This years Eggs in the Desert event turned out Egglicious. The teams cranked out some really great food. Here is a list of the winners. The three time champion Garnett Marshal retired this year and taught a really interesting Cooking on the Egg class instead.

  1. Red Brick 421 votes, XL Big Green Egg and Stand
  2. Team “Just Us” BBQ 393 votes, Sure Flame Grill with Cart
  3. Zach’s All Stars 338 votes, Pronto Pizza Oven
  4. Smokin Hot 244 votes, Yeti Roadie
  5. AZ  BBQ 206 votes
  6. Dom’s BBQ 197 votes
  7. Texas BBQ 146 votes
  8. Rough Stock BBQ 132 votes
  9. Glazed and Confused 128 votes
  10. Ballesteros 76 votes
  11. Rex 55 votes

The Pit Barrel Cooker has been making its rounds on the Internet and I decided to try one out. I thought that some of the company’s claims were a bit dubious and figured the only way to know for sure was to unbox one and cook on it myself.

SETUP

True to the videos, this cooker is ready to use out of the box. The only thing that needs to be adjusted is the air intake (you will need a phillips screwdriver for this). The following items are included;

  • Three legged barrel stand
  • 35 gallon food grade drum with horseshoe handles
  • Charcoal basket
  • Cooking grate
  • 8 stainless steel food hooks
  • Two pieces of rebar to hang the hooks on
  • Wooden hook handle to remove hot hooks

The only thing you need to do to start cooking is place the stand on the ground, adjust the air intake and get the charcoal going. In their videos they claim that you do not need to burn it in first. However after seeing a video where they light charcoal using lighter fluid, I decided to do a 40 minute burn anyways. I lit the charcoal using my chimney starter, which took about 17 minutes and worked really well. Personally, I would never recommend using lighter fluid in any cooking equipment and I think almost all competitive BBQ competitors would agree. The air intake cover is flat and does not seal the barrel even when fully closed. So shutting down the cooker is difficult if not impossible.

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NOTE: There is no thermometer built in so will need a third party device. A digital probe on a wire would probably be best, but I just used my laser thermometer and focused it on one of the pieces of rebar. After about ½ hour the Pit Barrel Cooker leveled out at about 235 F.

COOKING TRI-TIP

The first thing I tried to cook with my Pit Barrel Cooker was a tri-tip. I had a 5 pack I picked up as I was testing several different units this week and boy do I love tri-tip! Personally I prefer a Santa Maria style rub, but opted to use the beef and game rub that came with the cooker. I trimmed the tri-tip, seasoned it with the rub and hung it by the point using one of the provided food hooks. I started temp testing the tri-tip after about an hour. It was at about 103 F internal temperature so I started checking it every 15 minutes. After about 1:45 minutes it was at 125 and I pulled it so I could sear the outside. It already had a bit of a crust but I wanted to brown it up a tad more. I fired up my gas grill and seared it for a couple of minutes on each side. I let it rest for about 15 minutes in the microwave. It was cooked just right. Tender, juicy and great flavor.

COOKING CHICKEN

This part of the testing made me laugh. In one of the company’s cooking demonstration videos they use a couple of chickens and hang the halves from the hooks. The leg bones are the closest to the fire which hit temperatures exceeding 500 F. I thought that there was no way the legs wouldn’t be blackened stumps by the time the breast meat was properly cooked. I used the all purpose rub that came with the cooker.

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The amount provided barely coated the two whole chickens I was preparing. The rub is maybe a 7 out of 10 but I wanted to try and cook the chicken like they do in their demonstration video. I placed the hooks though the chicken halves so they held up the wings.

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The legs seemed to hang really low and the connective tissue seemed weak and flimsy. I was highly skeptical and guessed that the leg portions would drop off into the fire or at least be horribly over done. After about an hour I received an emergency call and had to leave to pick up my cat and transfer him to a surgery center. By the time I got back home the chicken had been in the cooker for almost 3 hours. I expected it to be burnt to a crisp. Amazingly enough the chicken was golden brown with a nice crispy skin. I took out the halves and placed them in the microwave for 15 minutes to rest. The skin was like bacon and the white and dark meat were tender, juicy and delicious. Check out the pictures. I was impressed by the forgiveness of this cooker.

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PROS

  • Cedar plank anything works well.
  • Cooks chicken and tri-tip really well.
  • Easy to setup
  • Great price point

Cons:

  • Air vent is held in place by a screw so it is difficult to adjust or shut down
  • Even if you close the vent, it is flat and the barrel is round so there is a gap on either side of the opening and your charcoal will continue to burn until it is gone.
  • When you open the lid there is a huge heat gain as the air intake can not be easily closed.
  • Lid horseshoe handle gets pretty warm.
  • While the hooks allow you to cook quite a bit of food, you are limited by the size of the grate when finishing the foods.

