Consider a smoker that could hold a load of food and was easy to use, and even easier to set up. What if I told you that all this could be achieved by one smoker, and could produce excellent results? Yes. Today we’re talking about a kind of smoker that looks different from its peers and is likely to create a lasting impression- the drum and barrel smoker. 

Cooking in a drum and barrel smoker is a breeze considering how quickly and reliably this smoker creates some of the juiciest BBQ you’ve ever had. Today we are looking at these vertical format beasts (sometimes referred to as a UDS-Ugly Drum Smoker) and everything you need to know to get some fantastic results with this kind of smoker.

At A Glance…

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageBest OverallBest Overall18.5" Classic Pit Barrel Cooker
  • Easy set up, easy to use
  • Superb Fit and Finish
  • Hooks & Hangers Incl.
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byb2-table__imageRunner-UpRunner-UpOklahoma Joe's Bronco Drum Smoker
  • 21.5" cooking surface
  • Advanced airflow system
  • Sealed Lid
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byb2-table__imageHigh EndHigh EndGateway Drum Smoker
  • Custom Built to Spec
  • 2 Adjustable Air Intakes
  • Amazing Heat Retention
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byb2-table__imageBest UDS KitBest UDS KitBig Poppa Smokers - Build Yourself UDS
  • Build it Yourself and Save
  • Customizable
  • High Quality Materials
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byb2-table__imageBest Small Drum CookerBest Small Drum Cooker14" Pit Barrel Cooker Junior
  • Portable
  • Hinged cooking grates
  • Endless Options
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Knowing everything you need to know about drum and barrel smokers, if you want to invest in a drum smoker but don’t know where to begin, here are our favorite options on the market today. 

Our Top 5 Drum Smokers


18.5” Classic Pit Barrel Cooker

The Pit Barrel Cooker is a 30-gallon steel drum that comes in a simple, yet effective design. Working on the lines of a convection oven, the cylindrical design helps in even heat distribution throughout the chamber, producing consistent results every time. Its compact size and lightweight makes it ideal for camping and tailgating.

Design and Structure

  • This 18.5 inches cooker features 8 stainless steel hooks suspended on 2 steel bars to hang your meat in the center and allows for low and slow cooking.
  • Since it cooks vertically, it can accommodate more food. Basting meat in its juices creates a smoke fog that leaves the meat juicy and tasteful.
  • The Pit Barrel Cooker also comes with a removable cooking grill if you plan to grill instead of smoke your next meal.
  • A charcoal basket made of wire is set just above the bottom of the barrel to maintain airflow and achieve consistent results.
  • The Pit Barrel Cooker is made of durable 18-gauge steel and its porcelain-coated parts are rust-resistant and easy to clean.

Cooking Performance

  • The Pit Barrel Cooker is very easy to use and set up, making it ideal for beginners.
  • Working on a ‘set it and forget it’ rule, this smoker needs minimal tending to and doesn’t need to be refueled constantly.
  • As the lit coals burn down the unlit coals ignite, giving at least 8-12 hours on a single load of charcoal.
  • The air vent at the top of the smoker is used to adjust your temperature; once set, then forget it.
Inside of Pit Barrel Smoker
Pit Barrel Smoker Versatility

What We Like… 

  • The Hook system increases cooking capacity.
  • Doesn’t require too much tending to once you get an idea of the basics, it’s an ideal choice for beginners.
  • Tight construction helps cook meat at steady temps.
  • Basic kit price is very reasonable

What Makes Us Angry…

  • Extra accessories gets expensive
  • 18.5″ is the largest size available

Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco Pro Drum Smoker

A heavy-duty steel drum smoker, the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco has massive capacity with it’s 21.5-inch cooking grate. Temperatures are well managed with the venting system and heavy construction. This is a high-end unit with the fit and finish to prove it. Provided shelving and wheels is unique in this smoker category but they are nice features to have.

