How To Make A 55 Gallon Drum Smoker (UDS)

Eddie van Aken and a 55 gallon drum smoker

A smoker is a cool cooking gadget that lets us cook food in a way that it gets a smoky flavor, and it’s especially good for cooking meats like brisket! 

This makes the food super tasty and gives it a nice, smoky flavor!

“However, the price of a barbecue smoker can be pretty steep!

Key Takeaway

  • Find a 55 gallon drum.
  • Drill holes for air intake and install valve.
  • Add a chimney to the top.
  • Place a charcoal basket at the bottom.
  • Place a grill grate at the top.

“Now, an ugly drum smoker, or UDS for short, is a type of smoker that you can build yourself!”

It’s called an “ugly drum” because it’s usually made from a 55-gallon steel drum that might look a bit rough or “ugly”, but it does an amazing job at smoking food!

You can build one by getting a 55-gallon drum and adding some parts like a grill grate, a charcoal basket, and air valves.

You must make some holes in the drum for airflow and to hold the cooking grate and charcoal basket. 

Once it’s all setup, you can put charcoal and wood chunks in the basket, light it up, and start smoking some delicious food!

It’s an easy project, and in the end, you get to enjoy tasty, smoky food made by your very own homemade smoker! Cool, right?

“Follow my steps on how  I made my own 55-gallon drum smoker at a low price!”

Understanding the Basics Of A UDS

 There are a few basics that you need to understand before starting to build your very own 55-gallon drum smoker.  

Choosing the Right 55-gallon Drum

It is a good idea to buy a new unlined drum or a 55-gallon steel drum if you can afford it, as it ensures safety and cleanliness for cooking!

However, I used an old 55-gallon steel drum that I found at a yard sale to build a smoker can be beneficial as it is cost-effective and environmentally friendly by recycling.

“There are just a few steps I had to take before using a recycled 55-gallon barrel.”

Tools Needed

To make a 55-gallon ugly drum smoker there are not a lot of tools you need. Here is my list and some that are optional.

  • Drill: For making holes in the drum for air intake and to hold components.
  • Step Bit: To enlarge the drilled holes to the required sizes.
  • Wrenches: For tightening nuts and bolts.
  • Screwdriver: To secure screws in place.
  • Wire Brush or Sandpaper: For cleaning the inside and outside of the drum.
  • Propane Weed Burner: To remove any residue and old paint from the drum.
  • Measuring Tape or Ruler: For precise measurements while placing components.
  • Pliers: To bend and hold metal pieces as needed.
  • Safety Equipment: Gloves, goggles, and ear protection for safety while using tools.

Optional:

  • Welding Equipment
  • High-temperature paint.
  • Metal Cutting Saw or Jigsaw: To cut openings in the drum if needed.

Additional Materials

In addition to these tools, for making an ugly drum smoker, you will sometimes need some extra materials.

Some of them are optional and you can smoke some great meat without them.
You can find my opinion about them in the next section.  

Building the 55-gallon Drum Smoker Step-by-step

Alright, let’s get started with building a 55-gallon ugly drum smoker the way I did.

Preparing And Cleaning The 55-gallon Drum

Preparing a used 55-gallon drum is super important before turning it into a smoker.

A used barrel can be used for anything. From chemicals to food you never know and that is why it needs to be cleaned very well!

One way and that is how I did it, is to make a wood fire inside it; this burns away residues and old paint. 

What I did was Just fill it with wood and let it burn for a few hours by adding wood.

Another method is using a propane torch or a propane weed burner.

Move it around the inside of the drum to burn off any remaining residues or coatings.

I used my torch to start the fire in the barrel and to burn off the paint from the outside.

Besides burning, you can use a wire brush or sandpaper to scrub the inside thoroughly, removing any rust or stuck-on materials.

I read people using a degreaser or a cleaning solution suitable for metal to wash the drum, making sure it’s all clean and ready for your smoker project!

