Drum Smokers 101: The Guide To Building, Buying and Cooking on a UDS

Drum smokers, also known as UDS, are simple yet highly effective meat smokers, made by converting a 55-gallon steel drum into a smoker. As someone who isn’t particularly handy, I was surprised at how achievable it was to build my own UDS, thanks to the wealth of information available online. I love my drum smoker, especially for its heat retention during colder months. In this article, we’ll explore drum smokers, guide you through building or buying one, and discuss cooking techniques. If I can do it, anyone can!

A UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker) is a homemade drum smoker used for smoking meat. It is made by converting a 55-gallon steel drum into a smoker using parts from a hardware store or by purchasing a UDS kit. A drum smoker is well insulated, sealing in heat and smoke while also preventing unwanted airflow. It uses charcoal and wood chunks as fuel and has a fire basket at the bottom, an intake vent for temperature control, and a smokestack to eliminate gases.

A UDS can be built for around $110-$140 or purchased from a company like Gateway or Hunsaker. To use a UDS, you will need to light a fire in the fire basket and control the temperature using the intake vent. It is important to use a food-grade steel drum to avoid contaminating the meat and potentially harming yourself and your family.

Benefits of Using a Drum Smoker: Flavor and Efficiency

CostDrum smokers are generally cheaper than other types of smokers, making them an affordable option for those on a budget
Ease of useDrum smokers are relatively simple to use and maintain, making them a good choice for beginners
PortabilityDrum smokers are lightweight and easy to transport, making them a good option for those who want to take their smoker to different locations
Heat retentionDrum smokers are well insulated and seal in heat effectively, making them able to maintain consistent temperatures for long periods of time
Smoke productionDrum smokers produce a consistent flow of smoke, providing excellent flavor to the meat
Fuel efficiencyDrum smokers are generally fuel efficient, using less charcoal and wood than other types of smokers
CustomizabilityDrum smokers can be customized with different parts and modifications to suit the preferences of the user

Key Points

  • A UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker) is a homemade drum smoker used for smoking meat.
  • A UDS is made by converting a 55-gallon steel drum into a smoker using parts from a hardware store or by purchasing a UDS kit.
  • A drum smoker is a good choice because it is well insulated, sealing in heat and smoke while also preventing unwanted airflow.
  • Drum smokers use charcoal and wood chunks as fuel and have a fire basket at the bottom, an intake vent for temperature control, and a smokestack to eliminate gases.
  • A UDS can be built for around $110-$140 by sourcing the materials yourself or purchased from a company like Gateway or Hunsaker.
  • To build a UDS, you will need a 55-gallon drum, cooking grates, valves, nuts, bolts, clips, washers, and a thermometer.
  • To use a UDS, you will need to light a fire in the fire basket and control the temperature using the intake vent.
  • It is important to use a food-grade steel drum to avoid contaminating the meat and potentially harming yourself and your family.

What is a UDS (Ugly Drum Smoker) and Why Choose One?

A UDS is a homemade drum smoker used primarily for smoking meat. Drum smokers are cheap, easy to make, and are very effective which is why they are so popular. To convert a 55-gallon steel drum into a UDS, all you need are a few basic parts from the hardware store and you have yourself a quality smoker.

If you don’t want to source all the materials yourself, an easier option is to buy a UDS kit with all the parts in one package. UDS kits make life much easier, because all you is find a drum and put it together. There are also a few companies that manufacture brand new drum smokers that are completely fitted. 

Are Drum Smokers any Good?

In terms of performance, a drum smoker can match it with any of the more expensive smokers on the market. Drum smokers are extremely popular because they are so well insulated. The thick steel allows a UDS to hold in the heat and keep the cold out.

A drum smoker is also very well sealed, so you don’t get unwanted airflow that will mess with your temperatures. Drum smokers are so effective, most people struggle to keep the temperatures down. 

One of the most important features of a quality smoker is the insulation. A good smoker should have a thick steel and have no leaks to keep heat in and cold air out. Many smokers on the market are constructed with thin metal and are full of leaks, which make them a nightmare to control. A poorly insulated smoker will also burn through a tonne of fuel. 

