April 15, 2010

UDS Smoker Build

When I started getting into Barbeque a couple years back the biggest road block I ran into was getting a smoker. I have no skills welding or fabricating metal, so I though building one was out of the question. So I trucked myself down to Home Depot and bought a brinkman offset. I was excited when I brought it home and set it up, but I soon realized that it has many shortcomings. The thin metal on cooking chamber, the small fire box and many other faults that show themselves with repeated use brought my world to a halt. So I started searching for better cookers.

After a lot of research and almost passing out from sticker shock (some cookers cost 2,3 or even $5,000+. I happened upon a web site called bbq-brethren.com. It is a forum of over 10,000 people who use everything from gassers to stick burners and charcoal to pellet poopers. More about them in a later post, great place to go for more bbq info than you will ever want. I found a thread about a home built smoker called a UDS. UDS stands for Ugly Drum Smoker. Its simple and easy to use design and it's almost unlimited amount of customization made it perfectly for what I needed. After my first build and cook I fell in love.

I built the "standard design" for my first two smokers. They have a ball valve and plug for regulating air flow 2 levels of shelving for cooking and many other features. After using them for a year and countless cooks I have decided that I want to bring it down to basics. Most of the things that I added in my first build are either unnecessary or kind of get in the way. Plus eliminating stuff cuts the cost way way down. So, simple it is on this build.I was able to scrounge a lot of the parts for this, it does take some looking but you can find them.

What you need:
1- 55gal steel barrel
3- 5/16 - 1 3/4 inch stainless bolts (with 2 nuts and 2 washers each)
3- 5/16 - 2 inch stainless bolts (with 2 nuts and 2 washers each)
3- 1/2 inch -3 1/2 inch stainless bolts (with 2 nuts and 2 washers each)
3- 5/16- 1 inch stainless bolts (with 2 nuts and 2 washers each)
1- Webber 22 1/2 inch replacement cooking grate
1- Webber replacement fire grate for a 22 1/2 inch grill
1- 3/4 #9 expanded metal 8" wide X 44" long
coil of metal wire
3 magnets (business card type works)

1 inch metal hole saw
1/2 inch step bit
Wire brush for a drill
measuring tape
wood to burn and fire starting implements

Ok, first things first. Niether Angry Pig BBQ or any of its sponsors or linked pages make any claim as to the safety or use of the smoker built from these directions. Use the plans that follow at your own risk. Make sure to follow all local laws regarding outside fires and cooking.

Ok First you need to secure yourself a metal barrel. The best kind to get are the ones with an open top with a lid and a locking band that secures the top on. Try to find a food grade barrel, a new one will cost you a couple hundred bucks. If you find a used barrel, you will have to clean it out before you can use it. It depends on what you can find , how hard you have to work to clean them out. Some barrels have a red liner on the inside. That liner is hard to remove and HAS to be completely removed before you can continue. other barrels are clean metal on the inside but still should be thoroughly cleaned out. We use a burn, brush, scrub, repeat method to get our barrels clean.

First thing you have to do is drill 3- 1 inch holes evenly around the bottom of the barrel. The holes should be 2- 2 1/2 inches from the bottom barrel. I managed to get these barrels for 5 buck each.

Those will be your air intake for the smoker as well as vents for your barrels when you burn them out. The next step it to burn them as hot as you can get. You will want as hot of a fire as you can get. I burn them at least 4 hours on the first burn, using about 3 pallets per barrel. I scrounged the pallets from neighbors that got them with their pellets stove this year, but you can find them for free all over the place. I burn pallets because they are dry hardwood and the break up easy and burn hot.

Burning them out.

You also have to burn the lids as well I put them sideways in the barrel as I am burning them out and hit them with the weed burner to touch them up. Be carefull not to warp them. After you burn them clean and scrub them down the next step is to drill  8 - 1/2 inch holes fairly evenly spaced around the lid for the vents. I have found that for the UDS to run correctly you need  a 4 inch vent  and with the area spread out around the edge of the barrel it distibutes the heat better. As you can see in the picture I also added a handle in the middle. This is one of the additions that is absolutly neccesary. On the left is my weed burner and the propain tank that I used to roll the expanded metal.

Again make sure you contact the local fire station or whomever you are supposed to contact in you area BEFORE you burn them out.  

Next you have to drill 6 holes. Three of them evenly spaced around  the TOP of the barrel about 1 3/4 inches from the top. The other 3 holes are spaced 8 inches from the top directly under  the first row of holes. These are going to be for your grill grates.

After you get the holes drilled put the bolts thru using the washers and nuts. The 1 /3/4 inch bolts go in the top holes and the 2 inch ones go in the bottom. Most of the time you will have the grate on the bottom bolts but you can use a Webber lid on the top of the UDS instead of you top lid, allowing you to add a second grill grate and cook more meat at once.
This is one of the bolts on the inside.

For the "fire box" we will use the expanded metal the short bolts the fire grate and the 1/2 inch bolts. First thing to do is to roll the expanded metal around a propane tank to get it bent in a circle. this will end up being the walls of the firebox to hole the charcoal and wood chunks. After you roll it in a circle bend it so it fits just inside the circumference of the fire grate and bolt it together with the 3 short bolts. Then use the wire to wire it onto the fire grate. You will want to wire it on at least 3 spots. Then you will want to put the larger bolts thru the bottom of the fire grate and secure with the nuts. These will act as the legs of the firebox to allow ash to fall below the grate and air to get to the bottom.

This is the "fire box" inside the UDS.

This is the same fire box filled with wood and charcoal.

That all there is too it, as far as the build goes. To use the UDS you just fill the fire box with a mix of charcoal and wood chunks dump 10-15 charcoal briquettes on top put the cooking grate in and let it sit for about an hour until it gets up to temp(225-250). I use a wired thermometer stuck in thru one of the hole in the top and poked thru a potato to measure the temp at the gill grate level. You will have a hotter spot in the middle than around the edges but if you keep the center at 250 it should work great for you.

To control the temp slide the magnets over the holes to block or allow airflow in and out. I have only run it with all three vents open in the middle of the winter in sub zero temps. most of the time it uses 1 partially open vent to keep a good temp. Keep in mind also that it takes 30-45 min for the temp to change and level out after making adjustments.

In the next post I'll go into more detail about how to operate the UDS.

On a side note do NOT EVER use anything that is galvanized in construction of you smoker, no bolts expanded metal nothing galvanized. it can kill you.


  1. Thanks for this post, and also thanks to give tools to make a BBQ smoker box. I will surly try this.

  2. Great info, thanks for posting. If you are looking for a tailgate supplies then you really shouldn’t look any further. This thang rocks!