After the paint has dried, insert the one- and half-inch bolts and tighten them with the lock washers and nuts. Attach the ball valve and pipe nipples, and secure with ¾-inch conduit nuts. Finally, attach the lid handle and secure with necessary hardware, then install the thermometer.
No-Weld Charcoal Basket
Most of us don’t have access to a welding machine. In this case, we can do a “no weld” charcoal basket made from a sheet of expanded steel bent into a circle and secured with bolts, flat washers, and nuts. The circular basket is then secured to a typical charcoal grate and hex bolts are used as “feet” to let the basket stand on the bottom of the drum. Begin with a 45-inch-by-9-inch sheet of nine-gauge expanded steel. If you can, have your steel fabricator bend this into a circle for you. If not, grab a propane tank and slowly bend the steel sheet around the tank until a circle is formed. The no-weld concept comes from attaching components via nuts, bolts, and flat washers.
Once the expanded steel is bent into a circle, insert a bolt with a large flat washer through two overlapping steel apertures (one from the original left and one from the original right side of the steel sheet) and quickly place another large flat washer and lock nut on the other side of the sheets. Once this is done, the steel will remain secure. Do this twice at different locations on the steel sheet. This circular basket will now be able to sit on a charcoal grate, which will be attached to 3.5- to 4-inch hex bolts. To attach the hex bolts to the charcoal grate, place a nut and flat washer on the hex bolt and insert it through the charcoal grate. Once the bolt is through the grate, use another flat washer and lock nut to secure it to the grate. The flat washers essentially “sandwich” the grate, and the nuts keep it tight. Attach the grate to the circular expanded steel with two U-bolts. Slip the “U” portion of the bolt through the expanded steel aperture and then fasten to the grate.
Lighting the Drum and the Initial Seasoning
The first thing you must do when the paint is dry and the hardware is assembled is to light an initial fire and season the new smoker. This charcoal basket can handle an entire 20-pound bag of briquette charcoal. The way to light this smoker is to fill the charcoal basket to about 90 percent. Depending on your taste, you can intersperse chunks of smoke wood all throughout the basket so it will smoke for an entire 12-plus hours. Use a charcoal chimney and about 15-20 briquettes. Light the briquettes using a match and crumpled newspaper placed under the chimney. After about 15 minutes the coals should be lit and mostly ashed over. Dump these briquettes directly on top of the 90-percent-full basket loaded with unlit charcoal and smoke wood. Open all of the air intakes, secure the cooking grate, and close the lid. For the initial seasoning, select a very fatty piece of meat, such as a pound of raw bacon or a tube of breakfast sausage, placed directly in the center of the grate. Close the lid, sit back, and get a feel for how your smoker will hold temperature. If the temperature is too high, close one or two of the air intakes. If the temperature is too low, take the lid off for a while, or consider using more lit charcoal next time. When lit correctly, the ugly drum smoker should hover around 250 degrees F for the entire cooking process. After about one or two hours you will see a good bit of seasoning on the inside of the smoker and you are now ready to use it. At this point you can close the air intakes and cover the exhaust holes with magnets.
The assembly of an ugly drum smoker is a true barbecue experience. If you love a good “do it yourself” project and want a good, high-quality smoker for very little money, this project is perfect. The best part is that you are making one of the best smokers you can get, as it is simple to light and you can easily maintain a nice “low and slow” barbecue temperature. Depending on your creativity and painting skills, there is no reason your ugly drum smoker needs to be ugly! Pick your favorite sport team’s colors and be creative. You can also attach a bottle opener to the drum for convenient beverage opening as you smoke your afternoons away.