Thursday, March 5, 2009

How to Build A Smoker Barrel

Smokers aren’t really all that complicated. They create heat and smoke in a controlled environment while giving you the means and ability to smoke your food. The basic idea behind a smoker is to have one area in your smoker that creates heat and smoke and the required temperatures to do your cooking and another area that is designed to hold food in an environment that allows you to control the temperature. The difference between these spaces will provide the necessary airflow that is required to keep the heat and smoke working together to properly smoke your food.

Advantages of a Barrel Smoker

1.) You can achieve temperature control through an adjustable valve which limits airflow. This is one of the easiest ways to smoke food because you don’t have to deal with fire tending and helps to save on fuel for your smoker. This also allows for a very simple smoker design which allows for easy venting of exhaust through the barrel lid. This ability to easily adjust airflow, both intake and exhaust, is one of the most important parts of a barrel smoker.

2.) Ugly drum smokers are also very portable. They are relatively lightweight and can be easily moved if necessary. They are great to use in areas where the feasibility of a more permanent type of smoker may not be an option due to permits or limited space.

3.) They can be easily built with simple tools and parts. You don’t need any special skills to make one.


The material you decide to use to make your smoker needs to be strong enough to withstand the temperatures that are involved in smoking. It also needs to be able to withstand a certain amount of abuse that will almost certainly occur over time.

Just because you don’t have any special skills, doesn’t mean you can’t make a great smoker. A smoker can be built out of almost anything you have on hand. It just takes a little imagination on your part. Remember that your own abilities and experience when combined with a “can do” attitude will allow you to accomplish most anything. When building your smoker don’t be afraid to try something different, you’ll be surprised at the results.


This post will contain links to all the articles on how to build a smoker barrel from a 55 gallon food grade barrel. Hopefully by doing a step by step process it will make it easier for you to build an Ugly Drum Smoker of your own.

The Smoker Barrel

Building a Smoker Barrel - The First Step

Building A Smoker Barrel - The Second Step

34 comments:

Jim said...

Thanks so much for your plans I just purchased a food grade barrel and got it all fixed up just as the instructions worded and it looks great tomorrow I will do the burn out and install all the parts and start cooking. Im sure that I wont be dissapointed. Thanks jim

riverwalker said...

To: Jim

Glad you got it fixed up. mine works great and I don't have to stand by a pit all day to cook a brisket.

Congratulations Jim!

RW

Mike said...

Very well presented plans Riverwalker! I've seen over 30 seperate versions of plans now all designed to instruct folks on how to build a UDS. Yours are by far the clearest, most well thought out, and simplest to follow I have seen. Anyone should be able to build these things, and with instructions like yours that can now be the case.

riverwalker said...

To: Mike

Thanks for the great comments. I tried to make the instructions simple to understand.

Smoker barrels are very simple and easy to build and I saw no reason to make the instructions complicated.

Keep on smokin'!

Thanks Mike!

RW

Sten said...

Great set of plans. I'm going to be getting my barrel this weekend. One question I have about Barrel smokers. Are you able to smoke in the winter with them OK? I live in the midwest where it can get fairly cold and or a lot of snow. My cheapo offset one won't work in the winter. Can't keep the heat up enough. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I'm having trouble sourcing 55G drums, I did find a 45G one. Will I be able to run 2 racks with a 45g?

riverwalker said...

To: anonymous 1:43

I'm not sure of the dimensions on a 45 gallon drum. The main concern is having the bottom grate at least 28 to 30 inches above your charcoal basket. The purpose is to slow cook by smoking and if your bottom grate is too close to your charcoal basket you'd be grilling instead.

The top grate which is usually used for ribs or sausage can be fairly close to the top of your drum. You'll need some extra room to put a brisket on the bottom grate as they are generally pretty thick at the point.

You could make your charcoal basket a little shorter in the height department to give you some additional room. My basket when full gives me a good 12 hour burn time and a smaller basket should give you at least 8 to 10 hours.