If you don’t have a meat injectors, you can get one for about $30 on Amazon: Simple Meat Injectors.

History of UDS: Origins and Popularity

The history of the Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) has humble beginnings, rooted in the creativity and resourcefulness of barbecue enthusiasts. The UDS originated as a do-it-yourself project, where individuals repurposed used 55-gallon steel drums into effective and efficient meat smokers.

The concept of drum smoking can be traced back to the 1950s when people started using oil drums to create makeshift grills and smokers. Over time, the design evolved, and people started adding vents, lids, and cooking grates to improve the functionality of these homemade smokers. This ultimately led to the birth of the UDS.

The term “Ugly Drum Smoker” originated from the often rough and rugged appearance of these homemade smokers. They were not as polished or aesthetically pleasing as commercial smokers, but they were highly effective and gained a following among barbecue enthusiasts for their ability to produce delicious smoked meats.

The popularity of UDS grew thanks to several factors:

  1. Affordability: Building a UDS is often cheaper than purchasing a commercial smoker. Many of the materials needed can be found at local hardware stores, and used drums can be acquired at a low cost or sometimes for free.
  2. Customization: The DIY nature of UDS allows individuals to customize their smoker to their specific needs and preferences. This can include adding multiple cooking grates, incorporating different types of ventilation, and even adding features like a side table or wheels for mobility.
  3. Cooking Performance: UDS is known for its excellent heat retention and efficient use of fuel. The vertical design allows for even heat distribution, which results in consistent and flavorful smoked meats. Additionally, the thick walls of the drum help maintain a steady temperature, even in colder weather conditions.
  4. Community: The UDS community is filled with passionate and knowledgeable individuals who enjoy sharing their experiences, tips, and modifications. This welcoming atmosphere encourages new enthusiasts to join and learn the art of drum smoking.

Where to Get an Ugly Drum Smoker?

The internet is full of UDS do-it-yourself guides with instructions on how to build a drum smoker with materials from your local hardware store. If you don’t want to build your own UDS, there are companies like Gateway and Hunsaker that specialize in new drum smokers already assembled.

How Do Drum Smokers Work?

Ugly Drums use charcoal as a fuel source and wood chunks to add smoke flavor. A typical drum will have a fire basket that sits at the bottom of the drum. The fire basket holds charcoal and chunks of wood that will smolder during the cook and provide the meat with a consistent flow of smoke. 

Intake Vents

An intake vent (usually a ball valve) controls the temperature of a drum smoker and is normally situated on the lower part of the drum, and the top of the drum should have a smokestack (chimney) to eliminate unwanted gases. Most drum smokers will have an upper and a lower cooking grate that can hold a lot of meat, and a removable lid. 


All smokers need a thermometer otherwise you are cooking blind. When building a UDS, you can either insert a built-in thermometer or use a wireless remote thermometer.

If you want to learn about meat thermometers, check out my Beginner’s Guide To Meat Thermometers. In this article, I will provide you with all the information you need about meat thermometers and I show you the best and most affordable thermometers on the market. 

How to Build Your Own UDS: A Step-by-Step Guide

Embarking on the journey of building your own Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) can be an exciting and rewarding experience. Not only does it offer a cost-effective way to enjoy delicious smoked meats, but it also provides an opportunity to customize your smoker to your specific needs and preferences. In this step-by-step guide, we will walk you through the process of creating your very own UDS, from selecting the right drum and gathering essential components, to assembling and fine-tuning your smoker for optimal performance. Get ready to unleash your inner craftsman and join the community of UDS enthusiasts who enjoy the satisfaction of smoking meats in their homemade creations.

Choosing the Right Drum: Size and Material Considerations

When I decided to build my own UDS, the first step I took was to find the right drum. I searched for a 55-gallon drum that was both unlined and food-grade, as it’s essential to ensure the safety and quality of the smoked meats. I explored online marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist to find a suitable drum at an affordable price.

I managed to find a food-grade drum on Facebook Marketplace, but it didn’t come with a detachable lid. So, I used an angle grinder to cut out the lid and replaced it with a 22″ Weber Kettle lid that fit perfectly. If you can, try to locate a drum with an already detached lid that was used to store food or other harmless products.

