Ugly Drum Smoker Plans (UDS Build)

A UDS is among the most cost effective smoker

 

For your money, you can't buy a better smoker than building your own Ugly Drum Smoker.

walkthrough uds buildCan I interest you in a smoker you can easily build yourself which will be designed well enough to smoke food for upwards of 10 hours without the need for constant maintenance? The UDS is a true set-it-and-forget-it style of smoker. 

This is a great #MeatGeek project with an insatiable drive for DIY tasks. You’ll need some specific tools, but if you're a hardcore DIY-er then you probably already have all the tools you need.

Although it might sound complicated, building one of these beasts is actually pretty easy for the average do it yourselfer. 

This walkthrough takes you through everything you need and how to assemble your very own UDS. The hardest part of the entire project is acquiring the 55 gallon drum -- even that isn't all that difficult -- more on this in a second. Should you decide that you like the idea of owning a UDS, but don't want to get your hands dirty, it's okay, there's a premade kit you can buy from Amazon. This kit show ups at your door with all the parts ready to be assembled...almost like Ikea furniture – it's okay, we won't tell.

There are a lot of different ways to make these, for example, some plans call for a welder, we swapped out that step and went a different route.

Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) Build

There are a lot of ways to build and create a UDS. Use your own DIY-er knowledge and tweak these plans to make your UDS perfect for you.

In a nutshell, it goes like this… get a 55-gallon drum, then strategically drill a bunch of holes into it. Build a charcoal basket and find a 22-inch grilling grate to place inside. Finally, attach some plumbing valves to work as the air inlets. And voilà you’ve got yourself a one of a kind ugly drum smoker. Insider secret… it’s not ugly at all. When you’re done you’ll see for yourself how awesome it is.

Ugly Drum Smoker parts

building-a-uds

Drum

55 Gallon Drum

drum for uds barrel
Look for a new non-lined barrel. While you can use a torch and some elbow grease to remove any possible toxic liners, it's easier to purchase a non-lined barrel. You can find them on
eBay or other various online marketplaces. Expect to pay about $75 or less for a new non-lined barrel.

CHARCOAL BASKET

  • Charcoal grate
  • Steel mesh - around 45 x 9 inches
  • Bolts (4" long), washers, nuts and lock nuts -   6 of each
  • U-bolts - 2 each

CHARCOAL BASKET: LEGS

leg assembly

CHARCOAL BASKET

parts for uds basket

ASSEMBLY

Handel & Grill Grate
  • Door handle -  at least 1 for the lid, but get 2 more to attach to the sides of the barrel for easier handling.
  • Standard grill grate 22.5” - get 2 (one for meat, one for a water pan)
grate and handle

AIR INTAKE

All parts are 3/4ths Inch
  • 3 Steel pipe nipples
  • 3 Steel pipe caps
  • 3 Conduit nuts
  • 1 Ball valve
uds build parts

CREATING THE BASKET – easy peasy

NO WELDER, NO PROBLEM

Some of us don't have access to a welder. Others, have no business operating one, myself included (the first basket I welded came out looking like a middle school shop project). I found this method online, and it is by far the easiest way to create a basket. Simple, yet practical. No welding required – it can be completed in under an hour (depending how long you spend on step 1).

basket inside ugly drum

Step 1 – Bend Ring

Bend a 45" x 9" sheet of expanded metal around a propane take. The propane tank is ideal, however, it still takes a bit of finesse.

ugly drum smoker basket
basket connect

Step 2 – Fasten Ring

Secure the cylinder with two bolts using washers and nuts.

creating ugly drum basket

Step 3 – Fasten Legs

Fasten the 4" bolts to the grate as shown.

basket completed for uds

Step 4 – Fasten Basket

Attached the basket you bended to the charcoal grate using the U-Bolt. Simple.

Drilling & Mounting The Assembly

Now we will prepare the drum for assembly in a few quick steps.

If you don’t already own a step bit, I can recommend this one which will set you back about $10 to $15. You can easily spend $60 on a good titanium bit at your local hardware store, but if you don’t plan on using it on the job site everyday the recommended one is perfectly fine. After all, we’re on a budget here.

The recommended bit goes from ¼ inch to 1 3/8. You’ll use ¼ inch for the holes that hold the cooking grate and handle.  1 inch will be perfect for the exhaust lid holes and the air intake at the bottom.

 

The Lid

Drill 8 evenly spaced 1 inch exhaust holes all the way around the lid.

drilling barrel lid

The handle

Mount the handle to the lid with four 1/4 inch holes (or however you see fit  based on your handle).

adding handle to lid

Grate supports

Measure about 7 inches from the top of your barrel and drill four 1/4 inch holes evenly spaced around the barrel with your step drill.

You’ll place the nuts and bolts in these holes to support the grilling grate.

holes for grate

Air Intake Valve/Holes

Drill three 1 inch holes evenly spaced, about 3 inches off the bottom. Two of these holes will hold the capped ¾ inch steel nipples and the third hole will hold the ball valve.

air holes

Optional - Create an additional area for increased functionally features

If you have a second grill grate you can work it into the bottom part of the barrel to provide a place for searing, dropping in a heat diffuser, water pan, drip pan, etc.

To add the second grate you'll be repeating the same steps you just completed in step 4. Measure 12 to 14 inches from the bottom and drill four 1/4 inch holes all the way around. 

You want to make sure this second grate will sit above the charcoal basket you made.  Double check the height before you start drilling these holes.

charcoal basket 5

Congrats, You've Built Your Own UDS Smoker

Now you're pretty much ready to go.

If you don't have a leave in thermometer like the iGrill3, Fireboard or a trusty Maverick thermometer, drill in a hole for a standard grill thermometer.  However, I certainly recommend ditching those standard analog thermometers; they're almost never accurate.  Temperature matters; especially when smoking meat for 8+ hours.

thermometer on uds not working

Standard analog grill thermometers are almost always off.

 

Depending on your DIY-er drive, and how much beer you have left, you can paint your barrel before completing the final assembly. Make sure to use paint that is rated for 500+ degrees. You can even find paint specifically made for barbecues.  Feel free to have fun with pimping your UDS and making it totally your own custom creation.

 

Optional: Season your new UDS smoker

It’s always a good idea to season your new grill. To do this load your newly created charcoal basket (it should hold almost a full 20lbs bag of charcoal) with charcoal mixed with a few wood chunks for flavor. Leave a little room on top because we’ll be adding hot coals to the top.

load up uds basket

I wouldn't normally add this much wood, but for the seasoning I'm okay with barreling clouds of smoke


Load your chimney with about a dozen or two coals. Once there hot drop them on top of the charcoal basket that you loaded with coal and wood chunks.

Open all of the vents and put the lid on.

Now, for this seasoning you’ll want to cook something with a lot of fat (bacon, breakfast sausage, chorizo, etc.). Add the meat to the center of the grate.

Next, have fun discovering how your new UDS will keep the perfect temperature. Play around with the air intake regulator and the valve caps; covering and uncovering these capped ends with a magnet. If you have the charcoal going property you should be around a perfect 250°F. The best part of an Ugly Drum Smoker is you should remain at 250°F for upwards of 10 hours. The seasoning process should be completed after two hours, then, you’re ready for your first smoke!

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