Maybe I have a smoker fetish. It started when the little lady’s family gave me their old stick burner — a vertical offset Brinkmann Trailmaster. Her dad switched over to a horizontal offset and the one they gave me had been sitting out and not being used. I loved using it, but the effects of weathering produced rust and eventually holes and cracks that rendered it unusable for long smokes.
In June 2017 I bought a Weber Smokey Mountain cooker. It is the holy grail in terms of set it’n’forget it smoking that involves charcoal and wood (I specifically mention that last part because pellet grills might be the ultimate cooker for those in the game for set it’n’forget it cooking). My appetite for collecting different types is insatiable, however.
The rise of barrel cookers seem to be on the up and up, but the UDS (“Ugly Drum Smoker”) design has been around for seemingly eons, with people creating a smoker from the ground up. However, there are two UDS style smokers on the market right now that are more popular than the others. There is the Pit Barrel Cooker, which is the most popular if you count the amount of people touting it on social media (namely Instagram, which is my favorite), and then there is the Barrel House Cooker. There is some kind of legal bullshit going on between the two companies. I won’t get into it because I’m not a lawyer and feel no obligation to talk about the nitty gritty, but apparently whoever was working on the Pit Barrel Cooker, originally, decided to go and assist in the creation of the Barrel House Cooker — that caused shit to hit the fan, and that’s all I know.
The main attraction to the barrel style of cooking, for me, was the prospect of hanging meats, faster cooker time and less charcoal (compared to the 22.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain cooker that I have; I love my WSM, but it is a charcoal hog and a half). Basically, you hang meats above the charcoal and, in the closed cooking environment, the drippings (read: grease!) from the meats fall onto the charcoal and the smoke from the vapors give the meat a flavor to die for.
For me, it came down to either the PBC (Pit Barrel Cooker) and the BHC (Barrel House Cooker). As you can see by the title of this post, you already know which one I purchased. It basically came down to the ease of adding charcoal during a cook or getting it started more efficiently (the removable middle section from the charcoal base makes it extremely easy) as opposed to the PBC. Furthermore, you can take the grate that the cooker comes with and use it as a hibachi insert by removing the middle section and sitting the grate directly over the coals. For my very first cook, I hung a 3.8-lb. beef Tri-Tip that I purchased from Appalachian Meats in Lebanon, Virginia (hi, Brandon and Victoria! Great people! If you are in the area, check out their shop), cooked it until about 120-125 degrees and then seared it over the grate, hibachi style.
Before purchasing, I watched a good bit of videos of the BHC on YouTube. Something I found to be a common theme was that a few of the folks mentioned that Barrel House Cooker Company sent them their cookers for free because they wanted feedback on the cooker. Objective feedback. Well, opposite of the users on YouTube, I purchased mine at the regular price point ($249 plus tax) and feel even more obligated than those users to deliver a full-fledged objective review given that I pumped cash into it. There is no sunken cost fallacy going on here. Just a dude giving his thoughts on the cooker he bought. By the way, there are two models currently available: the 14D (“14”) and the 18C. I like cooking a good bit of food most of the time, so I went with the 18, but the 14 sure is tempting in the future.
The first thing I noticed when I was putting my BHC together was there was a weird lookin’ spot on the charcoal base that looked like a spot of rust. Not a huge deal, but it isn’t something you want to see out of your brand new cooker that you spent good money on either. I contacted them over this and Jeremy Cunha (who I believe is the head honcho of the BHC Co.) responded by basically saying to use it for a while and, if I run into any problems, contact ’em. I wasn’t so much complaining when I emailed them as much as I was making them aware of a quality control issue. The YouTube user Meathead, who also received a free cooker from the company, told me in a comment that Barrel House is coming out with some stainless steel charcoal baskets and that they would send me one for free if I asked them. I asked Jeremy about this, but he did not address it in the replied email. Hmm… hopefully the stainless steel charcoal baskets isn’t only sent free to the YouTubers who were already sent free cookers… again, I emphasize, hopefully that isn’t the case as that would be pretty disappointing for BHC loyalists who splurged and spent a great deal of moolah, but I digress… the customer service is solid. You can expect responses in a timely manner. I’ve dealt with them via email and phone.
Assembly was extremely easy and hassle-free. The only thing I hate about putting things together is keeping up with screws, washers, nuts and bolts. I have a phobia about losing small parts when putting things together. Maybe it is just my cooker, but the first thing I noticed is that the middle section does not snugly sit on the charcoal base. Maybe that was the intended design, but I can kinda rock it back and forth on the charcoal base by barely moving it. If it is intended to be that way, fair game, but I thought that would be a point worth noting.
I had to wait four days before I could actually use my BHC, but by cracky, I finally had my chance. First cook: that beef Tri-Tip from Appalachian Meats that I was talking about.