THOUGHTS FROM THE REST OF THE GUYS

Mike – The beef ribs I cooked on it, turned out amazing. I was laughing and how good they turned out. I don’t understand how it does not burn stuff but somehow it doesn’t.

JT – The ribs Mike made were really great. I was impressed by what this cooker could do.

Adam – My back hurts.

Melissa – I like this grill. It is light and easy to move. The food made on it, is really tasty also.

I was excited to try out the Pizzeria Pronto, as the videos I had seen of it looked pretty amazing. They claim that once the unit is pre-heated you can bake a pizza in about 5 minutes. Putting it together was simple and only took about 10 minutes. It appears to be well constructed and sturdy.

To light the unit simply press in the heat control knob and turn almost to the high mark count to 5 to allow gas to get to the burner and then continue turning the knob until the piezo igniter clicks. Once lit it only takes about 5 minutes for the oven to reach 700 degrees.

Pizzeria Pronto pre heating.

Another 5 minutes and it reached over 1,000 degrees. The instructions say to preheat the oven for at least 10 minutes but not more than 15 minutes. While the oven and pizza stone are preheating you have plenty of time to make your pizza.

To make things easier, I picked up some premade pizza dough from my local supermarket. The dough I bought was in batches that would make one of their 16 inch pizzas. I made the sauce using this pizza sauce recipe.

You build the pizza on a heavily dusted pizza peel. Place the flattened dough on a heavily flour dusted the peel, add the sauce and topping and you are ready to slide it into the oven. You only have about 5 minutes to do this or it seems that the dough starts to stick to the peel and trying to shake it loose can rearrange your toppings and cause a mess.

My first attempt at making a pizza I used half the dough and made a pepperoni and baby Portobello pizza.

Uncooked pepperoni and mushroom pizza

It was tasty but the crust came out thicker than I like it and it took around 10 minutes to fully cook. I rotated the pizza 180 three times at 2 1/2 minute intervals during this cook.

Pepperoni and baby portobella mushroom pizza.

The next few I used about 1/3 of the dough and the crusts turned out delightfully crisp and the cheese and toppings bubbly and crusty. I was starting to get the hang of it and was really pleased with the results. My favorite one of the day had diced tomatoes, diced pepperoni, basil leaves, mushrooms and feta cheese. It was fantastic. The thinner crust only took about 7 minutes to bake. The dual cordierite stones and the heat reflective lid do a good job at cooking both the top and the bottom of the pizza at the same time. The top vent lets moisture escape which can otherwise make your pizzas soggy.

Tomato, basil, pepperoni, mozzarella and feta thin crust pizza.

The crust looks black on the left side but it was perfectly done. The sun was low at this point and casting deep shadows. The oven seems to perform best when cooking thin pizzas. The uncooked dough for these were about 1/4 inch thick.

Overall I was very pleased with the pizzas I made with this unit. Once hot you can cook pizza after pizza without any waiting between pies. I highly recommend this product.

NOTES

  • The directions say to use flour on your peel instead of cornmeal. I am not sure why, but the flour seemed to work well so I stuck with that method. In the past I have always used cornmeal.
  • The back of the oven is hotter than the front so after about 2:30 minutes you have to slide the pizza out with the peel rotate the pizza 180 degrees slide it back onto the pizza stone. I found that even with the thinner crusts I would have to turn the pizzas twice for a total bake time of about 8 minutes. Again, I like my pizzas a bit more on the crispy side, so I may not take as long to bake if you like your pizzas a bit less cooked.
  • The cooking chamber is not very tall, so a thin metal peel will work much better than a thicker wooden one.
  • While the legs allow you to use the Pizzeria Pronto on any surface the outside of the unit gets very hot. Make sure you set it up in a place where people will not accidentally touch it.

Addendum: During further testing I was able to use an infrared heat gun to get a more accurate temperature reading. It turns out that the built in thermometer was not very accurate. I found that if you left the unit on high the pizza stone would reach a maximum temperature of around 675° F. At this temperature the pizzas were completely cooked in 5 minutes.

Pulled Pork Enchiladas

An excellent way to reuse the leftover pulled pork!

