Chicken Thighs in the Ugly Drum Smoker

I'm starting to realize that the month of March (when Steve helped me realize my dream of a completely assembled UDS) was a month that was heavy on smoked meat.  Sure, part of that was because smoked meat is delicious but I also wanted to really figure out how to get the best use out of my UDS and how to maintain different temperatures.

For example, if you have ever tried to smoke chicken or turkey in an ECB or other water smoker then you know how tricky it is to get crispy skin.  Usually you have to end up tossing it on the grill at the end to crisp up the skin.  Well, with my new UDS I knew that crispy skin chicken was a possibility.  I should be able to get consistent temps around 350F and that outta crisp up the chicken nicely.  So, I put on my lab coat and started experimenting.

As you can see from this picture, it was a little chilly outside, so that was already going to be a challenge.

Smoking Meat, in Montana, in March

Smoking Meat, in Montana, in March

I opened up all of the intakes on the bottom of my UDS and left the tops off of both bungholes (tee hee) and here's a picture of my results.  That handsome fella to the right of my remote grill temp receiver is an Eddy Out.  That's a real tasty beer made by our local Kettlehouse brewery, in case you aren't familiar with Montana micro-brews.

Hotter temps in the UDS

Hotter temps in the UDS

On this particular day, I wasn't able to get it much hotter than 291F.  But, I think that's due to two factors.  1) It was pretty chilly outside and 2) I think I capped the smoker a little bit too early and I effectively cutoff the air supply.  So, it never really got roaring in there.

But, the chicken thighs came out great.  They could have been a little crispier, but I've since been able to achieve that.  Don't worry, I'll post pictures of that as well.

Smoked chicken thighs in the UDS

Smoked chicken thighs in the UDS

 

Pork Shoulder in the UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker)

As you might have read in the previous post, "Time to Build a UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker)", I had just built myself a drum smoker (with loads of help from my rad in-laws!).  Well, this baby hadn't been in my hands 12 hours when Steve and I decided that meat needed to go inside it immediately!

So, I headed off to the local butcher and purchased two 8lb pork shoulder roasts.  Here they are all fancied up with their rub.

Rubbed Pork Shoulder

Rubbed Pork Shoulder

I don't exactly recall which rub we used here, but here's one that I've really been into on other pork shoulders:

  • 1/4 cup of paprika (Yup, you read that right)
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne

I topped off the loaded fire basket (which had stopped giving off the thick bluish smoke and was ready to use) with some soaked hickory chips.

Fire basket loaded with hickory and charcoal

Fire basket loaded with hickory and charcoal

Then it was just a matter of lowering the fire basket (using a long metal hook that came with our backyard firepit) into the UDS, inserting the temperature probes and closing it up nice and tight.

UDS - full of pork shoulder

UDS - full of pork shoulder

As you can see in the picture.  There are two bungholes (tee hee) on the lid of this drum.  A little one and a big one.  I've experimented with different combinations and it seems like the best method for me to maintain consistent temperature is to keep the little hole uncovered and cover the big hole halfway with that flat piece of metal you see there.  I keep both of the nipple caps off of those intakes and use the ball valve to fine tune it.  I can usually keep 225F for a long time using this method.

16 some-odd hours later, these little beauties emerged from the UDS.

Pork shoulder contestant #1

Pork shoulder contestant #1

Pork shoulder contestant #2

Pork shoulder contestant #2

Now, don't panic.  I know it looks burnt.  But, that's just all the awesomness from your rub.  The meat inside is moist and amazing.  See, check it out.

Pulled Pork, Huzzah!

Pulled Pork, Huzzah!

Now, just grab some forks (or bearclaws) and start shredding.  You can use your hands if you don't feel pain or have really nice gloves.  But, believe me, it's hot inside these babies.  Also, I should note that you want to shred the pork pretty much right before you serve it.  So, plan accordingly.

Here's how much meat we got out of those two 8lb shoulders.

UDS Pulled Pork Success!

UDS Pulled Pork Success!

 

Great.  Now I'm drooling.

Time to Build a UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker)

This post has been a looong time coming.  After reading and hearing about Ugly Drum Smokers, I knew that it was the next step in my smoking evolution.  I had even considered buying one of those pellet smokers they sell at Costco.  Here, take a peak.

Aviditi FC-KL070 Wood Pellet Barbeque Grill Aviditi FC-KL070 Wood Pellet Barbeque Grill
List Price: $803.85
Sale Price: $630.64
You save: $173.21 (22%)
  Eligible for free shipping!
Availability: Usually ships in 24 hours
1 new from $630.64

I'm sure these things are amazing, but I couldn't justify spending the money.  Then I read a thread about UDS and it was on.  [Note: Here's a link to that UDS thread.]  Now I was on a mission to score a 55 gallon drum.

Now, you would think that would be easy.  But, not so much in Missoula, Montana.  We don't really have any food processing plants or anything like that.  But, I lucked out because a friend of mine was involved with the local food co-op and they happened to have picked up a 55 gallon drum that once held olive oil.  Score!

