How to Build a Barrel Smoker




This is my first Instructable so don't laugh.

Hopefully by the end of this you will be able to build your own BBQ smoker out of some barrels.  I believe this smoker is called an offset drum smoker.  With it you can smoke meats and foods.  It uses charcoal and fruit wood as fuel/smoke.  This requires a lot of welding and cutting but if you don't have a welder you may be able to rivet it together but since I think rivets suck I weld things.

Step 1: Preparations or Step 1

Welcome to step one you made it!

This is the first of many steps where I boss you around and tell you things. 

First off to build one just like mine you need some barrels.  I found my barrels at some barrel company and they were the floor models in the showroom.  Yes they have models of barrels and a showroom to show off the pretty colors or latest technical feats of barrel making.  I don't know if there were mannequins in flannel and hard hats modeling the barrels lifting them etc. but I assume so. 

It is important for your life and health you get some barrels that either have never been used like mine or have never had some bad stuff in them.  If the bad stuff is bad you don't want it on your food.

I used two 33 gallon barrels I think.

Get a welder.  Or a weldor.  The difference is you pay the weldor to do all the work and you don't look like a manly dude with a cool welder in the garage. I would recommend a MIG welder.  It is much better than a stick because the stick welder will burn through thin metal very easy.  I also would stay away from one that uses just flux core wire because it sucks.  It makes it harder to weld and you got smoke and sparks and crap flying everywhere.  A MIG welder produces a much cleaner easier weld.  But if you are out in the wind like a tornado and need to weld your weather vane back on I would go with the flux core welder.

Step 2: Doin' Stuff/build the Frame

This is the step you actually start doing stuff rather than just thinking about it.  Take a deep breath your are about to cross the thresh hold that separates those who have at least tried to build a smoker and those that have only thought about it.

In this step you should build a frame to hold up the smoker.  I took some measurements of my height and figured I would make my frame tall enough to place the meat at waist level so I don't have to bend over and so I can see what is going on. If you need to consult you library for a book on ergonomics now would be a good time.

I would scrounge around for materials.  You could maybe make this out of wood as long as the firebox doesn't catch it on fire.  I used some 1" square steel tubing from my local metal yard.  They had piles of it out on a rack that they sold to me by the pound.  It is very cheap this way compared to pricing out perfect tubing.  By whatever works.  I used a Harbor Freight chop saw I bought with a 20% off coupon to do all the tubing cuts and it saves a ton of time and does better cuts than a angle grinder.

I am not going to hold your hand on this one since I have no idea what materials you would use or what size barrel you might use so just watch some monster garage or read some books and use your brain.

I didn't fasten the smoker to the frame in any way I just made sure that the frame width was such that I could just set the smoker on it and it would fit  nice and tight and rest on top of the tubing on the ends.

I welded it all together.

Don't do crappy welds or everyone will see it and laugh at you. Or if you try to make a small bunk bed out of it to use while you are working on it it might break apart killing you and possibly some bed bugs.

Paint it maybe.  It depends on if you have to rework it like I did you don't want to re paint.

Step 3: Cutting the Barrels Introduction.

I just felt like drawing this.

Don't use an axe or chain saw you might hurt them.

Step 4: Cutting the Barrels for Reals.

As you can see by the drawing I cut one barrel into three pieces and shortened it by removing a section of the barrel.  I did this for many reasons.

1. I was lazy
2. I didn't want to buy some sheet metal and build a firebox from scratch
3. I thought it would look cooler

On the cooking chamber barrel cut a door. BTW rounded corners look better and don't stab you. Make them large and try to make the cut as nice and thin as possible so heat/smoke doesn't leak.

Step 5: Weld

This is the step that makes you look cool.  You get to put on huge leather gloves and a cool mask that makes you look like Darth Vader you get to tell people to leave the room/garage/dining table because it will be dangerous and you get to melt some freaking metal together and shoot sparks all over!

I welded the small barrel back together.

I got kind of crazy and made sure to have a bead of the barrel running down the middle of the mini barrel to look symmetrical. You don't have to do that.

Weld the small barrel to the large one like it's shows in the picture. I tried using the threaded hole in the top of the barrel and use a pipe nipple to connect the two barrels together but without reinforcement it just sagged and I didn't like it. Also you wouldn't get enough heat/smoke into the cooking chamber.

I cut enough of  the lip off one of the barrels so they fit as flush together as possible so I could run one weld and it would be sealed up and strong.

It should now look like the one in the 3rd photo. But notice how the smaller barrel is sagging?  This is because it is still attached with the pipe nipple instead of welded together.

Step 6: Cut a Door

Cut a door into the firebox just like the smoking chamber one.  Don't use scissors they are for girly stuff like paper and fabric.

Step 7: More Cutting

Men use tin snips or aviation shears not scissors.  Make sure you instruct all women and effeminate men that they aren't scissors they are tin snips or aviation shears very important for the proper metal working environment and show proper respect for the snips.

Make sure to get the holes the right size so the smoke flows properly through the smoker and the fire gets enough air etc.  Don't want to cover that here.

I have labeled the steps.
1. Cutting a circular hole for the intake for firebox.
2. Cut hole from firebox to cooking chamber.  Cut this hole at whatever point makes more sense.
3. Cut hole in cooking chamber for exhaust.

Photograph shows the hole from fire box to cooking chamber and some of the welding to attach firebox to cooking chamber.

