Custom Homemade Barrel Bbq Build Your Own Ugly Drum Smoker With These Detailed And Exclusive Instructions

Building an Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) from a 55-gallon drum has become a popular DIY project among barbecue enthusiasts. The appeal of constructing a UDS lies in its simplicity, affordability, and the satisfaction of creating something functional and unique for smoking meats. There are generally two approaches to building a UDS: buying a drum that’s ready to assemble, or building one from scratch. Each method has its own set of steps and considerations.

Method 1: Buying a Drum Ready to Assemble

For those who prefer a more straightforward approach, purchasing a drum that’s ready to assemble is a great option. This method involves buying a 55-gallon drum that has already been prepped for conversion into a smoker. These drums typically come with the necessary components like a lid, air vents, and grates. The main advantage of this method is convenience and time-saving, as it eliminates the need for extensive modifications.

When buying a prepped drum, it’s important to ensure that it’s food-grade and hasn’t been used to store hazardous materials. Additionally, these drums often come with a coating that needs to be burned off before use. This can be done by lighting a fire inside the drum, which also serves to season it. Once this is complete, the drum can be outfitted with racks, hooks, and other accessories as per the user’s preference.

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Method 2: Building Your Own from Scratch

Building a UDS from scratch is a more involved process but offers more room for customization. It starts with sourcing a suitable 55-gallon drum. The drum should be food-grade and free from any chemical residues. The first step is to remove any lining or paint from the inside of the drum, typically through a burnout process, where a large fire is lit inside to strip away any unwanted coatings.

Once the drum is prepped, various modifications are made to convert it into a smoker. This includes drilling holes for air vents at the bottom for intake and at the lid for exhaust. A charcoal basket is created and placed at the bottom to hold the charcoal and wood. Cooking grates are installed at desired heights within the drum. Additional features like a thermometer, handles, and a hinged lid can also be added for convenience and better cooking control.

This method requires more tools, time, and a bit of skill, but the end result is a fully customized smoker tailored to the builder’s preferences. It allows for more creativity and adaptability in the design, which can be a rewarding experience for DIY enthusiasts.

In conclusion, building an Ugly Drum Smoker offers a rewarding project for barbecue fans, whether opting for the convenience of a prepped drum or the customizability of building from scratch. Both methods provide a cost-effective way to own a functional and efficient smoker, with the satisfaction of having built it yourself. The choice between the two methods depends on the individual’s skill level, the amount of time they’re willing to invest, and their desire for customization.

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How to Build A Smoker from a 55 Gallon Drum

Building a smoker from a 55-gallon drum, often referred to as an Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS), is a project that combines the joy of DIY with the love of barbecue. The process involves transforming a standard 55-gallon drum into a functional smoker, suitable for smoking a variety of meats. This project is popular for its simplicity and the excellent results it can yield.

The first step in building a UDS is to acquire a 55-gallon drum. It’s crucial to ensure that the drum is food-grade and hasn’t been used to store any hazardous materials. The drum will likely have a lining or paint that needs to be removed — this is typically done through a burnout process, where a large fire is lit inside the drum to burn off any unwanted coatings.

After preparing the drum, the next steps involve modifying it for smoking purposes. This includes drilling holes for air vents at the bottom of the drum for intake and near the lid for exhaust. A charcoal basket is created and placed at the bottom of the drum. Cooking grates are installed at appropriate heights, and additional features like a thermometer, handles, and possibly a hinged lid can be added. The final step is to season the smoker by heating it to a high temperature, which helps to prevent rust and also imparts a good starting flavor for future cooking.

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Ugly Drum Smoker Parts

When constructing an Ugly Drum Smoker, several key parts are necessary for its assembly and operation.

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The central component of a UDS is the drum itself. A standard 55-gallon drum is the most common choice. It’s essential to choose a drum that is safe for cooking, typically a food-grade drum that has not been used to store chemicals or toxic materials. The size and shape of the drum make it ideal for a smoker, providing ample space for cooking and efficient heat and smoke circulation.

