Build your own smoker

BBQ Pitbuilders
Building a UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker) Tutorial

Parts Lists

1-1" holesaw or stepbit
3-3/4" nipple
1-3/4" ballvalve
1 fridge magnets for intakes
3 handles w/ self tapping screws
22" Weber grate
17" charcoal grate
4-2" x 1/4 bolts with double nuts for grate holder
12" x 62" expanded metal
4-3 1/2" x 3/8 bolts with double nuts and fender washers for basket feet
2-1/4" x 1" bolts with nuts and double washers for charcoal basket
Bailing wire to tie expando to charcoal grate. (Going to weld mine.)
Heavy gauge wire for basket handle, or (some chain and 4 quick links)
If your not using the 2" bung for an exhaust, you'll need a 1/2 drill bit or step bit to drill
exhaust holes in lid.

While I certainly am not the creator of the UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker), I did build the one in this tutorial. What I learned during this build was that these smokers are not difficult to create, and that if you follow a plan they can be a fun project to complete! My name is Mike and I am the owner of the blog, "BBQ Pitbuilders". I hope that you find this tutorial both an informative and useful tool that will help you on your way to UDS creation and ownership.


1)  It starts with a clean 55 gallon barrel. It doesn't have to be spotless yet because you will be burning it out a few steps into this, but the cleaner the better to start off with. While there are those who have built their UDS from barrels that formerly contained solvents, lubricants, and other hazardous substances this is not advised or suggested. It is strongly recommended that you use a “food grade” barrel only for this project.

2)  First, mark the locations for your fresh air intakes (4) and the main grate bolts (4). One way to accomplish this is to turn your barrel over and mark 4 equally spaced “indicator marks” around the rim at the base of your barrel (now the temporary top). Then, setting the barrel on it's side, use a T square to transfer the line up the side of your barrel. Make a mark at 2 inches up from the base and another mark at 7 inches down from the top of the barrel. Using the T square as your guide, measure 2 “ from the base and mark it and then measure 7 “ from the top and put another mark there.

3)  Now it's time to cut and/or drill holes at the marks. I recommend a 1” hole saw for the fresh air intake holes, but a 1” drill bit or a step bit works very well too.  A 1/4” bit or step bit will take care of the main grate holes.  Don't forget a hole for your thermometer.  The size hole you'll need to drill for this will depend on your specific gauge.  My advice is to pick a location for your gauge that is inline in elevation to your main grate.  Remember that this is just going to be used to approximate the smoker temperature.  The only way to know the safe temperature of your food is to take it's temperature.  Many pitmasters and backyard chefs alike now use digital thermometers for this task.  This will require it's own hole be drilled, either through the lid or the upper side of the barrel.  Once the holes have been drilled check the fit of all of your black pipe fittings to ensure a good fit and then remove because it's time to burn!

4) Time to burn out the barrel now.  Sorry there are no pics of this. You'll have to use your imagination here.

5)  Next step is to clean up of the barrel. Not much explanation is needed here either except that for you non painters out there (like me!)  Take your time and get the outside of the barrel clear of old paint and burned off paint. The paint job you apply later will adhere much better.

6)  Time to decide if you are going with magnets to cover your fresh air intakes or if you are going to use the black pipe nipples. If you are using the magnets, go to step 7. If you are using the black pipe, time to determine what will work best for you as far as sealing the threads at the barrel. In a perfect world once we cut the 1” holes, the black pipe would just thread right in there and seal up nice and tight and we'd be done. Maybe some of you do get that type of seal, but I didn't. I used a combination of 3/4" conduit nuts and black pipe, and magnets . Some have used JB weld with success. You'll have to decide what works best for you.  You definitely want a good, tight seal so that YOU control the amount of air getting into the barrel, rather than the combustion controlling that variable.

7)  The lid comes next.  Again, there are many ways to do this.  I'm going to focus on the two most common.  First, you can drill eight 1/2" holes equally spaced in a circular pattern around the top of the lid.  This will provide ample exhaust for your smoker.  The second way you could go is to use an "mip adapter" and a section of 2" sch. 40 pvc pipe, threaded into the 2 1/4" bung hole on the lid to make an exhaust stack.  A 12" section of pipe is sufficient.  The pvc pipe method is the way I chose to go and I will be posting as to my opinions of it's effectiveness, but many I have spoken with say that it works reliably and they report no issues with this method. 

8)  Painting a UDS is as individual as the builders who build them.  Just remember to use a high temp paint, and get as creative as you want.  Of course, black is the new black!

9)  Once all the paint has dried you can start adding the parts that you didn't want paint on.  Handles are a great addition.  Yes, there are plenty of UDS out there without them, but if you're going to be loading this smoker in and out of a truck or trailer, handles make life so much sweeter.  A shelf is another handy addition.  A place to set things like plates, sauces, rubs, drinks, thermo-probes, etc will make your UDS the envy of those UDS owners without!

10)  The charcoal basket is something you can build yourself too and it doesn't have to be pretty, just functional.  The idea is to build a basket that will hold enough charcoal briquettes, or lump, to provide for a long, slow burn.  It also serves to provide ample air flow by elevating the fuel source off the floor off the barrel and by the flow through qualities of the materials used in it's construction.  Many people use expanded metal sides and a weber 17" grate for the base, but if you can come up with something that closely approximates this, more power to you!   I recommend purchasing your expanded from a local metal shop because they can either roll it into the 17" diameter tube you will need or refer you to a shop that can.  If you have the capability of doing this yourself then you are ahead of the game here.  Always get at least a 4" overlap in the length of your expanded so you have some extra room for fitting up the expanded to your grate.  Once your expanded has been formed, it's all about assembly.  Fit your expanded over the 17"grate.  Weld or bolt up in the overlapped area.  Next, use bailing wire to tie the expanded down to the grate and then (if applicable) weld your expanded to your grate perimeter.  If you are not a welder don't worry, just be sure and use plenty of bailing wire and tie it well.  The use 4 - 4" stove bolts, attached through the base of your grate for legs to keep the whole basket off of the bottom during use.  Use large washers and double bolt it.  Make a metal handle(s) to facilitate lifting the basket in and out of your UDS and you are done!!!

What's missing from this picture?  SMOKE !!!  Yep, it's almost time, but it's a good idea to get a light coat of peanut oil on all interior barrel surfaces.  This will help to "cure" the steel, and protect it from rusting.

Good luck on your build!  Got questions?  Email me @ BBQ_Pitbuilders