It’s crucial to avoid drums that previously contained chemicals or toxic substances, as they can affect the taste of the meat and pose potential health risks. Always inquire about the drum’s previous contents, and if the seller cannot provide this information, it’s best to look for another option.

Once the drum is clean, throw in some charcoal and light a fire to burn off any nasty remains. To make life easier, look for a drum with a lid.

Customizing Your UDS: Popular Modifications and Upgrades

Customizing your Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) allows you to enhance its performance, add convenience, and tailor the smoker to your specific needs and preferences. Here are some popular modifications and upgrades that can take your UDS to the next level:

  1. Multiple Cooking Grates: Adding additional cooking grates increases the cooking surface area, allowing you to smoke more food simultaneously. You can also create adjustable grate heights to accommodate different types of meats and cooking styles.
  2. Casters or Wheels: Installing casters or wheels on the bottom of your UDS makes it easy to move the smoker around your outdoor cooking area, adding mobility and convenience.
  3. Air Intake Vents and Exhausts: Upgrading the air intake vents and exhausts with adjustable dampers can provide better temperature control and airflow management. This allows for more precise cooking and a greater range of temperatures.
  4. Thermometers and Temperature Probes: Adding high-quality thermometers or temperature probes can help monitor the internal temperature of your UDS more accurately, ensuring consistent cooking results.
  5. Charcoal Basket: A well-designed charcoal basket can improve the efficiency of your UDS by ensuring consistent airflow around the charcoal and allowing for easy ash removal.
  6. Heat Diffuser or Water Pan: Installing a heat diffuser or water pan between the charcoal and cooking grates can help even out heat distribution and add moisture to the cooking environment, improving the overall cooking process.
  7. Side Tables or Shelves: Adding side tables or shelves can provide a convenient workspace for prepping food, holding utensils, and storing supplies.
  8. Handles and Lid Hangers: Installing handles on the drum and a lid hanger on the side makes it easier to remove and hang the lid while tending to your food, improving the overall usability of your UDS.
  9. Paint and Aesthetics: Although UDS is known for its “ugly” appearance, you can personalize your smoker with high-temperature paint and unique designs to make it stand out and reflect your style. There are some awesome Star Wars drum smokers out there. The R2D2 drum smoker is a classic design that can be replicated with some creativity.

Amazon UDS Parts List

Amazon sells complete that come with a basket, grates, smoke stack, vents and all the nuts and bolts. A cheaper option is to find all the parts separately. Here is a list of some key parts found on Amazon that can be used to make a UDS.

Charcoal BasketLid HingeSmoke Stack
Thermometer GrommetHigh Temp SealerAir Inlet Tube

How Much Does it Cost To Build a UDS?

You can build a basic drum smoker for about $110 – $140 if you source the materials yourself. Another option is to buy a drum yourself, then purchase a DIY kit. You should be able to find a food-grade steel drum in your local area. Once you have a drum, you can find all the other parts at a hardware store. A simple build using the following parts:

  • 55-Gallon Drum – $10 – $30 
  • Cooking grates – $20-$30
  • Valves, nuts, bolts, clips, washers, handles, etc – $30-$40
  • Charcoal basket $30 – $50

Assembling Your UDS: Essential Components and Tools

55-gallon drumThe base of the smoker
Cooking gratesThe surfaces on which the meat is placed
ValvesUsed to control the airflow and temperature
Nuts, bolts, clips, washersUsed to secure the various parts together
ThermometerUsed to monitor the temperature of the smoker and the meat
LidUsed to cover the top of the drum
CharcoalThe fuel used to produce heat and smoke
Wood chunksUsed to add smoke flavor to the meat
Fire basketHolds the charcoal and wood chunks and sits at the bottom of the drum
Smokestack (chimney)Allows gases to escape from the top of the drum
Ash panUsed to collect ash from the fire basket
Grill thermometerUsed to monitor the temperature of the grill

How to Make a Drum Smoker With Kettle Grill Parts

A 22.5 inch Weber Kettle lid fits a 55-gallon drum, so if your drum is without a lid, buy an old kettle grill secondhand and salvage the parts. The Weber lid may not sit flush on top of your drum, so you might need to make some small modifications so it doesn’t leak.You will also be able to use the Weber grill grate for your UDS fire basket. 

