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Pit Barrel Cooker 22.5” PBX Reviewed

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Pit Barrel Cooker 22.5" PBX

Affordability, ease of use, and great results made Pit Barrel Cookers’ Original 18.5″ diameter upright barrel smoker a favorite among our readers and Pitmaster Club members. In 2017 they followed it up with a smaller, 14″ model called Pit Barrel Junior. Now Pit Barrel goes big with the full size, 55 gallon 22.5″ PBX. The PBX almost doubles the capacity of the now classic 18.5″ model. Pit Barrel claims it can handle 16-20 racks of ribs, 4 pork butts or shoulders, 4 full packer briskets, 12-16 chicken halves, 60 party wings, or 4 turkeys.

PBX is a porcelain-coated upright barrel smoker measuring 30″ wide with the side handles and  36″ high including the lid and stand. The stand lifts PBX a few inches off the ground, but always place it on a grill mat when cooking on any surface that can be damaged by the intense heat radiating from underneath.

PBX comes with three rods that pop into holes along the upper barrel rim. Sixteen stainless steel meat hooks are included for hanging ribs, poultry, and big hunks of beef or pork from the rods.

PBX Rebar

All accessories for the smaller models are interchangeable with the 22.5″ PBX, except the optional hinged grates, ash pans, and covers.  Pit Barrel offers some other really cool accessories like a poultry hanger, skewers, and hot dog/sausage basket. Click here to check them out. No water pan is included, but that has never been a problem with the previous models and was not an issue with PBX. In addition to the rods and hooks, It comes equipped with a 22” cooking grate for 380 square inches of flat cook surface.

PBX Cooking Grate

Cooking on the grate cuts down on the potential capacity but it might give some nervous, novice barrel smokers peace of mind to start out on familiar turf before exploring hanging meat over the open fire. 

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Getting started

The instructions are straightforward and easy to understand. There is a single air intake damper at the bottom that must be set for your elevation. Note that there will still be a small gap when the damper is fully closed as this allows enough airflow to keep the fire going.

Pit Barrel damper adjustments

I set mine for around 2,000 feet.

PBC damper

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Light the charcoal

Start the fire by filling your charcoal basket with charcoal, remove about one-fourth of the briquets and place them in a charcoal chimney (I always like to take charcoal out of the middle of the basket). Light the charcoal chimney. Leave the almost full charcoal basket on a fireproof surface nearby or lower it to the bottom of the barrel.

Once again, Pit Barrel Cooker instructs you to be mindful of your elevation. For elevations below 2,000 feet they suggest letting the chimney burn for 12 minutes, and up to 20 minutes for elevations above 2,000 feet. I usually let the coals burn for 15 minutes. Once the charcoal in the chimney is lit, dump it onto the unlit briquets in the basket. If you left the basket outside the barrel, carefully lower it to the PBX bottom wearing heavy-duty gloves. Insert either the grate or hanging rods per your chosen cooking method, close the lid and you’re ready to go. I typically allow the barrel to run for an additional 15 minutes before adding food. This gives the charcoal in the PBX time to catch fire and warm up. 

Once the 15-20 minutes are up, it is time to add the meat. The PBX, like the previous Pit Barrel models, makes this easy. Simply hook the meat after preparation and you are ready for hanging. I always like to double hook the meat in a “daisy-chain” method as seen in the picture with one hook on top hooked to a second one below. This ensures that the meat does not pull through the single hook when it gets tender towards the end of the cooking process.

Pit Barrel meat hooks

Once the meat is hooked, PBX comes with a wood-handled tool for safely grabbing the hooks when adding or removing meat on the metal rods. They also offer an optional Pit Barrel Cooker Ultimate Tool Hook which doubles as a bottle opener.

Pit Barrel Ultimate Tool
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Of course, meat can be placed on the cooking grate as well. Many new PBC owners find this “safer” than the unfamiliar hanging method. I heard tales of woe about fall-off-the-bone ribs (which, despite what you have heard, is actually a sign that the ribs are overcooked) where the meat ends up in the fire below, but I never had that problem. Maybe that’s because I use Meathead’s famous Last Meal Ribs Recipe which explains how to tell when ribs are done just right, i.e. not tough and not falling off the bone. As long as you hook them correctly, you should be just fine. 

That being said, the grate works well with big hunks of meat. Brisket and pork shoulders can be cumbersome when hanging in the PBX and cooking on the grate works fine if you don’t need the extra capacity. I definitely prefer to hang ribs. It is really easy to remove them, and you can cook ten racks without a problem. Twenty racks would be tight, but doable. This is simply not possible if you are cooking on the grate.

The lid of the PBX fits well but is not snug. This changes as time goes on and you develop grease under the lid which actually helps it seal better. The same goes for the interior of the PBX. I found the more cooks you do on the PBX, PBC, and PBJ, the more stable the temperature rides and the more efficient the barrel will run. For the first few cooks, I found it helpful to add weight to the lid so it seals a little better. This helps to even out the temperature and make the PBX a little more predictable from the get-go. Click here to learn all the tips, tricks, and techniques of Pit Barrel cooking.

Cooks! 

For my first cook on the PBX, I wanted to test high capacity performance by smoking a large variety of foods all at once. The ambient temperature was about 50°F with light winds and sunny skies. I did two five-pound slabs of pork belly, three racks of ribs, a whole packer brisket, and two brisket points. Click here to get some of our most popular recipes. I started the charcoal fire according to the Pit Barrel’s instructions above. While the charcoal was heating up, I hooked the meat.

