Making of a Drum Smoker




Smokers can be anything from garbage cans to custom steel fabricated smokers costing $1,000.00 of dollars a drum smoker is just above the cost of a garbage can and will last for many years. This design is using an automatic temperature control device, if you want to build this smoker and do not wish to purchase an ATC system, drill four 1" holes spaced evenly around the base, 2" up from the bottom. Then fashion a cover over each hole so that you can control the draft.

The drum smoker is easy to make with many components already made. Some knowledge of steel fabricating and welding is required.

If you do not have a small welder you can just tighten the bolt and nut in the hole and tilt the rack every time you have to move the racks. There is room between the grill rack and barrel wall so you will not over tilt the meat.

Material List:

1 55 Gallon Drum, open top
1 1/8"(T) x 3/4" (W) x 12" (L), Handle
12 1/4" x 1.5" Bolt & Nut
2 1/4" x 0.75" Bolt & Nut
2 3/8"x 0.75"(L) Bolt & Nut
4 22"Weber Grills
1 18" Weber charcoal grate
2 1/4" x 36" Steel Rod
1 24"x 24"Expanded Steel
1 16" terra-cotta dish

Automatic Temperature Control Device
Rocks Bar-B-Que, Stoker

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Step 1: New Drum

This design uses a new open lid 55 gallon drum with no special lining; the cost was approximately $50.00. The drum is the right size to use 22" Weber grill racks. If you purchase a closed lid drum, you will have to cut one end off for your opening. If using a closed drum measure and cut the top so that you may use the lid from the Weber kettle for your top.

Step 2: Locating Bolt Holes

Divide the circumference into three sections, using painters tape to mark the locations of your holes for your rack bolts. I measured down 5", 10" & 15" to create three levels of racks, and then I measured up from the bottom 12" to locate the separator rack. Using a 5/16" drill bit, drill all holes.

Step 3: Welding the Nuts to the Drum

Locate and cut opening for ATC system make sure that the height of the hole is even with the bottom of the charcoal basket.

Grind off paint at each hole on the inside of the drum. Install bolts and nuts, nuts on the inside, weld the nuts to the drum and paint to protect.

Remove the bolts and re-tap the nuts. By welding the nuts to the inside of the drum you will be able to back out the bolts during your smoking session to remove various grill levels without having to tilt the rack. I also located two 3/8" diameter holes with bolts and nuts between the top and middle rack, this will allow the inserting of wires for the ATC system and meat probes.

Step 4: Lid Handle

Fabricating the lid handle. Measure in 1/2" from each end and center punch to drill 1/4" hole. Measure 1" from the end draw a line, then 3" in from the end draw a line now put the piece of steel in a vise and bend to form the handle. Locate handle in the middle of the lid and drill two holes to attach the handle to the lid.

Step 5: Charcoal Basket

You need to fabricate a charcoal basket. Weather you are using a ATC system or just holes in the bottom you need to be able to draw your oxygen from under the coals, so make sure your draft tubes are locate below the bottom of the basket. I used a charcoal rack from Weber for the 18" kettle, and then I rolled a hoop out of 1/4" steel round stock to the same diameter of the rack. I then cut three steel rods 10" long; I welded the steel rods to the outside of the charcoal rack and hoop, and finish the side with expanded steel.

If you do not have a welder you can purchase steel pan and drill 1/2" dia. holes in the bottom and side of the pan. Or you may find a charcol pan form differnet smoker that will fit.

Step 6: Ceate the Heat Chamber

You have to separate the fire box area from the meat. The easy method is to go to your local garden store and purchase a 16"diameter terracotta bottom for a planter. You place this on a grill rack wrapped in aluminum foil, the reason you wrap in aluminum foil is to make clean up easier. I have also made a 1/4" steel plate with holes drill in the perimeter.

Either design will allow smoke and heat to travel up the side of the smoker without direct heat on the meat. If you what a water pan just place it in the center of either plate.

Step 7: Nothing Says Smoking, Like Flames

You can download flame templates from Duplicolor web site. I used Photoshop to make the flames the size I wanted, and then I attached them to the drum. You will notice that I had to cut the flames at the rolled ridge in the barrel, using painter tape I filled in the area and expanded the flames to line up. Using contact cement I attached the template to the drum, cut out the flames with a sharp knife.

Step 8: Painting of the Flames

I use aerosol paint for the red and yellow and an air brush with orange for the mid-section. Make sure that you have protected the rest of the drum before you start painting. Paint the red and yellow and let dry to the touch then mix red and yellow to make your orange and fill in the rest of the flame. You can purchase inexpensive air brush kits for under $20.00 and with a small air compressor you are in business.

