Building Your Own Grill Or Smoker

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.

large pit

Meathead Goldwyn

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

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"I was about to buy a new smoker. After reading your article about setting up a horizontal smoker, I decided to try rehabilitating something the previous owner of my house left in the backyard. Total investment: $100. I figure I saved at least $500!" Coleman Shelton, Calvert City, KY

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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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