Prep Time: 30 Minutes
Cook Time: 1 Hour
Yield: 10 Folks

Ingredients
  • 2 – 3 lbs pulled pork butt
  • Rubs: Shelton’s pick – Salt Lick Garlic Dry Rub
  • 1lb shredded Monterrey Jack cheese
  • 1lb shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 36 small corn tortillas
  • 12 Tomatillos
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 1 – 2 Jalapenos to taste
  • 4 – 6 garlic cloves
  • 4 Poblano Peppers
  • 4 Anaheim Chilis
  • 1 Quart Chicken Stock
  • 1/4 Cup Avocado oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped Cilantro
Recipe Instructions
  1. Preheat your smoker to 225 degrees. Smoke all peppers at 225 for a half hour. Warm chicken stock to 180 degrees. Remove peppers and place them in a bowl of cool water, and remove all seeds & stems. In a high speed blender, add all de-seeded peppers, onion, garlic, hot chicken stock, sugar, & Salt Lick to taste. Place liquid in a large shallow bowl/dish.
  2. Time to assemble some enchiladas. Move smoker temp up to 350. Grease a large baking dish. Dip tortillas into hot Tomatillo sauce until they flexible but not falling apart. Place tortilla into the dish, add a small handful of pulled pork & a touch of shredded Monterrey jack cheese, roll it up, and continue. Tortillas don’t want to stay rolled up neatly, so push more rolled tortillas against them to hold them in place. In other words, the more full the dish becomes, the easier it is to hold the stuffed enchiladas in place. Fill pan completely, pour remaining tomatillo sauce over the top, and stack up the cheese.
  3. Place the pan of enchiladas onto the smoker, and pull it off when the cheese is golden brown on top. (30-60 minutes, depending upon smoker temp) Sprinkle chopped cilantro on top, and serve it piping hot with a cold cerveza on the side!
Recipe Generator courtesy of BBQ Island

I get asked quite a bit about how I start my coals and maintain my fire in my WSM’s .  It seems that most often, I hear people have problems with over shooting their desired temps.  First off, let me dispel a myth.  Most WSM owners believe that they own a “water” cooker.  BBQ tends to be  a man’s game, not always, but mostly.  Therefore very few of us take the time to actually read through the manual.  If you did, you will find that the water pan in the WSM is a heat sink, not a steamer.  It absorbs heat energy in order to help keep the temps from spiking. No matter what you think, you are NOT receiving any moisture or flavor benefit from the water or juice that you fill the pan with.  I personally do not ever put water in my WSM’s, but it’s ok if you do.  Just remember that it takes energy to heat all of that water, which burns out your charcoal faster.  If you use water, heat it up first if you don’t want to waste fuel.  Personally I just hate the mess and I have gotten to the point where I don’t need the water to help me with maintaining  temps.  Hopefully after this, you wont either.  Ill touch more on the water pan issue later.

The most common way to start charcoal in the WSM is what is called the minion method.  This is where you fire up a chimney full of charcoal, and pour it into the center of your charcoal ring surrounded by fresh coals.  I am not a fan of this method. I feel that too much charcoal is lit from top to bottom, making it nearly impossible to not have temp spikes in the beginning of your cook. Also, no matter how hard you try, when you dump lit charcoal on fresh charcoal, a stray lit chunk ALWAYS lands somewhere outside of where you want to start the fire from.  This creates an uneven fire, and that will give you issues.

This is how I setup my WSM’s.  This method works great whether you use a temp control device such as the BBQ Guru (I use the Guru and love it) or not.  I like to plan on about 45 minutes to start my cookers.  It only takes about 20 minutes to get to temp but I recommend getting it to temp and maintaining it for 20 minutes just to make sure it has leveled off.  I build a large pyramid with my charcoal and light it with a Looftlighter. I light just the tip top of the pyramid.  At this point I obviously do not have the middle section of my WSM in place.  It is off to the side.  After a few minutes, once a decent little amount of coal has fired up, I place the middle section and lid back in place with all vents, top and bottom, wide open.

My trusty Looft Lighter and Good One Lump Charcoal

This is about all I light.

On the flip side, If I am using my beloved BBQ Guru, this where I would button up the whole cooker, close all of the bottom vents, open the top vent, and let the fan and controller bring the cooker to temp.  I recommend learning how to use your cooker manually before buying a BBQ Guru or Ique.  In my most recent competition, we lost power, then I pulled my temp probe out of my cooker way too hard and snapped it, so I had to finish the cook manually in thirty mile per hour wind.  Luckily I knew how to manually run my cookers and had no problems at all.

Now back to manual operation.  I usually advise people to shut the back two charcoal vents, and shut the top vent about halfway once they are within about 40 degrees of their desired temp.  Your temp will still continue to ramp up, but this will help keep the temps from overshooting.  Generally if the weather is good, meaning no wind, I can lock in the cooker around 225 to 250 following these steps.  If you want a little more heat, start by opening the top vent all of the way.  Then if you need even more heat, open one of the back vents about a ¼ of the way.  Remember, nothing about BBQ is fast.  If you want to increase temp, then make a small change and wait 10 minutes and repeat if necessary.  After a few hours, especially if you use crap Kingsford, that’s right, I said it ;) Ash will start to build up a bit and you will have to open vents to keep your temps maintained.  This is why I strongly advise using a good natural lump charcoal.  When I say good, I mean brands like: Good One, Montana, Royal Oak, Chigger Creek, and my personal favorite, Ozark Oak.  Sorry about the shameless plugs, but I am big believer in Lump charcoal.  Its reusable, produces WAY less ash which in a WSM is imperative, especially for you 18.5 WSM owners, and puts off a better flavor.
If I am shooting for 225, I would button up the vents here.

