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The 7 Best Drum Smokers (Ugly Smokers): A Different Way to Smoked BBQ

best drum smoker

So you have been doing your homework and have discovered drum smokers. You have fallen in love with the idea and now are looking for good drum smokers to add to your backyard collection.

In this article, we will review popular models and help you learn what to look for in a good drum smoker.

There are many cheap drum smokers and even knockoffs in this business. Buying one of these knockoffs can be a costly mistake, but in this article, we reveal the top 7 best sellers and share what attributes we looked for in a good drum smoker.

We did all the research, compared specifications, and took consumer feedback into account to bring you this list. Some of the topics we discuss are:

  • What is a drum smoker?
  • How to pick the best one for you.
  • What to watch out for.

How we tested and Ranked these smoker grills

We check for specific features and quality attributes when rating these smokers. We also seek for features that would make the user’s cooking experience simple and enjoyable.

  • We look for Quality
  • Versatility
  • Efficiency
  • Value

What is a drum smoker?

Without turning this paragraph into a book, a drum smoker is exactly what it sounds like. A 30 or more gallon regular steel drum with a few holes, legs, handles, a charcoal basket, and a few grates, and you have a drum smoker.

These smokers are as simple as it gets. And although some people try to find ways of making these smokers sound as fancy as a NASA Raptor engine. Many call these smokers “Ugly smokers.”

Drum Smokers take advantage of the simple fact that hot air rises, and the cylindrical shape of the drum helps create a convection cooking effect. Drums also allow for vast amounts of cooking space, offering incredible cooking space compared to other smokers of the same size.

These smokers are great for cooking temperatures below 300 degrees F.

Who should buy a drum smoker?

I have a problem when people say, “You should buy this smoker because it will render juicy and tender meat.” That’s BS. The truth is that if you know what you are doing, you can smoke amazing meats using a homemade smoker or a $100 bucks Weber Smokey Mountain.

A drum smoker does not make food juicer than any other grill does. The way you smoke the meat and at what temperature is what makes food juice. 

Now, this isn’t to say that there are particular attributes unique to drum smokers. For example, drum smokers are notoriously known for creating excellent convection heating and cooking conditions that help keep meats moist during the smoking process. 

Here are other reasons why you should consider buying a drum smoker. 

Easy Learning curve

Contrary to what many believe and read on the Internet, drum smokers are relatively easy to learn to use. For example, the Pit Barrel Co Cookers only have ONE air vent. The vent can be adjusted at pre-set settings to reach the exact temperature to cook whatever protein you have in the smoker. 

Pit Barrel CO has these settings down to the sea elevation detail.

Sure, you have to handle charcoal, but you can’t run away from charcoal if you want authentic BBQ flavor.

Easy to transport and portable.

Have you ever picked up a 30-gallon steel drum? Well, if you have, then you know that empty these drums are not that heavy. Also, drum smokers are pretty much a one pice appliance, meaning there aren’t any offset fireboxes, wheels, side tables, large lids; it is just a drum. 

These aspects make drum smokers easy to transport and take camping, the beach, or a friend’s house.

The Height Advantage

Compared to offset smokers or pellet grills, drum smokers have very small footprints. Like most vertical smokers, drums often rely on height, preferring to use a meat hanger over a grill grate. If you don’t have much space on the patio, you can appreciate the free space provided.

Fuel efficient

Drum smokers don’t need a lot of charcoal to smoke and cook foods, making them very efficient. Compared to other charcoal smokers, drum smokers can cook longer with less charcoal.


This is the cool and true aspect of drum smokers; they are versatile and easy to transform into other types of cookers. 

For example, you can use some of these drum smokers as a grill, others as a baking oven, and cook different foods at different temperatures.


Now, this is one good attribute about these smokers; they are cheap! Now, I do not mean this negatively or condescendingly. These smokers are simple to produce and thus save a lot of money during production and passing those savings on to the customer.

Sure, there are brands trying to dress a steel drum into a thousand-dollar smoker, but the reality is that a steel drum with a few welded parts is not that hard or expensive to manufacture. 

Using a drum smoker

Using a drum smoker is easier than you think, and in a nutshell, the steps are simple. These smokers include a charcoal basket, frill the basket with charcoal, light up the charcoal and once the charcoal is lit and ready, set up the grates and pale the food in the smoker.

