My blog so far has been about BBQ joint reviews, but my passion for BBQ actually began from cooking it, not necessarily eating it. I really never went out for BBQ, and only ate it when college friends would smoke chicken in their back yards. I always had fun “shooting the breeze” as we downed some beers waiting for the meat to get done. While the payoff is fantastic, it’s the journey to get there that sparked my interest the most. It wasn’t until a few years after graduation when I got married and bought a house that I had room for a smoker of my own. I had casually looked online for smokers, but was too indecisive on what I wanted and honestly didn’t know anything about them. One day my mother-in-law offered me a new Masterbuilt Electric smoker she had recently inherited and I jumped on it. My first cook after seasoning was whole chickens just like I had back at Tech. These came out fantastic and I thought to myself “too easy” and all I wanted to do was cook BBQ!! Feeling like a pro, I bought a big old brisket, I was in for a big surprise. My first few briskets pretty much resembled rubber, but I would chop them down as fine as I could and made sandwiches. Discouraged I didn’t cook much after that, but gave it another shot a few months later. By total accident the brisket ended up being the best one I had ever had in my life, I was totally hooked!
The Masterbuilt smoker is great for beginners but it was just too small for whole packers (remember I’m a brisket pro now, ha) so I decided to start looking for bigger smokers. BBQ Pittmasters had just started airing and I started to look at what those guys cooked on. I had a big dose of reality when I realized the cheaper ones they were using started at $2K and went up to $30K, except for Harry Soo. Harry cooked on a Weber Smokey Mountain and they retail for $400, my price range!! Going back to my indecisiveness as mentioned above, I researched online for months. In my research onwww.texasBBQforum.com I heard about Ugly Drum Smokers (UDS). A UDS is a 55 gallon food drum made into a smoker with spare weber parts and a charcoal basket. The entire thing can be built on your own for $150. Intrigued, I started researching designs and realized this was something I could do on my own. When looking for drums online I came across an ad for pre-built UDS Smokers from a guy out of Cedar Park, TX. He takes brand new drums and parts and builds them from scratch for about $100 more than for what I could build one on my own. The main advantage of buying vs building is he had the skills to build one, and access to brand new powder coated drums. Sold!!
Cooking on these is easy. Once the drum is up to temp it’s not hard to control the temperature at 225-250 and this makes it a great smoker for the amateur pitmaster. Now that I knew how they worked I built one myself to give me more space when cooking more than 2 briskets at a time. I won’t go into too much detail on the build, but here is the Cliff Notes version.
55 gallon drum (can be purchased new at Dallas Steel Drum)
8 10-24 x 1” stainless steel nuts and bolts
2 22.5 inch Weber Kettle Replacement grates
3 1 inch stainless steel pipe nipples
3 1 inch pipe caps
6 stainless steel conduit nuts
1 1 in ball valve
1 2” X 6” black pipe for smoke stack
2 garage door handles
After using a torch to burn the inside of the drum, I easily drilled 3 inch air intake holes using a step bit and then installed the nipples using the conduit nuts and attached the ball valve to the front nipple. Next, I drilled 4 holes for each grill grate (mine has 2 levels) and installed the stainless steel bolts. The lid comes with a”bung” hole that easily allows the 2×6 pipe to screw in for the smoke stack. The final step was to build a charcoal basket out of expanded grate. Since I didn’t have a welder, my friend Ed Faulder (who I met viawww.texasBBQforum.com) made me one. Contact him on Facebook and I know he’ll be happy to make you one too for a fantastic price.
All in all, I’m happy with the UDS and my only complaint is condensation building on the lid from time to time. I will probably always have one in my arsenal, but I’m ready to upgrade to something with a little more room for competitions and catering for family and friends. The UDS will be just fine until I can get the smoker I want in a few years once the kid is out of daycare or I get a generous donation from one of my readers! Ha!
If you cook BBQ yourself leave me a comment and let me know what you cook on!