Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hang in there, Baby

There has been a lot of discussion of the Pit Barrel Cooker (PBC) on BBQ-Brethren lately. It's a medium size UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker) whose chief feature seems to be that the meat is normally hung above the bed of coals. Those who have cooked on both WSM and PBC have claimed that they prefer meat smoked on the PBC. I suspected that the chief difference is exposure to the coals in the PBC whereas that is blocked by the water bowl in the WSM. It may be that the conditions can be duplicated in the WSM simply by leaving the water bowl out. I decided to go a step further ang provide a means to support the hanging meat in the WSM. I bent some 3/8" rebar so it would fit under the lid and cut slots in the end that would engage the tabs that normally support the upper grate. The rebar was bent such that it was sprung against the tabs for some additional stability. I plan to make two pieces like this and notch them in the middle so they engage each other and provide some additional support. This apparatus provides about 7" of additional head space above the grate and is about 24" above the charcoal ring.

Today I stopped at Sam's and there were some baby baby backs nearing their sell by date marked down to $2.39/lb. I picked up a package to use to try out hanging ribs.

Weather was a typical late winter day with afternoon temperature about 27°F. Wind was reported above 15 mph but it felt more like a light breeze. The sky is cloudy with snow in the forecast.

I prepared a rub consisting of
  • 1/2 Tbsp Thyme (*)
  • 1 Tbsp Rosemary (*)
  • 1 Tbsp Oregano (*)
  • 1/2 Tsp Chili Chipotle powder
  • 1 Tsp ground Cumin
  • 1/2 Tbsp Ancho powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp Onion powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp whole Mustard (*)
  • 1 Tbsp Garlic granules (*)
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt (*)
  • 1/4 C Brown Sugar (*)
(*) These went into the grinder. Maybe because I put the salt in there (quite by mistake) the mix came out pretty fine. I mixed with the remaining powdered ingredients and put directly on the meat.

The cook was in the 18.5 WSM and sans grates or water bowl. I used some stainless steel hooks to hang the ribs, inserting the hook between the 3rd and 4th rib at the slim end of the rack. I used KB briquettes (with some lump left from a previous smoke) and added pecan and apple for smoking wood. I lit about 3/4 chimney of charcoal rather than the few I would ordinarily use for the Minion method.

timetemp comment
5:00 PM
Lit coals on the fire and closed up Two bottom vents open. Within minutes the remote reads 275°. Going to one bottom vent open.
5:08293°/250°Meat on!
5:49289°/285°Moving along at a decent pace.
7:22313°/260°Meat is pulling back on the bones. Need to check them in a little bit. When I checked, I found that one rack had separated, dropping about 2/3 of the rack onto the fire. I took that off to rest. The remainder of the racks did not pass the bend test.
8:22282°/260°Meat off! (except for the one that fell into the fire and which I put back on.)
8:40 291°/260°
Removed the last portion of a rack.

The ribs look good as they come off and prepare to rest.

They have a more roasted surface than what I have come to expect from the WSM. After resting there was moisture perling on the upper surface and the cut surfaces were very moist.

Flavor was really good. It did seem to lose the rub. I suppose it washes off with the fat and moisture that is rendered off the ribs as they cook. Based on this result, I will finish the apparatus (making a cross piece) and continue to try cooking without the water pan as appropriate. I may even try to fashion a similar support for my 22.5 WSM. Even the partial rack that fell into the fire came out surprisingly good.

Next time I need to provide backup support for the ribs so they don;t fall into the fire! I'm not sure what else I would do differently with the rub. I suppose I could try a coarser grind that might adhere better.


  1. I've been researching hanging systems for my 18.5 WSM but the Weber rack is not being produced anymore. The last 2 auctions for one on Ebay went for $150. At that price I might as well buy a PBC.

    Not sure if you are still around or not. Interested in how you made your hanging system with rebar. Did you drill hole through it to keep stable? How did it not fall over?

  2. The slots cut in the rebar fit the tabs in the cooker snugly. The bars are bent a little wider than the cooker to put them in tension.

    I also have two bars that I use together. I've notched them in the middle where the cross so they interlock when assembled for further stability.