Design and Structure

  • Built differently from the 55-gallon drum, this smoker comes in 2 pieces instead of a barrel with a top lid. The functions, however, are the same as other drum smokers; this smoker rests on 2 wheels that make it easy to move.
  • The 21.5-inch grates come with a 17-pound fuel capacity basket.
  • The cooking grates are porcelain-coated steel, as are the other accessories like the ash pan, charcoal basket, and heat diffuser. This is easy to clean and will withstand the outdoor elements.
  • Smoker accessories include 3 stainless steel meat hangers which can hold 9 hooks for suspending your meats.
Oklahoma Joe Drum Smoker
Hooks and Hangers

Oklahoma Joe Air Vent
Air Vent Control

Cooking Performance

  • A unique airflow system that features an intake pipe attached at the bottom that is connected to an exhaust pipe at the top. An adjusting plate that helps you slide open to regulate airflow is supported by a lid that seals tight, locking the heat within.
  • Heavy construction aids in managing temperatures. One load of charcoal will burn for 15 hours.
  • Temperature thermometer seems to be of quality and somewhat accurate.
  • For extra moisture of flavor, consider adding a pan a wine, beer, or broth above the diffuser.

What We Like…

  • Maintains excellent flavor in food
  • Durable construction which will age well
  • The sealed lid aids in temperature management
  • Charcoal fuel efficient
  • Easy to use and move

What Makes us Angry…

  • Price

Gateway Drum Smoker

Gateway Drum Smokers are the leading drum smoker on the competition BBQ circuit. Gateway makes a premium product ensuring every aspect has been thought out. This smoker reaches temperatures between 250 to 325 degrees and this range maximizes the vaporizing action that combines with smoke, allowing the meat to remain juicy and tender. 

Design and Structure

  • The Gateway Drum Smoker works by cooking directly over coals, letting the vapors create moisture and flavor every time the meat drips.
  • The 21.5-inch cooking grate offers about 462 sq. in. of cooking area.
  • A built-in thermometer helps you keep a track of the temperature.
  • In addition to being constructed of superior, durable materials, this smoker is available in 6 colors and can fit into most decors.
  • Accessories include a diffuser and a rib hanging kit, allowing you to customize your cooking experience.
  • The cooking grates can be placed on any of the 3 levels, allowing you to cook larger foods. Add additional grates and you can cook on all the 3 levels!

Cooking Performance

  • With a broad temperature range, this smoker works efficiently with 8-pound charcoal lasting for up to 14 hours (at 250 degrees).
  • Capable of hot and fast cooking adds versatility to this large drum smoker.
  • It is important to note that though these smokers add a splash of color, it is not covered under the manufacture warranty. The colored units can reach up to 450 degrees without the exterior paint getting damaged, while the matte designs can reach temperatures up to 1,000 degrees.

What We Like…

  • Excellent temperature control that helps you sear, roast or bake as you wish
  • Available in a variety of colors
  • Simple design without too many parts or tech
  • Durable construction
  • Good cooking capacity on a single fuel load

What Makes Us Angry…

  • Colored versions can’t hold high temperatures without damaging the paint
  • Pricey

Big Poppa Smokers – Build Yourself UDS

With a little mechanical skill and basic DIY knowledge, you can build yourself an UDS / ugly drum smoker using the Big Poppa Smoker Kit. This kit includes everything you will ever need to turn a metal barrel into a fully functioning smoker. 

The UDS Kit 

The kit comes with the following parts. You will need some basic mechanical knowledge to put the parts together, but a decent set of home tools will work just fine.

  • One 22.5 inch cooking grate – when put together, provides around 363 sq. in. of cooking surface
  • Three vents- 2 bottom and 1 lid-mounted 
  • 1 upward facing temperature gauge- to be fitted on the side
  • 2 removable charcoal baskets

These materials are put together into a 55-gallon metal drum (included in the kit). 

Big Poppa Smokers offer an inexpensive way to create a high quality smoker with good cooking capacity. Building this smoker will not take more than a few hours; and can be done with a power drill, wrenches and a couple beer.

Big Poppa includes a pre-drilled drum with this particular kit, which increases the price but makes the job much easier and faster to do. It also removes the problem of finding a drum that you need to thoroughly clean before building this kit.

The coal basket in this kit can be adjusted in height whether you wish to grill directly or slow smoking.

What We Like…

  • High quality materials and components
  • Customizable kit components
  • Produces excellent flavor in food

What Makes Us Angry…

  • If you’re building only to save money, this isn’t a great option. This kit is more comparable to high end models over $600.

