By Christie Vanover | Published January 28, 2017 | Last Updated February 22, 2023
Disclosure: Barrel House Cooker sponsored this post. Opinions are my own. The company is now out of business.
When looking for a smoker, there are three things that I always consider:
Ease of use
But there is one more factor that can’t be overlooked –>price.
There are a lot of great smokers out there for $800+, but finding a reliable smoker at under $300, not so easy.
My very first smoker was an offset barrel smoker that I picked up for less than $200. It always required so much babysitting and yielded inconsistent results, so I never went back to that price point again. I just assumed to get a good smoke I needed to fork out more cash.
When Barrel House Cooker (BHC) contacted me and asked me to try their vertical cooker, which is priced at $249, I was excited but skeptical. I immediately wondered if it could compete with my pellet and ceramic cookers.
I put this bad boy through the ringer, smoking brisket, whole chickens, ribs, pork butt and Cornish hens. It passed every test I put it through, making it a choice smoker at this price point.
Footprint and Portability
Before we get to what it can do and how it works, it’s important to point out the footprint and portability of this cooker. The drum is 35 inches tall and only 14 1/2 inches wide, so it can fit on the smallest of patios – even an apartment balcony.
It’s a lot easier to transport than my bigger smokers. The coal base separates from the drum, so it compacts down to 27 inches tall, which will fit in the backseat of most cars. It weighs in at just over 30 pounds, also adding to its portability. You could pack up two or three of these cookers and hang tough at a BBQ competition with the big dogs and their giant pits.
When you buy a new grill, you probably already have the meat in the fridge and you want to get going ASAP. With the BHC, you can do just that. You literally pull it out of the box and get cooking.
Inside the box, you’ll find the base, the barrel and a few accessories.
The base has a basket that holds the coals. The barrel sits on top of the base and is the main area where the meat smokes. Inside the barrel, you’ll find three grate levels.
The top level holds the ever-important H-frame. This is the frame you’ll use for hanging meat. The top, middle and bottom levels will hold the open frame and grill grates for flat smoking.
One cool feature is that the grill grates are split in half, so you can hang meat from the top, insert the open frame and half a grill rack in the middle, and smoke potatoes on the grate while your meat hangs and smokes. Click on the video above to see examples.
BHC also makes other accessories, like the E-Z Load Turkey Plus Kit. You’ll want this for larger cuts of meat like whole birds and brisket. You can also pick up cedar planks, pizza pans and a drumstick rack.
How to Use a Barrel House Cooker
Let’s get cooking.
The instructions lay it out really well. They recommend using Kingsford briquettes. I followed their recommendation, but I also tested it with lump charcoal since that’s what I usually smoke with.
- First, remove the barrel from the base.
- Place a single layer of your coals of choice on the coal basket in the base.
- Fill your charcoal chimney up with coals. Stuff some crumpled up newspapers under the chimney.
- Set the chimney on the single layer of coals and light the paper. Let briquettes burn for 10 minutes and lump coal burn for 15.
- Dump the hot coals into the basket.
- Add the barrel back onto the base and secure the clamps. Leave the lid open and let it burn for another 5-10 minutes. At this point, you need to check the bottom vent.
TIP – I don’t subscribe to the newspaper, so I buy cheap brown lunch bags and crumple two under my chimney.
This is probably my favorite part of the smoker.
Remember, how I said a good smoker has to be easy and have quality temperature control. With the BHC, you simply adjust the vent based on your elevation. My elevation is 1,760, so I set the intake to 1.
1 = 0-2,000′
2 = 2,000-5,000′
3 = 5,000-8,000′
4 = 8,000-10,000′
When you set the intake to your elevation, the BHC will cook at around 250-300 degrees. The thermometer on top registers about 75-100 degrees cooler than where the meat hangs. That’s because the thermometer is at the top of the barrel and the meat is closer to the coals. Therefore, I used an external thermometer to monitor the heat.
I found that I could leave the BHC at my elevation intake through the entire cook. The only exception is that toward the end, if I find my coals are about to burn out and I don’t want to add more, I just change the setting to 2 or 3. That lets in more air and allows the coals to burn a little hotter to finish the cook.
Let’s talk about adding coals.
If you’re using briquettes, the temperature will remain steady for about 5 hours. If you’re doing a longer cook, I strongly recommend firing more coals up in the chimney before adding them. I didn’t do that the first time. Instead, I just placed unlit coals in the basket, and my temp dropped dramatically and took a while to heat back up.
If you’re using lump charcoal, your temp will hold for 3 ½ to 4 hours. I found that I could add unlit coals right on top without a drastic drop in temperature.
Hanging your meat
The beauty of the BHC is that you can hang the meat while it’s smoking, which yields a beautiful color all the way around. It comes with 4 meat hooks. Heavier meats will require more than one hook, so you’ll probably want to pick up extra hooks. They’re only $2.99 each.
For whole chickens, use two hooks. Stick one into the neck cavity and pierce it through the right breast. Pierce the other hook through the left breast. Hang and cook with the lid closed, until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees.
For Cornish hens, cut the hens in half and cut out the backbone. Pierce one hook through the backside of the breast and under the wing tip. Hang and cook for about 1 1/2 hours, until the internal temp reaches 165 degrees.