Step 8: Attach Stuff

I picked up some heating ducting elbows from home depot and built a rad exhaust  there is an ideal length of it to get a proper draw but I have no idea and I suck at math so google it or check out the link in the end of this instructable.

The intake hole for the firebox should have some kind of damper on it to control how much air goes into it. I made mine look like the butterfly valve on a carburetor but using some rod welding to a circle of metal that fit into the hole.

You can hot rod the exhaust and put a cool bias cut on it to make it look cool like I did...or not.


Get some of that thick wooden dowel from somewhere.

On It.

1. Drill some holes for mounting bolts.
2. Round off corners
3. Sand
4. coat with wax or paint or something
5. bolt it on the door

Do this for the firebox door too.

I used some bolts that had to have the dowel drilled so the bolt would be  flush instead of sticking out and burning my hand.  I used some copper pipe fittings to space the handle from the door. It looks cool and doesn't rust like steel.

At this point you might want to paint the smoker with some high heat paint.  I loved the blue color but thought it would flake off so I painted over it with some BBQ paint.

Step 10: Casters

Find a grill grate on clearance at home depot and weld in some hangers for it.

It might be rad to add some casters to be able to roll it around and do wheelies and stuff. Shopping cart ones would work awesome but I don't know where to get those except steal them from a store and stealing is bad.

Step 11: Smoke Meat Not Drugs

Hopefully you will now with the help of your brain know how to build a smoker.  I never intended to make an instructable of this so I didn't take tons of photos of every step but I hope from this you will see how I did things and will be able to make a useful smoker and BBQ for many years. 

Here is a great resource for figuring out how to build a smoker and there are links to spreadsheets/calculators with all the proper dimensions to fine tune your smoker.

Toodle pip!



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    20 Discussions


    1 year ago

    please sent me a detail plan


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Hey man, cool use of a barrel. I too loaded up an instructable here for my wood burning barrel. However, I invested more time in the actual site itself, check out my version of wood burning barrel - I too use it to cook on, but yours is great for BBQ! LOOKS GREAT MAN! GOOD JOB! !


    5 years ago on Introduction

    dude if you knew how to weld it would be easier to stick weld it with 6011 low heat ...wire brush and all is good


    8 years ago on Introduction

    very cool. the only problem i have with 55 gallon drum smokers is the thickness of the walls. they are simply too thin. the dont hold heat in well enough. the smoker i have on my patio has about half inch thick walls.

    6 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    1/2 " thick ? How in the world did you move it ? must weigh about 600lbs and what was a 1/2 " thick drum used for ? to contain radioactive material....


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I built one about 7 years ago similar to this, except that my fire box was located underneath. You want to keep your heat under 300 degrees so the "thin" walls are perfect. I can cook almost 100lbs of food in mine with no problem. I have cooked numerous turkeys, briskets, pork loins, and racks of ribs. Also isf you look at Lowes, Home Depot etc... you will see similar commercial ones that use almost the same guage metal. BTW great instructable


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    then don't build this...I think I may wrap mine in a welding blanket to cut down on the heat loss.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Love the illustrations! They're more fun than pictures. Could you cover the smoker with a thin layer of refractory cement, or would that not hold in enough heat to be worth the trouble? How expensive is high temperature rock wool insulation?


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    not sure if it would stay on there but It would possibly work awesome to roll a sheet of chicken mesh/wire as a form for the inside. Thank you for your comments especially about the drawings. I thought it would be funnier to do drawings and possibly show the process better.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    You may want to try that thermal tape they use to wrap motorcycle exhaust headers. Don't know how expensive it is though.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Should have been named "Manstructable." I feel like slaying some large animal and smoking it now. MAN UP AMERICA!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I loved this instructable, very funny and nice drawing!


    8 years ago on Step 6

    manly scissors go by the name tin snips. You would be a manly man if you could cut it with tin snips. :)


    8 years ago on Step 4

    I bought a plasma cutter on ebay from Harbor Freight about 5 years ago and it works just fine. Is the gap it leaves (~ 1/16th - 1/32") small enough for the "gap" you are referring to? I've cut propane tanks with this (filled with water of course!) so I know I can dial it in for a very fine cut but wanted to know if that's good enough.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 4

    I think you are talking about the cuts for the doors? If so that would be great to use for it. If you can't get the gap small some flanges could be welding on the underside of where the door stops. This would be done to overlap the back of the door to provide a better seal. I think your plasma cutter would work much better for these cuts than the cut off wheels I used.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice job on the build. I can't seem to find barrels that haven't already been used for some chemical.

    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Try a bread store. Apparently they get huge drums of honey and other stuff in them. I think if it is a food grade barrel is should be ok.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    joemonkey - So use a discarded propane tank instead, just be sure to have someone else fill that bugger with water and cut it with a torch. (real women prefer plasma torches) I'm looking for a 200gal (dead) tank now for a smoker project. I have an old lawn ornament now (dead 500gal tank) that I'm looking for a use for...I think one could smoke an entire side of beef in one that large, but that's a wee bit too big for the family....

    Phil B

    8 years ago on Introduction

    I do not believe anyone will laugh at you. You did a fine job on your first Instructable. You are a talented illustrator. If I had a need for one of these smokers, I certainly would use your Instructable to build it. I hope you will do many more Instructables in coming months.