Building Your Own Grill Or Smoker

Building Your Own Grill Or Smoker

By:

Meathead

Handy with tools? Too cheap to buy a cooker? Can’t stand wasting money on the garbage sold in the stores? Build your own. The internet has a number of designs and ideas for the do-it-yourselfer, whether you want to build a grill, hog cooker, or smoker. I’ve seen some impressive rigs built from steel drums, refrigerators, file cabinets, propane tanks, and even large terra cotta planters.

Please make sure you use food safe materials. Never use steel drums that have held oil, solvents, or other toxic materials. Remember, metals are not smooth. There are microscopic pockmarks, pores, cracks, and dangerous compounds can get in there and even bond with the metal. Some have a plastic corrosion barrier on the inside and the exterior paint could be harmful if it vaporizes when hot. Also beware that the metals, plastics, and paints in refrigerators and file cabinets can be hazardous. The AmazingRibs.com science advisor, Prof. Greg Blonder warns “Some file cabinets contain galvanized steel. The zinc in the galvanization is a neurotoxin, and has to be etched or sandblasted off along with most of the paint. A terra-cotta pot can explode if you pour on a cold marinade when the ceramic is fire hot. Make sure the propane tank is empty of fuel, and blow in compressed air to be doubly sure. In other words, don’t let the fun of building a smoker trump common sense.”

Grills & Smokers

Ugly Drum Smokers (UDS)

  • The UDS is a 55 gallon steel drum converted into a grill and smoker. This is an easy way to build a high quality cooker cheap. If you are building a drum smoker and need help finding a food safe drum, click here and scroll down.
  • It’s a popular topic on barbecue message boards. Many have special sections devoted to their design and construction with photos. Some pretty clever engineering and cutting and welding can be seen there.
  • The BBQ-Brethren.com has several pages devoted to the topic. They aptly label this as “the mother of all UDS threads. All information you will need to build a UDS is in this thread. use this, and a search of the forum for UDS and you will find a wealth of information.”
  • Thesmokering.com has another thread on UDS. Here’s another good thread.
  • Here’s some photos of how one guy built an Ugly Drum Smoker.
  • Click here for an inexpensive kit for making an UDS.

Published On: 9/28/2017 Last Modified: 4/22/2021

  • Meathead - Founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.


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Meathead’s dream

I have built a hog pit (click here to see my design) but when I lay awake at night I dream of building one of these:

  • Something big enough to handle a big party and a 200 pound hog, but adjustable so I could cook a few burgers, too. So I’d design a large concrete block or brick rectangle about 8′ long, 4′ deep, and 3′ high. There would be two removable partitions so it can be divided into three separate cooking zones. In one zone I could cook small quantities efficiently, another could be used as a warming oven, an the third could be used to burn logs down to coals or it could also be used as a bread and pizza oven.
  • Each partition needs a separate lid so it can be closed for roasting, smoke roasting, or baking. Each partition would need its own damper for letting in air, and a vent for letting out smoke.
  • The food grates for each partition would need to have adjustable height so steaks could be lowered near the coals for searing or raised for low and slow direct or indirect cooking.
  • The three ash grates should be above ground so air can flow beneath the coals and for easy ash removal.
  • There needs to be a large work surface nearby and storage for tools.
  • There should be tables and seating nearby.
  • The whole shootin’ match needs to be under a roof for all weather use. That roof would need a chimney so smoke and carbon monoxide would not collect under it.
  • It needs a solid slab so it doesn’t sink.
  • While I’m at it, why not enclose the whole thing with screen to keep out mosquitos and flies.

Anybody out there want to draw up some plans?

Solar ovens

In the past few years several solar oven manufacturers and designs for home made units have appeared. They are perfect for the poor, for disaster relief, and for wilderness cooking. Some links:

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Griddle And Deep Fryer In One


The flat top does the burgers and the fryer does the fries. Use the griddle for bacon, eggs, and home fries. Or pancakes, fajitas, grilled cheese, you name it. Why stink up the house deep frying and spatter all over? Do your fried chicken and calamari outside. Blackstone’s Rangetop Combo With Deep Fryer does it all!

Click here to read our detailed review and to order

Masterbuilt MPS 340/G ThermoTemp XL Propane Smoker


This is the first propane smoker with a thermostat, making this baby foolproof. Set ThermoTemp’s dial from 175° to 350°F and the thermostat inside will adjust the burner just like an indoor kitchen oven. All you need to do is add wood to the tray above the burner to start smokin’.

Click here to read our detailed review

The Cool Kettle With The Hinged Hood We Always Wanted


Napoleon’s NK22CK-C Charcoal Kettle Grill puts a few spins on the familiar kettle design. In fact, the hinged lid with a handle on the front, spins in a rotary motion 180 degrees. It’s hard to beat a Weber kettle, but Napoleon holds its own and adds some unique features to make the NK22CK-C a viable alternative.

Click here for more about what makes this grill special

Digital Thermometers Are Your Most Valuable Tool And Here’s A Great Buy!

A good digital thermometer keeps you from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. They are much faster and much more accurate than dial thermometers. YOU NEED ONE!
Click here to read our complete review

Finally, A Great Portable Pellet Smoker


Green Mountain’s portable Davy Crockett Pellet Smoker is one mean tailgating and picnic machine. But it’s also gaining popularity with people who want to add a small, set it and forget it pellet smoker to their backyard arsenal. And with their WiFi capabilities you can control and monitor Davy Crocket from your smart phone or laptop.

Click here to read our detailed review and to order

Our Favorite Backyard Smoker

The amazing Karubecue is the most innovative smoker in the world. The quality of meat from this machine is astonishing. At its crux is a patented firebox that burns logs above the cooking chamber and sucks heat and extremely clean blue smoke into the thermostat controlled oven. It is our favorite smoker, period.
Click here for our review of this superb smoker

The Pit Barrel Cooker May Be Too Easy


The PBC has a rabid cult following for good reason. It is absolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world. Period. This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers because temperature control is so much easier.

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them