There are a couple of ways to seal the Weber lid so it fits better. If you have some auto body mechanic skills, you can beat out the lid until it sits perfectly on the drum. The other way is to take your angle grinder and take a few inches off the top of the old Weber Kettle and fix it to the top of the drum, or cut a piece of sheet metal and attach it to the lid. 

If you’re looking to make a drum smoker using parts from a kettle grill, then you’re in luck! With a few simple steps and the right materials, you can create a high-quality smoker that will allow you to smoke meats, fish, and vegetables to perfection. Here’s how to do it:


  • 55-gallon food-grade drum
  • Ball valve
  • Weber kettle grill grate
  • 22 inch Weber Kettle grill lid
  • Metal basket for the coals/fire
  • Handles for the drum
  • Clips to attach grill grates.
  • Screws and drill

Step 1: Get the right drum The first step is to find a food-grade drum that’s suitable for smoking. These can often be found at industrial supply stores or online. Make sure the drum is clean and free of any chemicals or contaminants that could affect the taste of your food.

Step 2: Drill the holes Using a drill, make several holes on the bottom of the drum for the air intake vent. Make sure the holes are evenly spaced and sized appropriately for the ball valve. Install the ball valve to the drum using the appropriate sized nuts and bolts.

Step 3: Prepare the metal basket You’ll need a metal basket for the coals/fire to rest on. This can be purchased or made from wire mesh. Cut the mesh into a circle and attach legs to it. You can use bolts and nuts for this or create your own system. You can also make the legs longer to allow for better airflow under the basket.

Step 4: Attach handles to the drum You’ll need to attach handles to the drum so that you can move it around easily. You can use any kind of sturdy handle that will support the weight of the drum. Attach them to the sides of the drum using screws or bolts.

Step 5: Drill holes and attach the clips where you want the grill grates to sit. You can have one or two levels.

Step 6: Set up the smoker Place the metal basket in the bottom of the drum and fill it with charcoal or wood. Light the coals and let them burn down until they are glowing red. Place the meat on the grates and put the lid on the drum. Adjust the air intake vent to control the temperature inside the smoker.

This is the most basic, inexpensive drum smoker setup. The Weber Kettle lid and grates are interchangeable. All you need is a metal basket, an intake valve, and some grill grate clips.

Buying a Pre-Made UDS: Top Brands, Models and UDS Kits

There are a few DIY Ugly Drum Smoker kits on the market that save you he hassle of searching for the parts. The UDS kits include vents, cooking grates, charcoal baskets, etc, so all you need to do is find is the drum. Big Poppa Drum Smoker kit includes everything except the drum, so all you need is the power tools. 

The kit includes all the vents, slide vents, cooking grates, handles and grips, shields, thermometer, charcoal basket and all parts and assembly instructions. Amazon sells UDS kits like the Classic Pit Barrel Cooker Package. If you want a kit with the drum included, The Barrel House Cooker UDS kit is the way to go.

Factors to Consider When Purchasing a UDS

When considering purchasing a pre-built Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) instead of building one yourself, there are several factors to keep in mind to ensure you get a smoker that meets your needs and expectations:

  1. Quality and Construction: Look for a UDS made from high-quality materials and solid construction to ensure durability and longevity. Thicker steel drums will provide better heat retention and stability.
  2. Size and Cooking Space: Consider the size of the drum and the available cooking space. A standard 55-gallon drum offers ample space for most smoking needs, but you may want to explore other sizes if you require more or less cooking capacity.
  3. Airflow and Temperature Control: Examine the air intake vents and exhaust system of the UDS to ensure proper airflow and temperature control. Adjustable dampers will allow for more precise cooking and a greater range of temperatures.
  4. Customization Options: Check if the UDS you’re considering offers any customization options or the ability to add modifications later. This will allow you to tailor the smoker to your preferences over time.
  5. Accessories and Features: Look for a UDS that includes helpful accessories and features, such as multiple cooking grates, a charcoal basket, a heat diffuser or water pan, and high-quality thermometers.
  6. Portability: If you plan to move your smoker around frequently, consider a UDS with casters or wheels for easy mobility.
  7. Price and Value: Compare the price of the UDS to its quality, features, and overall value. Keep in mind that while a higher price might provide more features and better quality, a more affordable UDS could still meet your needs if you’re willing to make some modifications.
  8. Reviews and Recommendations: Read reviews from other users and seek recommendations from friends, family, or online forums. This will give you an idea of the smoker’s performance, reliability, and user satisfaction.
  9. Warranty and Support: Look for a UDS that comes with a warranty or guarantee, and ensure that the manufacturer offers customer support in case you need assistance or have any issues with your smoker.

