The practice of smoking meat dates back to prehistoric times, not long after primitive humans discovered fire. Since then, smoking meat has been an invaluable tool for preserving meat long term.
There are two main styles of smoking meat, hot and cold smoking.
Hot smoking takes place at temperatures between 225 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This process cooks the meat, so it is not appropriate for food preservation.
Cold smoking occurs at temperatures below 90 degrees Fahrenheit and acts to dry the meat removing all moisture, making the finished product suitable for long-term storage.
Why Build a Drum Smoker?
Besides being inexpensive or even free to construct, the drum smoker can be used for both hot and cold smoking by simply tweaking how you go about using the smoker.
The drum smoker takes up a small footprint, so it does not require a lot of space unlike a smokehouse or offset smoker.
What is the Difference Between a Drum Smoker and a Smokehouse?
A smokehouse is best suited to preserve food through the cold smoking process, whereas a drum smoker is mostly used for hot smoking of meat.
This is not to say that you can not cold smoke in a drum smoker because you definitely can; it simply takes more time and effort to get the smoker to stay at temperatures low enough for cold smoking.
Smokehouses often have smoke piped into them from an outside source which allows the smoke to cool before it arrives at the meat; in a drum smoker, the fire is directly below the meat, which means that heat will always be an issue that you will be battling.
Placement of the Drum Smoker
This is a serious concern since this smoker will have smoke billowing out of its top every time the lid is opened. You have to keep the direction of the prevailing wind in mind and do not place the smoker in such a way that smoke will be blowing into your home.
Be mindful of your neighbours as well. They may not like having plumes of smoke waft through their property.
Construction of the Drum Smoker
The construction of this style of smoker is not difficult but does require cutting and drilling of metal, so be aware of the risks involved and take safety precautions.
Always wear hearing protection, gloves and eye protection when cutting metal.
- Angle grinder with a cutoff wheel
- Drill with bits and drivers
- Propane Torch
- 55-gallon steel drum with lid
- Stainless steel rods at least 3/16th of an inch in diameter
Preparing the Drum
#1. To prepare the drum, start by scrubbing it inside and out with a stiff scrub brush and some degreaser. Then rinse it with clean water.
#2. Burn off oils and paint from the inside and outside of the drum with a propane torch or a very hot fire. Don’t forget to burn the lid as well.
The propane torch method is preferred because you will need to get the drum to around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit to sufficiently burn off any contaminants.
#3. Once the drum has gone through its trial by fire, give it a good brushing with a stiff brush or wire brush.
Alternatively, you could use a wire wheel on an angle grinder. Your goal is to remove any ash that has accumulated.
Building the Smoker
#1. Layout and cut a rectangle-shaped door large enough to feed the smouldering fire that will be at the bottom of the smoker.#2. Cut this door out with an angle grinder or cutting torch.
#3. Attach the door to the drum with hinges. You can either drill bolt holes, attaching the door to the hinges and drum with bolts and nuts, or welding the hinges.#4. Paint the drum and the lid with high-temperature paint, such as the type used on barbeques.#5. Drill holes near the top to fit the stainless steel rods. Make these holes a little larger than the diameter of the rods.#6. Drill a hole to mount a thermometer close to where the meat will be hanging. Then install the thermometer.
#7. Season the drum by coating the interior in vegetable oil or lard, then start a fire in the bottom of the smoker, heating it to around 250 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit for a couple of hours.
#8. Finally, install the stainless steel rods and you are ready to smoke.
Lighting the Drum Smoker
Lighting a drum smoker is not as simple as starting a fire at the bottom of the drum. The goal is to produce smoke, not flame, and to do this, we will use charcoal to get our flavouring wood smouldering. Do not use briquettes treated with lighter fluid; instead, use a coal chimney.
Once you get the coals burning, you can place them in the bottom of the drum. Close the lid and let the coals burn to bring the internal temperature of the smoker up to the temperature that you want to smoke at.
The door that is at the base of the smoker is used to regulate the temperature. The further you open the door the more oxygen is allowed into the drum smoker to feed the fire.
More oxygen means a hotter fire and a higher temperature smoke, whereas less oxygen means the fire will not burn as hot and the temperature of the smoker will be lower.
Smoking Meat in The Drum Smoker
While cold smoking in a drum smoker is possible it will be challenging. One option is to use a cold smoke generator in the base of the smoker instead of a fire, or you could place the fire on one side of the drum and hang the meat on the other.
Regardless of whether you want to hot smoke or cold smoke you’ll want to light the smoker and let it heat up for around two hours, bringing it up to temperature making sure that the drum smoker is maintaining the temperature that you want. Use the door in the base to regulate the temperature.
Next, hang the meat that you want to smoke on the stainless steel rods and close the lid. Do not open the lid unless you need to. Instead, simply monitor the temperature with the thermometer that you have installed.
When hot smoking you can use a meat thermometer that you can read from the outside of the smoker to see how the cook is progressing.
To extinguish the smoker simply close the door and lid until the fire is extinguished.
Smoking is a flavorful and fantastic way to cook meats, but by simply lowering the temperature of the smoker we can also use smoke to preserve meat.
A drum smoker is a build that most of us can achieve success at with relative ease with minimal expense, but the process of smoking meat has a learning curve that is only overcome by taking the time to experiment and get to know your smoker.
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