Category Archives: Projects

Ugly Drum Smoker

By far my most visited and commented blog post is how to turn a 55 gallon drum into a smoker. I made another one.

Unsightly industrial refuse

Unsightly industrial refuse

Yes, my father again presented me with a 55 gallon steel drum. It contained non-toxic, FDA-approved blue powder pigment that was used on food packaging.

This time, though, I didn’t have a spare Weber 22″ dome cover. What I did have, though, was the original flat lid. This resulted in some design changes. Go to the original post (linked above) for the specifics (bolt sizes, hole sizes, measurements, ball valves for ventilation, etc.). This post really only emphasizes my changes from that earlier design.

First, as usual, I scrubbed the holy hell out of the inside of the drum with 409 cleanser and some CLR and a bunch of brillo pads. Then it was fired out to try and clean it further. Unlike last time, I am NOT going to paint the inside of the drum with Rustoleum High Heat, since that goes against the manufacturer instructions. Instead I am going to clean it thoroughly and cure it with a long hot burn after rubbing the entire guts with vegetable oil.

Fairly clean

Fairly clean

Before we go further, it’s disclaimer time:

If your drum contained anything hazardous or you even remotely think it may have contained anything hazardous, DON’T USE IT TO COOK FOOD. Flat out, if you get some barrel that says Chernobyl or Toxic or Rat Poison on it or it mentions any type of remote health hazard and you turn it into a smoker and get sick as hell, grow a few more ears, or your genitals become inoperable, then you are at fault. Not me. Read my general Disclaimer. Don’t be stupid.

One of the first things I did, as can be seen in the above photos, was add two chimneys to the flat lid. The drum lid had two threaded holes with plugs in them. The plugs are called bungs and the holes are bung holes.

I wanted a piece of 6″ pipe to fit into my bung hole… uh, let me rephrase that… I went to a plumber supply store to buy two 6″ long pipes, one each at 3/4″ and 2″ in diameter, to screw into the threaded holes on the smoker lid. I bought a ball valve for the 3/4″ chimney for about $5 or $6. The 2″ ball valve is a whopping $45+ and that’s with a phony plumbers’ union discount they were willing to give me! No thanks – I’ll invert an old ravioli can onto the 6″ chimney.

Once cleaned, I used the steel drum drill bit to perforate the hull of my new smoker for all the hardware I planned to bolt on, including on the lid.

Specialty tools cost $$$!

Specialty tools cost $$$!



The drilling left jagged steel burrs on the interior of the drum. I have big washers that I plan to bolt over these, so no need to remove them. You could get a Dremel tool and cut them off, but I didn’t bother.

Once all the holes were drilled, I painted the entire exterior with Safety Red paint from Rustoleum.



It took a few coats using a foam roller, but the whole thing took less than a quart of paint. Once dry (and it took a little while), I bolted on all the hardware.

A new feature this time was my fancypants bottle opener.



In hindsight, it might be dangerous to try and open a chilled bottled beer on a hot metal opener like this. I’ll keep you posted if I injure myself. It’s highly likely.

Having a flat lid meant less clearance between the grill surface and the inner portion of the grill lid. That meant lowering the grill support bolt holes several inches to allow larger meats (like a couple pork shoulders or a turkey) to be smoked.

Grill grate

Grill grate

This means the food is closer to the fire and the fire / smoke needs to be managed more carefully.

The lid received a metal handle, and I painted the chimneys (but for the ball valve).

Completed lid

Completed lid

The rest of the assembly is nearly identical to the earlier Big Blue model. The interior coal cage is pretty much the same.

Coal Cage

Coal Cage

I like the red color. It’s distinct and makes it visible to thieves in the country house where we left it. There’s nothing ugly about this Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS).



Once completed, I lubed the entire inside as well as the coal cage and grill grates with vegetable oil and lit a hot fire to cure the whole thing. I’m probably cooking something on it this weekend. The next UDS will be a little different… something my kid’s been asking me about for a while. Stay tuned.

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Making a 55 Gallon Steel Drum into a BBQ Smoker

So, you’ve been blessed with a big 55 gallon steel drum? You happen to be somewhat handy? You like BBQ? Me, too! Here’s what I did to turn this unsightly industrial refuse into a BBQ smoker, cheerfully named Big Blue.

UPDATE (May 21, 2013) – I discuss using and did use RustOleum High Heat paint on the inside of the drum. A Commenter very helpfully pointed out today that the paint is not intended for use inside BBQ pits, per the RustOleum website’s FAQ section. The technical data sheet says it has a heat resistance of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit and mine has never gotten half that hot, but they still say that’s not the product’s intended purpose.  So, obviously don’t do that with your smoker. I’m considering making a new one and literally discarding the old hull after removing the hardware. I will post another update as needed. For now, perhaps just cleaning the heck out of the inside and curing it with food-grade oil and smoke is the best route for you.

