Introduction: Making of a Drum Smoker

Picture of Making of a Drum Smoker

Smokers can be anything from garbage cans to custom steel fabricated smokers costing $1,000.00 of dollars a drum smoker is just above the cost of a garbage can and will last for many years. This design is using an automatic temperature control device, if you want to build this smoker and do not wish to purchase an ATC system, drill four 1" holes spaced evenly around the base, 2" up from the bottom. Then fashion a cover over each hole so that you can control the draft.

The drum smoker is easy to make with many components already made. Some knowledge of steel fabricating and welding is required.

If you do not have a small welder you can just tighten the bolt and nut in the hole and tilt the rack every time you have to move the racks. There is room between the grill rack and barrel wall so you will not over tilt the meat.

Material List:

1 55 Gallon Drum, open top
1 1/8"(T) x 3/4" (W) x 12" (L), Handle
12 1/4" x 1.5" Bolt & Nut
2 1/4" x 0.75" Bolt & Nut
2 3/8"x 0.75"(L) Bolt & Nut
4 22"Weber Grills
1 18" Weber charcoal grate
2 1/4" x 36" Steel Rod
1 24"x 24"Expanded Steel
1 16" terra-cotta dish

Automatic Temperature Control Device
Rocks Bar-B-Que, Stoker

Step 1: New Drum

Picture of New Drum

This design uses a new open lid 55 gallon drum with no special lining; the cost was approximately $50.00. The drum is the right size to use 22" Weber grill racks. If you purchase a closed lid drum, you will have to cut one end off for your opening. If using a closed drum measure and cut the top so that you may use the lid from the Weber kettle for your top.

Step 2: Locating Bolt Holes

Picture of Locating Bolt Holes

Divide the circumference into three sections, using painters tape to mark the locations of your holes for your rack bolts. I measured down 5", 10" & 15" to create three levels of racks, and then I measured up from the bottom 12" to locate the separator rack. Using a 5/16" drill bit, drill all holes.

Step 3: Welding the Nuts to the Drum

Picture of Welding the Nuts to the Drum

Locate and cut opening for ATC system make sure that the height of the hole is even with the bottom of the charcoal basket.

Grind off paint at each hole on the inside of the drum. Install bolts and nuts, nuts on the inside, weld the nuts to the drum and paint to protect.

Remove the bolts and re-tap the nuts. By welding the nuts to the inside of the drum you will be able to back out the bolts during your smoking session to remove various grill levels without having to tilt the rack. I also located two 3/8" diameter holes with bolts and nuts between the top and middle rack, this will allow the inserting of wires for the ATC system and meat probes.

Step 4: Lid Handle

Picture of Lid Handle

Fabricating the lid handle. Measure in 1/2" from each end and center punch to drill 1/4" hole. Measure 1" from the end draw a line, then 3" in from the end draw a line now put the piece of steel in a vise and bend to form the handle. Locate handle in the middle of the lid and drill two holes to attach the handle to the lid.

Step 5: Charcoal Basket

Picture of Charcoal Basket

You need to fabricate a charcoal basket. Weather you are using a ATC system or just holes in the bottom you need to be able to draw your oxygen from under the coals, so make sure your draft tubes are locate below the bottom of the basket. I used a charcoal rack from Weber for the 18" kettle, and then I rolled a hoop out of 1/4" steel round stock to the same diameter of the rack. I then cut three steel rods 10" long; I welded the steel rods to the outside of the charcoal rack and hoop, and finish the side with expanded steel.

If you do not have a welder you can purchase steel pan and drill 1/2" dia. holes in the bottom and side of the pan. Or you may find a charcol pan form differnet smoker that will fit.

Step 6: Ceate the Heat Chamber

Picture of Ceate the Heat Chamber

You have to separate the fire box area from the meat. The easy method is to go to your local garden store and purchase a 16"diameter terracotta bottom for a planter. You place this on a grill rack wrapped in aluminum foil, the reason you wrap in aluminum foil is to make clean up easier. I have also made a 1/4" steel plate with holes drill in the perimeter.

Either design will allow smoke and heat to travel up the side of the smoker without direct heat on the meat. If you what a water pan just place it in the center of either plate.

