Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Drum smoker tutorial

First things first: I would like to thank Cowgirl for her inspiration for this project. Her patience surely out weighs mine as i sent email after email for this project. I would like to thank the Brethren as well. I was referenced to them by Cowgirl. Now i am referencing you to them as well.
So your one of those people who wants to build a UDS that is simple, ugly, no FUGLY is more like it, but yet produces the most elegant smoked and barbecued meats, stuffed jalapenos and fatty’s ever!

Ill start off listing everything i purchased and used for my UDS. I spent roughly 130$ for a smoker that has two 22.5 inch cooking grates. Then from here ill go into the drawing plan and then implementing the design and creating the masterpiece. There are two options for the KISS method. The very easy KISS style and the easy KISS style. The very easy KISS method involes just holes for the vents with no pipe nipples or a ball valve for adjusting intake. You just use some sort of plug or magnetic strip to adjust air flow. This method works great. The easy method is where you add three 3/4 inch pipe nipples in the holes and a 3/4 inch ball valve in the 4th intake hole for easy adjusting.
  • New 55 gallon drum with lid - I purchased my drum for 85$ since no one in my area has a used one. IF you have to get a used one. Make sure it has no lining and no toxic chemicals were in it. First thing to do with the used ones are to burn them out and use a wire brush and wire grinder to strip any remaining toxins and linings out. Needs to be cleaned very well. If you can not find a lid for the drum, some Weber grill dome lids will fit it just right.
  • Metal drill bits and or knock out tool – This is used to drill and put the vent holes in the lid and base of drum. Depending on which KISS option you pick. The only difference is that the easy KISS style with the ball valve requries a bigger hole for the 3/4 inch ball valve to fit in. All ball valves are not created equal my friends, so just make sure you have the right size of knock out tool or drill bit for the hole. Also the holes for the pipe nipples may need to be a bit bigger than 3/4 inch so that the threads of the pipe nipples can screw in.
  • Charcoal grates and expanded metal – There are two grates needed for any UDS. The charcoal grate and the cooking grate. I used a standard 18 inch Weber charcoal grate and a standard Weber 22.5 inch cooking grate for mine. The charcoal grate needs to be at least 3-4 inches off the base of the drum. I used four 4 inch bolts on mine. I then took a 5 inch high by 6 or so feet and wrapped it around the edge of the charcoal grate. This created the basket to hold my fuel. From the top of the charcoal basket, you need at least 23-24 inches of clearance before your first cooking grate. This will insure that food will not burn.
  • Turkey fryer thermometer – I placed this 3/4 an inch below the first cooking grate. I choose to use the turkey thermometer because it is long and will reach center grate of the cooking rack.
  • Bolts and nuts – To hold the cooking rack in place i used four small diameter 3 inch bolts. I used four 4 inch bolts to attach to the charcoal grate. MAKE SURE THEY ARE STAINLESS OR USE A TORCH TO BURN OF THE ZINC COATING
  • Ball valve and pipe nipples – only buy these if you are going the easy KISS style. I purchased 3 non galvanized 3/4 inch by 1.5 inch pipe nipples with caps. I used electrical conduit nuts as the fastners for the pipe nipples only. I bought a 3/4 inch brass ball valve for the main intake. The outer Diameter (OD) of the threaded part of the ball valve is 1 inch.
  • Handle – this isused for the lid. The lid can and will get hot so its better to be safe than sorry.
All right. Thats the list of parts i used for mine. Ill start off with the very easy KISS style. BUT the charcoal basket is used in BOTH methods. So be sure to make that first. Ill try to get pics in here as well. I hope that this will help you out and that it is easy to understand.

So lets make our charcoal basket shall we. Attach the four 4 inch bolts to the charcoal grate. Then use some strong wire or weld to attach the expanded metal ring to the grate. The image below shows how i accomplished this task.

Now lets drill the 4 holes into the bottom of the drum for our intake holes. These will need to be placed evenly around the base of the drum. They will need to be 3/4 inch size holes about 2.5 inches from the base. This will allow the pipe nipples to be placed. However, if you just want to drill 4 one inch holes and use no pipe nipples, your more than welcome. In that case, just use some sort of plug to plug the hole or use magnet strips that have advertisements on them. they work great.

Do this all the way around the base of the drum 4 times for a total of 4 air intakes. You now have the option of adding the pipe nipples to these holes if thats the way you went. The below pic shows the pipe nipples in place. The caps screw on to either control or suffocate the fire. For the fourth hole i used a ball valve. Below is a supplied pic of that as well.

 For the lid, I drilled 8 3/4 inch to 1 inch holes evenly all the way around the lid. I filed the underside of the holes with a nice file to make sure that they would not cut me. BUT to little to late. Sliced me thumb right down the side. The bolts are used as plugs to suffocate the fire once done cooking. I close all the intakes and lid vents to save my charcoal for next time.

 Ok. now that we are this far, lets finish up. At 23 inches from the base i drilled 4 holes big enough for the four small 3 inch bolts to fit threw. I drilled the holes evenly around the drum to insure a steady cooking grate. I also drilled a small hole about 22 inches from the base for the turkey fryer thermometer. The pic below shows my charcoal grate before the ring was added.

Now all that you have to do is add the handle. I dont have one on mine because im to lazy to buy one. I want a cool looking handle. Well thats it for both methods.

UPDATE: I have now attached 4, 14inch rebar posts to my basket. These posts will hold a small grate wrapped in foil to catch drippings. Some people like the flavor of the fat vaporizing in the fire and flavoring the meat, i do not. I prefer the flavor of just the wood itself. 

My smoker all finished an in place at its new home

Now lets get cookin! First thing to do is buy some high quality charcoal such as rancher. I  only have Kingsford comp in my area so i use that. Fill the charcoal basket almost to the top with unlit charcoal. Bury 3 or 4 FIST sized wood chunks. I can not express how important this step is. The wood chunks MUST BE AT LEAST AS LARGE AS YOUR FIST in order to get the highly saught after TBS aka, Thin Blue Smoke. You do not have to use wood chunks at all. Slow cooking with just lump charcoal alone gives an excellent flavor.  Fill a charcoal chimney about 3/4 full and light it up. Once it is ready. Pour it in the middle of the unlit charcoal.

Have all four bottom vents all the way open and put the lid on. Once the temp reads about 220*F close the two side vents and close the ball valve half way or so.IF you are using just plane holes and no pipe nipples or ball valve. Use plugs or magnetic strips to cover the vents. Leave the back vent open. Each UDS is different for controlling temps based on altitude so play around for a while till you have it down. Wait for about 45 – 50 minutes for any nasty smoke caused from impurities in the wood and charcoal to burn off.At this time frame, you will usually see your TBS.

Now its time to put some ribs on!

Smoked for 8 hours with cherry wood. MMM MMM GOOD!



  1. Any way you can update the pictures on this post? for some reason they are not loading correctly.

  2. dng, they are not loading anymore for me either. Looks as if photobucket is having issues..... again. haha