I got the drum in my garage and there was a little wrinkle in my plan.  You see, there are different types of drums and some of them have sealed lids whereas others have lids you can screw off.  This was the former.  So, I did some more research.

It turns out that the lid of these sealed drums is actually folded around the lip of the top of the drum.  What that means is that you should be able to grind along the outside of the top edge and then pry the top off.  If you do it right, you can keep the lid and continue to use it seal your UDS.  Now, something you need to know about me is that I'm a complete doofus with tools.  Thankfully, by brother-in-law is wizard with tools (and a fireman to boot, in case things went sideways).  Also, he's the guy who originally got me into smoking meat in the first place with his rad gift of my first ECB smoker.

He and his family arrived in town and he was on a mission to help me build this smoker.  Here he is grinding away the top edge of the drum.  You might wonder why I wasn't in the picture.  Well... I was guarding the cooler.  It was chock-full of Steve's favorite light beer that I was helping him enjoy.

Grinding the sealed drum for the UDS

Grinding the sealed drum for the UDS

You can see in the next picture what we were trying to do.  You see those three layers of metal?  Well, the top and bottom layers are actually the lid.  The middle layer is actually the top edge of the drum itself.  That's what I mean when I say that it's rolled around the top lip.  So, if you take some sort of chisel or prying tool, you can pry between the top two layers and WHAMMO!, the lid comes right off.

The layers of a sealed drum

The layers of a sealed drum

See, check this out.  Also, take note how gorgeous the interior of the drum was.  It would never look this nice again.

Grinding the top off of a sealed 55 gallon drum

Grinding the top off of a sealed 55 gallon drum

It was during this point of the build that we got hungry.  We had run out of patience and we knew there was definitely some welding work to come and we wanted smoked meat NOW!  So, we started up the ECB and popped a brisket on there.  As you can see in the picture, I sort of folded the brisket in half this time.  My thinking was that the fat cap would be protecting both sides of the brisket during the smoke.  Also, this way I could keep the entire brisket on the top shelf where it's a little hotter and dryer.

Brisket on a modified ECB

Brisket on a modified ECB

We let this baby smoke the rest of the afternoon and evening and ended up pulling it around 2pm the next day.  I think we could have let it go longer but we had company and they were hungry.  Here's a picture of the finished product.

Folded brisket in modified ECB smoker

Folded brisket in modified ECB smoker

Alright, now back to work on the UDS!  Probably the most difficult part of building a Ugly Drum Smoker is the fire basket.  Especially if you don't have some sort of welding device.  Luckily, my sister-in-law's father is a real whiz with welding.  So, we popped over to his house and he did us a real favor.  Our intention was to buy him some beers but we forgot to pick them up and we ended up drinking his beer.  D'oh!  I swear it wasn't intentional and it's reminded me that I need to bring him some fine hooch.  Anyway, here's a picture of me holding the fire basked while he welds it up.  You can't tell from the picture, but I was a little concerned.  I was fairly certain that either electrocution or 3rd degree burns were in my immediate future.

 

Welding the fire basket for the UDS

Welding the fire basket for the UDS - Thanks Jim!

Here's a look at the finished product, about to get loaded up with some coals.

UDS Fire Basket

UDS Fire Basket

As to what went into the creation of the fire basket (besides my nervous sweat and Jim's hard work).  Here's the list:

  • Weber Smoky Joe replacement grill
  • Expanded steel (from the hardware store)
  • 2" bolts (to use as feet)
  • A 1/4" steel bar (so you can grab it with a hook of some sort)

Here's the grill that made up the bottom of the basket.

Weber 7431 Cooking Grate Weber 7431 Cooking Grate
List Price: $15.99
Sale Price: $1.90
You save: $14.09 (88%)
  Eligible for free shipping!
Availability: Usually ships in 1-2 business days
21 new from $1.90

As you can see in this next picture.  To finish up the drum we basically just drilled some holes so that those bolts could hold up the grill we placed inside the UDS.  Also, if you look at the bottom of the drum, you see one of the three air intakes we created.  Two of these I can close with nipple caps and the other one has a ball valve on it.  If you read the UDS forum post they do a better job of describing what you need.

Inside the UDS

Inside the UDS

The grill I used for my UDS is the following:

Weber 7433 Hinged Cooking Grate Weber 7433 Hinged Cooking Grate
List Price: $24.99
Sale Price: $11.00
You save: $13.99 (56%)
  Eligible for free shipping!
Availability: Usually ships in 1-2 business days
14 new from $11.00

The parts that lift up are pretty nice because you can add more wood without having to pull the grill out of the smoker.  Score!

Now, as to how to use this lil' baby.  First, I start up some coals in the chimney starter.  Remember, you never want to use lighter fluid with a smoker.  You'll regret it.  After the coals have stopped making the dense bluish smoke, I pop them in the fire basket and then top it off with charcoal.  This basket easily holds and entire bag of charcoal, which is great because it lasts a LONG time.  (Easily 12 hours, probably more like 15).

Loaded fire basket for UDS

Loaded fire basket for UDS

In the next post, I'll show you what was the first thing we smoked in this baby!