Price Range and Features: What to Expect

The price range and features of Ugly Drum Smokers (UDS) can vary significantly based on whether you’re building one yourself, purchasing a DIY kit, or buying a pre-built smoker. Here’s a general overview of what to expect in terms of price and features for each option:

  1. DIY UDS: Building your own UDS can be the most cost-effective option, with prices typically ranging from $100 to $300, depending on the materials and components used. This option allows for maximum customization and may require some manual labor and basic tools. The features will depend on the parts you choose and the modifications you make, which can include adjustable cooking grates, charcoal baskets, thermometers, and more.
  2. UDS Kits: If you prefer a semi-DIY approach, you can purchase a UDS kit that provides all the necessary components to assemble your smoker. These kits usually cost between $200 and $500, depending on the included features and the quality of the materials. Some kits offer additional customization options, while others are more basic. Common features in kits include multiple cooking grates, air intake vents, exhausts, and thermometers.
  3. Pre-built UDS: Pre-built UDS models offer the most convenience but can be more expensive, with prices ranging from $300 to over $1,000. The higher price often comes with higher-quality materials, better construction, and additional features or accessories. Some common features found in pre-built UDS models include adjustable cooking grates, multiple air intake vents, high-quality thermometers, charcoal baskets, heat diffusers or water pans, and casters or wheels for mobility.

Reviews of the Best UDS Models on the Market

There are several companies that manufacture pre-made drum smokers that are fully fitted and ready to use. Here is a summary of some of these companies:

  1. Gateway Drum Smokers: Gateway is a company that specializes in manufacturing drum smokers. They offer a range of models with different features, such as stainless steel cooking grates, temperature gauges, and ash pans.
  2. Hunsaker Smokers: Hunsaker is another company that manufactures drum smokers. They offer a variety of models with features such as insulated walls, heavy-duty construction, and removable ash pans.
  3. Oklahoma Joe’s: Oklahoma Joe’s is a well-known company that produces a range of smokers, including drum smokers. Their drum smokers are made with heavy-gauge steel and have features such as adjustable dampers and temperature gauges.
  4. Dyna-Glo: Dyna-Glo is a company that produces a range of outdoor cooking equipment, including drum smokers. Their drum smokers have features such as stainless steel construction, multiple cooking grates, and temperature gauges.
  5. Char-Broil: Char-Broil is a company that produces a range of grills and smokers, including drum smokers. Their drum smokers are made with heavy-gauge steel and have features such as multiple cooking grates, temperature gauges, and ash pans.

UDS vs. Other Types of Smokers: A Comparison

The Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) is an affordable, customizable, and efficient option for smoking enthusiasts who enjoy DIY projects. Its vertical design and thick drum walls provide excellent heat retention and even heat distribution, while the DIY nature allows for personalized modifications and upgrades.

However, UDS may lack the polished appearance of commercial smokers and offer limited cooking space compared to larger smokers, depending on the drum size.

Other types of smokers, such as offset, pellet, and electric smokers, each have their own set of pros and cons. Offset smokers are known for their large cooking areas and authentic smoky flavor, but they can be expensive and have a steeper learning curve.

Pellet smokers offer precise temperature control and versatility but can be costly and require electricity. Electric smokers provide convenience and indoor use options but may not achieve the same smoky flavor as other smoker types.

Ultimately, the choice of smoker depends on factors such as personal preferences, budget, cooking needs, and desired level of involvement in the smoking process.