Everything went better than expected. I rubbed the tri-tip with Hardcore Carnivore Black and hung it in the Barrel House Cooker with some hickory wood and Kingsford charcoal (good ol’ KBB — Kingsford blue bag). At 125-130 degrees or so (as monitored by my Thermoworks Smoke thermometer), I removed the tri-tip from the H-frame and removed the hook from the tri-tip, added the grate to the charcoal base and used it as a hibachi to sear my tri-tip on both sides, about a minute and a half per each side. I let it rest, and well, as you can see by the above pictures, it was cooked to a perfect medium rare and it was delicious!
The next day, I hung a whole chicken and a semi-boneless leg of lamb. Again, I used KBB as my fuel source. I can’t, for the life of me, remember what the hell I rubbed the chicken with, but I was in luck with the semi-boneless leg of lamb. I had never consumed lamb before prior to this experience. I was seeking opinions on what rub I should use, when luck would have it that I received my recently ordered package from The Killer Cook and they, by chance, sent me a sample of their Mediterranean Spice blend. I consulted with TKC on Instagram about this choice of rub for lamb, and whattya know, it pairs perfectly with it (Mediterranean and lamb goes hand in hand anyhow, but I wanted to confirm). The chicken was awesome, but the lamb was fantastic. It was super tender; I cooked it until about 140 degrees, if I recall correctly.
The third day, I hung four racks of spare ribs. On two, I rubbed ’em with Caribeque Honey Heat and on the other two I used Meat Church Holy Gospel. No much to say about these ribs except that they were phenomenal. The smokey flavor was tremendous. I’m used to ribs on my Weber Smokey Moutain. They come out virtually perfect on the WSM, but the smokey flavor that comes from the Barrel House Cooker, with the juices hitting the hot coals and creating a distinct flavor profile, you just can’t beat that.
Since then, I’ve even tried a trial of grilling on the BHC… sat the charcoal ring on the H-frame and grilled some all-natural beef dogs a few days after my first few cooks. It passed the test, but for grilling, I love my Weber kettle.
I used both my Weber Smokey Mountain as well as my Barrel House Cooker for Mother’s Day. Ribs in the BHC and pork belly burnt ends, a pork butt and mac and cheese in the WSM. My family, and some of my family’s friends loved all the food, which is the most important thing to me.
A few cooks in, I noticed some chipping/flaking around the handles on the sides of my BHC… a little disconcerting, but as long as no rust produces from it, I don’t care. Seems to be a bit of a quality control issue, but again, if it is only a superficial mark, I couldn’t care less. This is an outdoor cooker/grill/smoker… it’s going to get filthy even with a cover. I just want the cooker to last several years without any hiccups, because I know I’m going to use the hell out of it.
In the future, I’m going to use lump charcoal in my BHC, for the most part, because it doesn’t handle the ash fallout from KBB as well as my WSM does. The insane amount of ash produced from the Kingsford seems to smother the fire worse than what it does in my WSM. Strange, but it happens. I’m going to try different things. All in all, you have to learn your cooker and its kinks… they (by ‘they’, I mean different types of grills and smokers) all ‘behave’ differently’.
I hung another whole bird in my BHC today, using the brand new Reload Rub seasoning, “Packin’ Heat”. I have come to the conclusion that you can’t have chicken from anything better than this Barrel House Cooker. It was tender, juicy and full of flavor (and delicious spiciness, thanks to the Packin’ Heat from Reload)!
If I haven’t made it clear, I’m going to unabashedly state it now: I’m in absolute love with my Barrel House Cooker. It is everything I have wanted it to be. I’ve been asked by people, “Well, can’t you do the same type of cooking in your WSM by removing the water pan?” Sure, but I like that the BHC is a little bit smaller, and if I was going to consistently do the same thing with the WSM I would have to create some modifications as well as find something, or create something, that mirrors the H-frame or something like it from the BHC, and quite frankly I’m too damn lazy to do that. Also, going back to the BHC being smaller than the WSM, the WSM is a proverbial charcoal hog, while the BHC definitely is not. I love both of my cookers for their own purposes, but I think hanging meat in the BHC is badass and puts it over the top.
I’m sure the other barrel cooker is pretty awesome, but I love my BHC. If you are in the market for a smoker, I absolutely recommend the Barrel House Cooker. The customer service will take care of you if you have any problems, and you’ll have a full-fledged smoker that is about as fail-safe as a smoker can get. I can’t wait to eventually smoke a pork butt and a beef brisket in mine. It’s just too bad that a beef brisket costs 1/4th of a car payment where I live.
Barrel House Cooker: Buy or pass?
BUY. BUY. BUY. Then BUY some meat and HANG IT!