Step 9: Adjusting the Draft

Your smoker tempature is control by the draft, if you using a ATC device the heat probe will tell the fan when to turn on and off. Without a ATC device you will need to adjusting the bottom holes and the lid opening at the top. I decide that I did not want a hole in my lid as I live in the Pacific Northwest and we have rain so all I use is a wood shim.

Step 10: Conclusion

The smokers will cost approximately $150.00 without the ATC system. The painting of the flames will take longest time to complete. If you do not paint flames you should be able to finish this over a weekend. I find that I can get 6 - 7 hours of smoke time at 230 degrees with one load of charcoal. I mix in wood with the charcoal, so I'm always getting a light smoke. Using all three racks will give you plenty of rack space. Here is some pictures from the first two smokes.

Firing up the smoker.
1. Fill charcoal bin and light.
2. Place charcoal bin in bottom of the drum.
3. Place rack with heat separator in place.
4. Bring smoker to temperature.
5. Install bottom rack and load with meat.
6. Install middle rack and load with meat.
7. Install top rack and load with meat.
8. Position lid and sit back and let the low and slow heat and smoke do it's thing.

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    57 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Do you have the instructions for building the fan mount and draft tube? Myself and a couple of friends are going to be building three of these in about two weeks. We are looking over you project, but there are not details for the ATC fan system. The plan is to use Arduino to control the temp, and turn fan on/off.


    6 years ago

    If I get a pid temperature control like the Rex C-100 to run a 12v fan, similar to
    a computer one can I achieve a good air supply to smoke and BBQ in the same barrel? Will it be enough air supply?

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago

    Sorry, I was just looking at this page checking out my new project and I see your question. The fan I use is a 5 CFM modified computer fan. If you have a controller to turn the fan on and off to control the temp the smaller the fan the more it will run, the larger the fan it would run as much. I have both 5 and 10 CFM fans. My system is called Stoker by Rocks BBQ in the Bay area.


    Reply 6 years ago

    My fan is a 5 CFM fan, I don't what the Rex C-100 had for a fan speed but that is what you need to look at. In the winter months I may use my 10 CFM fan as I need more heat to combat the cold temps.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Hi! thanks for posting this great instructable. I wanted to ask you about the cooking process: what is the optimal cooking temperature and for how long do you keep te meat inside? how do you know when thicker meat is ready? Thanks again!

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I would purchase some BBQ books as every meat is different, but the temp as always around 230 degrees. If you would make this drum without the fan system put about 4 holes with a adjustable cover in the botttom about 1" in size.

    Good Luck and happy smoking


    9 years ago on Introduction

     I have an old galvanised dustbin that was in our garden when we moved in 10 years ago... it's never been used by us for anything other than putting a disposable barbecue on it when upturned! I love the idea of turning it into something much more useful - I hope to eventually adapt it following some of your ideas. I don't think I'll be able to go down the elecric controller/fan route though - can anyone suggest an alternative?

    2 replies

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Never use glavanised materials as they contain poisons which can make you very ill! Get hold of a food quality drum. I use ones from fruit juice!


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    DO NOT use galvanized metal, when heated it gives off toxic fumes.


    7 years ago on Step 8

    What kind of airbrush paint did you use and how well does it hold up with all the heat?

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 8

    I used just plan old paint for the hardware store. After many uses it's still looks good, but now after a few years it should be re-painted but then all my smokers look like they should be re-painted.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    This is a smoker NOT a burn barrel. You need to look at all the pictures the charcoal is in the middle of the barrel and does not touch the sides. Now after a few years of using the smoker the paint is starting to fade, but I think the sun and low heat is probably the combination of that. You can touch the outside of the barrel during a smoke.


    9 years ago on Step 10

    I like how you stacked multiple cooking grates in there. How much does the temp vary between the levels? Do you ever have to rotate the meats?

    5 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 10

    As you know heat rises, but I don't find that much of a difference. However, I do rotate the levels just to make sure.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I didn't know that the barrels come in different weights, I have never seen that. Just buy a 55 gallon drum. You can find them on the web, so maybe you will see different weights but I wouldn't worry about that, it's going to be heavy then the grills you buy at the big box stores.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I found one that is 0.9mm. That seams really thin to me. What do you think?

    I'm in Australia and drums- especially used one that didn't contain anything toxic are very hard to come by.



    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    If it has been used for toxic stuff, get a hold of a propane torch on a hose like a:

    burn all the finish off of the drum to bare metal. Then paint the outer shell with a high heat paint like VHT.

    Happy BBQing! It's damn cold here in Chicago, Il. right now.