to use charcoal. I am sure it is a perfectly good smoker, I just don’t like the flavor of charcoal. I would want one that does not use charcoal. Any recommendations?

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by my site.
      As for around here, I do a lot of smoking and we love it.
      This smoker that I highly recommend would give you many years of professionally smoked foods. It is truly a great little smoker that can perform beyond belief. I wouldn’t worry about out growing it anytime soon. I think once you get it, you won’t want to move on.
      I understand your charcoal fears, I have them myself as well. Most people purchase a really cheap charcoal, thinking they will save money by buying the cheapest charcoal and then they have a bod experience. There is actually really good quality charcoal briquettes out there that make your food taste amazing. Just be careful when choosing. I have two posts about this very subject that you should check out.
      Use good charcoal, even switch to lump charcoal and throw in some pure sweet smoking wood chips for quality smoke.
      Please come back.

  4. Very good review, I have also been looking for a smoker for some time now. But the one thing that stops me is the learning curve on smoking. I had a friend who jumped into smoking only to realize he did not have the skills.Most of the time he would spend hours only to find the end product dry or tough.Is there a community on youtube for this barrel smoker because I am sure I will need some help.

    1. Thanks for stopping by my site, Rodney.
      This smoker is one of the best and perhaps one of the most forgiving smokers I have ever seen. I know it might look intimidating but it isn’t bad at all.
      I have a coupe of places for you to check out about charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal and types of woods to use and types of wood chips to use. All on this site.
      There are so many places to go and find out how to smoke any kind of meat you can imagine, just check YouTube, it’s there. One of my favorites is Franklin’s BBQ out of Austin, TX. He does some really good and funny videos on how to smoke most all meats, at least the more familiar ones. Check out my site for more information and check back anytime. The comments are always welcomed. Thanks

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