Pick your pit

07 November, 2013


The debate over the best BBQ pit is something that will go on until the end of time. People are as passionate about their cooking tools as they are about their favorite sports team or brand of car. I’ve read many forums where this exact discussion continues on and on without resolution. In the end, it’s a question that doesn’t have a single answer. Well, a single answer that everyone can agree on.

In reality, the best pit to cook on is one you can control. Whether it’s a Webber kettle, Big Green Egg, offset or vertical smoker, round, square, or homemade from a 50 gallon barrel -if you can control or manage the temperature, you can produce high quality meats. Management and control are primarily functions of size of fire, air intake, pit material, and tightness of construction.

However, as equally important as the mechanics of your smoker is your familiarity with the cooker. The more wood you burn in a particular pit, the better you can manage the desired outcome. Some styles require a hotter and larger fire to maintain optimum temps, while others are capable of stability with a few lumps of coal and a minimum amount of oxygen. The science of fire is something we will discuss in a future blog. For now, let’s review a few different styles of pits.

Offset Smoker

This is one of the most popular styles for BBQ’ing. The design is generally constructed out of rolled steel, and has a firebox that is located to the side of the smoking chamber. The fire is built in this box ensuring the heat is not directly under the meat. The heat and smoke travel through the smoking chamber and get exhausted out of the stack or flu. The firebox generally has an air intake and the flu usually has a damper for temperature control. Capacity (number of racks of ribs for example) is usually ample in this style as the elongated smoking tube provides a great deal of cooking surface.

New Braunsfels Smoker

Komodo Cooker (Big Green Egg, Primo, or Grill Dome)

This is probably the fastest growing style of cooker. These units are built from 2” thick ceramic material in the shape of an egg. The fire burns beneath the meat and the heat is vented through an opening in the top. The ceramic makes them EXCELLENT at retaining heat. I often light my kamodo around midnight, get the temperature to 250, put on the brisket and go to bed. I can wake up, make a cup of coffee and the pit will still register 250 degrees. Capacity is somewhat limited, but usually ample for a family and a few neighbors.

      Big Green Egg

Webber Smokey Mountain

Webber produces an excellent style of BBQ smoker that is a more traditional style of vertical smoker. As with the kamodo style, the fire is built beneath the meat and vented through the top. The smoker has multiple racks for stacking various cuts on top of each other. As with many vertical smokers, this product includes a water pan feature that helps maintain pit moisture. Many people use this product in competitive cooking competitions and win top honors.

Webber Smokey Mountain – large and small size

Electric Smoker

This style of smoker is built in an upright fashion and uses electric heat to maintain its temperatures. Smoke flavor is added with the use of small wood chips or powdered wood. Temperature control is quite easy as the heat source is as consistent as the electricity in your house. While some people declare great success with an electric smoker, I simply don’t have the experience to support those claims.

Smoke Hollow electric smoker

Which style to purchase is really a factor of porch or backyard space you can dedicate, amount of food you desire to cook, and the price you are willing to pay. For those who want to cook a few racks of ribs each month or serve up a great brisket after a day of swimming for some neighborhood guests, I usually recommend a Komodo style cooker. I routinely cook for 15 or 20 people without any problem. Plus, once you learn how to build and control the fire, maintaining proper temperatures is VERY easy. Regardless of what unit you decide to purchase, a good smoker will be an anchor in your journey towards becoming a backyard hero.

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