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.
Can 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
55 Gallon Drum
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 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
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)
All parts are 3/4ths Inch
- 3 Steel pipe nipples
- 3 Steel pipe caps
- 3 Conduit nuts
- 1 Ball valve
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).
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.
Step 2 – Fasten Ring
Secure the cylinder with two bolts using washers and nuts.
Step 3 – Fasten Legs
Fasten the 4" bolts to the grate as shown.
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.
Drill 8 evenly spaced 1 inch exhaust holes all the way around the lid.
Mount the handle to the lid with four 1/4 inch holes (or however you see fit based on your handle).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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!