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Best Drum Smoker: 3 Simple & Effective Solutions + DIY

BEST OVERALL

Oklahoma Joe's Bronco Drum Smoker
Oklahoma Joe's Bronco
4.6/5

BEST FIXED TEMP

Pit Barrel Cooker Classic
Pit Barrel Cooker Classic
4.4/5

BEST QUALITY

Gateway Straight Up 55G Drum
Gateway Straight Up 55G
4.8/5

DIY OPTION

BPS Stainless Steel Drum Smoker
BPS Stainless Steel Drum
4.4/5

Well priced and easy to use with delicious results – a drum smoker is a great choice. They’re ideal for cooking a lot of food in less time than many other types of smokers, and they’re perfect for multiple racks of ribs, briskets, whole fish, or chicken. Buy the right one and you’ll even be able to grill on a drum smoker too.

But, which is best? In this article, we share our experience and favorites cooking on drums to help you choose the one that’s right for you.

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Table of Contents

How I Selected the Best Drum Smokers

Over the years, I’ve used my fair share of drum smokers.

I’m a fan because they’re one of the easiest and more hands-off types of charcoal smokers out there, and they’re usually pretty affordable too. Throw in the fact that they can smoke up a whole heap of food with a very reasonable amount of charcoal and to me, they’re a winner.

Pit Barrel Cooker vs Oklahoma Joe's Bronco

But, not all drums are the same. Here’s how I tested each drum before picking my favorites to share with you:

Low and slow is the primary task of any drum smoker so, I tested, tested, and tested some more.

Each model reviewed here (plus the one’s that didn’t make the cut), was cooked on multiple times. The most popular smoking meats were trialled including pork ribs, pulled pork, and whole chicken. Although I usually test brisket on every single smoker I get, I haven’t done brisket on all of these drums just because it’s such a big heavy cut for the hooks and often doesn’t fit across standard drum smoker grates.

For consistency, I used the same brand of lump charcoal, used Hardcore Carnivore dry rubs, and cooked to temperature as well as time with the help of the MEATER thermometers.

I have smoked on each of these drums using the provided hooks, and on the provided grate to give me a better all-round picture of their performance.

If a grilling setup was detailed in the instruction manual for these drum smokers, I tested it as well as it’s low and slow performance.

I know that people do successfully balance or modify dedicated smoking only drums so that they can grill as well. But, for the purpose of this review and buying guide, I wanted you to see the performance out of the box with no modifications necessary.

Cheap drums just don’t last. A lot of people think you can get away with poor quality in a drum smoker but, they’ll rust through after hardly any time at all becoming a useless piece of junk.

So, I’ve carefully looked at the build quality of each and every one of these drum smokers. You’ll see notes here about what each are made from and how durable I’d expect them to be. However, all of these meet my minimum acceptable standards for quality of build. They should last more than a few seasons of regular use. Do try to keep them out of the rain though!

Drum smokers are a bit variable. As you’ll read about below, some drum smokers are pretty much set and forget with a fixed temperature range that you can’t adjust. Those don’t even have a built-in temperature gauge. Others give you the control.

If you can adjust the temperature on it, I’ve tested the accuracy of the built-in thermometer and taken note of how steady the temperature stays throughout the cook. You’ll see comments on it in each review below.

The Drum Smokers: My Top Choices

Below are my favorite drum smokers currently on the market. I’m particularly fond of the overall winner. It’s not so commonly talked about or recommended but it’s a really great, all round barbecue.

BEST OVERALL

Oklahoma Joe's Bronco

4.6/5

BBQ type: Charcoal drum

Material: Painted steel

Grates: Porcelain-coated

Capacity: 9 hooks

Heat range: Smoke & grill

Dimensions: 30″ W x 43″ H x 25″ D

Price guide: $$

Model: 19202089

Warranty: 2 years

I’ve used a lot of smokers over the years and this one always stands out as one of my personal favorites. The quality isn’t the best. But, it’s one of the only drum smokers that gives you low and slow plus high heat grilling without compromising at all.

