How To Build An Ugly Drum Smoker From A 55 Gallon Drum

I don't know about you, but I'm not a huge fan of just buying stuff. Stuff is rarely made to the quality I hope for, it's generally more than I want to pay, and I spend hours researching the 'best this for that', come across a ton of spammy review sites, and THEN, when I buy the product, I end up bitchin' about how crappy it is. Meh!

Maybe it's just the DIY, self-reliant streak that many of us homesteaders have, which is what took us on this journey.

I love to barbecue, I'm pretty good at it too, or so my wife tells me. But smoking was something that really 'tickled my fancy', and I knew I had to get into it. Electric smokers, offset smokers, hours spent researching. I wanted to smoke brisket actually, but didn't want to pay!

Then I found a cool video with thousands of view and great comments. This peaked my interest and I decided I'd have a crack and learn how to to build an ugly drum 55 gallon vertical smoker (UDS) from a 55 gallon steel barrel.

I did it, with pretty average skills and equipment, and I wanted to share the process with you (unless you're keen to go shell out a couple of hundred bucks on an off the shelf smoker or a 30 gallon drum smoker kit like this one (which looks freakin' incredible). If your are then this article might help with your buying process.

If not, hand around and I'll provide you with some cool instructions and a shopping guide for some of the odds and sods you will need. All the parts can be purchased from any half average hardware store or picked up online,

You can deffo build a great UDS smoker with these 55 gallon drum smoker plans, and save yourself a ton of cash.

How to build a smoker from a 55 gallon drum like this one using basic tools and hardware

Check out this DIY ugly drum smoker video first, to show you what is possible.

As the ugly drum smoker plan requires a 55 gallon drum, you're going to need to either go and puchase a new one, or source one used.

Drums lined with epoxy to prevent rust are going to be toxic, you can buy a brand new drum for a little over $100 new, one source one on eBay or CraigsList for around $20.

There are tons of them out there, used for everything from chemical storage to fertilizer storage and even food storage. Be mindful of what was stored in the drum. Chemical residue is going to burn off when you do your pre-use burn, but if you can get a drum that has been used for benign product storage, I kinda feel better about it 🙂 A food grade barrel with animal feed is going to be a safer bet.

IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: Make sure the drum is well aired before you start taking to it with grinders or burning it with a propane weed burner. Even if it's not had some flammable liquid in it, there is still a chance of dust particles being ignited. Be careful and ideally wash it out with some fresh water and a hose before you do the burn.

55 Gallon Drum Homemade Barrel Smoker Plans - Step by Step

Here's a simple step by step guide to build your own UDS barrel smoker.

Step #1-Burning Out The 55 Gallon Drum

All 55 gallon barrels with have paint on them, often both inside and out. You're going to need to remove this so that your food won't become contaminated. There are a couple of options here, one which requires no equipment, and the other which does, but it might just be something you have in the back of your garage.

Option #1 - Set a fire in the barrel. This is the simplest way and it's the one I recommend. Stand the barrel on a couple of building blocks to stop it from scorching your lawn or drive.

Start with placing some newspaper and smaller kindling in the barrel, gradually adding some medium sized wood to get the fire going. You can add some charcoal too if you like, for a hot, slow burnign fire. Fire it up and keep adding material until the outside of the barrel is free of most of the paint. At this point you should place the lid on top of the barrel to get the paint burned off that too, making sure you don't exclude the oxygen from getting to the fire.

Option #2 - Use a grass weed burner. This is a quick option for anyone who has one of these. You can simply burn the paint off with a propane weed burner like this one on Amazon. Then lie the barrel on it's side and do the same on the inside.

Expect to need to leave the drum for 24 hours with the fire inside, then let it cool. Tip the ash and coals out and then give it a clean up. At this point, I did use a wire wheel on an electric drill and a sander to get the remnants off. It came off really easily.

How to burn the paint off your 55 gallon barrel

Image: The Fix

Step #2 - Drilling The Drum

Once the paint is removed and you've got the handle sorted, then it's time to drill the drum. Remember the old adage?

Measure twice...cut/drill once!

  • Mark the holes for the air intake holes at the bottom of the drum, grill supports and thermometer holes.  I think that using a center punch and a small drill bit to act as a pilot hole is the way to go. You can be sure that a going in hard with a large drill bit will see it zig-zagging all over the place.
  • Drill holes for the air intakes, you can use a step bit for that. Dril 3 of them around 4 inches from the bottom of the barrel, they will need to be large enough to take 2/4" pipe nipples for the air intakes.
  • Add 4 more holes around 12 inches from the bottom of the barrel to hold the grill for the charcoal holder. You can create fancy legs and feet for the charcoal baskey rack, I chose to take the easy route and put bolts through those holes and just lay the rack on them. Pretty much the same setup as the cooking rack.
  • Drill the grill-support holes for the cooking grate around 7" down from the top of the barrel rim, drilling 4 1/4" holes. You'll add some long bolts through those with nuts tightly screwed onto the inside to stop the bolts from moving. These will support your cooking rack.
  • Adding the handle and the exhaust airholes on the lid is simple. Mark an 11" diameter circle from the center point of the lid and  Then drill the evenly space holes in a circular pattern on the outer line you just marked. This method is a lot simpler than just having a single exhaust chimney where you need to fix a chimney pipe to the lid.
  • Remove any shavings or rough spots from the holes using a file or a Dremel, and get any swarf or shavings that may have fallen into the drum.
Instructions on how to drill your ugly drum smoker barrel

Image: The Fix

Step #3- Add The Handle

There are plenty of handle options for your new ugly drum smoker. Heavy duty spring handles for barbecues and smokers are a good bet, you can just use some plumbing pipe and joiners to create the handle, then add the spring over the top. The spring works well and doesn't get as hot as a solid steel handle. But gloves are a must then the smoker is smokin', no need to burn yourself.

A good alternative if you just want a simple bolt on handle is something like this one.

I also like how the guy in the video added a hook inside the lid to hang it on the side of the barrel, nice touch.

Step #4 - Adding The Charcoal Basket

I know I know, I'm lazy. I could have built my own charcoal basket but I chose to buy one instead. I purchased a complete charcoal basket and rack set like this one on eBay. It cost a few bucks but I went for a high quality product. I'm also going to be doing a little commercial smoking so getting a decent setup seemed like a fair idea.

Step #5 - Firing It Up

This is the fun bit. These instructions show you what to do.

How to light your ugly drum 55 gallon barrel smoker for the first time

Image: The Fix

Ugly Drum Smoker Parts List

Here's a useful parts list for what you will need to make your 55 gallon drum smoker. If course, you will likely have plenty of the tools already. Most of the other stuff can be picked up locally or online.

Ugly Drum Smoker Parts List

Image: The Fix

Wow, that was a lot of information. I hope you take the bull by the horns and build your own smoker. With hindsight, I could have picked up something like this Masterbuilt Electric Smoker a fair bit cheaper, but I enjoyed to process, and now have a large capacity smoker that will last me for years.

Here's To Some Stellar Smoking!

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