While the Weber Kettle might be the most popular backyard grill in America, the PK Grill gives it a run for its money – and has been for more than 70+ years.
Unveiled in the early 1950s, the PK Grill quickly became an almost “cult favorite”.
And not just around Tyler, Texas (where the grill was invented), but clear across the country.
Folks loved how easy to use this “portable kitchen”, not just for grilling but also for smoking everything under the sun.
While the Weber may be household name in backyard charcoal smoking grills, there is another kid in town who does it well, and really well.
In this detailed guide we run through (almost) everything you need to know about how the PK Grill handles smoking these days.
Let’s jump right in!
PK Grill 101 – A Quick Intro
Unhappy with the way that his Weber kettle grill worked, Hilton Meigs of Tyler, Texas took matters into his own hands.
Throughout the late 1940s and into the early 50s Meigs played around with different designs and materials.
This is until he landed on the exact design that PK Grills have featured for 70+ years.
Using cast aluminum to keep weight down, this new grill had a flat bottom.
A lot more cooking space than the Weber kettles of the time, and gave backyard cooks a lot more freedom and control over their heat source.
Backyard BBQers finally had a grill that could go from ripping hot temps to sear steaks, roast hot dogs, and cook burgers to “low and slow”.
It is perfect for smoking ribs, brisket, and pork shoulders.
Is the PK Grill Good for Smoking?
You bet it is!
There are a couple of things about the design of the PK Grill that make this a real top-tier smoker that does double duty as a fantastic grill.
First, the flat bottom design of the PK means that you are able to have a lot more control over the fire you build in this smoker.
Grillers need skyhigh temperatures.
The PK lets you pile your coals up almost right under the grill surface, giving you access to tons of direct heat to sear steaks and cook hotdogs or burgers.
Smokers, on the other hand, need lower temperatures and indirect heat.
The PK has plenty of room to spread coals out, but can also create “dual zone” cooking surfaces by piling the coals on one side of the grill and putting your meat on the other.
That kind of indirect heat makes smoking and low and slow cooking a whole lot easier.
On top of that, PK Grills also have a unique four vent system.
The Weber kettle, in comparison, only has two vents which make it a whole lot harder to control temperatures.
With four vents PK Grill owners can dial in just the right amount of airflow to maintain temperatures over long blocks of time, gently smoking their food rather than burning it.
Lastly, the high-quality cast aluminum materials that the PK is made out of do a great job at heat retention and even heat radiation.
Once you get your temperatures dialed in – 230°F is pretty good for most smoking – you can just sort of let the PK handle everything else for you.
Those temperatures are going to be pretty much locked in, require just a little bit of checking in every now and then.
On top of that, adding fuel to the fire box without disturbing the food your smoking is foolishly easy with the PK, too.
The oversized firebox lets you drop more fuel in (when necessary) without having to even touch the meat you’re smoking on the other side of the grill.
Setting Up the PK Grill for (Smoking) Success
If you really want to make the most of your PK Grill as a smoker there are a couple of things you’re going to want to do.
First, you need to master dual zone cooking – something that the PK makes about as easy as can be.
You can build dual “zones” with the heating source on one side and the meat you’re smoking on another.
This is instead of just indiscriminately dumping a chimney full of charcoal into your PK Grill and then throwing the meat you want to smoke anywhere on the grill surface.
The flat bottom of the PK makes this effortless.
Dump your coals in, push and pile them to one side of the grill, set the grill grates down on top and then put the meat you want to smoke on the “cold” side of the grill.
You can’t do that as easily with a Weber kettle grill because of the sloping sides.
Secondly, because the PK firebox is flat and generously proportioned you can also sneak split logs into it quite comfortably.
If you really need to bring the temperatures down or shield the meat you’re smoking from any direct heat at all, cut a split to fit.
Also, nestle it up against the coals, and it will do the job pretty well.
It’s even better if you use a split of wood like hickory or oak to impart a little flavor, too!
Finally, you’ll want to learn how to utilize all four of the vents that the PK gives you access to.
Temperature control is the name of the game when it comes to successful smoking – with the PK or anything else.
Nothing gives you more control over your temperatures than the vents that control airflow.
This is something you’ll have to sort of learn as you go, though.
Vent settings one day might not work as well to hold the same temperatures the next.
Ambient temperatures, humidity levels, the amount of wind you’re dealing with, rain, etc. can all have an impact on how much air you’re moving through your PK.
After a season of smoking with this grill, though, you should have a pretty good idea of how to make adjustments on-the-fly to lock in those low and slow temperatures.
For one thing, the legendary quality of these grills is almost unmatched.
The construction of these grills is impeccable.
The materials used are high quality, and the design is so simple and straightforward that it doesn’t need a lot of tinkering.
Secondly, these grills have incredible heat retention properties that makes smoking a whole lot easier.
Combine that with effortless to control airflow through the four individual vents and you can start to see why this is such a beloved backyard smoker.
Finally, the versatility of a PK Grill can’t be understated.
There aren’t a lot of inexpensive backyard grills like this that can go from smoking to searing and back again without a whole lot of headache or hassle.
The Weber – the main competition for the PK Grill – certainly can’t.
Get your hands on one of these classics today and find out firsthand just how well it works as a smoker!