My husband and I are always looking for a good DIY project to work on. Naturally, that meant when my father-in-law said he had a few empty whiskey barrels on hand, we decided to turn one into our next project. We took the used and a little beat up whiskey barrel and turned it into fully functional charcoal BBQ smoker. Enjoy!
Tools & Materials:
Empty Whiskey or Wine Barrel
Self tapping screws
wood stain and sealant (optional)
temperature gauge w/ 4in long stem - like this
3 - 3/4" x close NPT threaded nipple fittings - like these but in 3/4"
3 - 3/4" NPT end caps - like these
4 - 90 degree brackets - we used something like these
Generic pull handle
1 large cork and 6ish small corks
2 grilling grates - size will depend on the interior size of your barrel
fire bricks - like these
dolly/ cart or wheels (optional)
Step 1: Sanding
Depending on how dirty the barrel is, you will want to use either an electric sander if you have one or hand sand it and clean off the outside of the barrel.
Step 2: Drilling
In order to prevent the individual pieces of wood (staves) from moving, we screwed each stave to the metal bands. This was by far the most grueling part of this project. Using an electric drill (would be easier with an electric impact drill) and self tapping screws, we made sure each stave had at least one screw securing it to the metal band. Since the staves vary in size, some were wide enough that they needed 2 screws. Your screw might try to walk a bit or have issues first grabbing onto the metal. We ended up needing to use a hammer and center punch to make a pilot for each hole so the screws wouldn't walk.
Step 3: More Drilling
Once you have the first band of screws completed, the same needs to be done for the next three bands. If you want all of your screws to line up then you can either draw pencil lines from the first band, or (as we did) use lines of tape to line the screws up along all 4 bands. If you are not quite as OCD, then you can just wing it and put the screws wherever you want on the other 3 bands. Like I said before, this is definitely the most time consuming part of the project and took us a couple of days to complete.
Step 4: Cutting the Lid
Once all the screws are finally done, it is time to make the lid. Either draw a line or use tape to mark where you want to cut for the lid. We used tape to create our line and then used a jigsaw to follow along the edge of the tape to cut the top of the barrel off and thus create our lid. Chances are you won't have the straightest cut (we definitely didn't) but as long as the lid still fits pretty snugly on the top of the barrel it should work fine. Afterwards we sanded down the top edge of the barrel and bottom edge of the lid so they didn't have any rough edges.
Step 5: Sanding and Staining
Next we completely sanded down the outside of the barrel until it had a nice, smooth, even exterior. At this point, if you like the natural look you can leave it and move on to the next step. We wanted our barrel a little darker so we stained it and put a sealant on it since it was going to be kept outside every once in awhile. We just used wood deck sealant. At this point, if your barrel has a cork hole in the side like ours did you will want to find out what size large cork you will need in order to fill the hole. You can also make a cork by cutting a circle out of a spare 2x4 you have lying around. Just make sure it fits tightly. We put silicone around the cork on the inside of the barrel to make sure it is air tight.
Step 6: Temperature Gauge & Air Intakes
Now that the look of the barrel is complete, it is time to add the fittings that will transform this into a working smoker. At the bottom of the barrel (between the 3rd and 4th metal bands) we drilled three 3/4" holes equally spaced around the barrel. We chose to only have 3 but you can have more if you want. We screwed the threaded nipple fittings into each of these holes as air intakes. Make sure to leave some of the threads sticking out so you can put end caps on them. During smoking, the caps can be removed to adjust air flow and heat.
At this time, we also drilled a small hole towards the bottom of our lid for our temperature gauge. Make sure to have a gauge with a long stem so that it can give you a good internal temperature reading. The size of the hole will depend on what gauge you get, but make sure it screws in snugly.
Step 7: Lid
On the center of the lid we attached a generic handle so that it is easier to take the lid on and off while smoking.
We also drilled 6 small holes that we could fit corks into. The size of the holes will depend on the size of your corks. We added these holes as a way to adjust the temperature. If you need the temp hotter then close all the holes up with corks. If the temp gets too hot and you need to cool it down, take corks out and leave the holes open. We chose to do just 6 holes, but you can have as many as you deem necessary.
Step 8: Setting Up the Inside
Next was getting the interior of the barrel all set up to be a smoker. First we laid fire bricks in the bottom. We made flat layer covering the whole bottom of the barrel, but we also had some standing vertically in order to hold the lower grate. When laying the bricks make sure none of them cover any of your air intakes.
The water pan can lay directly on top fire bricks. This will also work as a drip pan to make for easier cleaning.
The lower grate sits on top of the vertical fire bricks. This is where we put our charcoal. Our smoking chips are either put in a box or wrapped in foil and placed directly on top of the charcoal.
For the top grate we screwed in four 90 degree brackets along the inside of the barrel. We made it so the grate sits just inside the mouth of the barrel. It might take a few attempts to get the grate balanced. This is grate the meat will be placed on for smoking.
Step 9: Finished!
After you get the inside all set up, you are ready to start using the smoker. If you are not planning on leaving the smoker in one spot then we recommend either getting a dolly to put it on or attaching wheels to the bottom. We have ours on a dolly so can move it into the garage when we aren't using it. Also if you plan on leaving it outside, it might be a good idea to put some type of rust preventer on all the metal bands.
It takes a little bit of practice to figure out the best way to regulate temperature, but it still works as a good BBQ smoker.
Step 10: The Results
Step 11: Maintenance
Clean off the grates, empty the water pan and ashes which is normal for any smoker. The only extra maintenance for a barrel smoker is filling it with water. After a while every 6 months or so depending on use, the wood will start to shrink since it is loosing its moisture. To fix this we remove the grates and fire bricks and put the intake caps on tight. Then we fill the barrel with water from the garden hose and let it sit for a few days. At first you may not be able to fill it all the way because of the leaks between the staves. But after awhile the wood will swell and the leaks will stop. At this point you are ready to start smoking again. We also flip the lid upside down and fill it with water.