How to Make a DIY Barrel Smoker

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How to Make a DIY Barrel Smoker

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Barbecue competitors know all about building a DIY barrel smoker. Smokers can be built from many different humble beginnings. These cookers are meant to prepare all different types of meat and fish, browning, flavoring, and preserving. In ancient times and today, smoking meat in a DIY barrel smoker is a good way to preserve and keep protein sources from spoiling.

You may have looked into how to build a smokehouse as a way to prepare food storage for your family. Some of us aren’t worried too much about using smoking as a way to preserve meat. Our mouths water as we wait for the delicious food to come out of the DIY barrel smoker.

Smoking meat in a DIY barrel smoker requires patience. If you aren’t familiar with the hot smoked process of cooking meat you may wonder how it differs from regular barbecue cooking. Smoking meat to cook it adds flavor while preserving moisture in the meat. The temperature in the smoker should be between 126 degrees and 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Some barrel smoker enthusiasts recommend a higher temperature of 200 to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoking, as a method of cooking, can be used for large cuts of beef, racks of ribs, whole pigs, chicken, and sausage links. The low temperature, long cooking, hot smoke method makes even tougher cuts of meat juicy and tender.

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When we are going to enjoy a meal of smoked meat or invite people over for a cookout, someone gets up while it’s still dark in the morning to get the fire and wood smoke started. The largest pieces of meat are started eight to 10 hours before the meal will be served! Smaller cuts of meat, chicken, and large sausage links take considerably less time but still longer than cooking in a conventional oven.


What Can be Used for a DIY Barrel Smoker?

You can make a DIY barrel smoker for your home. There are certain components that are necessary to the smoker. Many different methods and containers can be adapted to this building project. Our smoker was constructed from an old heating oil tank. Other people purchase or find an unlined steel oil drum. And still, others have built a home smoker from an old refrigerator, large clay flower pots, old kettle grills, metal trash cans, and other imaginative beginnings. (Hint: you can even build a homemade barrel stove for home heating!)

Preparing the Barrel or Oil Tank

If you choose to build from a used oil tank or barrel, a propane torch or propane weed burner will help you burn off residue in the tank. In some cases, a heavier red liner might be present which will require a longer, hotter burn time. Research this carefully. Many barbecue forums discuss this at length.


Parts of the DIY Barrel Smoker

Once you have acquired the main chamber for your smoker, there are other parts needed to make a smoker. The heat source will be charcoal and wood which will need to be in a chamber or area below the meat being cooked. The heat chamber in our oil tank smoker is the bottom area under the cooking racks. Some smokers will need a chamber built. A piece of expanded steel or steel mesh grate can be made into a chamber. You can weld the piece into a round tube or use this no-weld method to make the round chamber. Making a deeper wood box like this will allow you to stack more charcoal and wood chips, for a longer burn time.


The grate or cooking surface can be purchased from a grill supply company or made from steel mesh. Ours also has welded framing applied to stabilize it.


As with any fire-based cooking method, air flow is required. Intake grates and exhaust pipes will be used for these purposes. Valves can be added to give more control over the air flow.

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Other Details on a DIY Barrel Smoker

A temperature gauge will help you keep the fire and smoke at the optimal range. Remember, too hot and your meats will dry out while smoking.

A wooden handle can be attached by using nuts and bolts. Our handle is metal so of course that requires a thick potholder!


If all of these parts and DIY instructions are overwhelming you, consider buying a kit to make your own DIY barrel smoker.

Cooking on Your New Smoker

Remember to start early in the day. The first step will be to get the materials started in the firebox. Some experts in this cooking method use an electric starter to get the charcoal going. They wait for the briquettes to turn gray and ashy. Then the firebox is placed in the cooker.

Wood chips are popular and each species of wood lends a distinctive flavor with its smoke. On a larger smoker like ours, we use regular split pieces of logs. The wood chips are widely available where grilling supplies are sold and are perfect for the smaller DIY barrel smokers or other forms of smokers. Look for apple, cherry, hickory, maple, pecan, and pear. Do not use wood from trees that can give off harmful or toxic smoke. Cedar is not recommended for smoking, although cedar plank grilling is popular. Many people have reactions to walnut trees so I also don’t recommend walnut. In addition, evergreens and conifers can either add toxicity or an unpleasant taste. When in doubt, ask a reputable grilling supply salesperson.


Preserving Meat and Fish with the Addition of Smoke

After you have enjoyed many family dinners serving meat from the DIY barrel smoker you may want to look into smoking cured meat for long-term storage. Traditionally, this was the way meat was prepared for winter storage.  The meat cannot just be smoked. In order for it to be stored long term, it needs to be cured with salt, sugar or a combination of both. After the curing process, the meat can be smoked slowly for further dehydration and flavoring. The cold smoke process is used for long-term storage of meats and fish. The cold smoke promotes the drying but is not cooking the meat. You can still use your smoker but at a much lower temperature for a longer time. Curing and cold smoking are food preservation methods dating back many generations.

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Whether you decide to make a fancy DIY barrel smoker or a simple clay pot smoker, smoking meat is an excellent cooking method to learn. The project can be as simple or elaborate as your time and budget allow. Enjoy the delicious food prepared on your homemade smoker. Have you made a DIY barrel smoker or any other type of homemade smoker? Please tell us about it in the comments.

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