“Don’t forget to rinse it well with water after scrubbing and let it dry completely. “

Air Inlet

You can’t have a fire without air coming into your drum.

What I did was take my tape measure to measure the circumcise of the drum divide this by 3 and mark these on the outside of the barrel.

Tip: I found later through my trial and error, that  I only needed 2 holes so I would leave one hole out if I were you.

I drilled a hole and used a step drill bit to make holes the size of a galvanized pipe fitting.

Now you have to add a 90-degree elbow and a piece of galvanized pipe to have it set up vertically and add a brass shut-off valve at the top, or just add the valve to the pipe fitting.

You can do this for both of the air inlets but I did it only on one. The other one, I found out in my testing, needed to be completely open to be able to regulate my temperature.

“No need to spend extra money on something you don’t really need.”

 Air Outlet

You can’t maintain a fire without air going out of your drum.

One of the most important things of any smoker is the air outlet. This is the main thing you use to regulate the temperature in your smoke chamber.

There are tons of options but I decided to spend a little money and ordered this one from Hunsaker Smokers.

Uds chimney

The Charcoal Basket

Using a fire basket in a smoker is super important because it holds the charcoal or wood that produces the smoke and heat to cook the food.

The firebox, or charcoal basket, keeps the heat source contained and allows for better airflow around the charcoal or wood, making the fire burn more consistently and efficiently.

t also helps in managing ash more effectively, preventing it from blocking the airflow and making the cleanup easier.

So, a firebox is all about keeping things tidy and maintaining a steady temperature and smoke level for deliciously smoked food!

To build a firebox to hold the charcoal in an ugly drum smoker, you can weld or assemble a sturdy basket from expanded metal sheets or use a pre-made charcoal basket.

I did not feel like fooling with this, since I am not a welder, and found a great ready-made fire basket at this website.

uds fire box

You can read my experience with this charcoal basket here.

Installing the Cooking Grate

If you use a 55-gallon barrel you need a 24 inches grill grate.
I drilled 3 holes about 4 inches lower than the top of the barrel using again my tape measure to have them equally spaced out.

Then I used a 3-inch bolt and secured it with washers and nuts.

This is where my grill grate rests.


The Lid Of The Drum

A smoker works best when it is as air-tight as possible except for the air in and outlet.

The lid is one of the places where the barrel can have the most air leaks.

For a long time, I used the clamp that came with the barrel to keep the lid closed.

However, this made it hard for me to open the smoker to check my cook or to add some sprits or mopping solution.

Recently I ordered a hinge, handle, and clamp that made my life a lot easier.

Again, this is not a necessity but I highly recommend this.

Using Your DIY Ugly Drum Smoker

Using a homemade ugly drum smoker that you build with your own hands is very rewarding. There are a few things to keep in mind when you start using yours.

Here you can read about my personal experience and how I use my UDS

Setting Up the Charcoal

I personally only use charcoal briquettes because they burn slower than lump charcoal.
I also add wood chunks to add more wood flavor to the meat.

I fill my Weber chimney starter with charcoal and light it.

Once ready all you have to do is pour the charcoal and add it to the charcoal basket at the bottom of the smoker, and add your wood chunks.

Now you can adjust the temperature with the air intake and outlet to maintain it at 225 – 250 degrees.

Cooking With My UDS

I let my UDS reach my desired temperature of, most of the time 225 degrees, and wait till it holds this steady for about 20 minutes before adding my meat.

It needs this time to come to a steady temperature and heat up the wall and lid of the barrel.

Tip: Don’t skimp on this. Believe me, I learned the hard way.  

Then I place the cuts on the center of the grate, close the lid of the drum, and use the thermometer to check the temperature.

Maintenance and Care

No smoker or grill can get away with not being maintained and cared for.

A 55-gallon drum smoker is no exception to this rule and here are some steps you need to take to keep your UDS clean and food-safe.

Cleaning The Drum Smoker

Cleaning inside the drum is not hard and is not always necessary since most of it is part of the seasoning.