55 Gallon Drum

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The 55-gallon drum serves as the body of the smoker. Its construction is straightforward: it’s a cylindrical container made of metal, often steel. When selecting a drum, it’s vital to look for one with a removable lid, which will make the initial burnout process and subsequent modifications easier. Additionally, the drum’s surface should be in good condition, free from significant rust or damage, to ensure the longevity and safety of the smoker.

In conclusion, building an Ugly Drum Smoker from a 55-gallon drum is a rewarding DIY project that allows for a great deal of customization. The process involves acquiring a suitable drum, preparing it, and making the necessary modifications to turn it into an efficient smoker. With the right tools and some effort, you can create a smoker that meets your specific cooking needs and preferences, providing a unique and enjoyable way to smoke meats and other foods.


A crucial component of the Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) is the charcoal basket. This is where the fuel, typically charcoal and wood chunks or chips for flavor, is placed and burned to generate the necessary heat and smoke. The charcoal basket is usually a cylindrical or square container made of metal mesh or expanded metal. It’s designed to hold a sufficient amount of charcoal while allowing ash to fall through, maintaining airflow and a consistent burn. The size of the basket is important – it should be big enough to hold enough charcoal for long smoking sessions but must fit comfortably inside the drum, leaving space around it for airflow.


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The assembly process of the UDS involves putting together the various components that have been prepared. After the drum is cleaned and prepped, holes are drilled for the air intake and exhaust. The charcoal basket is placed at the bottom of the drum. Cooking grates are then installed at the desired heights – these can be supported by bolts or hooks welded inside the drum. If the drum didn’t come with a lid, a suitable one needs to be fitted. Additional features like a thermometer and handles can be added for convenience and monitoring. Finally, the air intake system is installed, usually consisting of pipes or valves at the bottom of the drum to control the airflow and, consequently, the temperature.

Handle & Grill Grate

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Handles and grill grates are essential for the usability of the UDS. The handle is typically attached to the lid, making it easier to open and close the smoker. It can be made from various materials but should be sturdy and heat-resistant. The grill grate is where the food is placed for smoking. It should be made of a material that can withstand high temperatures and is easy to clean. Multiple grates can be installed at different levels within the drum, allowing for cooking different foods simultaneously or adjusting the proximity to the heat source.



Air intake is a critical part of controlling the temperature within the UDS. Proper air intake allows for control over how fast and hot the charcoal burns. It usually consists of small vents or pipes near the base of the drum, which can be opened or closed to regulate the amount of air entering the smoker. Managing these vents is key to maintaining the desired temperature, especially for long smoking sessions. Some people use simple manual covers to control these vents, while others might install more sophisticated systems with dials for precise adjustments.

In summary, building a UDS involves crafting and assembling several key components, each playing a crucial role in the smoker’s function. The charcoal basket holds the fuel, the assembly brings all parts together, handles and grates enhance usability, and the air intake system is essential for temperature control. Together, these elements create a smoker that is both effective and satisfying to use, epitomizing the DIY spirit of barbecue enthusiasts.

All Parts are 3/4ths Inch

When constructing an Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS), it’s common to use parts that are uniformly 3/4ths inch in size, especially for components like the air intake system. This standardization simplifies the construction process and ensures that the parts fit together seamlessly. For instance, using 3/4th inch piping or valves for the air intake system makes it easier to control the airflow and, by extension, the temperature inside the smoker. Consistency in part sizes also makes it easier to source materials, whether from a hardware store or through online suppliers. When all parts adhere to this size specification, the overall design and functionality of the UDS become more efficient and user-friendly.

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Building the charcoal basket is a key step in assembling an Ugly Drum Smoker. The basket’s purpose is to hold the charcoal and wood used for smoking, ensuring a consistent and controlled burn. To construct a basket that fits well within a standard 55-gallon drum, a piece of expanded metal is commonly used. This metal should be sturdy enough to hold the charcoal but also allow ash to fall through to avoid smothering the fire.

