Wood Fire Grill DIY: Building the Ugly Drum Smoker

I love talking about DIY BBQ smokers, and as such – I recently posted on the Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) and it being a great wood fire grill DIY project to start with where BBQ Smokers are concerned.  This post is a follow up with some more specific construction information.  Yes – I consider this smoker a wood fire grill as well as you can easily fuel it with the hardwood of your choosing and grill lid off – style.  There’s so much you can do with the UDS.  As crude as it can look, it has a certain universal presence about it.  Almost like “The Force.”  In fact, I think that Darth Vader might also cook on an Ugly Drum Smoker.


Locate and Buy Your Drum

The first thing you need to find when you’re building your UDS is the drum itself.   Look for food grade 55 Gallon Steel Drums.

Local businesses that deal in food grade products are likely to have some steel drums handy, and will most likely be willing to sell them to you for cheap.  There are also several online sources for 55 gallon steel drums.

Be sure to burn a load or two – whatever it takes – to get the inside of the grill clean should there be anything suspect in there.  You want to be sure you don’t have any off-putting tastes floating into your meat when the smoking begins.

Build Out the Grill and Charcoal Setup

Create a resting spot for your coals

Let’s start from the bottom up.  Air fuels fire.  So, you need to be sure that the charcoal sits several inches above the bottom of the barrel.  Not only will this make sure airflow can come under the coals, but it will also provide space for the ashes to fall.

One way to situate your burn basket in the right spot is to find an old grill grate or buy one from a supply store that will sit nicely inside the drum.  Bolt this in place and you should be good to go.

Build a charcoal burning basket

You’ll need to craft a basket for your charcoal so that it stays in an efficiently burning pile.  A basket can be made from anything you can find  – including heavy gauge metal mesh, or maybe a piece of cut and spread sheet metal from your local scrap yard.

Your Ugly Drum Smoker charcoal basket can either be a single set size, or you can build a couple different charcoal basket sizes to accommodate varying burn times.

Create Holes to Regulate Air Flow

As with any smoker, the air flow in the UDS needs to be regulated in order to control the burn of your charcoal.  There are several ways to handle this.  Here are two methods you might look into.

Method #1:  Lower airflow holes covered with magnets

One of the easiest ways to adjust the air flow is just to punch out three or four holes in the bottom of the smoker  –  perhaps by using an electrician’s knockout punch tool.  A very cool way I’ve seen folks handle the hole plugging is to cover them with magnets.  This makes for easy work when you need to regulate the airflow.

Method #2: Smoke stack and ball valve approach

Some of the Ugly Drum Smoker configurations you’ll see use a smoke stack approach to regulate air flow.  For this to work, you’ll need to find a 1 to 2 inch gauge piece of gas pipe.  Configure it to bend upwards use a ball valve for air control.  If you’re not a welder, no worries.  You can secure the pipe with a cement compound.

A great example of this method can be seen over at the Stealth Survival Blog, so be sure to check that out!

Fit the Grate in Place

The last thing you need to do is to fit the grate in place.  You have a couple of choices.  If you use a flat top to your smoker, you may be limited to using a single grill or space a couple out evenly, but with limited head space.

If you can find an old Weber kettle grill top that fits your drum, this might provide you with enough space to fit a turkey or rack of ribs on the top.  Determine your desired configuration, place four bolts at each desired grate resting level, and you’re ready to roll!

Your First Cook – How to Come Out Swangin’!

To make sure you season that tri-tip or brisket just right, consider one of the fine rubs put out by our friends over at C-Dub’s BBQ Rubs.

Of course, if you’re of the mind that all of this DIY BBQ Smoker stuff is too much for your hectic schedule, I’d recommend looking into of the many electric BBQ smokers on the market.  They’re efficient and remarkably easy to use and maintain!

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