Next, we completely sanded down the outside of the barrel until it had a nice, smooth, even exterior. At this point, if you like the natural look you can leave it and move on to the next step. We wanted our barrel a little darker so we stained it and put a sealant on it since it was going to be kept outside every once in a while.
We just used wood deck sealant. At this point, if your barrel has a corked hole in the side like ours did you will want to find out what size large cork you will need in order to fill the hole. You can also make a cork by cutting a circle out of a spare 2×4 you have lying around. Just make sure it fits tightly. We put silicone around the cork on the inside of the barrel to make sure it is airtight.
Now that the look of the barrel is complete, it is time to add the fittings that will transform this into a working smoker. At the bottom of the barrel (between the 3rd and 4th metal bands) we drilled three 3/4″ holes equally spaced around the barrel.
We chose to only have 3 but you can have more if you want. We screwed the threaded nipple fittings into each of these holes as air intakes. Make sure to leave some of the threads sticking out so you can put end caps on them. During smoking, the caps can be removed to adjust airflow and heat.
At this time, we also drilled a small hole towards the bottom of our lid for our temperature gauge. Make sure to have a gauge with a long stem so that it can give you a good internal temperature reading. The size of the hole will depend on what gauge you get, but make sure it screws in snugly.
On the centre of the lid, we attached a generic handle so that it is easier to take the lid on and off while smoking.
We also drilled 6 small holes that we could fit corks into. The size of the holes will depend on the size of your corks. We added these holes as a way to adjust the temperature. If you need the temp hotter then close all the holes up with corks.
If the temp gets too hot and you need to cool it down, take the corks out and leave the holes open. We chose to do just 6 holes, but you can have as many as you deem necessary.
Next was getting the interior of the barrel all set up to be a smoker. First, we laid fire bricks at the bottom. We made a flat layer covering the whole bottom of the barrel, but we also had some standing vertically in order to hold the lower grate. When laying the bricks make sure none of them covers any of your air intakes.
The water pan can lay directly on top of fire bricks. This will also work as a drip pan to make for easier cleaning.
The lower grate sits on top of the vertical fire bricks. This is where we put our charcoal. Our smoking chips are either put in a box or wrapped in foil and placed directly on top of the charcoal.
For the top grate, we screwed in four 90-degree brackets along the inside of the barrel. We made it so the grate sits just inside the mouth of the barrel. It might take a few attempts to get the grate balanced. This is the grate where the meat will be placed for smoking.
After you get the inside setup, you are ready to start using the smoker. If you are not planning on leaving the smoker in one spot then we recommend either getting a dolly to put it on or attaching wheels to the bottom. We have ours on a dolly so can move it into the garage when we aren’t using it.
Also if you plan on leaving it outside, it might be a good idea to put some type of rust preventer on all the metal bands. It takes a little bit of practice to figure out the best way to regulate temperature, but it still works as a good BBQ smoker.
Maintenance: Clean off the grates, and empty the water pan and ashes which is normal for any smoker. The only extra maintenance for a barrel smoker is filling it with water. After a while every 6 months or so depending on use, the wood will start to shrink since it is losing its moisture.
To fix this we remove the grates and fire bricks and put the intake caps on tight. Then we fill the barrel with water from the garden hose and let it sit for a few days. At first, you may not be able to fill it all the way because of the leaks between the staves. But after a while, the wood will swell and the leaks will stop. At this point, you are ready to start smoking again. We also flip the lid upside down and fill it with water.