Adjust the air vents as needed to maintain the desired smoking temperature.

Once you find your favorite drum smoker, find a few recipes and get cooking!

How does a drum smoker work?

Drum smokers work very similarly to vertical smokers. There is a heat source or fire source at the button of the cooking chamber, and charcoal burns and generates heat. Heat rises inside the cooking chamber, smoking the food.

Things to consider when choosing your ugly smoker

There are many attributes that make a drum smoker a good one and a smoker that you will enjoy. However, we are going to go over the most important attributes you should consider when buying your next drum smoker.

Smoker Size and Capacity

The size of your drum smoker and its cooking capacity are important and should be considered before taking any steps towards a purchase. For example, you might think you need hundreds of square inches of cooking space, but if you are planning on only smoking a few racks of ribs a few times a month, a small smoker will work fine and can save you money. 

The larger the smoker, the more it will cost, the more charcoal it will need to operate, and it will also be heavier.

Take a minute to evaluate what type of meats you are planning on smoking and then hone in on the smoker size and what capacity of cooking space you will need.

Most drum smokers come in varying sizes, ranging between 18 and 22 inches in diameter, with anything from 500 to 2000 square inches of cooking space. 


Price is a deciding factor when it comes to buying any product. But these drum smokers’ prices can vary from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.

Don’t pay for bells and whistles that you won’t use or for unnecessary features. This is what drives up the price for these smokers.

Sure, there are amazing smoker brands that build the smokers using top-quality materials and parts, which is reflected in the price of their product, but there are quite a few poor-quality brands that charge a good amount of money for what to us is a quintessential, frankly useless feature.

Keep in mind that a fancy hook for your won’t make you a better cook.

Good and Useful Features

Why do I say GOOD and USEFUL features? Because a beer bottle opener is a nice touch, but it will do nothing for you when it’s time to smoke your first brisket.

However, features like built-in thermometers, cool-touch handles, well-designed charcoal baskets or boxes, and good quality grates will help you smoke meat better and improve your cooking experience.

Features like removable ash pans, plated steel cooking grates, charcoal clean-out boxes, and grease drains are all great features that make your life easier when it is time to clean the smoker. 

How Good Is The Smoker Built? Construction Material

Most drum smokers are manufactured from actual 30-gallon steel drums, which are pretty durable. However, the main difference is how the drums are treated and coated by the manufacturers.

Some brands apply an enable coating to the steel drum to make it more resistant to heat, and the elements plus the porcelain coating make it easy to clean.

Other drum smoker manufacturers simply paint their drums. Although this is a cost-saving solution, often passed to the consumer, the pain tenets get damaged at high temperatures and eventually start chipping off, and rust starts eating away at the smoker.

Then there are those who design their own drum smokers from scratch, using their own proprietary blend and mix of materials. My recommendation is to pay close attention to the material thickness being used to build the smoker.

Thicker metal will retain heat better and be more efficient but will cost more. Thin metal will leak heat and might not be a long-lasting smoker.

Temperature Control Effectiveness 

Many grills and smokers fail at providing good temperature controls so users can easily adjust the heat and control the fire. When dealing with charcoal smokers, airflow is what fuels the fire. 

More air means more fire, and less air kills the fire. Air vents manage the control of airflow through the smoker. The size and location of these air vents are crucial for their effectiveness.

A well-designed smoker with good temperature control is a dream to use and easy for you to adjust and make changes to manage the smoker’s temperature. 

Less expensive smokers are usually not that well designed, and their poor quality controls combined with cheap build quality make these smokers a nightmare to manage. Heat and smoke leakage are constant with these smokers. Any type of charcoal grill always has its own challenges regarding temperature control. The more consistent the temperature, the better the charcoal grill will cook food.

Easy Charcoal Access / Management

A meat smoking session will take long hours. There is a high chance that you will need to add more charcoal to your smoker. Although this might not sound like a big deal, imagine having to remove everything from inside the smoker, including the meat, to add more charcoal. Yeah, that can get old soon.

Some smokers have quick access doors to quick clip and rectory access to the charcoal box, making adding more lump charcoal easy. However, a lot of drum smokers lack this type of feature. 

