Build your own drum smoker and what's the first thing people notice?
This should come as no surprise.
A departure from what many now consider standard smokers (think the box-shaped electric smokers or egg-shaped charcoal smokers), a drum smoker stands out. For as much as it's the key component of a drum smoker's namesake, it's eye-catching. In addition, DIY barrel smokers usually come with some bragging rights – of the, "Yeah, I built that," variety.
Constructing a Smokin' Ugly starts and stops with having the appropriate barrel for your smoker. Without it, you'd have nothing but a few accessory kits and a bag of charcoal.
What to Look for in a Barrel for Smoker
Before we dig into what qualities the barrel that will become your smoker should have, let's make a quick detour.
Do we make barrels to use with our Smokin' Ugly accessories?
The short answer to this question (one of our Smokin’ Ugly FAQs) is no. We make accessory kits that transform a run-of-the-mill steel barrel into a meat-smoking workhorse. And our accessories go beyond making a drum a smoker – we also offer kits to turn it into a pizza oven or griddle, too.
We can, however, point you in the right direction to get an appropriate barrel for your smoker (more on that later).
That said, to get back on track.
Picking out the right barrel for your smoker isn't something that can be done on a whim. It requires thought, research, and, of course, a little bit of knowledge. The last thing anyone wants is to invest the time, money, and sweat equity into creating a DIY smoker only to find the barrel selected as its foundation isn't suitable for the task.
Think of it this way: Not all barrels are created equal, and not all barrels are made to be smokers.
To that end, when choosing a barrel for your Smokin' Ugly accessorized drum smoker, it's important to evaluate its:
- Metal type
- Past use
- Lid situation
- Overall condition
Barrels come in a wide variety of sizes, from as small as five gallons to as large as 110 gallons. For the best fit for the Smokin' Ugly accessory kits, it's best to go with the median option – a 55-gallon drum
But don't worry, the middle-of-the-road option doesn't mean compromising your ability to smoke certain meats or prepare certain dishes. You'll have no problem smoking your Thanksgiving turkey or holiday ham in a 55-gallon drum smoker.
Bigger isn't always better.
Larger barrels take longer to heat up. They also require more fuel – and effort (babysitting )– to maintain a constant temperature. And a 110-gallon barrel takes a lot more effort to clean or move than a 55-gallon drum.
2. Metal Type
To cut to the chase, the barrel comprising your drum smoker should be made from one material – steel.
While this does eliminate barrels made from other metals from the equation, you are still left with a choice – a barrel made from cold-rolled carbon steel or stainless steel. For comparison's sake, it's like choosing between a vehicle's standard model or its luxury edition. Let's take a look at both steel types:
Cold-Rolled Carbon Steel
Cold-rolled carbon steel drums are the popular choice for smokers due to their affordability, durability, and availability. Constructed from a single sheet of metal that is rolled into a cylinder shape, these drums can easily stand up to high heat conditions as well as extreme temperatures. When compared to stainless steel drums, carbon steel is lighter in weight and also more economical.
The thickness of the steel used in cold-rolled drums are usually 16ga (.06"), 18ga (.048"), and 20 ga (.036"). The thicker the sheet of metal used, the heavier the drum will be and therefore better able to withstand higher temperatures without deforming or damaging.
When compared with stainless steel drums, cold-rolled carbon steel has greater thermal conductivity which helps maintain constant cooking temperatures across different sides of the smoker as well as top and bottom levels within it. Cold-rolled carbon steel also takes less time to heat up than stainless steel which allows faster preheating when starting up your smoker before adding food items.
Stainless Steel Drums
Stainless steel drums, while more expensive than their cold-rolled carbon steel counterparts, offer superior durability and corrosion resistance.
Constructed from a thin sheet of metal that is rolled into a cylinder shape, the walls of stainless steel smokers can be thicker than those made from cold-rolled carbon steel and have a heavier feel.
Stainless steel drums easily withstand the high temperatures of barbecuing and smoking without degrading or losing shape.