Drum Smoker vs Kamado & Big Green Egg

An Ugly Drum Smoker is a cheaper alternative to a kamado smoker and a lot cheaper. A kamado grill such as the Big Green Egg costs close to $1000 whereas a drum smoker is can be put together for under $200. 

A ceramic smoker is more versatile than a drum because it can bake and grill, but for smoking, a UDS can match it with any kamado cooker. Kamado grills are known for being well insulated and can hold stable temperatures for many hours, even in freezing conditions.

Drum smokers are also well insulated and can hold stable temperatures over many hours in the cold. A drum smoker is much lighter than a kamado, so you can move it around your yard or take it with you on camping trips, etc. A ceramic grill is extremely heavy and is difficult to move around. If you want to learn more about kamado grills, I’ve written a detailed article here: Everything You Need To Know About The Kamado.

Drum Smoker vs Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM)

The Weber Smokey Mountain is an extremely popular meat smoker made by a company that is known for constructing quality grills. The major difference between a WSM and a UDS is the price. Building a rum smoker will cost approximately $300 less than a Smokey Mountain, depending on the WSM size and the UDS build. 

In terms of performance, a UDS and WSM are evenly matched when smoking meat. Both smokers are well insulated and can retain heat over many hours. Some people who own both say the drum makes better tasting meat because the meat in a drum drips directly onto the fire and flavours the meat.

When it comes to cooking capacity, a large WSM holds more meat than a drum with a standard lid. However, there is little difference between a WSM and UDS if your drum has Weber Kettle lid which will allow you to fit more meat on the top rack. For a more in-depth comparison between a UDS and a WSM, you might be interested in another article I’ve written: The Complete WSM Buying Guide.

Mastering the Art of Cooking on a UDS

Unlocking the full potential of your Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) requires mastering the art of cooking with this unique and versatile smoker. In this section, we’ll explore tips, techniques, and best practices to help you achieve succulent, perfectly smoked meats and other delicious creations on your UDS.

From temperature control and fuel management to cooking times and flavor enhancements, we’ll guide you through the process of becoming a true UDS aficionado.

Temperature Control and Monitoring: Tips and Techniques

Maintaining and monitoring the temperature in your Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) is crucial for achieving consistent, delicious results. Here are some tips and techniques to help you effectively control and monitor the temperature while cooking on your UDS:

  1. Airflow Management: The temperature inside your UDS is primarily controlled by regulating the airflow through the air intake vents and exhausts. To increase the temperature, open the intake vents to allow more oxygen to reach the charcoal. To decrease the temperature, close the vents slightly to reduce the oxygen supply.
  2. Use a High-Quality Thermometer: Invest in a reliable thermometer or temperature probe to accurately measure the internal temperature of your smoker. Digital thermometers with multiple probes can provide readings for both the cooking chamber and the meat, ensuring consistent cooking results.
  3. Preheat Your Smoker: Before placing your meat in the UDS, allow the smoker to preheat and stabilize at your desired cooking temperature. This will help you maintain a consistent temperature throughout the cooking process.
  4. Avoid Overloading: Placing too much meat in your UDS can cause temperature fluctuations due to the increased demand for heat. Cook in smaller batches or invest in a larger drum smoker if you need to smoke large quantities of food.
  5. Fuel Management: Use good-quality lump charcoal or briquettes to ensure consistent heat output. Experiment with different brands and types of fuel to find the one that works best for your UDS and cooking style.
  6. Minimize Lid Opening: Opening the lid frequently releases heat and disrupts the temperature inside your smoker. Only open the lid when necessary, and try to work quickly to minimize heat loss.
  7. Monitor Ambient Temperature: Be aware of the outdoor temperature, as it can affect your smoker’s performance. In colder weather, you may need to adjust your vents or add more fuel to maintain the desired cooking temperature.
  8. Experiment and Learn: Mastering temperature control on your UDS may require some trial and error. Keep notes on your cooking sessions, including vent settings, fuel types, and weather conditions, to learn what works best for your specific smoker and preferences.