The process starts by cutting the expanded metal into a size that, once formed, will fit comfortably inside the drum, leaving enough space for proper airflow around it. The typical shape is cylindrical, but it can also be square, depending on preference. The edges of the cut metal are then bent to form the basket shape, and the ends are secured together, often by welding or using metal ties.

In addition to the main body of the basket, a grate or mesh is placed at the bottom to hold the charcoal while allowing ash to drop through. This bottom part is crucial as it supports the charcoal and ensures that air can flow upwards, feeding the fire. The height of the basket is also an important consideration – it should be tall enough to hold a sufficient amount of charcoal for extended smoking sessions but not so tall that it impedes the placement of the cooking grates or the lid.

Once the basket is assembled, it is placed in the bottom of the drum. Ideally, it should sit a few inches above the bottom to allow air from the intake vents to circulate underneath and feed the fire efficiently. The design and construction of the charcoal basket are vital for the overall functionality of the UDS, as they directly affect the heat generation and maintenance essential for smoking.

Step 1 – Bend Ring

The first step in constructing a charcoal basket for an Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) involves bending the ring that forms the main shape of the basket. This ring is typically made from a piece of expanded metal or a similar sturdy material. The goal is to bend this piece into a circular or cylindrical shape that will fit inside the drum. To do this, you can wrap the metal around a large cylindrical object, like a barrel or a sturdy tube, to get the right curvature. The size of the ring is crucial; it should be large enough to hold a sufficient amount of charcoal for smoking but small enough to fit comfortably inside the drum with space around it for airflow.

Step 2 – Fasten Ring

Once the ring is bent into shape, the next step is to secure it so that it holds its form. This typically involves fastening the ends of the expanded metal together. The method of fastening can vary; some prefer welding for a strong, permanent bond, while others might use wire or metal ties for simplicity and ease of assembly. The aim is to ensure that the ring is sturdy and maintains its shape during use, as it will be supporting the weight of the charcoal and withstanding the heat from the fire.

Step 3 – Fasten Legs

After securing the ring, the next step is to attach legs to the basket. The legs serve to elevate the basket off the bottom of the drum, allowing for better airflow underneath and aiding in temperature regulation. The legs can be made from metal rods or thick wire, cut to a length that provides enough clearance for air intake. These legs are then attached to the bottom of the ring, evenly spaced to provide stability. Fastening the legs securely is important, as they need to support the weight of the basket and its contents when filled with charcoal.

Step 4 – Fasten Basket

The final step is to fasten a grate or mesh at the bottom of the basket. This bottom piece is crucial as it holds the charcoal while allowing ashes to fall through, preventing the fire from being smothered. The grate should be made of a material that can withstand high temperatures and should be securely attached to the bottom of the ring. This can be done by welding or using wire ties, ensuring that it is firmly in place. The completed basket should be a sturdy and functional component, ready to be placed in the drum and used for smoking.

In summary, building a charcoal basket for a UDS involves several key steps: bending the metal into a ring, securing the ring, attaching legs for elevation, and fastening a grate at the bottom. Each step is essential to create a durable and effective basket that will hold the charcoal and facilitate proper airflow for smoking.

Drilling & Mounting The Assembly

Once the charcoal basket for your Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) is ready, the next crucial steps are drilling and mounting the assembly. Drilling involves creating air intake holes and exhaust vents on the drum. For the air intakes, holes are typically drilled near the bottom of the drum. These holes should align with the height of the charcoal basket to facilitate proper airflow. The size and number of these holes can vary, but they are often made to fit 3/4-inch valves or pipes, which can be used to control the air intake and, consequently, the temperature inside the drum.

Exhaust vents are usually drilled into the lid or near the top of the drum. These can be simple holes or fitted with adjustable vents for better control over the smoke and heat exit.

Mounting the assembly involves placing the charcoal basket inside the drum and installing the cooking grates. The grates are typically supported by bolts or hooks that are drilled and mounted inside the drum at desired cooking levels. It’s important to ensure that the grates are securely mounted and that there is enough space between them and the charcoal basket for optimal smoking conditions.

