A few years ago I acquired an offset smoker that someone was getting rid of. Since then I have been hooked on smoking meat. All kinds, ribs, shoulder, chicken, and turkey. I have since outgrown the old faithful offset smoker and replaced it with an 55 gallon drum Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS).
The UDS is a thing of beauty. So simple in design yet able to delivery quality bar-b-que, and a lot of it. The only problem I have is the standard UDS is not very portable. Mainly, I can't take it camping as it will not fit through the 22" wide Door.
What could be better then coming back from the beach at dinner time to find a perfectly smoke pork shoulder? Hence the mini Ugly Drum Smoker, or mUDS, was born.
This Instructable will layout my process for designing and assembling a mini UDS, based on a 16 gallon drum that measures 14.5" dia. x 27" tall. The main design is based around a UDS build that I found here on Instructables, and a great guide from How To BBQ Right. These plans are how I built my 55 gallon drum version, but that story is another time.
Lets get started.
Step 1: Materials & Tools
- (1) 16 Gallon Drum: 14-1/2" i.d. x 26-7/8" tall
- (1) Portable 14" Charcoal Grill & accessories (were are going to reuse/purpose as much as we can) - Walmart
- (3) 3/4npt Close Nipples
- (6) Conduit Locknuts
- (1) 3/4npt 90 degree Pipe Elbow
- (1) 3/4npt x 20" Pipe Nipple
- (1) 3/4npt Ball Valve
- (2) 3/4npt Pipe Caps
- (6) #10-24 x 3/4" Lg. Button Head Screws
- (6) #10-24 Hex Nuts
- (1) Long Leg U-Bolt w/Retainer Plate for 3/4npt Pipe
- (1) Temperature Gauge - Amazon.com
- Expanded Metal
- Grate from Portable Grill
- Wire Handle from Portable Grill
- (3) 3/8-16 x 2-3/4" lg. Hex Head Bolts
- (6) 3/8-16 Hex Nuts
- (6) 3/8" Washers
- (6) 7/16" Washers
- (1) 9" Pie Plate
- Tape Measure
- Step Drill or Drill Bits
- Hole Saw or Knockout Tool
- Standard Shop Tools (Screw Drivers, Wrenches, Channel Locks, Hammer, etc.)
- Painters Tape
Step 2: Drum Lid Test Fit
To maximize the cooking area in this tiny drum my plan was to find a dome lid, common with charcoal grills, to top the drum. I could just modify the stock lid, but this severely limits the cooking area inside the drum.
I went with an off brand portable grill found at the local Walmart from Backyard Grill. The grill retails for about 14 dollars, compared to the Weber Smokey Joe which is $30+.
First things first, lets make sure the portable charcoal grill lid fits your drum. Not all drums, and grills are made the same. I have read on other sites that the non-Weber grill lids have a 50/50 chance of fitting most 16 gallon drums.
As luck would have it, my lid was a perfect fit for my drum.
If your lid doesn't fit there are a couple of options.
- Option 1: Return the grill and purchase another brand.
- Option 2: Modify the lid. This may be as simple as tweaking the lid lip to fit the drum rolled edge.
- Option 3: Modify the Drum. This is the most involved option, and would require addition tools, i.e. torch, welder, etc.
Step 3: Drum Layout
I decided that two cooking grates/racks was the way to go. One grate would be 2" from the top, and the next 4.5" below that. With the first cooking rack 2" below the top of the drum, and a 5" tall lid, this allows ample room for product on the top rack.
The main method for positioning each rack level is quite simple. Drill three (3) holes for the #10 button head screws, #7 drill or step drill, equally spaced around the drum. Doing a bit of math (circumference = 2 * pi * radius), that is approximately 14-5/8" on the drum outer diameter. Because the drum is black I put painters tap at the hole locations so I could see my marks later.
Repeat this process for the lower rack 4.5" below the current holes.
Next is the makeup air. This consist of (3) 3/4npt close nipples mounted at the bottom of the drum. I marked the holes at 2-1/2" from the bottom of the drum. I used the same measurement from the rack holes for positioning. To mount the 3/4 npt close nipple you need to drill a hole that is approximately 7/8" diameter. A large step drill, hole saw, or knockout will do the trick.
Step 4: Mount Drum Lid
Reading through the assembly instructions for portable grill (and yes, I read all instruction manuals) I noticed that the lid was on a hinge. Convenient. Lets see if we an make that work with the drum.
With the drum lid in position, mount the grill lid hinge side bracket (item #3) and lower hinge bracket (item #8) to the lid per the instructions. Position the lower hinge against the drum and mark the holes on the drum.
If your portable grill is like mine some bracket modifications (tweaked the bracket ears) will be required to properly align the bracket to the drum. Before drilling any holes make sure the lid will open in the current position.
Step 5: Burn
Depending on where your drum came from I would recommend burning the barrel to remove all stickers, paint, and residue left over from its previous life. My drum was painted at one point, and may have contained grease in a liner.
A weed burner works well for stickers, but to really get in the seams/crevices I would suggest starting a file in the drum, and letting it burn.
Caution: Check your local area restrictions. I am not responsible for any fire/property damage.
Once the fire has died, and the drum is cooled use a wire brush and steel wool to remove all the burned residue.
Step 6: Install Hardware
For the grill racks place a #10 button head screw into each of the six (6) holes and thread the hex nut on the inside of the drum.