Gather Your Materials

  • Drum Smoker
  • Charcoal
  • Wood
  • Lighter
  • Fire starters
  • Long tongs
  • Heat proof gloves
  • Wireless thermometer

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Light the drum 1 hour before adding meat to stabilize the temperature.
  2. Fill the charcoal basket and lay out the coals, using the Minion Method.
  3. Light a charcoal chimney for 20 minutes and place the red-hot coals in the middle of the basket.
  4. Light the charcoal and open all the vents.
  5. Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the drum.
  6. Place a water pan at the bottom of the smoker.
  7. Bring the UDS up to 250°, adjusting one vent at a time and waiting 10 minutes for a response.
  8. Once the target temperature is reached, adjust the vents to 1/4.
  9. Place a few wood chunks onto the hot coals just before adding the meat.
  10. Wait 1 hour before adding the meat to allow the temperature to stabilize.

When To Add The Meat To A Drum Smoker

Don’t add meat to the smoker until the temperature is stable. Light the UDS about 1-hour prior to adding meat because it can take about 30-60 minutes for the temperature to level out. The temperature will also drop slightly after you add the meat, so overshoot your target temperature.

Prior to lighting the UDS, remove the rack, and load with meat so it’s ready to go. The quicker you can close the lid again, the better. The big intake of air will increase the temperature if the lid is open for too long. You don’t need to flip the meat in a UDS. Try to lay brisket fat cap down and keep the lid closed. 

UDS Recipes and Cooking Tips

Embarking on your Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) journey wouldn’t be complete without exploring a world of mouthwatering recipes and cooking tips to help you make the most of your smoker. In this section, we’ll share a collection of delectable recipes tailored specifically for UDS cooking, along with invaluable tips to enhance flavors, improve texture, and achieve perfect results every time. Whether you’re a seasoned pitmaster or just starting with your drum smoker, these recipes and cooking tips will elevate your culinary skills and impress your friends and family.

How To Smoke Brisket in a UDS – 5 Steps

  1. Bring the UDS up to temperature and hold it within the 220°F–275°F range. 
  2. Lay the brisket fat cap down to protect the meat from the heat. 
  3. Mop/spritz the brisket every hour. This helps with bark development and helps prevent the meat from drying out (remember to close the vents 2-minutes before and after opening the lid). 
  4. Once the internal meat temperature hits about 150°F (this may take several hours), wrap the brisket in foil or butcher paper. 
  5. Place the meat back in the drum and remove once the internal temperature hits 203°F. Allow the brisket to rest for at least 1 hour. 

If you want to learn more about smoking brisket, check out: Brisket For Beginners: Tips For Smoking The Perfect Brisket

How to Hang Ribs in a UDS

One of the best things about using a drum smoker is the ability to hang ribs with meat hooks. The most common method of smoking ribs is using the 3-2-1 method (three hours unwrapped, 2 hours wrapped, 1 hour unwrapped). This method requires 6 hours low and slow. On the UDS, we can cook the ribs in half the time and still get great results. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Insert the hooks between the biggest bone on one of the rib ends. 
  2. Fill your charcoal basket and light your drum.
  3. Open all the vents and raise the temperature up to 250°F.
  4. Partially close off the vents and hold the smoker in the 300°F range.
  5. Throw some wood chunks on the coals. Hickory, pecan, oak, cherry and apple blend well with ribs.
  6. Hang the ribs to the grill grate or hanging ring.
  7. Try spread the ribs out across the smoker so they’re not touching. There’s a lot or surface area on a drum so you should be able to hang up to eight racks per cook. 
  8. You can pre-hang the ribs on the rack/grill so that the smoker lid can remain closed for as long as possible. 
  9. Keep the temperature so it sits just under 300°F.
  10. Rotate the ribs every twenty minutes so that the ribs have a nice even smoke layer. 
  11. Continue with this process for about 2-hours, then remove from the smoker. 
  12. At the two-hour mark, you can wrap the ribs in foil. Before wrapping, baste the ribs in a mop sauce. 
  13. Return the ribs to the smoker and lay the wrapped ribs on the grill and continue smoking for another hour. 

UDS Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Proper maintenance and the ability to troubleshoot potential issues are essential aspects of owning and operating an Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS). In this section, we’ll provide you with comprehensive guidance on maintaining your drum smoker to ensure optimal performance and longevity, as well as effective troubleshooting techniques to address common problems that may arise during your smoking sessions.