14” Pit Barrel Cooker Junior

The Pit Barrel Junior is the smaller version of the Pit Barrel Cooker and works on very similar lines as its bigger version. A variation of the UDS, this cooker is already assembled and ready to do some serious smoking. 

Design and Structure

  • The smaller footprint of the Pit Barrel Junior highlights its portability, making it perfect for camping or any outdoor grilling you may plan to do.
  • With a diameter of 14 inches, the Pit Barrel Junior also weighs less and has a lesser cooking capacity compared to the Pit Barrel Classic.
  • Smoker setup is a cinch and tweaking temperatures is a breeze with the venting.
  • Several configurations available with extra accessories.

Cooking Performance

  • This smoker is great for both novices and seasoned grillers and is versatile in both grilling and smoking.
  • Hanging the food vertically allows for even and consistent heating within the barrel.
  • The juices from the meat drip onto the coals creating smoke and drippings that form the much-loved BBQ taste.
  • The Pit barrel Junior comes with a hinged cooking grate for when you want to cook things horizontally. You can suspend your meat and cook horizontally at the same time.

What We Like…

  • The smaller footprint makes it portable
  • Easy to use
  • Produces even, consistent results
  • Interesting accessories like the ash pan and hinged cooking grates

What Makes Us Angry…

  • I didn’t own 10 years ago

Our Logical Choice

The clear winner of our roundup is the Classic Pit Barrel Cooker. Excellent features combined with a thoughtful design, this smoker cooks the juiciest, most tender meat by efficiently using fuel. What’s more, you don’t need to constantly check on your smoker and can focus on enjoying the experience. Efficiency and convenience are what you can expect with this drum smoker at a very fair price.

Irrespective of which smoker you choose, make sure it fits your specific needs and matches your cooking standards.

What Is A Drum Smoker?

Drum and barrel smokers (also known as Ugly Drum Smokers) are made of simple designs, typically fitted with a steel drum. For many years this kind of smoker was handmade and could be seen in various forms. Generally, no two forms are exactly alike but over time the design and manufacture of these smokers have become more standardized. 

Some characteristic features of drum and barrel smokers include charcoal baskets, cooking racks and hooks that allow you to cook your meat while suspended vertically. This not only increases the capacity of the smoker but also maintains a steady temperature which is especially useful in a longer cook time. These smokers are easy to use, inexpensive, and their lightweight makes them quite portable.

A drum smoker does an excellent job by trapping heat inside the unit and circulating it inside, resulting in consistently and evenly cooked food.

How Do They Work?

The most basic design of a drum smoker constitutes a drum with a firebox at the bottom and a cooking rack on the top. The base and lid of the smoker have vents to adjust the temperature and the entire unit is sealed to prevent leaks. 

Inside of Pit Barrel Smoker

Drum smokers use direct cooking techniques with charcoal, and they lack the water pan we see in other kinds of grills. Sometimes, the direct heat can render your meat dry but wrapping larger cuts in the foil help you solve this issue.

Using a drum smoker is pretty simple. You begin with loading the firebox with charcoal and lighting it. When the charcoal gets white around the edges (don’t wait till the charcoal is burning bright), set your food on the cooking rack. Close the lid and lock it in place, and set the vents of the smoker to the desired temperature. 

Cooking at a lower temperature helps you maintain airflow in the unit enough to avoid the drippings from causing any flare-ups.

Advantages To A Drum Smoker

There are many reasons to consider buying a drum smoker:

  • Drum and barrel smokers are very easy to operate and are hence ideal for those who are new to the grilling game. You get to learn a lot about smoking and grilling without being overwhelmed with fancy whistles and bells.
  • They require very little monitoring, so once you set your food to the desired temperature you can enjoy the rest of the evening without having to check on your food constantly.
  • Drum smokers have a generous cooking capacity and this comes in handy if you cook for large groups. They produce excellent results in a short time, so grilling is no longer about wearing yourself out in front of your smoker for eternity.
  • These smokers are versatile and can cook a wide range of food from meat to pizzas and other flatbreads to even steaming fish and vegetables.
  • Drum and barrel smokers are relatively low-tech and come with lesser accessories and attachments than other kinds of smokers. Their cylindrical structure makes them easy to store and maintain.
  • These smokers are made of robust, heavy-duty materials that last you for many years, and fewer parts mean fewer repairs and replacements.
  • This is one of the cheapest smokers you could own, with an option to build one yourself.