After 25 minutes, she is humming along right at 225.  Lets Cook!!

As you can tell, I am a BIG fan of the WSM!  It really is a great cooker, and Weber has some of the best customer service around.  I also think it says a lot that some of the best cook teams in the world compete on them, and keep in mind, Weber does not sponsor cook teams, these pro’s buy theirs just like the rest of us.   Teams like Slap Yo Daddy BBQ, Sweet Peppers, Rythym n Que, and local AZ young guns Loot n Booty BBQ and us, Bam Bam’s BBQ, all swear by the WSM in competition.   That’s it from me, good luck!

~Bam Bam

 

TIPS AND TRICKS:

-Every time you open the lid, you add 10 minutes to your cook

-For those of you in cold or windy climates, go to your local Home Depot or Lowes and buy a 10 foot roll of “48 inch Reflectix” this is a super economical way to insulate your cooker and provide a wind barrier.  I recommend buying some utility Velcro so you can fully wrap your cooker and keep it in place.  One thing to keep in mind, this works especially well for BBQ Guru or Ique users because you can fully wrap the cooker top to bottom without having to worry about suffocating your WSM.  For those of you without a BBQ Guru, wrap the Reflectix around the seam between the bottom and middle section of the cooker, so you do not block your vents and suffocate your coals.

-If you don’t use water in your water pan, double wrap the water pan in heavy duty foil for easy cleanup.  If you are still having temperature spikes and want to create a heat sink without using water, then buy some ceramic briquettes and place 10-20 of them in the bottom of your water pan and put another layer of foil over them to catch grease.

-Be careful with the lid and middle section of your WSM.  Never set the either one on any hard, or abrasive surface such as concrete or asphalt.  Not only will you leave a grease ring that wont come out, you will chip away at the porcelain coating which will hurt the seal between the lid and the middle section, or the middle section and the charcoal bowl.  Instead, set the lid down on a plastic table or a piece of cardboard.  Concerning the middle section.  The lid and the charcoal bowl are heavier and much more rigid than the middle section.  The lid and charcoal bowl  will  help the middle section of the WSM hold its shape.  If the lid and charcoal bowl are not connected, be careful not to warp the middle section.  The middle section is much more flimsy and can warp fairly easy.  I have warped mine when traveling to competition.  My WSM was too tall if the lid or base was connected, so I had to transport it in 3 pieces.  I packed things around the middle section and they shifted en route to the comp and warped the middle section of the cooker.  Once that happens, your WSM will run extremely hot and really wont even be useable.  Now my warped cooker is my little backyard fire pit

Having seen a pig cooked in a La Caja China roasting box, I decide to see if it was simple as it seemed. I started out with a 64.9 lb pig from McReynolds Farm.

Pig in a bag

There was very little to do to prepare the pig for roasting. I just had to split the breast bone.

Splitting the breast

Then split the backbone so that the pig would lay flat.

Cutting the backbone

I loaded up the injector with Louisiana hot sauce and apple juice.

Competition injector

Next I injected all the meaty portions of the pig.

Injecting the pig

Lastly I gave it a good coat of BBQ rub. It was then re-bagged and put on ice overnight.

Injected and seasoned pig

I had to transport the La Caja China to a vineyard to roast the pig. Set up and breakdown was a breeze. All I had to do was reattach the handles. I had removed them so it would fit better in the back of my SUV. After a few minutes of leveling the roaster, I put the hog into the roaster skin side down and added the first batch of charcoal. I started it in a chimney and then mixed in the lit pieces with the rest. Once they were all burning I spread them about across the charcoal tray.

First batch of charcoal

After adding the next three batches of charcoal, it was time to flip the pig. Mitch helped me out by scoring the skin with Xs so that the skin would get nice and crisp. So far I had only spent about 15 minutes setting up the roaster and adding charcoal. The whole roasting process took very little effort.

Cutting the skin of the pig

While the pig was finishing roasting I went down and watched the ceremony.

The wedding

Dana was very excited that the pig was done and that she just got married.

Yay the pig is done

The pig was done right on time and turned out wonderfully. The La Caja China worked fantastic. I would strongly recommend a La Caja China roasting box to anyone who wants to roast a pig or other food with little effort and great results.

La Caja China roasted pig

The crowd descended on the pig like pigeons on bread crumbs. The entire pig was picked clean within 30 minutes.