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).

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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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21 Discussions


Question 4 months ago

Amazing and very helpful! i plan to make one as well. i was just wondering is it possible to build an UDS with 2 55gallon drums one on top of the other to form a tall UDS? thanks in advance for your opinion


Answer 5 months ago

No, and I wouldn't recommend it as you run the risk of getting paint chips into your food. They only reason you'd want to paint the interior would be to cover something up but if there's something inside the drum you wouldn't want to use it anyway. Even homemade BBQ isn't worth poisoning yourself over. :)


Question 8 months ago on Step 7

I built this but I can't seem to get my temp higher than 200. I have 4 7/8" holes and 2 3/4" holes in the lid. Help.

1 answer

Answer 8 months ago

The problem is almost certainly that you don't have enough oxygen getting to the coals. 4 holes at the bottom should be plenty, though. A couple of things to try:

1) Assuming you have a lid, try cracking it open a bit more to see if you can increase the air flow. The holes at the top may be limiting the flow.

2) Are the air holes on the bottom below the coals? They don't have to be directly below but they must have a lower elevation; otherwise the oxygen comes in the bottom and flows up OVER the coals instead of through them. This will limit the heat.

If you want, send me a picture and I'll see if I notice anything.


3 years ago

On the top of the removable lid, are those plugs that screw in and out depending on air flow out latches to secure the top to have a right fit?

1 reply

Reply 3 years ago

I'm not sure what you mean. Which lid are you talking about?


4 years ago on Introduction

Found my barrel online for $20 today, I just powerwashed it and when I googled ugly drum you were the first hit on google. A well done project, I can't wait to finish mine.

3 replies

4 years ago on Introduction

How do you feel about burning wood inside of for 6 hours it to remove the paint inside and out, vs your method?

1 reply

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

I've never burned out my own drum so I can't say from experience. The main reason for removing the outside paint is to prevent the burning smell while cooking so if you get most of it off I'd say that was ok. As long as the inside paint is lead-free (almost certainly) then a 6-hour burn should get rid of the inside paint.

If you want a more informed opinion try poking around on the BBQ Brethren forums: Have fun!

Someone asked about making one out of a hot water heater. I have made a few grills out of them and you can't make them out of all water heaters. Some of the ones in the past 10/12 years, or around that point, were lined with glass. It seems like the heat being used to smoke would create too much of an expansion or contraction on the glass lined steel (unlike the slow continuous heat of a water heater) and you would end up with small shards of glass in your food. Of the inside of the tank feels smooth, there is a good chance it is glass lined.


Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

tenoeight1, if you use a blower you attach it to the ball valve at the bottom to blow air into the smoker. You can see my blower assembly on my ATC instructable:

(See especially the second picture.)

As a side note, you don't need a blower and most BBQers don't use one on their UDS. The only advantage of using a blower is that you can connect it to a controller that will automatically monitor the smoker temperatures.


4 years ago on Introduction

Curious if anybody has built one of these using the vessel from the inside of an old water heater?

I have an old (natural Gas) water heater in my basement. Might be fun to haul it up to the back yard and de-construct it to provide the basic vessel for this type of smoker...I'm assuming that the water tank is stainless, but that needs to be verified.

Thoughts on this?

1 reply

Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

CAP, you can build a drum smoker out of just about any barrel-like container. You may have some issues with the insulation, though--you'll have to get rid of it because it is almost certainly not rated for the temperatures you'll be cooking at and some water heaters have glass or cemented-on insulation. Good luck and post some pictures!


5 years ago

great project, great smoker!


5 years ago on Step 4

Thanks for the instructions! I'm combining alot of designs and using my favs from each one. I really like the adjustable shelve idea, but I cant find a good way to mount the shelves. I know you say nuts and bolts, but I was afraid they'd stick out far and the grills catch on them. Could you maybe upload sizes/pics of how you attached the rails? Or maybe link me to nuts/bolts/washers you used? thanks!