Disadvantages To A Drum Smoker

Though a great investment, drum smokers have their share of drawbacks:

  • They are called ‘Ugly’ drum smokers for a reason. Home-built smokers might not have the finish or look of the other smokers.
  • Despite their large frame, some smokers have a limited cooking capacity.
  • You can’t cook all kinds of meat in your drum smoker.
  • While the logic behind the concept of a drum smoker is solid, these smokers don’t quite match up to other smokers like Kamado smokers or higher end pellet smokers in terms of insulation and temperature management.

Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS)

With a rather odd name, ugly drum smokers are as simple as they can get. They are fashioned in a barrel structure that smoke food upward and can cook a wide variety of meat. Since these 55-gallon drum smokers are of a simple design and require fewer parts, many people build one themselves. 

Of course, there are commercial alternatives to DIY ugly drum smokers that come ready-made and are more polished. Cooking in a UDS would mean 10 to 12 hours of smoking with minimal babysitting your smoker and adding charcoal. 

Building Or Buying A UDS?

If you’re interested in cooking on a UDS, there are many ways to get there. 

Building a UDS

Firstly, there are many ways to build a UDS. This process also calls for some specialist equipment, but if you are a DIY enthusiast, you probably have what you need. While building your UDS, you can use your DIY knowledge and make tweaks according to your convenience. 

The hardest part of building a UDS is getting your hands on a 55-gallon drum. To make things easier, you can simply buy them on eBay or other online stores. Remember to look for a non-lined barrel.

The core is the same for all UDS. With a 55 gallon drum, mark out a hole at strategic points and drill them. You’ll next have to work on building a charcoal basket and find a 22-inch grilling grate that you’ll place inside. Finally, you will need to attach plumbing valves that help in air circulation. 

Using A UDS Kit 

If you like the idea of a UDS but don’t want to get your hands dirty or if you don’t feel up to the task, UDS kits make your job easy. These kits come with pre-assembled parts that simply need to be put together and viola- your UDS is all set.

Buying A UDS

Investing in an ugly drum smoker is quite a good idea if you regularly play host to a large group of people, or are looking for a smoker that doesn’t take up to much of your time or energy. UDS’s are quite inexpensive and upkeep or maintenance is less complicated owing to their simple parts. Also, commercial UDS come in a more polished finish compared to DIY ones.

Who Should Buy A Drum Smoker?

Compared to other kinds of smokers, drum smokers are the easiest to use and with a little upkeep, you can expect some consistently delicious food from your drum smokers for many years. 

Drum smokers are perfect for both newbies and seasoned grillers. Their straightforward, easy nature takes all the guessing out of the game and can be a great way to learn about the basics of cooking different kinds of food. 

If you are more familiar with grilling, a drum smoker will help enhance your cooking experience by doing most of the hard work and letting you relax and focus on enjoying your experience. This is especially true for those who entertain larger groups; instead of hovering over your smoker you can simply set your food at the right temperature and focus on your guests instead. 

Irrespective of whether you are a seasoned pro or a newbie, a drum smoker can cook some of the most tender, juiciest meat just as quickly as any other grill.

Difference Between A Drum And Barrel Smoker

While both the drum and barrel smokers come in a similar design, there is, a marked difference between a drum smoker and a barrel smoker, take for instance the Weber Smokey Mountain.

Inside of Weber Smokey Mountain
Weber Smokey Mountain Barrel Smoker
Inside of Pit Barrel Smoker
Pit Barrel Classic Drum Smoker
  • Presence of a Water pan: Drum smokers are designed to cook using direct heat, so they heat up quickly and cook fast. On the other hand, the Weber Smokey Mountain comes with a water pan that is designed for indirect cooking that works on a low and slow principle.
  • Flavor: The absence of a water pan allows meat juices to drip on the coal directly, creating steam that produces the iconic BBQ flavor. While it is not the same in the Weber Smokey Mountain, the water pan can be removed to get the same results as a drum smoker.
  • Set Up And Movement: Drum smokers are easier to move than barrel smokers. Unlike the barrel smokers that need to be assembled, drum smokers come as a whole unit and do not contain too many parts. So, they are easier to set up, clean and are quite mobile.
  • Capacity: While many people complain that a drum smoker can improve its capacity it’s still worthy to note that given its vertical design, these smokers are perfect for cooking larger cuts of meat.

