Pit Barrel Cooker

Smoked Ribs in Winter


Let me set the scene, it’s a sunny Sunday morning, no birds are out chirping, no squirrels running around gathering nuts, a light breeze, just what am I doing? You ask. I am getting the smoker out of the shed. It’s late December in Wisconsin. The current temp is 0 degrees (yes 0 degrees) the wind chill is -18 degrees (yes -18 degrees) by Canadian standards, I’m sure that’s cute but it’s cold for southern Wisconsin. But what I miss the most from summer and fall is a tasty rack of smoked ribs with my own dry rub and sauce. so I am not going to be shy, I’m getting my smoker out of the shed, dragging it through the snow and see what it can do at zero degrees. I did a couple of write ups on my pit barrel cooker back in August when I got it, but this is the first time I had the opportunity to light this beast in the bitter cold. This was also the reason I bought this beauty, so I could set it and forget it.

I started by dressing the racks the way I always do, the way it needs to be done. This is just a run down, you can research prepping the Ribs on other sites.

  1. Remove the membrane with paper towel
  2. Brush on a little bit of oil
  3. Cover with my dry rub recipe
    1. I make my own rub that I also use for competition so I can divulge the secret but its sweet and heat.
  4. Start the grill as described on the Pit Barrel  Website or the various Youtube videos that show you how to properly start the coals so they maintain temp for a greater amount of time.
  5. Once the smoker is up to temp, hang the meat. I was smoking 6 racks of ribs and a whole chicken.
  6. I prepared the chicken per the Pit Barrel Site, PBC Videos however I just used salt and pepper for seasoning, its how my wife likes it, and it comes out great.

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First the most obvious, the outside temp, temp control can be difficult at 0° with a -18° wind chill if you have to babysit your smoker, if this has stopped you from enjoying ribs in winter you need to look at a new smoker, The Pit Barrel Smoker can handle it, it was designed to be hands off once its lit no more fussing around with coals or chunks of wood every 10 minutes. With the temp at zero the smoker held 210 degrees inside the barrel for all 5 hours I had food in it and then some, I didn’t have to babysit the coals at all, just watch it smoke away from inside the house. In the summer the temp usually holds around 240, so I knew that I would have to adjust the cooking times, I just didn’t know by how much, this is where a fast thermometer comes in handy, you don’t want to stand outside in zero degrees waiting for the temp to read out, a digital meter also work you can have the meter in your house so you don’t need to go out there at all, I haven’t bought a wireless one, I have a quick thermometer.

Orientation of the cooker, we had a northwest wind so I put the vent downwind because I didn’t want the wind blowing in the vent causing a heating issue, (fanning the flames). However the wind cooled the non-vent side a bit making hotter coals near the vent side so the meat didn’t cook perfectly even causing me to swap sides about half way through.

The Meats:


The chicken, prep went like clockwork, I am getting pretty good at prep. However due to the outside temp and lower than usual temp in the barrel, the chicken just wouldn’t get above to 160°. At 2 hours (as directed from the PBC website) it should have been done, (my summer smoke was done at 2 hours) this time it was around 140° I gave it 30 more minutes it hit 150° then 30 minutes later it was 155° then held at 155°, I decided to pull out the chicken and finish it in my oven, 20 minutes at 350 and it was a perfect 167° and tasted like it just came out of the smoker.

The ribs near the Vent side got done quicker, at 3 hours when I pulled out the chicken, I moved the racks around to get the undone set over the hotter coals, and this worked pretty well. This was not something I needed to so in the summer, and It wasn’t a big deal, just something to look for if you smoke meat in the winter, I just gave it another 30 minutes, I should have left it an hour, pulled the ribs out one by one added the home made sauce and put them back in for 30 more minutes or so. I Pulled them out let them rest a bit and dug in, fresh smoked ribs were absolutely what I was missing.

All total the chicken took 3 hours and had to be finished in the oven, for safe eating temp. I probably could have left them in the smoker longer to see if the temp would go up again but winter in Wisconsin isn’t about the cold it’s about the lack of day light, it gets dark very early and fast and I wanted to be back in before I couldn’t see what was going on in there. The ribs took 4.5 hours total almost 5 hours, the less-done rack could have used a bit longer but all of the meat tasted great and was all cooked thoroughly. I shared my ribs with some neighbors and friends at work and have been told I should be selling them. That is about the greatest compliment a non-paid cook can get besides watching my kids chow down.

To wrap up, the pit barrel cooker performs great at zero degrees or 90 degrees. See my other write ups on the PBC.

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as always thanks for reading.

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