Introduction: Build Your Own Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS)

Ugly Drum Smokers (UDS) are simple smokers to build and operateyet they putout some really good barbecue. This Instructable will show you how to build your own simple UDS. If you don't know what an Ugly Drum Smoker is--or don't know how to use one--check out my UDS FAQ and How-to. This explains all the general information on Ugly Drum Smokers and discusses the different options you have when building your own.

Good commercial smokers range from $300 and up. High-end smokers like the Big Green Egg can cost near $1000 and aren't appreciably better than a UDS which you can build for about $100.

This smoker is an improved version of my previous smoker project that you can see here and was designed to work with my Android automatic temperature controller (ATC).

Step 1: DIY UDS - Parts and Tools

Part Description Qty URL Price
Main Drum
Drum Search the internet for a local supplier.  Your best bet is to find someone who reconditions drums. 1 ~$20-30
Lid I used the lid from a Weber grill someone was throwing out.  Check Craigslist.  Any 18.5-inch lid for a kettle grill should work. 1 ?
Ball valve I used a 1/2-inch forged brass FPT ball valve from Home Depot.  1/2-inch is on the smaller side and may not let in enough air to get your smoker over 300 degreesif you don't use a blower. Since I use a blower with my smoker it is large enough for me. 1Home Depot $9
1/2-inch bushing 1/2-inch black iron bushing screws into the ball valve from the inside of the drum.  If you use a different sized ball valve than the one above make sure you get the corresponding bushing. 1Home Depot $2
M20 washers M20 washers help hold the ball valve in place and create a better seal. 2Home Depot $1
Shelving Rail Brass E5 upright rails.  2 should be enough because you can cut them in half.  Note: if you use something other than a 30-gallon drum then these may not be big enough. 2Home Depot $6
Shelf clips Clips that fit into the rails above. 12 (1 pack)Home Depot $3
Nuts & bolts For attaching the rail to the inside of the drum. 9 (3 for each rail) $2
High Temperature Paint Any high temperature paint will do.  Some builders paint flames or team logos on their drums. 1Home Depot $8
Handles I used wire handle pulls with screws that fit inside the handle. 2Home Depot $6
Steel grate(s) Grates for Weber 18.5-inch grills work perfectly for this build.  If you are following my build make sure you get grills that are exactly 17.5 inches wide.  The Weber model number is 7432 (see picture above).  For some reason Home Depot doesn't have this listed on their web site even though I bought mine there.  I linked Amazon instead. 2-3Amazon $20-35
No-weld Charcoal basket
Expanded steel If you use two pieces of 24"x12" expanded steel the result will be a tall charcoal basket.  You could go with a single piece and cut it in half (so you have 2 pieces of size 24"x6") but that makes a short basket which may not be big enough to hold charcoal for a 10-12 hour smoke. 2Home Depot $20
Smaller grate 14-inch grate works well for making the the charcoal basket.  It must be smaller than the grates that are used for cooking the food. 1Home Depot $7
4-inch bolts + nuts For the legs of the basket. 3 $2
Fender washers Washers to use with the 4-inch bolts. 6
1/2-inch bolts, nuts, and washers For fastening the ends of the expanded steel.  Any size/gauge will do.  I used 5/16" hex bolts and nuts. 4-6
Bailing wire Used for attaching the expanded steel to the edge of the grate.  You might be able to use paper clips.  I also used it for making a handle. 3 feetHome Depot $2


A drill and a bit for cutting 7/8-inch holes, like this one.

Warning: A word about zinc and galvanized steel

At high temperatures the zinc coating on galvanized steel will create noxious fumes which can lead to something called Metal Fume Fever.  However this happens at temperatures much higher than our smoker will ever get--1600 degrees--and shouldn't be a problem; you can read more about it here.  That said, there's no reason to use zinc-coated parts if you don't have to.

Step 2: Strip the Paint Off the Drum and Repaint

If your drum doesn't have a removable top you will need to cut it out.  A Sawz-All works well as does an oxy-acetylene cutter. :)

This step isn't completely necessary but if the paint on your drum isn't high-temperature paint then it will peel, crack, and give off an acrid smell when you're cooking.  This will ruin the lovely BBQ aroma of your smoker when it's running.

There are multiple ways to strip the paint.  I used a paint stripper, then a blow torch, and lastly a wire wheel.  Once it's stripped put on a coat or two of the high-temperature paint.

Step 3: Cut Hole and Insert Ball-valve.

Use the 7/8-inch drill bit andcut a hole on the side  near the bottom of the drum.  You want the hole as close to the bottom as possible.  Just be sure to leave enough space for the washers to fit.

Attach the ball valve by screwing it to the bushing through the hole with an M20 washer on each side.  The washers help hold the valve in place and make the seal air-tight.

Now attach the handles.

Step 4: Insert Adjustable Cabinet Shelving.

My UDS uses adjustable shelving so I can change the heights of the grills.  This lets me pack in a few grills if I want to do a lot of ribs or spread them out if I'm cooking a few pork butts, which take up a lot more room.  The downside is that I have to be careful when I'm removing a grill or charcoal basket, otherwise I'll knock off a clip.  It's highly annoying when a clip falls right into the middle of the burning coals.

Cut down  the shelving rails to two feet long and install them into your smoker.  Then insert the shelving clips.

If you don't need to adjust the grills then you can use bolts and nuts in the side of your grill.  See my old smoker project for an example.

Step 5: No-weld Charcoal Basket

Build the basket for the charcoal:
  1. Take one piece of the expanded steel and bend it until it matches the curvature of the grill.
  2. Cut 6-10 pieces of bailing wire and bend them into U's.
  3. Use the bailing wire to attach the expanded steel to the grate.  Twist the bailing wire a few times to make it tight.
  4. Bend the second piece of expanded steel then use the bolts to attach it to the first piece.
  5. Use more bailing wire to attache the second piece of steel to the grate.
  6. Add the 4-inch bolts for legs.
  7. Attach a wire as a handle and you're done!

Step 6: Where's the Thermometer?

Every smoker needs a thermometer and you may have noticed that my build doesn't have one built in.  I have designed my own Automatic Temperature Controller with thermometers that you can build.  If you don't want to build a controller you have two options:

1) Buy a wireless thermometer like the Maverick ET732 (recommended).  The thermometer will be accurate and it has an additional thermometer to monitor your meat.  Even better, it is wireless with an alarm so you can use it on overnight cooks.  If you end up using your smoker frequently you'll want this.  The downside is that it's $60.If you decide to go this route then the easiest thing to do is to cut a small notch in the top edge of the smoker and snake the wires through the notch under the smoker lid.

2) Use a side-mounted dial thermometer like the one shown above or one from Big Poppa Smokers.  I don't recommend this because they are inaccurate, in part because drum smokers can have hot spots near the edge.  The needle of the thermometer can also get in the way of the grates.  It does have the advantage of being inexpensive.

If you go this route then drill a hole in the side just below the top grate and insert the thermometer.

Step 7: What to Do If You Don't Have a Kettle Grill Lid.

If you don't have a kettle lid then you need to make a lid.  The best option would be to buy a drum with a removable lid and add an exhaust chimney like the red UDS above.  Here are some more examples below.
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