If you do not mind doing a little work to add more charcoal, then not having access to the charcoal box will not be a big deal for you. If not, consider looking for a smoker with quick or easy access to the charcoal, because once you start smoking meats, having to remove the meat to add more charcoal is incredibly inconvenient. 

Easy to Use-User Friendly

The smokers we included in this list are easy to use, and we picked these choices with our readers in mind. The BBQ Grill Academy is a resource for everyone, but especially beginners. We wanted all the drum smokers on this list to be easy to use.

We gathered hundreds of pieces of feedback from readers and users and based it on how easy it is to use these smokers using user feedback. Smoke manufacturers claim their product is easy to use, but user feedback is honest feedback.

That being said, if this is going to be your first smoker, staying away from over-complicated smokers and choosing an easy-to-use smoker will make your smoking experience a dream.


We all want the most for our money, and if that also includes you, consider a versatile smoker. Outdoor cooking requires improvising sometimes, and grilling equipment that offers multiple cooking options is always welcomed.

Most drum smokers can also be transformed into great grills by moving the grill grates and making a few air vent adjustments.

We also recommend smokers that can work well with both lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. This flexibility means you can find fuel for your smoke anywhere. Get a bag of your favorite wood chips and have fun!


Lastly, consider the weight of the smoker. Heavy gauge steel is heavy, but it’s also what’s used to build good quality smokers. With that being said, if you are planning on moving the smoker around a lot, anything above 50 pounds starts getting harder to move.

Review of the Best Drum Smokers

1. Best Overall – The Classic Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel cooker accessories

The Pit Barrel Cooker Classic includes eight stainless steel meat hooks, a grilling grate, a hook remover tool, and a charcoal basket. The hooks in the meat hanging system offer greater flexibility and plenty of cooking space for large meat cuts.

Anyone can tell you what the smoker includes, but here is why we love the Pit Barrel Cooker. First, Pit Barrel is a great company with an amazing culture and inspiring story behind it. This family-owned business worked very hard to develop the Pit Barrel Cooker and takes pride in their product. Read their story and more about the pit barrel in our overview article. 

This smoker is versatile and easy to use and versatile. The Pit Barrel Cooker only has one air vent to manage. Add charcoal, set your food, and set the air vent to the desired passion. That’s it. There are additional accessories that add extra features to this smoker.

The Cooker can also be used as a grill using the provided grill grate.

Read our full PitBarrel Review.

What we like:

  • Easy to use Air flow temperature control system.
  • It can be used as a grill.
  • Real 30-gallon steel drum with durable construction.
  • A simple and effective meat hanging system.

What we don’t like:

  • There is no access door to the charcoal basket, but you can easily throw a few lumps of charcoal through the top.
  • No Internal Temperature Gauge.

2. Oklahoma Joe’s 19202089 Barrel Drum Smoker – Runner up

Oklahoma Joe Barrel Drum

Oklahoma Joe is a household and well-known brand and offers various types of smokers, including drum smokers. 

This is a well-thought-out drum smoker, and it shows in its features and quality construction. This smoker is built out of heavy gauge steel, and all internal compliments are porcelain coated for durability.

Included with this smoker are both meat hooks, an oversized charcoal basket, and a grill grate. 

This smoker offers great features worth mentioning, including a sealed top lid to prevent heat and smoke leaks, which also helps with temperature control, plus a well-designed airflow system to help with temperature control.

Oklahoma Joe’s unique airflow control system consists of two adjustable air duct systems, which are simple to use and makes temperature control simple.

Other great features are the built-in temperature thermometer, handles, and large wheels. Having a side shelf is also very useful.

What we like:

  • Easy to use Air flow temperature control system.
  • It can be used as a grill.
  • Very functional design with features like a removable ash pan and grease bin. This will help when it is time to clean the smoker.
  • Configurable meat hangers for hanging meat.
  • Sealed lid—this will help with temperature control and avoid smoke and heat leaks, offering consistent temperatures.
  • Large wheels help when it’s time to move the smoker.

What we don’t like:

  • We hate to add vague points to our Pros and Cons, and this is one of those locations where we are very happy with the value and design of this smoker. User feedback is very good with this grill.

3. Most Versatile – Big Bad Barrel Pit Charcoal Barbecue

Big Bad Barrel Pit charcoal smoker

The Big Bad Barrel design adds extra levels of versatility. While some barrel smokers are built out of a single steel drum, the Big Bad Drum Smoker is a two-piece barrel smoker.  