When it comes to thermal conductivity, stainless steel is not as efficient as cold-rolled carbon steel which means it takes longer to heat up when starting up your smoker before adding food items. However, its greater resilience against corrosion makes it an ideal choice for outdoor smokers or those placed over high-heat conditions such as barbecue pits or grills.
But Buyer be Warned: a premium-grade barrel for your smoker has a premium-grade impact on your wallet. We've seen stainless steel drums selling for upward of $1,000.
Bonus Buyer be Warned: Regardless of what steel comprises your BBQ smoker drum, make sure the barrel itself is unlined. We cannot stress this enough. In simplest terms, barrel liners are not meant to withstand high temperatures – they'll likely burn and expose a perfectly good cut of meat to toxins and fumes.
3. Past Use
While plenty of Smokin' Ugly owners use pre-owned barrels for their DIY meat smoker, it's extremely important to understand the drum's history.
A barrel's past might make it unsuitable for working with food.
A barrel that was once an oil drum isn't the best option the same way one that stored hazardous waste isn't. While using your drum smoker with a questionable past, there's always the chance that toxins or other contaminants could be released as you're preparing food.
The best way to ensure the barrel is safe for smoking is to purchase one that's food-grade certified.
4. Lid Situation
One of the basic elements of smoking meat in a drum smoker is being able to trap both heat and smoke.
Not only should your barrel come with a removable lid, but the covering should create a tight seal.
While it's not impossible to find lids for barrels that come without, it's always best to go with a barrel complete with its own covering that doesn't need any modifications. It makes it light years easier to install a smoker hinge kit on and use later on.
5. Overall Condition
This applies to those who are giving a used drum a new lease on life.
Again, it's 100% possible to turn a used barrel into your ugly barrel smoker. However, it's important to make sure that you're getting a drum that's worth investing in in the first place. Look for any visible wear and tear such as dents, rust spots, or corrosion.
It's no different than buying a used car. A vehicle that's rusted out, damaged, and struggles to start probably won't go the distance you're expecting it to.
Sourcing Your Barrel for Smoker
So where do you get a barrel for your future ugly drum smoker?
There are plenty of places Smokin' Ugly owners have turned to, including:
- McMaster Carr
- Amazon (FYI – from what we've seen, this is usually the most expensive option)
- Local hardware stores
Just remember, whichever barrel you choose should be food-grade.
Prepping & Maintaining Your Barrel
Once you've put together your ugly drum smoker kit, it's not all systems go. You'll need to prepare the barrel for future use with an initial cleanout and seasoning session. In a sense, this is the first routine maintenance of your homemade smoker.
The cleanout and seasoning are simple, though it does take time. Follow these steps:
- Load up the charcoal basket with wood or charcoal
- Open all the air vents to their maximum setting
- Ignite the fuel source
- Let it burn for several hours
After, inspect the barrel to make sure its components are in working order.
General upkeep of your smoker barrel is pretty straightforward:
- During a smoke session, elevate the drum off the ground. While it is ok for your drum smoker to make direct contact with the ground, doing so does expose the bottom to moisture, which can cause rust.
- When not in use, keep your barrel smoker covered to protect it from the elements.
- After each use, spend a few minutes cleaning out all the ash from your smoke. Though ashes are dry they do absorb moisture, which creates an environment for corrosion.
- Reseason the drum annually. Not only does this preserve flavoring integrity, but it also acts as a good cleanout for your smoker.
Barrel for Smoker | The Foundation of Your Smokin' Ugly Drum Smoker
When it comes to building your own ugly drum smoker, the barrel you choose is essential.
Not only does it provide a unique aesthetic that stands out from other smokers, but it also provides bragging rights for creating something truly special. Choosing the right drum can be daunting at first, as there are so many styles and sizes available on the market today. However, with research and careful consideration of your needs and budget, you’ll soon have your very own Smokin' Ugly drum smoker ready to use.
Trick Out Your Drum Smoker