Step 7: Nothing Says Smoking, Like Flames

Picture of Nothing Says Smoking, Like Flames

You can download flame templates from Duplicolor web site. I used Photoshop to make the flames the size I wanted, and then I attached them to the drum. You will notice that I had to cut the flames at the rolled ridge in the barrel, using painter tape I filled in the area and expanded the flames to line up. Using contact cement I attached the template to the drum, cut out the flames with a sharp knife.

Step 8: Painting of the Flames

Picture of Painting of the Flames

I use aerosol paint for the red and yellow and an air brush with orange for the mid-section. Make sure that you have protected the rest of the drum before you start painting. Paint the red and yellow and let dry to the touch then mix red and yellow to make your orange and fill in the rest of the flame. You can purchase inexpensive air brush kits for under $20.00 and with a small air compressor you are in business.

Step 9: Adjusting the Draft

Picture of Adjusting the Draft

Your smoker tempature is control by the draft, if you using a ATC device the heat probe will tell the fan when to turn on and off. Without a ATC device you will need to adjusting the bottom holes and the lid opening at the top. I decide that I did not want a hole in my lid as I live in the Pacific Northwest and we have rain so all I use is a wood shim.

Step 10: Conclusion

Picture of Conclusion

The smokers will cost approximately $150.00 without the ATC system. The painting of the flames will take longest time to complete. If you do not paint flames you should be able to finish this over a weekend. I find that I can get 6 - 7 hours of smoke time at 230 degrees with one load of charcoal. I mix in wood with the charcoal, so I'm always getting a light smoke. Using all three racks will give you plenty of rack space. Here is some pictures from the first two smokes.

Firing up the smoker.
1. Fill charcoal bin and light.
2. Place charcoal bin in bottom of the drum.
3. Place rack with heat separator in place.
4. Bring smoker to temperature.
5. Install bottom rack and load with meat.
6. Install middle rack and load with meat.
7. Install top rack and load with meat.
8. Position lid and sit back and let the low and slow heat and smoke do it's thing.


RandallC (author)2015-06-09

Do you have the instructions for building the fan mount and draft tube? Myself and a couple of friends are going to be building three of these in about two weeks. We are looking over you project, but there are not details for the ATC fan system. The plan is to use Arduino to control the temp, and turn fan on/off.

zamo27 (author)2013-09-07

If I get a pid temperature control like the Rex C-100 to run a 12v fan, similar to
a computer one can I achieve a good air supply to smoke and BBQ in the same barrel? Will it be enough air supply?

gordo58 (author)zamo272014-08-05

Sorry, I was just looking at this page checking out my new project and I see your question. The fan I use is a 5 CFM modified computer fan. If you have a controller to turn the fan on and off to control the temp the smaller the fan the more it will run, the larger the fan it would run as much. I have both 5 and 10 CFM fans. My system is called Stoker by Rocks BBQ in the Bay area.

gordo58 (author)zamo272013-09-09

My fan is a 5 CFM fan, I don't what the Rex C-100 had for a fan speed but that is what you need to look at. In the winter months I may use my 10 CFM fan as I need more heat to combat the cold temps.

alex9900 (author)2013-06-19

Hi! thanks for posting this great instructable. I wanted to ask you about the cooking process: what is the optimal cooking temperature and for how long do you keep te meat inside? how do you know when thicker meat is ready? Thanks again!

gordo58 (author)alex99002013-06-20

I would purchase some BBQ books as every meat is different, but the temp as always around 230 degrees. If you would make this drum without the fan system put about 4 holes with a adjustable cover in the botttom about 1" in size.

Good Luck and happy smoking

ulfilas (author)2010-06-02

 I have an old galvanised dustbin that was in our garden when we moved in 10 years ago... it's never been used by us for anything other than putting a disposable barbecue on it when upturned! I love the idea of turning it into something much more useful - I hope to eventually adapt it following some of your ideas. I don't think I'll be able to go down the elecric controller/fan route though - can anyone suggest an alternative?

Mindmapper1 (author)ulfilas2013-06-19

Never use glavanised materials as they contain poisons which can make you very ill! Get hold of a food quality drum. I use ones from fruit juice!

zpedrick (author)ulfilas2010-07-30

DO NOT use galvanized metal, when heated it gives off toxic fumes.

kevman0044 (author)2012-01-04

What kind of airbrush paint did you use and how well does it hold up with all the heat?

gordo58 (author)kevman00442012-01-04

I used just plan old paint for the hardware store. After many uses it's still looks good, but now after a few years it should be re-painted but then all my smokers look like they should be re-painted.

