Sterling Ball, the genius behind BigPoppaSmokers.com, a great internet barbecue store with a superb collection of charcoal, pellet, and wood burning grills and smokers including some of the fanciest and best devices money can buy. He is a fine cook and competes on the circuit. Not satisfied to sell $2,000 pellet smokers and $2,300 Jambo pits, he has found a need at the low end of the market and met it.
The need is for a really good smoker for very little money. He knew that many pitmasters love using 55 gallon drums that they have turned into smokers/grill combos with a little ingenuity. The internet has many pages devoted for designs and photos of home made Ugly Drum Smokers (UDS). But the UDS requires welding and metalworking skills. And time.
So Ball and his team have created a kit that you can buy from him for $129. You supply the drum. I am told that food grade drums can easily be found for as little as $20, so for well under $200 you can have a fine smoker. This kit significantly reduces the cost, time required, and probability of error. And the results can cook competition worthy meat. Really. Much better than a cheap offset smoker, and just as cool looking.
To assemble it you will need an electric drill, an adjustable wrench or a 7/8″ and a 7/16″ wrench, a tape measure, and a straight edge.
There are several features that you just can’t get on a homemade UDS. Most important, the sliding bottom vents make it easy to manage air intake which is crucial for temperature control, far better than the homemade kluges that people use all time. The top vent is easy to use, too. The charcoal basket is stainless steel, and, when empty, it can be raised to grilling height or lowered with a hook tool. Sure wish ther was an easy way to raise it when it is full of glowing coals.
The grill grate is also stainless. There are two handles on the side with wood grips, and the lid handle also has a wood grip (but it can still get hot). There is a hook to hang the lid, three tool hooks, and a decent quality temperature indicator. Options include a second cooking grate which can also hold a water pan or a pizza stone as a heat shield.
I took the Weber Gourmet BBQ System Sear Grate Set (above), which I did not find necessary or desirable on my kettle, and dropped it on the bottom shelf. Then I dropped a bowl into the hole and voila, a water pan, something I really like in my smokers. You will also want to buy a cover because water will get in through the top vent in the rain. The diameter is close to a Weber kettle, so I just bought this Weber Kettle Cover and it fits great.
Cooking with it is almost as easy with a Weber Smokey Mountain (below), although adding coals is a bit trickier. You have to remove the food and the grates to access the charcoal basket. On the WSM, there is a door in the side. If you are handy, you might want to cut a door yourself. The charcoal basket will probably last a while, but, and now I’m quibbling, it would be nice if the wire from which it was made was a bit heavier. Regardless, Ball has sized it properly. I found that a chimney of colad coals topped by a chimney of hot coals, can be easily dialed down to my favorite temp of 225°F, and it will hold that number steadily for hours. If you just use hot coals and raise the basket, you can easily sear a steak.
If you are handy, this is absolutely the best bargain on the market. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, there’s a bottle opener included. I don’t think he missed anything.