For ribs, pierce the hook through the meat under the second or third bone. Hang and smoke for about 3 hours, until the meat starts to pull away from the bones.
This is going to be one of your heaviest cooks, so you’ll want to use three hooks. First off, I recommend getting a brisket that’s under 12 pounds. With the setup I use for brisket, the barrel accommodates meat that is about 18 inches long.
Pierce the first hook about three inches down into the “point” side of the brisket. Take another hook and hang the short end on the hook already in the meat. Then, pierce the long end further down into the meat. Repeat with the third hook.
Place the open frame on the bottom level with both grill grates. Set an aluminum pan on that rack. This will help catch the juices so they don’t drip straight onto the coals and put ashes on your meat.
Place the EZ-Load Top Bar (an optional accessory) on the top level and hang the meat. I cooked the brisket to 175 degrees. Then, I wrapped it tightly in two sheets of foil and hung it back in the smoker until it reached 203 degrees.
The fat from the point will drip into the flat, creating more flavor and moisture.
For the pork butt, I like to use the Barrel House Cooker’s rack feature. Lay the butt on the middle level and cook it to about 180 degrees. Then wrap it in foil, and return it to the cooker until it reaches 200 degrees.
More than just a smoker?
In addition to smoking all of that meat, you can also smoke seafood, vegetables, beans, macaroni and cheese and more, but because the BHC has a detachable base, you can use the bottom as a hibachi grill for direct heat and searing.
This is great if you want to pre-sear your meat before smoking or if you like doing the reverse sear method where you smoke your meat and then finish it off over direct heat. Just light the coals the same way, add the open frame and grill grates and you’re set.
At only 9 inches tall, the hibachi grill base is uber-portable with 153 square inches of cooking space. Plenty for a few steaks or a burger party.
Nice review. Im looking to get one of these. How was clean up with all the drippings and the ash removal? Could you add a water pan like my current cheapy smoker? Would you need one?
Cleanup is really easy. When I’m done cooking, I close the vents to put out the coals. Then, I detach the barrel from the base. I like to shake the basket in the base in case there are any coals that I can reuse for another cook. The rest of the ashes fall into the bottom. You just flip it over and dump it, and you’re ready for your next cook. As far as drippings, they usually come out with the ashes, but about every 5th cook, I give the base a good wipe down. I haven’t used a water pan yet. I don’t find that I need it. The water pan in my other smoker helps reduce heat, but the BHC maintains a steady heat with proper vent adjustment.
Great review! I have 3 Weber Smokey Mountain smokers and I think that this would be an easy smoker for me to add and learn. I hope I win your thanksgiving drawing!
I did 3 racks of spares on my first cook with the BHC. The drippings created a dense oily smoke which subsequently covered everything in the pit and esp. the ribs. Result was an overly strong wood smoke flavor. ie creosote? Any way to prevent this?
Sorry to hear that Harvey. That did happen to me once when I dripped some excess BBQ sauce onto the coals when I was saucing them. To prevent this from happening, you can place a grill grate on the bottom level and then add an aluminum pie tin on the grate. This will catch the drippings. Hope this helps.
You Rock!! Honestly, your is one of the best BBQ/smoke blogs/websites I have ever some across.
Clean layout, excellent write up, beautiful pics, and great meticulous directions/recipes. I am a fan after just this write up
Here’s a question – Now that BHC offers an 18.5″ version for the same price, would you go with the larger?
do you ever feel the need for capacity/grill space?
Thanks Victor. Since I do competitive BBQ, I can definitely see the value in the 18.5. I’m going to be testing it out next week. If it cooks as great as I think it will, I’ll continue to do my ribs on the 14 and my brisket on the 18.5.
Anxious to see your report on the 18.5. Our local Walmart had one for 197.00, a tremendous price, but I would kind of like to see how it performs before I buy one.
Nice. I’d like to compare it to my pit barrel cooker.
I purchased the 18.5 for $197.00 from Walmart about 3 months ago. I have smoked ribs and brisket in it so far. It is a very easy smoker to set-up and cook with. Unfortunately, it does not come with the split rack in the center; however, I think there is an O grate accessory that can be ordered to fix that problem. I am a big fan of having a water pan because of the moisture it adds to keep meats moist and tender. I think it would be a nice add-on for BarrelHouse to create for its customers. Overall, this is an excellent smoker for the price because of the ease of use and the excellent videos BarrelHouse provides on its website for customers to follow. I have cooked with offset smokers, Brinkmann water smokers (R2D2-lol), and Kamado Joe cast-iron ceramic smokers. This one is the real-deal. I am a KCBS master-certified BBQ judge and I highly recommend this smoker to beginners and experienced cooks.
which cooker is better ..the 18 or 14 ?
It depends on how much you like to cook. Personally, I enjoy the 14. It takes up less room and performs really well.
Since PBC and BHC or now owned by the same corp. is the BHC also now made in China? I bm’d your website for your excellent tutorials,vids and reviews. I am curious to note that amazingribs.com has not reviewed or rated the BHC as they have touted PBC and OK Joe’s Bronco. I have always trusted their “unbiased” reviews and ratings but now, not so much.
I’m not sure where the BHC is made now. Amazing Ribs is great. They held off reviewing the BHC while there was some ongoing litigation between BHC and PBC. Now that PBC acquired BHC maybe they’ll do a review soon.