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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.

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:

Spotlight

These are not ads or paid placements. These are some of our favorite tools and toys.

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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 22″ Pro Cart 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 22″ Pro Cart a viable alternative.

Click here for more about what makes this grill special


The Undisputed Champion!

Thermapen One Instant Read Thermometer

ThermoWorks’ Thermapen ONE provides an accurate reading in one second or less. The ONE also includes features that are common on high-end instruments: automatic backlight, rotating display, and water resistant seals. Don’t accept cheap substitutes.
Click here to read our comprehensive Platinum Medal review


Fireboard: The Ultimate Top Of The Line BBQ Thermometer

Fireboard Labs Product Photo Shoot. Kansas City Commercial Portrait and Wedding Photographers ©Kevin Ashley Photography

With the ability to monitor up to six temperatures simultaneously with either Bluetooth or Wifi on your mobile phone, tablet, or computer, Fireboard is the best digital thermometer we’ve tested.
Click here to read our detailed review


GrillGrates Take Gas Grills To The Infrared Zone


GrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, kill hotspots, flip over to make a fine griddle, and can be easily moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips, pellets, or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke.

Click here for more about what makes these grates so special


Compact Powerful Sear Machine For Your Next Tailgater


Char-Broil’s Grill2Go x200 is a super-portable, fun little sizzler made of heavy, rust-proof cast aluminum. The lid snaps shut. Grab the handle and you’re off to the party! Char-Broil’s TRU-Infrared design produces searing heat while reducing fuel consumption. A 16 ounce LP gas canister is enough to keep you flipping burgers for hours.

Click here to read our detailed review and to order


The Good-One Is A Superb Grill And A Superb Smoker All In One


The Good-One Open Range is dramatically different from a traditional offset smoker. By placing the heat source behind and under the smokebox instead of off to the side, Open Range produces even temperature from left to right, something almost impossible to achieve with a standard barrel shaped offset.

Click here to read our complete review