UDS Smoker

Ugly Drum Smoker

Ugly drum smokers are a very affordable way to smoke some great meat. I read that many people get an 8 or 10-hour smoke out of it without adding more charcoal.

I am doing a lot of long low and slow sessions and although my way of doing this with an indirect grilling method works well.

I am not happy with adding charcoal and wood chunks all the time.

The option of a pellet smoker was not approved by my bank account. So I had to look at other options. That is how I ran into the UDS and decided to see if this was an option.

I am thinking about building one myself and starting to do a lot of research before even starting. Here you can follow me on my journey of trying to build the best UDS smoker.

You can find the result of the research I did on this page and read my how to make a 55 gallon drum smoker article.

What is a UDS Smoker

Like I mentioned in the intro UDS stands for Ugly Drum Smoker. The word ugly we have to take with a grain of salt.

I have seen some pictures and videos of some really nice-looking ones.

Why Use A UDS?

I did a lot of reading lately and here are the reasons why I am thinking about building one of these smokers.

  • Easy to build
  • Fairly cheap
  • can be upgraded step by step
  • Not too many tools needed
  • No welding necessary
  • A long session without adding charcoal

What Parts Are Needed For A UDS

There are just a few essential parts you need for any grill or smoker and they are the same for UDS smokers. In my opinion, however, they are easier to make and cheaper. Here is my UDS smoker part list that I think you need. I am going to tell you more about them.

  • Steel drum
  • Air intake
  • Air outlet
  • Charcoal basket
  • Ash catch pan
  • Grill grates
  • Hardware
  • Paint

Additionally, you can make these parts look a lot nicer if you like to do that. But a UDS smoker will work perfectly without any fancy updates.

Steel Drum

The steel drum is the basic thing you need to start building a UDS. I have found that most people use a 55-gallon drum.

If you only smoke for a few people however and do not feel the need to smoke 2 or 3 Boston buts at the same time, a 30-gallon will do fine.

I have not made up my mind yet but I am thinking of using a 55-gallon because these are more available.

UDS Intake Ideas

Looking at many intake ideas on websites, PDF’s, and videos I have decided to just start out with drilling 3/4 inch holes for the air intake.

I will drill 3 holes about 2 inches above the bottom of the drum. The diameter I make is 3/4 inch so I can add some pipe nipples later if I am happy with the 3/4″ diameter.

You can find online how to divide a circle into 3 parts, but I guess I just use a tape measure to measure the drum and divide that in 3 to find where to place the holes.

UDS Air Outlet

I am planning on finding a barrel with a lid that has a cap and using this to start out. If I can not find one I will also drill 3 holes in the lid with the 3/4″ diameter to make sure that the inlet and outlet are the same sizes.

Charcoal Basket

This is the part that might be a little more of a challenge if you do not want to use any welding. I have found however several UDS charcoal basket plans. They work just by using expanded metal from Lowe’s or Home Depot. I just would like to have an ash catcher for easy cleaning.

Update about the charcoal basket: I have decided to purchase the Hunsalkr vortex basket and you can find how I used it in my homemade ugly drum smoker.

Ash Catcher

Cleaning up after smoking has never been my favorite part and to be honest I don’t think anyone likes it too much.

An ash catch pan is almost a must. The reason is that after using the UDS the walls will be dirty and sticky. This makes it almost impossible to pick up the barrel and dump out the ashes that accumulated on the bottom

A separate ash catcher that is attached to the charcoal basket or sitting just by itself at the bottom is a must-have for cleaning in my opinion.

Grill Grates

Depending on the design I need one or two grill grates. I read that most 55-gallon drums have a 23″ diameter. There are many grill grates available in this size. From the Weber to many cheaper ones.

I have even found some ceramic-coated ones. if you have read any of my grill reviews you know that they are my favorite.

Hardware For UDS Smoker

There is not a lot of hardware you need. Just some easy-to-find and cheap bolts, nuts, and washers. You will basically only need them to make the charcoal basket and as a bracket for the grill grate.

UDS Smoker Paint

Painting your UDS is optional, but I am planning on doing it just to make it look nicer and to protect it from rusting. I am using heat-resistant spray paint to paint my barrel grill every year but I am not sure if this is the type to use for my UDS.

I may have to look at another option and maybe a quality that is more suited for heavier used grills like the UDS

More Things I am considering

After doing the basics I am thinking about slowly improving the UDS with some mods that I have found in my search for what I think is the best drum smoker. The Hunsaker vortex smoker I wrote about.

Updating the air inlets with some 3/4 inch galvanized bushings, 90-degree elbows, and galvanized pipe. On top of this, there is a shut-off valve.

The reason is that you do not have to bend over to fool with the intake and they function as a kind of intake damper like on other grills and smokers.

The air outlet can be made with the same bushings and an elbow. This will prevent rain from getting in your smoker.

You can also add a shut of the valve to one of them to regulate airflow. However, testing has to be done to find out if this is needed.

Finding an old 22″ Weber grill is also on my list. The reason is that the lid should fit the 55-gallon drum. This will add more space above the grill grate for things like turkey or chicken.

I looked into wheels under the smoker to move it around more easily and found some that do not break the bank.

A handle on the lid is also on my list plus a hook to hang it on like the Weber 22 inch kettles have.

If you have any ideas or tips to help me, feel free to leave them in the comment section.

After reading more I found that people are looking for affordable Ugly Drum Smokers and I had a look at two of the best ones on the market in my opinion.

The first one is the Pit Barrel cooker reviews I did and I was surprised by the many good reviews I found for this UDS.

The second one I mentioned already is the Hunsaker smoker I wrote about on its own page. A little higher in price than the PBS but also of great quality.

Let me know what you think!

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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