How To Build Your Own Smoker From A 55-Gallon Drum, Part I

Almost complete, minus paint job and a few fittings

In the world of competition barbecue, there's a saying: "It's not the cooker, it's the cook." That means that in a blind tasting, you can't tell if the end result was cooked in a modern commercial-grade smoker, or in an ad hoc, BBQ pit made from a stack of cinder blocks and a sheet of plywood for a lid. It really comes down the the cook's ability to control the heat and smoke inside a cooker.

Today, we'll show you how turn a 55-gallon steel drum into a very rudimentary yet effective home-made smoker called an Ugly Drum Smoker, or UDS for short.
  • Appeals to the do-it-yourselfer who wants a save a little money. The cost of the build will vary depending on your resourcefulness and handyman skills. By the time you're done, you can easily spend $200 in parts for this DIY project.
  • Has a high capacity for its size.
  • There's nothing pretty about it. Ugly isn't even its middle name, it's the first name.
  • This is a dedicated smoker. It won't work well as a grill.
  • If you pursue a more complex variation, you can spend as much money as Weber's 22.5" Smokey Mountain cooker, which has the same capacity as a UDS and is a ready-made, good-looking piece of equipment with an internet price of $350.
Why an upright layout instead of a horizontal layout that's sliced in half, you ask? By keep the metal cutting to a minimum, it leaks less air than a drum sliced in half lengthwise. Less air leakage means it's easier to control your fire and the temperature in your smoker.

Any wood-and-charcoal-burning smoker works on the principle of flame + airflow = heat. Your task as a pit builder is to create enough air intake vents and exhaust vents to give a clean, controlled combustion, and and a method to fine-tune those vents to regulate the airflow.

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