Additional Tips

When building an Ugly Drum Smoker, there are several additional tips that can enhance your smoking experience:

  • Airflow is Key: Pay careful attention to the airflow within the drum. Good airflow is essential for maintaining a consistent temperature and ensuring an even cook.
  • Secure Fittings: Make sure that all components, especially those that involve drilling and mounting, are secure. This ensures safety and efficiency during the smoking process.
  • Quality of Materials: Use high-quality materials, especially for the charcoal basket and grates, as these will be subjected to high temperatures and need to be durable.
  • Measurement Accuracy: Be precise in your measurements when drilling holes and mounting components. Accuracy is crucial for the smoker to function correctly.
  • Safety First: Always prioritize safety when working with tools and materials. Wear appropriate protective gear and follow safety guidelines.
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Optional: Season your new UDS smoker

Seasoning your new UDS smoker before its first use is highly recommended. Seasoning involves running the smoker empty at high temperatures, which helps burn off any residues from manufacturing or construction, like oils or paint. This process also helps to create a protective layer inside the drum, which can improve the longevity of the smoker and also impart a better flavor to the smoked food.

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To season the smoker, light a full charcoal basket and let the smoker run for several hours. You can add some wood chips for smoke. Maintain a temperature around 250-300°F. After this initial burn, the UDS is ready for cooking and should provide a better flavor profile to your smoked dishes.

Using an Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) can be a highly rewarding experience for both amateur and experienced smokers. Once you have built your UDS, understanding how to use it effectively is key to producing deliciously smoked foods. The UDS is known for its simplicity and efficiency, but getting the best results still requires some know-how and practice. From managing temperatures to understanding the nuances of smoke and airflow, mastering the use of a UDS can elevate your smoking game.


When you start smoking with your UDS, there are several basic tips that can help you achieve the best results:

  • Temperature Control: One of the most critical aspects of smoking with a UDS is temperature control. Since UDSs rely on manual adjustment of air vents for temperature control, it’s important to learn how opening or closing these vents affects the internal temperature. A good rule of thumb is to start with small adjustments and give the smoker time to stabilize before making further changes.
  • Fuel Management: Understanding how much charcoal and wood to use is another vital aspect. For longer smoking sessions, ensure you have enough charcoal in your basket. The type of wood chips or chunks you use also impacts the flavor, so choose woods that complement the food you’re smoking.
  • Meat Preparation: Before placing your meat in the smoker, make sure it is prepared correctly. This could mean marinating or applying a dry rub ahead of time. Room temperature meat often smokes more evenly than cold meat straight from the fridge.
  • Monitoring the Cook: Keep an eye on the temperature inside the smoker and the internal temperature of the meat. Investing in a good quality thermometer can make a big difference.
  • Avoid Constant Opening: Every time you open the lid of the UDS, you lose heat and smoke, which can affect cooking time and flavor. Try to keep lid openings to a minimum.

Ugly Drum Smoker Best Practice Tips

To further enhance your experience with the UDS, consider these best practice tips:

  • Season Your Smoker: If you haven’t already, properly season your smoker before the first use. This process helps to ‘break in’ the smoker, burn off any residues, and create a non-stick layer on the inside.
  • Consistent Airflow: Ensure consistent airflow through the smoker for even cooking. The design of the UDS facilitates this, but proper vent adjustment is key.
  • Regular Cleaning: After each use, clean your smoker to maintain its condition and prevent flavors from previous smokes from affecting your next cook.
  • Experiment with Flavors: Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of woods and charcoal to find the flavor profiles you enjoy most.
  • Learn From Experience: Each smoking session is a learning experience. Take notes on what works and what doesn’t, and adjust your techniques accordingly.

Using an Ugly Drum Smoker effectively is about balancing the art and science of smoking. With practice, you can master the UDS and enjoy many delicious smoking sessions. Remember, patience and attention to detail are your best tools when smoking with a UDS.


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