RW

Chad said...

How much wood do you use while smoking a brisket using this method/smoker? Do you have to add more wood as the day goes on? Sorry for basic questions...this will be my first attempt ever smoking a brisket...

Riverwalker said...

To: Chad

5 lbs. of charcoal will last about 10 to 12 hours at temps around 225 to 250 degrees. This is long enough to cook a 10 to 12 pound brisket without adding any aditional charcoal. My charcoal basket will hold about 12 pounds when full in order to cook larger briskets. You need to figure one hour cooking time for each pound of brisket. I've found the smaller 10 to 12 pound briskets cook better and there is enough room for two on the smoker. Hope this helps.

Regards,

RW

Chad said...

This helps much. Now as far as the wood chip holder how much do I put in there? And if you wet them first does this last an entire "smoke session"? Or do you need to replace wood chips every x amount of hours?

Riverwalker said...

To: Chad

I use wood chunks rather than chips. A coffee can chip holder that is half full will last about 12 hours. I try to use 3" diameter logs cut in one inch sections and then quartered. The chunks seem to last longer than chips. The chunks I use will normally last through the complete cooking process.

RW

Chad said...

Beautiful! Thank you so much. I am building it this week/weekend. Hopefully I can test this thing out this weekend and report back to you how it turns out. Appreciate the quick responses!

riverwalker said...

To: Chad

Don't be surprised if you find yourself doing a lot more cooking! Let me know how things turn out.

RW

Chad said...

Well I got it all built and have 5lbs of charcoal with some wood chips on it but for some reason it is not going above 150 degrees. Am I doing something wrong you think? Or am I just being impatient?

riverwalker said...

To: Chad

You may need to check your charcoal basket and make sure the grate in you basket is high enough so that it is above your air intake holes. The heat from the charcoal basket needs to form a draft that pulls fresh air up into the bottom of your basket and through the charcoal. Without this airflow you may have problems getting a higher temperature. It is the regulated flow of air that controls the burn of your charcoal.

You may also need more or bigger exhaust holes for your smoke in the lid...can't have too much exhaust.

RW

Chad said...

Well it ended up being a bad thermomitor. Now I am having a tough time getting it stabalized. Right when I think I have the stable at 225ish I let it sit for an hour and when I look at it again it is 180ish. Do you need to keep that close of an eye on it?

Chad said...

Also I have a 3lbs chimney to start the charcoal and then i put another 2-3lbs on top of the lite coals that were not lite. But it has been hours and the black coals are still not gray/lite. Its like nothing happened when I put them on top...

riverwalker said...

To: Chad

You don't need to keep that close an eye on it once the temps are stabilized. It sounds like you may still have some air flow / exhaust problems if your temps drop too quickly.

You probably need more exhaust on your smoker...add a couple of extra vent holes to the lid. This should also help stabilize your temps.

The basic premise is quite simple. More air = hotter temps and less air = cooler temps and you can never have too much exhaust.

RW

riverwalker said...

To: Chad

Just leave the lid off for a short while to get your coals going good. It takes a decent amount of air to get the coals started.

I generally wait until all my coals are going good and then place the charcoal basket inside my barrel.

RW

Chad said...

Well I just put my basket in the drum for another shot at it, This time its going REAL good. I have about 6lbs and about 75% of it is going real real good. Rest is sitting on top starting to light. What is the best method to get it at 225ish? Now it is sitting at 350 degrees(with all intakes covered). Agin sorry for all the basic questions. I have never really cooked much and never smoked anything in my life...seems I picked a hell of a way to start lol.

riverwalker said...

To: Chad

You'll need to keep the air intakes closed until the temp drops and then adjust your air intake and you should get a stable temp. When you first light your charcoal it will burn a little hotter but similar to grilling, once the fire on your charcoal dies down, you should get a good set of coals that you can control the temperature of easily by regulating the air intake.

RW

Chad said...