From cleaning and rust prevention to fixing temperature fluctuations and airflow issues, we’ve got you covered. By following these maintenance and troubleshooting tips, you’ll be well-equipped to keep your UDS in top condition, ensuring consistently delicious and perfectly smoked results for years to come.

Drum Smoker Tips

  1. Keep a Smoking Diary: Write down everything you did during each smoking session, from the amount of coals, vent adjustments, and weather conditions, to help you fine-tune your technique and track your progress.
  2. Minimize Lid Opening: Avoid opening the lid as much as possible to maintain consistent temperature. Open the lid only for essential tasks like basting and foiling.
  3. Manage Vents Before and After Lid Opening: Close the vents 2 minutes before and after opening the lid to prevent temperature spikes caused by increased airflow.
  4. Use a Water Pan: Consider using a water pan to help regulate the temperature. While not everyone uses one, it can help maintain consistent temperatures inside your smoker.
  5. Invest in a Wireless Dual Probe Thermometer: Monitor your smoker and meat temperatures without opening the lid by using a wireless dual probe thermometer. This will help you maintain consistent temperatures and achieve better cooking results. To find out more about meat thermometers, check out The Best Thermometers for Smoking Meat.
  6. Gradual Vent Adjustments: When adjusting the air intake vents and exhausts, make small changes to avoid drastic temperature fluctuations. Allow time for the temperature to stabilize before making further adjustments.
  7. Clean and Maintain Your Smoker: Regularly clean your drum smoker to ensure optimal performance and prevent issues like ash buildup or rust. This includes cleaning the cooking grates, charcoal basket, and the inside of the drum.
  8. Use Quality Fuel: Choose high-quality lump charcoal or briquettes for consistent heat output and better temperature control. Experiment with different fuel types and brands to find the one that works best for your UDS.
  9. Be Patient and Learn from Experience: Mastering the art of cooking on a drum smoker takes time and practice. Be patient, learn from your mistakes, and use your smoking diary to improve your technique over time.

Cleaning and Seasoning Your UDS for Optimal Performance

If you’re using a UDS for the first time, it will need to be seasoned before you attempt to cook any meat. You should do this for several reasons. First, to remove any paint or toxins that may be on the inside of the drum. You don’t want your first cook to taste like paint! Second, seasoning the smoker will help maintain it for the future. 

Smoking meat will expose your smoker to a lot of water. Water vapors from water pans and the moisture from meat will condense to the sides of the drum which can start the rusting process. To avoid rust, we want to avoid water getting on the inside of metal.

This is best done by coating the metal with oil. Make sure you use an oil with a high heat threshold like palm oil, canola oil, or peanut oil. Don’t use olive oil, it has a low heat threshold. I recommend using an oil spray because it’s inexpensive and easy to apply. Remove all the grills and scrub them down if they are brand new. 

Once your UDS is coated in oil, light it up and do a dry run without meat. This will burn up any paint and will heat the coated oil layer. This will seal the smoker with a permanent layer. In the future, any moisture won’t be able to attach to the metal and cause rust. 

How to Clean a Drum Smoker

Cleaning a UDS is much simpler than cleaning any other smoker. Remove the racks and grates and clean them separately. You can use a barbecue cleaner spray on the inside of the drum. Some people prefer not to use any cleaning products. If you use a barbecue cleaner, might want to season the smoker again before using. Below is a quick video of pitmasters cleaning their Ugly Drum Smokers after competitions.

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.

Meat Thermometers – Your Most Important Tool

The Beginner’s Guide To Meat Thermometers

The Best Meat Thermometers Under $50 (We List the Top 8 Choices)

The Best Thermometers for Smoking Meat

Best Wi-Fi Meat Thermometers (We Review the 5 Top Models)

Best Instant-Read Thermometers for Smoking (Top 6 Picks)

What Are Automatic Barbeque Temperature Controllers? The Complete Buyers Guide

MEATER Wireless Thermometer – Is It Any Good?


Author and founder at Meat Smoking HQ

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