How To Use A Drum Smoker

If this is the first time you’re working with a drum smoker, it could seem daunting. Rest assured, this smoker is probably the best place to start your grilling journey. There are a few things to keep in mind while using a drum smoker, these tricks help you get the best out of your drum smoker. 

  • First, make sure you set your smoker in an open, well-ventilated area.
  • Fill the charcoal basket with coal and light it up; the amount of coal consumed depends upon how big a meal you’re cooking. You can also use a charcoal chimney to start a small amount of coal first and then add the lit coal to the charcoal basket.
  • Once your charcoal briquettes start smoking, open the vent on the top of your smoker and adjust it according to the temperature.
  • Positioning your charcoal grate will determine the extent of sear on your meat. The closer your meat is to the grates, the more pronounced the sear is. Pre-heat the grilling rack to the desired temperature for about 10-15 minutes before setting the food.
  • Close the lid and let the smoker do its job. You can adjust the vents if you feel the temperature is too high or too low. 
  • Remember that drum smokers are not grills. They work ideally in low temperatures and high searing can lead to scorching. 
  • Make sure that every time you open the lid of the smoker, allow air only very briefly because too much oxygen can lead to built-up grease catching fire, resulting in flare-ups. 
  • Seasoning your smoker after use is an important part of the upkeep. This involves burning away any grime, oils, and other leftovers. Using vegetable oil and cooking spray to clean the insides of the drum works well in cleaning your smoker out after use.

Drum Smoker vs. Pellet Smoker vs. Charcoal Smoker

When compared to pellet and charcoal smokers, drum smokers have the largest cooking capacity and can accommodate a large amount of food. Also, drum smokers are more easily operated and relatively low on tech. making them ideal for beginners. Pellet and charcoal smokers need a certain level of expertise in grilling and consist of more moving parts. 

Pellet and drum smokers need lesser babysitting than charcoal smokers. When it comes to versatility in cooking, drum smokers are the most versatile and can cook a variety of dishes while pellet smokers are designed to smoke meat. 

Pellet smokers are the most expensive among the three since they include more tech, and drum smokers are the least expensive, some of them being built using DIY kits even. 

Things To Consider When Buying A Drum Smoker

While every smoker sounds great on paper, just how well it will fit in your life depends upon your preferences and level of expertise handling grills and smokers. Irrespective of where you are in terms of experience, here are a few things to keep in mind while buying a drum smoker.

Versatility 

All smokers function differently, where some are great at smoking while some others fry or even bake well. While choosing, make sure you pick one that allows you to roast, smoke, grill, and bake.

Size

Depending upon your workspace, pick a smoker that seamlessly into your home and can be stored easily when not in use. If you don’t regularly cater to larger groups, consider buying a smaller smoker. Various models can cook a surprisingly large amount of food despite their size. 

Most drum smokers come in 55 or 30-gallon capacity. While smaller smokers have a lesser capacity they are ideal in camping and tailgating, larger smokers have larger baskets that can accommodate more coals.  

Temperature Control

While smokers use both direct and indirect cooking techniques, every smoker has a different temperature threshold and optimum working range. Water smokers work using the low and slow rule, maintaining these temperatures for a longer time. 

Durability And Construction

If you’re looking to use your drum smoker for many years, run a keen eye on the materials used for construction. Elements need to be made from durable material, they also need to need to be weather and rust-resistant.

Durable stainless steel with a weather-resistant finish is a great choice, and porcelain-coated accessories are preferred because they are easy to clean and improves heating retention. 

Price

Drum smokers in general are reasonably priced. While the more expensive models may have additional features, you can smoke just as well on mid-level or inexpensive models. 

Also, with a little knowledge of DIY, you can build your drum smoker helping you save hundreds of dollars. Because of their simple design, price is never a concern over performance with these smokers. 

Along with the smoker, you can additionally buy smoker accessories like basket hangers and hinged grates that help you create a model customized to your needs.

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