UPDATE #2 (August 29, 2013) – I made another one.

Quick disclaimer: If your drum contained anything hazardous or you even remotely think it may have contained anything hazardous, DON’T USE IT TO COOK FOOD. Flat out, if you get some barrel that says Chernobyl or Three Mile Island on it or it mentions any type of remote health hazard and you turn it into a smoker and get sick as hell / grow a few more ears, you are at fault. Not me. Read my general Disclaimer. Don’t be stupid.

On to Big Blue:

Unsightly industrial refuse

I made some loose plans for turning this thing into a functional smoker. Plenty of online research into what other people have done went into my planning. No sense re-inventing the wheel, or smoker.

Detailed smoker plans

In essence, the drum needs to be cleaned out, have some strategically-placed holes drilled into it, be painted, and have some stuff bolted/screwed on.

To get started, I constructed the coal basket. I took two pieces of 12″ x 24″ perforated sheet metal and bolted it into a cylinder. This will rest on a Weber grill grate with four 3″ bolts to act as legs.

Coal basket (left) and base (right)

The coal base will allow two important things: the burnt ashes to fall from the active coals, and the air to surround the burning coals. This gives the fire enough oxygen fuel to burn efficiently without being snuffed out. One simply rests on the other in the center of the base of the smoker.

Ready to smoke some meat!

Now that the guts are assembled, time to get to work on the steel drum. You need a special drill bit that can cut through steel. I did some pricing and these things are incredibly expensive, to the tune of $30-$40 and up. I’m told you can get one for less than $20 at Harbor Freight Tools, but they may only withstand a few holes. Luckily, there is a handy guy in the parish who happened to have one for me to borrow.

Specialty tools cost $$$!

The cool thing about this bit is that you can drill any hole between 1/4″ and 3/4″ in increments of 1/16″.

The drum has a 6′ circumference and I want four baffles around the base, meaning the holes will be about 1.5′ apart. With the coal cage being 4″ off the ground, my baffles will be 6″ off the ground. The baffles will be ball valves with 1/2″ holes.

To make my life easy, I am using all 1/4″, full thread, hex screws. With some consistency, drilling holes, using washers & nuts, etc. is straightforward.

In addition to the baffle holes, I want four similarly equidistant 1/4″ holes near the top of the barrel so that I can run some 2″ hex screws into the barrel. These will hold my 22.5″ Weber kettle food grate. I will put these about 6″ down from the lid. This will give me a good amount of vertical space for making bigger food (like a dressed turkey!).

Finally, the 9th hole will be a 1/2″ hole below the 6″ depth of the food grate holes for my thermometer. I am putting it right below the food grate so that I can tell the temperature within the chamber right near the food.

Once all the holes are drilled, I washed the inside with some diluted CRL. Then I added some vegetable oil and lighter fluid. Fire cleans all.


At this point, I’d like to take a moment to add a lawyerly disclaimer. Don’t do this, particularly after drinking beer all day. This is dangerous and the cops / fire department will not be amused.

On the plus side, the fire burned off some arm hair the pesky labels that I could not remove.

After this fiasco cools down, wipe down the inside and outside again. It’s ready to paint.

Clean, but still needs to be sealed

I am painting the inside with a quart of Rustoleum High Heat specialty paint. (Edited May 21, 2013: See UPDATE above… don’t do this!)

Ah, that’s better. First coat of fire paint applied.

The outside will get some regular Rustoleum – my son picked out Royal Blue. In an effort to avoid any Cubs loyalty confusion, I will make a Cardinals stencil out of posterboard and spray paint that design over the blue in another color.

One coat isn’t going to do it…

A second coat of paint is needed to hide the original black undercoat.

Ah, that looks better

I am planning to spray paint on some Cardinal logo decorations from my homemade stencils, or maybe some Billiken stuff in honor of an alma mater.

Once this puppy dries on the outside, it’s time to screw on all of the hardware. Having consistently bought 1/4″ hardware, this is a simple process that takes mere minutes.

Smoker guts inserted…

Thermometer bolted on… needed a washer on the inside to make it snug

Four ball valves to serve as air baffles near the base… each also needed a washer for snugness

Can’t go wrong with a Weber kettle BBQ tool rack

Drop in a hinged 22.5″ grill grate, and put on an old 22.5″ Weber kettle lid, and you’re done!

Voila! Smoker is complete; Big Blue is born. Time to get some rub paste on 11 lbs of brisket for the family gathering tomorrow. Dinner is at 3pm, so I need to get up at 7am. (Pics to follow)

I’m inspired by Ernie Hudson in Ghostbusters: “We have the tools; We have the talent!”

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