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
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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
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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
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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!