Build An Ugly Drum Smoker!

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It ain't pretty, but is sure works
It ain’t pretty, but is sure works

Smokers are always one of our most popular projects. With the holiday season rapidly approaching, we thought you might like a smoker project that is easy enough to do in a weekend! It doesn’t require any welding and you’ll find everything you need at your local hardware store!

The ugly drum smoker is one of the easiest smokers to use. This smoker is truly a “set and forget” device – your only real concern will be occasionally tending to the meat. Once the charcoal has been lit and added, the smoker can easily cruise for 10-20 hours, holding a steady low temperature. The drum is large enough to fit two to three packer briskets and at least four pork shoulders, so it can feed quite a few people. Best of all, it can be built for well under $200, if you are up to building it yourself.

General Plan

The general plan for building an ugly drum smoker is to buy a 55-gallon steel drum and burn the paint off the exterior. Once the paint is burnt off you’ll drill various holes around the drum and lid for hardware placement, air intake control, and exhaust. The bolts will hold the cooking grate; the air intake consists of plumbing fittings, such as a ball valve and pipe nipples with caps, to allow you to control air flow. The exterior of the drum will be painted with a high-heat-tolerant spray paint. Charcoal is held in a “no-weld” charcoal fire basket made from expanded steel, a charcoal grate, and hex bolt legs.

The materials list for you Ugly Drum Smoker
The materials list for your Ugly Drum Smoker
Drum Selection and Paint Removal

The safest and easiest way to tackle this project is to buy a new 55-gallon drum. Many people insist on finding a free 55-gallon drum that might have been used to hold anything from soda syrup to formaldehyde. When you buy a new drum (for only about $70) you have the benefit of knowing it wasn’t used for anything toxic, and exactly what type of lining, if any, is inside the drum. Drum liners are chemical liners that are very difficult to remove, requiring not only burning at high heat but also intense mechanical scrubbing. To avoid this, buy a new drum with no liner. The only thing inside of a new drum should be a mild rust inhibitor that can be easily burned out with a propane torch at the same time you are removing the original exterior paint.

Connect a propane tank to a propane weed torch and slowly apply a high heat flame to the exterior of the drum. Slowly move the torch in a sweeping motion. Both the original paint and the interior rust inhibitor will come right off with the high heat. Repeat the process for the lid of the drum, being careful not to apply too much heat in one location, as the thin lid might warp. Use a clean rag and wipe off the drum completely to remove any excess paint and dirt.

Cleaning that sucker!
Cleaning that sucker!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    In mine I put a door on the side at the bottom so I could pull the charcoal basket out without the head first trick going through the top.That also allowed me to add different wood chips throughout the “smoking” process. without the wood chips you’ve just built a direct heat grill and good BBQ is low slow and indirect heat but you cloned a green egg and saved several hundred dollars.

  2. Avatar

    Thanks for the tip, Joe. I like the idea of different chips at different stages. I imagine it adds quite a bit of complexity to the flavour.

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