Introduction: Whiskey Barrel Smoker / BBQ

I was inspired by another Instructable written by Missreeder to construct my own Whiskey Barrel Smoker / BBQ. Having a fondness for all things DIY i set about carrying out some research with regards to what i would need and the best method of carrying this out. This type of smoker tends to be more popular in the States than here in the UK but i managed to find plenty of resources on the internet. One thing to point out before undertaking this project is that this type of smoker requires a little more maintenance than traditional metal ugly drum smokers (UDS). The staves will shrink after the first and subsequent use therefore as part of maintaining the smoker you will need to partially fill it with water occasionally to re-hydrate the wood. If you are prepared to put the work in on constructing and maintaining the barrel you will be rewarded with a real showpiece and some out of this world smoked meats.


  • 1 x 40 Gallon (200 Litre) Whiskey barrel
  • 1 x Temperature Gauge
  • 1 x 1" BSP Ball Valve
  • 1 x 1" BSP Nipple
  • 1 x 1" BSP Elbow
  • 2 x 3/4" BSP Nipple
  • 2 x 3/4" BSP Elbows
  • 2 x 3/4" BSP End Caps
  • 2 x Latch (to keep the lid closed)
  • 20 x Fire bricks 230x114x32mm
  • 1 x Ball Bearing Hinge (Heavy duty 100mm)
  • 20mm x 4 Self tapping screws (approx 250)
  • Handle (for the lid)
  • 8 x 40mm 90 Degree brackets
  • 2 x Grill grates 550mm
  • Charcoal basket
  • 2m Chain and 4 x eyelets (to suit)

* All internal metal fixings must not be galvanised. It is my understanding through research that the coating is toxic when heated. All internal and external metal was made from stainless steel for longevity and aesthetics.

Tools and consumables

  • Metal paint (Hammerite)
  • Decking oil (not water based stains or sealants)
  • Masking tape
  • Sanding paper (grits 40, 60 80)
  • Belt sander
  • 4mm drill bit
  • Wood spade drill bits
  • Profile gauge
  • Hole saws (25mm, 32mm, 50mm)
  • Centre punch
  • Hammer
  • Hand saw

Step 1: The Barrel

I am located in the south of England and as far as i am aware there are no whiskey distilleries near me so the barrel was ordered through a popular auction site from a distillery in Scotland. The barrel was grade A, this meant it was in a good condition with some warping and rust on the bands.

Using some old 2x4 timber i created a V block stand to sit the barrel in. This enabled me to work at a comfortable height and easily rotate the barrel whilst working.

Step 2: Sanding the Barrel

I found this to be the longest part of the build but i guess it all depends on how particular you are about the look of your barrel. The wood was well weathered and even with a belt sander took a considerable amount of time to get the wood back to a new look. I opted to leave some of the weathered patches and go for a more rustic look than try to get it looking like new. A narrow belt sander would be needed to for the narrow sections at the top and bottom. I used an orbital sander to run over the metal bands just to remove surface rust.

Step 3: Securing the Bands

This part of the project was was quite lengthy and arduous. The wood will endure temperature fluctuations when used as a smoker and will contract over time. The staves are held together by friction only and therefore will simply fall out when the lid is cut off if they are not secured to the bands. Each stave needed to be secured to the four middle bands. To do this i ran masking tape along each band and then used a caliper set to half the width of the each band (they vary in size) to mark a line around the circumference. I then marked and centre popped positions around the band. Each stave needs at least one screw, the wider staves had two. Do this for all four bands, then using a 4mm drill bit drill a hole at each centre popped point through the metal band only (approx 200 holes). Using 20x4 self tapping screws, secure the bands to the staves.

Step 4: Determine Hinge Position

A little bit of thought needs to go into the hinge placement, too high and larger chunks of meat may touch the top of the lid and too low may result in meat burning. I decided on a position just over centre of the second and third bands. The lid is thicker than the walls and i had determined that the bottom of the lid would be level with the bottom of the top band. I figured this would be sufficient room to cook. I purchased a heavy duty ball bearing hinge because i knew the lid would be heavy. The difficulty in fitting comes from the barrel having a curved profile. To combat this i used a profile gauge and transferred the curvature to a couple of pieces of oak that i had cut. I cut the pieces the same size as the hinge and around 15mm thick. Once the profile was transferred i set the belt sander up in a vice and sanded them until i achieved the desired profile. The profile was different for each one so it is important to mark them both so you do not get confused as to which one is which. I wanted to cut my lid at 210mm down from the top.

Step 5: Cutting the Barrel Lid

I wanted the cut to be as straight as possible and as such my method took a little longer. I took a 210mm drop from the top band and marked every stave around the circumference. I then joined all of the dots with masking tape and created my cutting line. After removing the tape i used a hand saw to cut the lid off. I could have used a jigsaw or circular saw but i decided i would have more control and achieve a better cut with a hand saw. It took a little bit longer but i think the results were worth it from a cosmetic perspective. I then hand sanded the edges to achieve a smooth finish.

