It's one of the great debates that knows no boundary – choosing between the store-bought option and what you're able to DIY.
From meal choices to entertainment and practically everything in between, you can often find yourself torn between what's available off the shelf, and what you could do for yourself.
Sometimes the debate isn't so black and white. Such is the case for those trying to decide on the best vessel into the world of meat smoking. Do you purchase a smoker or build one yourself?
From our standpoint, the choices are a bit more granular – a DIY 55-gallon drum smoker vs. a store-bought smoker.
This is a point we'll make several times – yes, the store-bought option is indeed the faster and simpler option.
There is something to be said for taking the DIY approach with your drum smoker – and that's something that no brand or manufacturer can touch.
Why Invest Time & Money in a DIY Smoker?
Let's go back to a store-bought smoker.
For the person looking to start meat smoking as soon as possible, absolutely a store-bought smoker is the fastest route. It's as simple as heading down to your favorite big-box retailer and picking one out. And after completing the inevitable "some assembly required," you can be up and smoking pretty quickly.
However (and that's a big "however") there are things that a homemade meat smoker brings to the table that store-bought simply doesn't:
- Pride of ownership
- Efficient smoking
Pride of Ownership
Let's shift gears.
Consider two cars – a brand-new sports car (representing the store-bought smoker) and a restored classic (representing the DIY drum smoker).
The flashy sports car is sure to have some bells and whistles worth considering. And there's no question it'll turn heads.
The restored classic car gets attention for different reasons – not the least of which is the sweat equity you put into it.
To step out of the metaphor – sure, a store-bought smoker may look nice and have some functionality a homemade ugly drum smoker doesn't. But there’s nothing like completing a smoke on a smoker that is “yours” in every sense of the word.
With a store-bought smoker, it is what it is. In other words, you're buying a smoker as-is. If there are any additional accessories or "musts" for the smoker, you're at the mercy of its manufacturer and design. And anything extra you might want for it usually requires an additional investment.
With a homemade drum smoker, you can make it meet your exact needs for an optimal user experience. With hand-picked accessory kits, you won't need to worry about things like having a side table or a utensil holder.
In short, a DIY barrel smoker puts you firmly in control of what the final product looks like and how it meets your precise needs. You’ll have the best drum smoker for you.
Made with a thicker gauge steel that can take a hit and withstand harsh conditions, ugly drum smokers are ultimately built to last. With some regular maintenance and cleaning – as well as protection from the elements when not in use – a drum smoker can last decades.
With store-bought smokers, this isn't always the case. Depending on the type of smoker you purchase, you may need to be a bit more careful with the meat cooking apparatus. For instance, electrical components in a smoker (heating elements, thermometers) do eventually require replacement and there is an element of fragility with them.
What's more, repairing or replacing broken components on a store-bought smoker isn't always an easy fix. Some manufacturers don't offer replacement parts or repair services. And depending on how the smoker was made, it might be near impossible to make the fix yourself.
Think of your favorite recipe that you developed.
Though it might be similar to others, the time you spent creating and fine-tuning it makes it yours. Your recipe is yours and there's no one who knows it better than you – which comes in handy should you decide to make a change or slightly tweak it.
With a homemade drum smoker, the story's the same – as the person who built it, you have a level of familiarity with the meat cooking apparatus that no one else can.
While this lends itself to the pride of ownership we mentioned, practically speaking it helps when it comes to adding to the smoker or replacing a component – you're the #1 person best suited for the job. The same goes for if you’re going to move it or need to take it apart, there’s little question about how to put it back together. You don’t need an electrical or engineering degree.
Having not built it from the ground up, you'll never get to know a store-bought smoker in the same way, unless you complete a major overhaul to it – something that's probably not worth the effort.
This one does depend on the type of smoker you get.
With a "horizontal" smoker (think: offset smoker), smoke and heat need to travel sideways – against their natural flow. To compensate, cooking on an offset smoker requires giving the meat a bit more attention, rotating it every so often and keeping a closer eye on temperatures.
Vertical smokers, such as an ugly drum smoker, harness the forces at play inside. That is, smoke and heat flow up and envelop the meat, resulting in efficient cooking.
Building Your DIY Smoker – Something Anyone Can Do
For someone new to the world of meat smoking or looking to master preparing meats on a different smoker type, a DIY drum smoker may be a bit ... intimidating.
By looking at some pre-assembled options, it's clear meat smokers can be complex pieces of equipment – some even have integrated Bluetooth technology.
There's good news – this is only a perception (one we love to dispel).
With a few tools, accessory kits, an afternoon, and an appropriate drum, anyone can build their own DIY drum smoker. In a certain respect, it's no different than putting together a grill or any other piece of outdoor equipment. And after a seasoning session, your new drum smoker is ready to go for years to come.
Further Reading: What does building your own ugly drum smoker look like? Check out our article: "Constructing Your Smokin' Ugly Drum Smoker: A First Timer's Guide."
DIY 55-Gallon Drum Smokers for a Personalized & Optimized Meat Smoking Experience
Though the convenience of a store-bought smoker may be tempting, building your own 55-gallon drum smoker is a rewarding experience you can't get any other way.
The best meat smoker for home use isn’t necessarily the one that gets you cooking faster.
What’s better than serving a smoked meal/meat you prepared? Serving one that was made in a smoker you built.
Start on Your DIY Smoker
Our Smokin’ Ugly drum smoker accessories make it easy to build your own homemade smoker.