Once the PBX was ready to roll, I loaded it up and let the smoking begin.

PBX loaded with meat

The temperature of the pit was above 300°F for the first 45 minutes. This was fine because upright barrel smokers are known to run hotter than the 225°F temperature we recommend for other smokers. The PBX finally settled in at about 265°F and it ran at that temperature for about three hours straight. After the three-hour mark, I checked the ribs to see how they were cooking. They picked up some great color and were already starting to feel tender. The hooks were holding the meat with no worries about falling into the fire. Likewise, the brisket and pork belly were secure and had already developed a smoky, mahogany finish.

At about the five-hour mark, the ribs were done. They were a little bit crispy at the bottom tip by the fire, but this meat is generally trimmed off of most ribs anyway, so I was not upset. As ribs cook in the PBX, they self-baste. The juices run down the surface of the meat and keep everything moist and flavorful. This is a major advantage to hanging the meat in the PBX. Additionally, the meat drippings ultimately end up on the coals, which vaporize and add more smoky flavor. This gives meat cooked on the PBX a unique depth of flavor that everyone enjoys. Using a quality lump charcoal or 100% natural briquet is important in the PBX to keep the ash low and the fire burning hot as the meat continues to drip onto the coals. 

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After eight hours, the brisket and the pork belly were basically finished cooking. I took both cuts, wrapped them in heavy-duty aluminum foil, and placed them on the 22.5” cooking grate. It was a little tight but it worked out great for finishing. Of course, you can always finish smoked meat in the kitchen oven once you wrap it in foil. The ability to hang the meat in the PBX allows you to cook a variety of cuts at the same time, even if they are done at separate times such as in this case, ribs, brisket, and pork belly. I was very satisfied with how the PBX performed given the variety of food I threw at it.

For the next test, I wanted to do a higher-capacity cook with one type of meat. I chose to cook pork butts. I loaded the PBX with four pork butts weighing a total of 30 pounds.

PBX loaded with pork

I hooked the pork shoulders with four hooks apiece to make sure they remained secure from start to finish. The PBX ran very steadily for most of the cook. I did have to stoke the fire a few times by stirring the coals with a fire poker to make sure the temperature stayed in the 265 F – 285 F temperature range. This helps to release some of the ash and allows the fire to breathe better. 

While the meat was cooking a lot of fatty drippings hit the coals, which caused a few issues with the temperatures. As the drippings hit the fire, they tended to extinguish the fire in places. With a little bit of stoking, this problem was solved. The PBX never dropped to an unacceptable temperature for the cook, but it may have if I did not intervene. The meat was done in about 12 hours. It was tender and pulled apart beautifully. The bark formed on the surface of the meat was fantastic and many of my guests commented on how flavorful every bite was. It is hard to think of a smoker in this price range that can cook this volume of meat with such a small footprint and yield such excellent results.

PBX smoked pork

Packaging and assembly

The PBX comes well packed in a cardboard box and the body is protected by heavy styrofoam. The PBX arrived in perfect condition and was almost ready to smoke right out of the box. I had to attach the horseshoe handle on the lid with the included hardware, screwdriver, and wrench. The hanging rods, hooks, and charcoal basket were protected by cardboard wrapping and needed to be removed before use. All components were in the barrel when I unpacked it. Assembly and setup took less than 30 minutes to complete. 

Conclusion

As we at AmazingRibs.com expected, the 22.5″ PBX is simply a large version of the classic 18.5″ Pit Barrel Cooker we know and love. Pit Barrel recommends this big guy for large backyard cooks, competitions, catering, and even restaurants. It excels in capacity, flavor, and ease of use. I was very impressed with how well the unit held up when I was cooking mass quantities of meat at once. The capacity offered by the PBX is great, especially given the relatively small footprint. Additionally, I’ve been cooking on the 18.5” Pit Barrel Cooker for years and can testify that their team has always done a great job with customer service and customer relations. So welcome to the Pit Barrel family! Like its smaller brothers, PBX wins our top AmazingRibs.com Platinum Medal.

Warranty

PBC will replace any defective merchandise within one year of the purchase date. Note that while rust-through is covered by the warranty, surface rust is not.

*Our posted capacity of 380 square inches is for the single-round cooking grate. Capacity for hanging meats is dramatically more.

We thank Pit Barrel Cooker for providing a PBX for this review.

  • Item Price:
    $ 599.99
  • Where to buy (buying from this supplier supports this website):
  • Made in USA:
    no
  • Review Method:
    Cooked On It
    We have hands-on experience testing this product. We have also gathered info from the manufacturer, owners and other reliable sources.
  • Primary Function:
    Smoker
  • Fuel:
    Charcoal
  • Primary Capacity:
    380 square inches

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Published On: 7/6/2022 Last Modified: 7/18/2022

  • John “Spinaker” Bowlsby -

    Spinaker grew up in the BBQ-starved state of Minnesota. People here are more likely to be eating hot dish or lutefisk than brisket and ribs. But he has always been drawn to outdoor cooking.

    “My BBQ journey probably started where many others’ did; on the deck with my father. He loved to cook burgers and steaks [...]


 

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