For the makeup air ports thread one conduit lock-nut onto each of the close nipples and place them into each hole. Thread the other lock-nut onto the nipple and tighten.
Decide on which of the three (3) makeup air ports gets the ball valve, the other two ports get plugs. Once decided install the pipe elbow, and length of pipe. I went with 24" for the vertical pipe that the ball valve is installed on. This put the ball valve height at the top of the drum.
To secure the vertical pipe I installed a long leg u-bolt with retainer plate into the side of the drum. Position the u-bolt on the vertical pipe, mark the position on the drum and drill.
Based on your preference decide on a location for the temperature gauge. I went with a position close to the brand plate mounting location on the Lid. Mark and drill the hole sized to fit the gauge stem. Install the gauge after everything has been painted.
Step 7: Paint
I would recommend painting the drum with high temp paint. I know this is an Ugly Drum Smoker, but the paint acts as a rust inhibitor.
I picked up a couple of cans of high temperature spray paint from the local hardware store. I went with a base of flat black (2000 def. F), then two coats of black semi-gloss (1200 def. F).
Prior to applying the paint I masked all open holes with painters tape from the inside of the drum. This eliminates over-spray from getting into the clean drum.
During the assembly of the lid I heard some cracking when tightening the wing nuts. Come to find out the red enamel on the lid is not the highest quality, and was cracking/flaking off (you get what you pay for). I was planning on leaving the lid red, but after finding missing paint I decided to hit it with couple of coats of the high temp paint.
Step 8: Fire Bucket
While the paint is drying lets make the fire bucket that will hold the charcoal and wood.
The thought is to re-use the 12" grill grate supplied with the portable grill as the bottom of the fire bucket. Then, being very careful, wrap/secure expanded metal around the circumference. Because I have a welder at my disposable I will do a quick weld job on the expanded metal and grill grate.
You could go with the no-weld approach for this bucket, but feel free to make the bucket as simple or elaborate as required. The no-weld design can be seen in step 5 of the UDS Instructable I linked to earlier.
To keep the fire bucket off the bottom of the drum I used (3) 3/8" x 2-3/4" long hex bolts with nuts and washer as legs, and mounted them through the grill rack.
To ease ash removal I placed a pie plate under the grill grate. I transferred the hex bolt locations onto the pie plate and drilled clearance holes. The pie plate free floats on the hex bolts. When everything has cooled down you can simply lift the fire bucket out of the drum and dump the ashes.
Finally the handle. Re-purposing the Wire handle from the portable grill, I bent the handle to match the outer diameter of the fire bucket. Position the handle into the expanded metal. Done.
Step 9: Final Assembly
Once all the paint has dried it is time for final assembly.
Install the portable grill lid air vent, brand plate (I am thinking of making a custom brand plate in the near future), and handle per the instruction manual.
Position the lid on the drum and install all hardware to attach the lid hinge.
As an after thought it might be a good idea to add handles to the drum. The smoker is easy enough to pick up, but what if I need to move it while it is still warm? It might be a little sketchy to bear hug a 200 degree F. steel drum. I picked up some cheap, small handles from the hardware store. Marked, drilled, and fastened in position.
Remember that hole we drilled back in Step 6. Install the temperature gauge and tighten into place.
Step 10: Prepping the Smoker
Prior to the first use of the smoker I would recommend seasoning the drum. Some use a fatty protein such as bacon, as the first meat the smoker smokes. I normally just spray or wipe the inside of the drum with oil or grease. When I did my 55 gallon drum I used the left over grease from the morning bacon.
This is also a chance to see how the smoker handles work. You can play with the makeup air vents to determine how best to achieve your desired smoking temperature.
Step 11: Final Thoughts
There you have it, my mUDS build, in all its boring detail.
As for final thoughts on the build, everything went fairly smooth. Total time spent is around 6-8 hours, this includes watching paint dry. If you really pushed it you could crank out your own mUDS and even some que in a weekend if you are lucky.
Looking at what components we were able to reuse from the portable grill, I was able to reuse or re-purpose all but 4 items. I think I got my monies worth out of the 14 dollar grill.
As for the smoker itself, I am really digging the portable size, and hinge lid. These were the two main problems I was facing with my 55 gallon UDS.
I will have to play with the mUDS a bit more before I can reflect on the use/control of the unit, but for right now I am really, really happy with the results.
Step 12: Update 1 & 2
Update 1: I went back through and added cost to all components, and a total cost for the smoker.
Update 2: After the first use of the smoker (smoked sausages) I found that a single temperature gauge was not enough to adequately monitor the temp. I added an additional gauge to to the smoker just below the lower cooking grate. This allows me to monitor the "real" temperature of the fire box.
Step 13: Update 3: Actually Smoking
Update 3: Since the completion of the mUDS I have been on a smoking spree. Between home and camping I have smoked sausages (first run at home), pork shoulder (camping), and brisket (camping). The mUDS works like a champ, and holds temperature perfectly. The longest smoke I have attempted was 10 hours for the shoulder and brisket. The only issue I have seen when the coals ash out a bit they are falling through the grate and snuffing themselves out in the ash (Update 4).
Update 4: As stated above the only issue I have seen is the coals falling through the Fire Bucket grate and snuffing out in the ashes. To fix this problem I installed the "warming rack" grate from the Portable Grill into the Fire Bucket perpendicular to the existing grate. This will allow the ash to fall but keep the coals until they are completely ash.