Yeah after about 30 min or so it is totally stable. Only took a 16lbs bag of charcoal to get it down lol. So dumb question but do you guys stabalize your drum before putting in the meat? Or do you put it in when it is 300+ and you are trying to stabalize the temp? Thanks for all your help by the way.

riverwalker said...

To: Chad

Just wait till the temp stabilizes and then put your brisket in your smoker barrel. 30 minutes sounds about right for your charcoal to get working good.

RW

Chad said...

Perfect...thank you so much. Due to work I will not be able to test it out until this weekend but if all goes well I will be one happy man come saturday afternoon haha.

smoke said...

riverwalker,are you using the menion or weber stack method,I've been useing the menion method and have trouble with the temps.thought with the stsck methord,let all the coal ash over that when temps settle say 225degs to 250degs I could control that.

1_4_freedom said...

I built one of these this past summer. It is awesome to have to become more self-sustainable and fun to build. It works really well minus the firebox I rigged up. I will change that this winter and fasion a removable, compacting stand for mobility. Gotta bring it to parties to show off and supply some great pulled pork!!

Great site by the way. I have been following you.

Chad said...

Whats up guys? This is Chad checking back in! haha. I am going to take this thing for a spin again tomorrow...I will keep you updated tomorrow as I try to smoke another brisket.

riverwalker said...

To: Chad

It's really dry here right now and there's a fire ban in effect. They've even banned outdoor grilling of any sort because of the potential fire hazard. Going to take some serious rain to fix the problem.

Let us know how things turn out.

Thanks Chad.

RW

Chad said...

I finally figured out the temp issue. The smoke stack was letting in too much air I guess. I covered the smoke stack with a can and the temp dropped immediately. Once the temp was where I wanted it I would remove the can and it would hold that temp for hours. Then if I opened the lid to put sauce on it or to spray it with anything the temp would soar back up but I would cover the smoke stack and let the temp drop and then remove the can and it would hold the temp again. The brisket turned out amazing. Best one I have done so far. I also switched to lump coal which i think helped a lot as well.

Where you live? I saw something on tv about some big fires..something about a homeless man was charged with leaving a fire unatended and the fire got out of control and burnt down a bunch of houses...that near you?

Riverwalker said...

To: Chad

Glad you got a handle on the temp problem. Smokers can be quite finicky at times but can turn out some great brisket.

I'm not very close to the major fires going on right now but there have been several smaller fires in my area.

Got to live with the burn ban, especially since the county judge, fire chief and most the volunteer firefighters are all good friends.
Don't want them on my case if something went wrong.

Mostly trying to keep my yard wet just in case a fire breaks out...don't want the place to burn down.

Thanks Chad. Keep smokin'!

RW

Anonymous said...

This is great site my wife has Pioneer woman I told her I found my site for Man stuff I can't wait to share it with my freinds. I very much like this plans for the smoker I am going to build one. Last we I smoked 80 lbs of pulled pork for for a church picnic I only have a brinkman electric smoker which I love but its not big enough for 80 lbs so I ended up borrowing a bunch of smokers so next year I figured I need a larger smoker these are cheap enough I could build 2 I even thought of a mod I could do to make them large so when I build one if that works out I will let you know. This a great site keep up the good work.

Bert said...

That above was from me Bert from AZ

riverwalker said...

To: Bert in AZ

I'm interested to hear about how your mod works out. Let me know when you get it finished.

Thanks Bert.

Bert said...

Well I built my first UDS I haven't done the modified enlarged verision because from surfing the web and doing more investigating Its has been done before there was both good and bad fead back on it so I went with your tried and true version I just used a Kettle top instaid of the flat barrel top. I bought one of those cheap kettle BBQ from big lots and used the lid I had to modifie it to work but it seals pretty good. I test fired it last friday and it worked great the temp held steady at 235 I am going to do 6 pork butts this friday so that will be the real test thanks for putting those plans out there.