drum smoker build

Jeff H

Well-Known Member
This is not deer hunting/habitat related at all but hey it's off season and what's a guy to do on the hottest week of the year. Let's build a smoker!
I've been wanting a charcoal/wood smoker for a while now but the ones I'm interested in are usually out of my price range and too large for my needs. I also do not "need" another meat cooker on the deck. Currently I have a charcoal grill, a propane grill and an electric smoker. I've also wanted to try my hand at cooking brisket. None of my grills are suited for the long haul that a brisket requires. So off I go to the internet to research inexpensive brisket cookers. What I found was the UDS. The Ugly Drum Smoker. Type UDS in your browser and you can spend the next 14 hours watching You Tube video's on the variety of ways to make a UDS. Some are pretty basic and some are more advanced but all seem to hold heat well and slow cook with one load of fuel for 18+ hours. This plus the small footprint of the UDS is appealing to me. Most UDS's are really not ugly at all. Some have gotten downright creative with their themes, schemes, and designs such as this Star Wars Geek:
I have no intentions of doing anything quite that.. well.. uh.. bizarre. I do like to be a bit creative but functionality is primary for me.
So first of all I needed a drum. All drums are not all created equal as I found out. I needed one with a removable lid and preferably one with no dents. The latter was not achievable for me. Most of the drums I found came from overseas and I guess it's hard to remain dent free as they travel half way around the world in a shipping container. Some come with bung holes and caps on the lid that screw in/out. Some don't. The bungs can be useful but were not a deal breaker for me. The first drum I found was heavier than most I looked at but a bit rusty from setting outside for Lord knows how long. I figured it was worth the $10 the guy was asking. After getting it home I burned the paint off it (inside and out) and started taking off the rust with a wire brush drill attachment. The rust proved to be too heavy as holes started appearing as the rust left the barrel. Rust never sleeps.
The 2nd barrel I found was much nicer. Zero rust and one small dent at the very bottom. I can work with that.
This barrel came from a company in town that makes food products from dates. The dates come from the Middle East and are shipped to the UK where they are containerized and shipped to the U.S.
This will be my starting point. $25 well spent.
OK Jeff, just remember you started it. :cool:

I've been looking at those UDS videos myself, with the thought that I want to try smoking fish.

Anyway, as long as we're off topic (and as you say - it is a slow period) let me show you the charcoal retort I built using a water heater tank for the retort and a 55 gallon drum for the burn. I keep it at my hunting lease. I fire it up after the evening hunt and sit around watching it and sipping a beer. The next morning it's cooled down and ready to open up with about 25 pounds of high quality oak lump charcoal.






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That's very cool. I recently tried the same but just with a 25 gallon barrel inside of a 55 gallon. My first try I did not get a complete burn I guess. Some of the wood seemed to be complete carbon but others were not. Not sure what I did wrong. I loaded the 25 gallon back into the 55 and did another burn. Been so busy I've not checked it to see what happened.
The first burn I covered the barrel after about an hour with the bung holes removed.. That may have been my mistake. Second burn I left the top open. I see you leave yours open. Have you ever had an incomplete burn?
Next step on my UDS build was to do a burnout to get rid of the paint and inside lining. Most just build a fire in their drum to cook off the paint. I figured this was an excuse to buy a propane weed torch.
The torch did a much cleaner burn than loading the drum up with scrap wood, it was much quicker (about 15 minutes), and a lot more fun than watching wood burn for 2 hours.
Here is the drum after the burn.
Break out the power washer and in less than 30 mins I have my drum ready to start drilling holes and fitting hardware.
Charcoal Basket:
Every Smoker needs a charcoal basket. I borrowed an idea off someones You Tube video and built mine from an el cheapo bbq grill I bought for $14.95
I used the charcoal pan as an ash catcher and fitted some expanded metal to the grill grate with u-bolts to hold my charcoal load. Here's what it ended up looking like.
I ended up cutting this down to about 12 inches high and attaching a clothes hanger wire to the top so I could lift it out without getting my head down in the drum.
That's coming along nicely Jeff. Keep the progress pictures coming. Looking forward to a brisket report.