This drum smoker can be split in half to configure the smoker as a grill, pull the top portion to add charcoal, or for transport or storage. 

This product comes with 8 stainless steel hooks, 3 grilling utensils, a charcoal basket, and a stainless steel grilling rack. 

There are many accessories available for this smoker, and it can be used for everything from smoking meats to baking pizzas. 

What we like:

  • Very versatile many accessories.
  • Internal Temperature Guage.
  • Easy to transport in a two-piece design. 
  • Hanging rods and meat hooks.

What we don’t like:

  • The painting and coating on this smoker is not that of the quality of the Pit Barrel Cooker. Users have reported discoloration and paint damage during high-temperature usage. 
  • It is not as easy to manage the temperature.

4. If You Are Getting Started – Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker

The Weber Smokey Mountain is an all-time favorite and best-selling time period. The Weber Smokey Mountain has been around for many years, and it has a great and proven track record with thousands of reviews.

This BBQ smoker is an excellent option for beginners as it is simple to use and includes all the basics for smoking meat. This smoker is very well-liked and is one of the top charcoal smokers on the market. 

Other drum smokers come with a lot of bells and whistles, which is nice but also adds to the price and complexity of the smoker. This Weber is simple. It includes two cooking grates, easy-to-adjust air vents, a water bowl, and a charcoal basket. 

What we like:

  • It is very simple to use—great if you are new to smoking meats.
  • Built-in temperature gauge.
  • Two steel cooking grates, two levels.
  • It works great for slow cooking or using it as a grill.
  • Available in different sizes.
  • Two-piece barrels are easy to transport and clean.
  • Charcoal Access Door.

What we don’t like:

  • Many drum smokers include hanging rods.

5. Budget-Friendly – Real cook Vertical 17 Inch Steel Charcoal Smoker

The Real Cook vertical charcoal smoker

This is another budget-friendly, simple-to-use Ugly Drum smoker. This is also a two-piece smoker, meaning there’s a top section and a bottom section. You can split the smoker and have to store or transport it to two different places.

What we like:

  • A budget-friendly option
  • It includes a thermometer gauge.
  • It can be used as a grill.
  • Charcoal and cooking chamber access doors
  • Includes Meat Hangers.
  • Easy to transport.

What we don’t like:

  • Lots of parts to assemble.
  • It leaks smoke.

6. The Cuisinart COS-118 – Least Expensive

The Cuisinart COS 118

The Cuisinart Cooker is very similar in size and features to the Weber Smokey Maintain but it is lighter. This is a great smoker for those wanting something easy to use, simple, and easy to move around. 

What we like:

  • Easy to use Drum smoker.
  • Great Value.

It includes a cooking grate for grilling or smoking.

What we don’t like:

This is a bridge-friendly smoker, so it will not have some of the features and build quality found in the other drum smokers on this list.

7. The Char-Broil Bullet

Char Broil charcoal smoker

The Char Broil is another grill that falls into the barrel smoker pack, mainly due to its vertical shape, but it does not look anything like the classic Pit Barrel Cooker, which is a true steel drum turned into a smoker.

Yet, if you are looking for a good drum smoker, there are still options like the Classic Pit Barrel Cooker. However, if you’re looking for an easy-to-use charcoal smoker with a large cooking area, The Smokey, the Cuisinart, and this Char-Broil are all excellent choices.

These smaller grills are more economical and might not be the best cooking equipment you will ever buy, but you get a lot for your money.

This Char Broil still includes good features like a built in thermometer and a dual air vent system.

What we like:

  • It’s simple and easy to use.

What we don’t like:

It is not the best on our list, but it is a good option for those looking for something small and easy to use.

Are they easier to smoke than other types of smokers?

Drum smokers are simple and lack many complex components found in other types of smokers, making them easier to use compared to, say, offset smokers or Kamados.

One Last Word

If you are on the market for a good drum smoker the Pit Barrel Cooker is a great choice. The Oklahoma Joe Drum smoker is a great option too. The classic Pit barrel cooker is priced well and has great reviews.

If you are looking for a smoker that will last our top three options are of great quality and will bring you years of fun.

Enjoy Grilling



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