Mr.Sanchez (author)2011-06-08

So the Heat dont remove the paint...?

gordo58 (author)Mr.Sanchez2011-06-09

This is a smoker NOT a burn barrel. You need to look at all the pictures the charcoal is in the middle of the barrel and does not touch the sides. Now after a few years of using the smoker the paint is starting to fade, but I think the sun and low heat is probably the combination of that. You can touch the outside of the barrel during a smoke.

Mr.Sanchez (author)gordo582011-06-09

Thnks to reply ...I´m working on a similar Smoker...your info is so valious...

p.johnshea (author)2010-09-28

I like how you stacked multiple cooking grates in there. How much does the temp vary between the levels? Do you ever have to rotate the meats?

gordo58 (author)p.johnshea2010-10-01

As you know heat rises, but I don't find that much of a difference. However, I do rotate the levels just to make sure.

p.johnshea (author)gordo582010-10-05

Thanks. Also, whats the weight and thickness of the drum you used?

gordo58 (author)p.johnshea2010-10-05

I didn't know that the barrels come in different weights, I have never seen that. Just buy a 55 gallon drum. You can find them on the web, so maybe you will see different weights but I wouldn't worry about that, it's going to be heavy then the grills you buy at the big box stores.

p.johnshea (author)gordo582010-10-05

I found one that is 0.9mm. That seams really thin to me. What do you think?

I'm in Australia and drums- especially used one that didn't contain anything toxic are very hard to come by.


wirechief (author)p.johnshea2010-12-09

If it has been used for toxic stuff, get a hold of a propane torch on a hose like a:

burn all the finish off of the drum to bare metal. Then paint the outer shell with a high heat paint like VHT.

Happy BBQing! It's damn cold here in Chicago, Il. right now.

gordo58 (author)wirechief2010-12-10

You should stop tring to promote your business.

p.johnshea (author)2010-10-22

How tall is the actual charcoal basket?

gordo58 (author)p.johnshea2010-10-23

Ok, the legs are 3" high, the side is 6" high in the basket and it's 14" dia. I use a weber charcoal grill grate for the base. I hope this gives you the answer's. I can put about 8 pounds of charcoal in it and it will last for about 6-7 hours depending on how I set the stoker system temp.

gordo58 (author)p.johnshea2010-10-22

The legs are about 1.5" and the basket is about 8". I will be using this smoker tomorrow so I will get the correct dia. and send you the answers again this time I would guess.

ktemms (author)2010-10-04

Where do you put the ter cotta pot? Do you put a grate above the firebox, then put pot on it?

gordo58 (author)ktemms2010-10-05

you got the right idea. I have three racks the frist one is for the heat plate, the top two are for the meat. I also made a steel plate with around the sides this works good but it is heavy to lift out if and when you need to add charcoal.

2 stroke (author)2010-08-04

really 50 dollars i got mine for 10 at the flea market

gordo58 (author)2 stroke 2010-08-05

I purchased a new barrel that would handle food, at a flea market you don't know what was in the barrel before, so clean it well before you use it. I'm all for cheap but I want to live after I eat.

2 stroke (author)gordo582010-08-07

it carried laundry detergent and thats what i never thought about

gordo58 (author)2 stroke 2010-08-09

Wash it well and use chlorine in the wash, if you have a weed burner use that as well. Good luck I use mine all the time, I just finished building a new smoker from an old air compressor tank for the smoke chamber and a 8 gallon fork lift tank for the burn box. I cleaned the LP tank out with what we call super chlorinated water three different times and had chlorine residual over 2000 ppm then you have to neutralize the chlorine before you dump it into the environment (thats what I do for a living). I'm thinking about doing an instructable on this project, I also use the Stoker system with this as well.