Step 6: Securing the Hinge

I placed the lid back on the barrel and ensured it was aligned properly. The bottom part of the barrel sprung out slightly and become slightly larger in diameter after cutting. I then secured the hinge by two screws at the top before checking alignment once more then drilling all the other positions.

Step 7: Painting the Bands

I used Hammerite silver paint for my bands. This paint can be painted over rust but i had already removed all surface rust. I masked either side of the bands so that i didn't get any paint on the wood. I decided to paint all of my securing screws to achieve a uniform finish.

Step 8: Staining the Barrel

I used a good branded oil to protect the exterior. It is important not to stain the interior of the barrel and to also use a good quality product that is not water based. Water based stains sit on the surface and in my experience will peel and crack over time and exposure to UV whereas an oil will soak in to the wood providing a deep finish that brings out the natural beauty of the wood.

Step 9: Fitting the Thermometer

This was going to be a big feature on the smoker so i wanted something that would stand out. In the UK it is hard to find anything substantial. I came across a site that was selling a Pro-smoke 4" thermometer, perfect. The size dominates the front and it is well built though at around £35 was far more expensive than others available. These are generally designed for metal BBQ's and as such have a short threaded section on the stem which was not going to extend through the thick oak staves. To combat this i drilled a small hole for the stem and then used a wood spade bit to open out the hole on the inside to accommodate a backing nut which would hold the thermometer in place.

Step 10: Fit a Handle

I chose a stainless steel curved handle and decided to position it dead central over the thermometer. Due to the curvature of the barrel a little effort was required to bend this into position.

Step 11: Air Intakes

Initially i decided to fit four equally spaced stainless washing machine taps around the bottom (first image), these had 1/2" intakes. This however proved to provide an insufficient flow of air into the coal basket and resulted in a maximum cooking temperature of around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. After doing some research i decided to open up two of the holes on the side to 26mm using a wood spade bit and fit a 3/4" BSP nipple and elbow on each one. These would be capped off when not in use and removed to help regulate temperature when cooking.. I opened up the hole at the back to 32mm using a spade bit and fitted a 1" BSP ball valve, nipple and elbow, this would be my temperature regulator. As i had already drilled the 1/2" washing machine valve at the front i decided to leave it in rather than plug it.

At the same time i drilled a 2" hole on the top lid for an exhaust. The exhaust is the same type of short tear drop types found on traditional UDS smokers. I manufactured this myself from 2" steel pipe and 3mm plate, i created a drawing to my own specifications. This required resources that may not be available to everyone, however these can be purchased on auction sites for around £30.

Step 12: Fitting a Rotisserie

Although not essential i decided to purchase and fit a rotisserie to my BBQ, I purchased this from Amazon. This was quite easy to fit requiring a drilled hole and slot and then screwing a bracket to the side of the barrel. I lined up the bar to where i wanted to position it across the centre and ensured that the position meant that my bracket wasn't going to be positioned over the metal bands on the barrel. Once i was happy with the position i marked the position on both sides of the barrel and drilled two 10mm holes. I then used a handsaw to cut down from the top onto one of the holes to create a slot (first image). Fitting the bracket was simply a case of putting the bar in position and lining everything up. The motor just slides over the bracket and be easily removed after each cook.

Step 13: Fitting the Internals

I hinged the lid with some chain and eye hooks, ensuring that each side became tense at the same time so that the lid did not twist. I also added a couple of latches on the front so that the lid could be firmly shut during long cooks.

There is no perfect way to place the fire bricks in the bottom and side, it is just important that they do not block the air intakes. I lay mine so that six cover the base and the remaining bricks are stood up against the side. Mine leave some gaps at the bottom which hot ash falls into but i am yet to have any problems.

I purchased two 550mm grates for my barrel, The top one is for the meat and the lower holds a water pan when smoking and the charcoal basket when used a s a traditional BBQ. I have held these in place with 4 x 40mm 90 degree angle brackets on each grate and upright steel dowels are used to secure the grate and prevent it from twisting.

Step 14: The Results

I am still experimenting with temperatures and cooking times. It is important not to keep opening the lid when smoking as this will cause temperature fluctuations. I have been very impressed at how well it holds a steady temperature over many hours when left alone. To set it I place a load of briquettes in my circular fire basket and then create a hole in the middle. I then fill my chimney starter with coals and when they are ready I tip the lot into the hole i made. I then put my water and meat in place and close the lid. It definitely requires a little bit of finessing to get everything right but so far the food has been excellent and smoky!! My smoking knowledge is definitely in its infancy but if you have any questions i would be happy to answer the best i can.

If you would like to give this a go yourself and would like a UK equipment list with prices (correct as of June 2019) then drop me a message and will send you a copy. Alternatively for those not interested in making this themselves i may consider custom making making others for sale at a later date.

Thanks for reading, i hope you enjoy the build as much as i did.


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