With respect to the charcoal kiln, I do it two ways. If I want pure charcoal as shown in the picture I keep adding wood to the burn barrel until the vents on the kiln stop giving off smoke. That burn takes about five hours, after which the vents are capped to prevent air getting to the oak chunks to assure they do not ignite. If I want charcoal that has some brown wood left in the center (to provide more smoke flavor when used for cooking) I load up the burn barrel with as much wood as will fit, but don't add more when that burns away. The vent's are capped when the first load of wood is down to ashes. That takes about two hours.
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Once again I borrowed ideas from the interweb here. I am porting air in with three 1/2 holes. The one in the back will have a cap on it that will screw on/off. The other two will be 3/4 in black pipe with brass ball valves for air flow adjusting. Inside the drum I will have three aluminum shelf brackets like this:
Having never done this before I really was not sure where to position my racks. This way I have a 24 in range to place my racks.
I also found a cool metal sign at the hardware store.
A rope hook for hanging the lid on the side of the drum, some casters for the bottom, a couple conduit service entry ports for my digital thermometers, and a key rack that I'll use for hanging tongs and such.


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That's coming along nicely Jeff. Keep the progress pictures coming. Looking forward to a brisket report.

With respect to the charcoal kiln, I do it two ways. If I want pure charcoal as shown in the picture I keep adding wood to the burn barrel until the vents on the kiln stop giving off smoke. That burn takes about five hours, after which the vents are capped to prevent air getting to the oak chunks to assure they do not ignite. If I want charcoal that has some brown wood left in the center (to provide more smoke flavor when used for cooking) I load up the burn barrel with as much wood as will fit, then cap the vents after that burns away. That takes about two hours.
Do you have any air holes in your kiln? My 25 gallon barrel does not have a lid. so I turn it upside down inside the 55 gallon barrel.
Oops! There were two more pictures of the retort I missed when copying them from my Flickr account. Here they are.


That's pretty slick! I think I need to do some improving on my setup. I like the chimney idea.
Do you have any holes in your water heater tank other than the exhaust ports ?
There are no holes in the retort except for the two vents. Man, I wish I had taken pictures of the build process.

The retort is the tank from a 40 GAL water heater.

Using an angle grinder with a cut-off wheel, I cut around the circumference of the tank about 36" from the top, then again about two inches from the bottom. That leaves a section of about 18" between the two cuts. Because the tank has a 3" diameter vent pipe up it's center, it still holds together as one unit after those cuts. So that 18" section needs to be cut from its top to its bottom and opened up to remove from the unit. Then the internal vent pipe can be cut away from the inside of the top and bottom of the tank. The 2" bottom section of the tank is then welded back on to the 36" top section, and a door hole is cut into the side. Pieces of the 18" section are used to make the door for the retort and to weld seals over the 3" holes in the center of the top and center of the bottom of the retort. The existing 3/4" inflow and outflow water pipe connections at the top of the tank are used for the vent pipe connections.


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The next step on my UDS build was to do a dry fit of my hardware before painting. I've not been able to come up with a paint scheme yet. I'm wanting to be creative yet different from anything else I've seen. Definitely not going to do one solid color. It also needs to work with the "made in the USA" sign that I found. I've been to several different stores looking for hi temp paint and the selection is pretty basic. Black, flat black, red and silver. Blaugh!!
I'll keep mulling it over but for now my final paint scheme is up in the air.
Here's the drum smoker with Most of the hardware in place:
To paint or not to paint. That was the question:
I've gone back and forth on how to paint my UDS. The colors available in hi temp paint are minimal and most are a flat color. I also wanted something different than the rest. After power washing my drum and dry fitting the hardware I realized how much I liked the that look. During my paint search I found hi temp clear coat so what I decided to do was simply clear coat the drum with it's new patina. First I washed it with soapy water, dried it off completely then washed it down again with mineral spirits. I laid on 2 coats of clear and let it air dry. I'm pretty happy with the result. It turned the barrel color a bit darker, but I like it. I think I'm going to like the "industrial" look that this gives me. I plan on sanding with 1200 grit and at least another 2 coats of clear.

Here is a shot of the lid after 2 coats of clear. The picture doesn't do it justice. There is a lot of depth to the color. I love the color variations.
We made a barrel stove for camp and used the high temp flat black. We did 2 coats of paint, let it dry, applied a sticker to the flat cooker we put on it and put a 3rd coat on it, let it dry and peel the sticker off. It leaves a pretty cool outline and ads a personal touch.

Burning the paint off...

Lease name Logo...

Cook top emblem...
That's really good looking Doc. Did you guys think up that technique, or is it a common practice with guys who know about painting stuff?