Last week I posted part 2 of my Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) build. I covered how to build a no weld charcoal basket.
Today’s post is actually the fun part. It’s pretty easy to drill into metal and once you get it done the hardware goes on quickly after the paint dries. Three steps will be covered in this post. 1. Drilling holes through steel and installing the hardware for the cooking grate, air intake and exhaust. 2. Painting the UDS lid and drum. 3. Installing a UDS side table.
You can see the full UDS Hardware Parts List here, which has the sizes of the nuts and bolts that you need.
One thing that the parts list does not cover is what type of drill bit you need to drill through the steel. This was new to me. I admit that I don’t often drill into wood, let alone steel. I ended up at a big box store searching for a drill bit. I found a $45 step bit which I assume would have worked great. The only problem was that it was $45! That didn’t fit into the budget. I found a cheap step bit on Amazon.com and at first I was highly suspicious. Seemed too good to be true.
Well, I decided to buy it anyway. I bought the above step bit and it worked great for drilling holes into steel drums for two smokers. It held up well and showed no signs of wear and tear. I’m sure it wouldn’t last for 50-100 UDS builds but I wasn’t concerned with that. I needed a bit for just two builds.
Above you can see the $14 step drill bit ready for action. The smallest step is 1/4″ and the largest is over 1″. The smallest step works great for the 1/4″ bolts that are inserted into the sides of the barrel to hold the cooking grate. The larger step bit size works great for the 1″ exhaust holes on the steel lid and the 1″ holes used for the air intake on the bottom sides of the drum..
My drum didn’t come with a 2″ bung hole which some drums have. This meant the easiest way for me to get a low cost exhaust was to drill 8 evenly spaced 1″ holes on the top. I didn’t do anything fancy here to get the holes aligned. Basically I eye-balled it. The plan to put the fire out after the smoke is over is simply to cover the exhaust holes with a strip of magnet tape cut into 1″x1″ pieces.
I found a cheap handle at Walmart for a few dollars. This handle mounted to the lid through 1/4″ holes with small bolts and nuts.
The next step was to drill the 1/4″ holes for the food grates. The standard length from the top of the drum for the food to sit is 7″. So I measured 7″ down from the tip top of the drum. I used a piece of outdoor plastic tape to measure the circumference of the drum and then I divided the tape into 4 equal pieces. I then put the tape back up to the drum and used a marker to mark the spots for the holes. They aren’t perfectly positioned but they are close enough. A few inches off the bottom of the drum I drilled three 1″ holes, which were evenly spaced around the drum using the outdoor tape method I used above. These 1″ holes will fit the 3/4″ pipe nipples for the air intake.
For one cooking grate you’ll need to drill 4 holes. In these holes you’ll eventually put a 1/4″ bolt and tighten it with a 1/4″ lock nut and a 1/4″ nut. However, if you read the earlier posts I also wanted additional holes placed in between the cooking grate and the top of the charcoal basket. The purpose of this is for possibly adding a water pan or a heat diffuser down the road. So I added 4 more evenly spaced 1/4″ holes in between the cooking grate holes and 12″ above the bottom. 12″ above the bottom is approximately where the top of the charcoal basket is (3″ legs + a 9″ tall piece of expanded steel). I aimed for the middle of these positions and added 4 more holes. We’ll see if I actually use these down the road! I’m not sure.
The above photos show the 3/4″ steel nipples threaded into the side of the drum. The cap fits nicely on two of the three nipples and the ball valve is placed on the third one. Most temperature control comes from the ball valve.
After all the hardware holes were drilled I tested each one to make sure the parts fit. I then took everything apart. Before painting, I put some painters tape over the insides of the holes so paint wouldn’t enter the smoker during the spray paint process. I used high heat engine paint to paint my ugly drum smoker. This is rated to go to about 500 degrees F. I went with a Baltimore Ravens themed ugly drum smoker so my lid is plum purple and the side of the drum is black. I used ceramic high heat engine paint for the lid and the drum. For the bottom of the drum I put multiple coats of high heat BBQ paint which is rated for about 1000 degrees F. I figured that the bottom might get hotter than the sides. Who knows? I could have also used a BBQ black paint for the sides but I didn’t want the dull finish. I wanted more of a shine.
After the paint dried I reassembled the smoker hardware. On the inside of the 1″ air intake holes I put large lock washers on the steel 3/4″ nipples.
To build the ugly drum smoker side table I went to the wood section of the big box store. They had some circular pieces of wood that were “ready to finish.” I bought some black stain that also was a seal. It took about 8 different coats to get the wood evenly dark and sealed.
I bought some cheap right angle brackets which mounted to the side of the drum with small bolts that fit through 1/4″ holes. I decided to use wing nuts to secure the shelf brackets. This will allow me to transport the smoker by removing the shelf. I’m not sure if I ever will need to remove the shelf but it seemed like a good idea when I was shopping at the hardware store. And maybe if the “Grilling24x7 Competition Cook Team” starts up one day I’ll need to transport this UDS to a BBQ competition!
I’ve read all the arguments against using a side mounted thermometer for an ugly drum smoker. Depending on how far out from the drum the thermometer stem sticks out you will have different temperature readings. My thought is that regardless of how long the probe is, the temperature will be uniform between MY smokes. This is all I really need. During my first UDS cook I compared the difference between the side dial thermometer (with a 2.5″ stem) to a few digital thermometer probes placed directly in the center of the cooking grate. There was a 50 degree difference! Obviously directly over the fire was 50 degrees hotter than the area near the sides of the smoker. This is one of the reasons for a heat diffuser, but I’ll tackle that topic later. For me, this just means that I can comfortably cook a pork shoulder or brisket in the center, if the side thermometer reads 200 degrees. 200 degrees on my dial thermometer actually means 250 degrees in the center. Easy enough for me. I also chose to gamble and get “cheap” thermometers, against most of the advice I received on the BBQ forums. I got these two for $30 on amazon.com. I also couldn’t resist a bottle opener. A bottle opener on a smoker is probably the coolest and most convenient thing I’ve ever seen!
There we have it. This is how I built my Ugly Drum Smoker. If you look close in the pictures you’ll see that we built two smokers at once. My buddy wanted a Baltimore Orioles themed smoker. The black and orange Orioles themed smoker is below.
The purpose of these three posts is to help guide you through the process of building a UDS and hopefully clear up and confusion that may come about when you are reading lengthy forum posts. I strongly advise you to search the web and the BBQ-brethren discussion forum for a lot more information. I tried to include all the details that I used to build mine but this is a complex project. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me!
Three part UDS series:
1 – Selecting and burning the 55 gallon drum.
2 – Building the no weld charcoal basket.
3 – Drilling holes, hardware, assembly, and painting the UDS.