I clean the grill grates after every use and make sure to remove ash and residue from the bottom to keep your new smoker in top shape.

I also scrape the inside of the lid every 3 to 5 cooks.

Cleaning the old charcoal out of the firebox I do by taking it into the back of my yard and shake it all off.

Tip: I have answered the question of can you re-use charcoal extensively in this post.

Maintaining the Components

For the other parts, there is not much to maintain. I just keep the outside clean and touch up the paint once in a while.

I have used heat-resistant spray paint for that and it works fine.

FAQ 

I you have any questions you can always contact me but I found some of the most asked questions and answers.

Q: What is a 55-gallon drum?

A: A 55-gallon drum is a large metal container commonly used for shipping and storing liquids or solids.

Q: What is a barrel smoker?

A: A barrel smoker, also known as a drum smoker, is a type of smoker that is made by converting a 55-gallon drum into a smoker.

Q: How do I build a 55-gallon drum smoker?

A: To build a 55-gallon drum smoker, you will need to add air intake and exhaust, insert a cooking grate, and add a fire basket for the charcoal.

Q: What is the best way to build a homemade drum smoker?

A: The best way to build a homemade drum smoker depends on your skill level and wishes. Some people prefer a simple design with just the basic features, while others want to add bells and whistles to make it more advanced.

Q: How should I position the air intake on my drum smoker?

A: The air intake on your drum smoker should be positioned on the side of the barrel, a few inches from the bottom.

Q: Where should I put the exhaust on my drum smoker?

A: The exhaust on your drum smoker should be located on the top of the drum. This will allow smoke to escape and help regulate the temperature inside the barrel.

Q: What is a charcoal basket?

A: A charcoal basket is a container, usually made of metal mesh or wire, that holds the charcoal in a drum smoker. It helps maintain a steady heat during the smoking process.

Q: Should I weld the parts of my drum smoker together?

A: Welding the parts of your drum smoker together is not necessary. You can use bolts, screws, or other fasteners to attach the components. This makes it easier to modify or repair the smoker in the future.

Q: How high should the cooking grate sit inside the drum smoker?

A: The cooking grate should sit 5 inches below the top of the drum. This allows for proper heat distribution and enough space to smoke larger cuts of meat.

Q: What is a brass ball valve?

A: A brass ball valve is commonly used in drum smokers to regulate airflow. It allows you to control the amount of air entering the smoker, which affects the temperature and smoke production.

Q: Can I use a 55-gallon drum as a smoker and a grill?

A: Yes, you can use a 55-gallon drum as both a smoker and a grill. By adding a second cooking grate and adjusting the airflow, you can turn your drum smoker into a versatile outdoor cooking apparatus.

How To Make A 55 Gallon Ugly Drum Smoker – My Experience

I started a long time ago with planning my UDS and you can read my plans here.

I am not the most technical guy and have not all the tools that some others have. I have some basic tools and to be honest, that was all I needed.

I only had to order a step bit for the air inlet holes.

I used my smoker for a long time before investing some money in the hinges and a clamp on the lid to make my life easier.

The only things I bought were the fire basket and the chimney on the lid. The total cost for these where about $150. As I mentioned the barrel I bought at a yard sale for $15.

My UDS upgrades on my 55-gallon drum

The grill grate I had from my Weber Smokey Joe but if I had to buy one it would probably cost around $25.

So, for between 150 and 200 dollars you can build your own 55-gallon ugly drum smoker.

Compare that to some of the prices you find in stores and online!

Thank you for reading my way of using an old 55-gallon drum and turning it into a Ugly drum smoker.

Contact me with any questions you have.

Eddie van Aken

Eddie van Aken has years of experience in running his full-service restaurant and with this came working with using and dealing with all types of kitchen equipment. With his experience, he can find all the pros and cons of grills and add them to the grill reviews and the outdoor cooking tips he is writing about. You can read more on the About page for Eddie van Aken

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