2 stroke (author)gordo582010-08-17

sorry knda late but my bq is built now

Lesedi (author)2010-08-10

Anybody know where I can get a barrel like this in South Africa?

gordo58 (author)Lesedi2010-08-11

It is just a plain 55 gallon drum, it should be a problem just make sure that it do not have anything toxic in it before. I download the flame design from a web site for car paint (can't remember the name) and purchased a cheap air bush.

dkeltner (author)2010-05-29

I've found in my UDS that if you load the charcoal basket all the way up, but only start it in one corner, (probably on the same side as your air intake), you get much longer smokes. I've gone for over 16 hours on load at a time before. 

dgrolan (author)2009-08-31

Will you provide some information about the automatic temoerature controll and its instelation? I didn't find any mention of this in the instructions. Thanks

gordo58 (author)dgrolan2009-08-31

See my reply to Foxtrot on Aug. 27th it has all the information

Sparky67 (author)2009-08-30

Looks great, I also picked up a identical drum to the one you used. It has a tan sprayed on paint or coating inside. From all the research I have been doing that coating is a liner and needs to be burnt out before you cook food in it. Don't want to smoke your meat with paint or epoxy fumes..

branonls (author)2009-08-28

All the cutting and welding you do to the body and you use a stick to prop the lid open instead of making an adjustable vent?

gordo58 (author)branonls2009-08-29

I know isn't that just a cool way of adjusting the draft. Now to be serious, I live in the Pacific Northwest and what you have heard about rain is correct we get a lot. So when I was laying everything out I decided that I would do it this way so that the drum would not get rain water sitting down in the bottom of the drum. I would have to be draining the water or have a rusting bottom on the drum. Sure I could have extended a draft pipe above the lid, but then I might have problems transporting this to BBQ contest. Also with the ATC system you really do not need a big opening as the forced air will find a way out of your smoker. Maybe the next one will have a draft tube

vernsolo (author)2009-08-27

wow! great idea. i was going to modify my weber bullet but i think ill make one of these instead. you said it burns for 6-7 hours. is that with all your charcoal started ? if im doing a long smoke like a brisket i start some coals then add more on top and let them slowly start . i can usually get 10-12 hours out of it with out adding more at about 200 - 225 deg. are your temps pretty stable with the ATC and how low can you keep your drum? nice work and thanks for the instructable.

gordo58 (author)vernsolo2009-08-27

I use a minion method as well with the ATC system. I only start one side and let the fan control the rest of the burn. I fill the basket up to the top. I have gone as long as 8 hours before I have to add more charcoal, you need to remember that area inside the smoker is about 2 1/2 to 3 times the size of the bullet. This system will control the temp to within 2 degrees for hours, in over 30 years of cooking over open fires and smoking I have never had this good of control and I have 7 smoker/grills. This barrel smoker is my one smoker all the others take a back seat. I have smoked at 150 degrees with no problems you just set the temp and the Stoker does the rest.

Foxtrot70 (author)2009-08-27

Where do you purchase the ATC device?

gordo58 (author)Foxtrot702009-08-27

Go to, this system has it all, there is also one other by Guru, but from what I can understand that ones does not have all the bells and whistles. You can visit a forum at this is a good site for this type of equipment. You can also down load a program to run your computer and monitor the progress of your smoke.

Enjoy this will make smoking very easy to control.

eyeball_kirkenbach (author)2009-08-27

vernsolo (author)2009-08-27

oops i just saw the temp part of the instructable. 230 sounds good to me.

guy90 (author)2009-08-27

Thanks for the upload, cool flames

cupofsoup (author)2009-08-27

very cool. thanks

Arbitror (author)2009-08-26

Amazing job man! I love the flames!

akayaker (author)2009-08-24

I like your design and i love the paint job. Wish mine looked that good.

I wanted to mention (as not to scare off the less technical folks) that this can be a no weld and very easy project. I welded some on my drum as well and if I had to do it over again I would have gone the no weld route. I chose to go with vent holes on the bottom and I use refrigerator magnets to block the air. Not nearly cool as yours, but it works great.

Also, you made no mention that you need to burn out the inside of the drum before cooking in it. If there is a spray on liner present you will need to burn it out by building a hot fire inside the drum. Burning liner + cooking food = bad food and possible poisoning. you will also need to remove the rubber seal from the lid.

This project can be done in an hour or so with a little planning. You can really turn out some good food in one of these babies, but you already knew that.

gordo58 (author)akayaker2009-08-26

I mention the fact that you can just install the bolts with nuts and not weld, as a matter of fact I do not retrack the bolts to take the grates out most of the time, but I have a welder so I must use it. I know I forgot to tell everyone to burn out the barrel if you purchase a used barrel or have a lining in it. I purchased a new barrel with just paint on the inside so this was taken care when I did the first burn without problems. I like your idea on the magnets. I see you have the same idea about the charcoal basket. Remember it not the cost of your smoker, it's the taste of the meat.

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