This thing is built to do it all, Oklahoma Joe’s have thought through the design really well, and it comes with everything you need to smoke, grill, bake, and roast without having to fork out for any extras.

Inside, the quality’s not bad. The charcoal basket and grates are porcelain-coated to last well and handle the high-heat. Plus, the included hooks are stainless steel so they’re strong, dishwasher safe, and rust-resistant.

Oklahoma-Joe-Bronco-Unboxing

Being the more budget-friendly Oklahoma Joe, I don’t expect the barrel itself to last that well. I keep mine out of the rain as much as possible to try to prevent rust. And, although adequate, the parts fit together averagely. In fact, out of the box, I found the air intake pipe leaked grease on my patio. A bit of high-heat silicone to seal it better solved that issue but the stain is still there…

Performance-wise though, you can smoke some great food on this affordable drum. Unlike some models, you can actually adjust the air intake values to set the temperature to exactly where you’d like it. I found temperature regulation easy and reliable. The temperature gauge was a little off but consistent at least.

Oklahoma Joe Bronco Grate Capacity

To grill, you’re simply going to lift the charcoal basket up to it’s higher position. Then, use the included 18″ cooking grate as a full height grill. You don’t have to bend down inside the drum at all. You’ve got the flames licking your steak and it’s very sturdy because the Bronco was made to grill as well.

Grilling on the Oklahoma Joe Bronco

One basket of lump charcoal saw me through about 10 hours of low and slow smoking time. In really cold weather, I burnt through the charcoal a little faster but still found it long enough not to have to refill mid-cook.

Overall though, it’s rare to find a smoker that truly does a good job of both smoking and grilling but, the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco really does making it my choice of drum every single time.

Pros
Cons
BEST SET & FORGET

Pit Barrel Cooker Classic

4.4/5

BBQ type: Drum smoker

Material: Enameled steel

Grates: Stainless steel

Capacity: 8 hangers

Heat range: Approx 275°F

Dimensions: 21″ W x 31.1″ H x 21″ D

Price guide: $$

Model: Pit Barrel Classic

Warranty: 1 year

While I’m a big fan of the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco, the Pit Barrel Cooker is without a doubt, the best-selling drum smoker on the market and it has been for YEARS!

This thing is pretty much a standard 55 gallon drum that’s been cleverly designed to use your altitude above sea level to regulate the air intake and run this dedicated smoker at a fixed low and slow temperature for hours without having to do a thing. It’s pretty much like an off-grid, charcoal pellet smoker. It’s set and forget and really does make charcoal smoking hands-free.

Pit Barrel Vent

I will mention that the Pit Barrel Cooker runs a little hotter than most people consider low and slow to be. Sitting around about the 275°F mark, I found the results to be very similar to using a lower temperature, it just cooked that much faster. Ribs can be done in about 3 hours instead of the 6 I usually do them in. I’ve even turned out a pretty decent brisket in about 6.5 – 7 hours.

With the meat hanging, you’re not meant to get any burning at the bottom but I do find the lowest rib does get a little dried out and charred. The convectional heat rotating around the meat cooks it impressively evenly though.

Pit Barrel Cooker Classic Loaded at Start of Cook

As for quality, the Pit Barrel Cooker is really good. The enameled steel drum gives you much more durability than your standard drum. I don’t like the design of the lid though. Left it the rain, water pools there which does cause rust at the end of the day. So, keep this one out of the weather too.

With the fixed temperature, there’s no built-in thermometer in this smoker. Some people add them. I say, if you want to watch and adjust the temperature throughout your cook, go for something else. This drum is made to be left to do it’s thing and it does a good job if you let it do just that.

The Pit Barrel Cooker isn’t made to be a grill. You can kind of get by using it as one but it’s not the easy experience that the OKJ’s Bronco is.

Read our full review of the Pit Barrel Cooker.

Pros
Cons
BEST QUALITY

Gateway Straight Up 55G Drum

4.8/5

BBQ type: Drum smoker

Material: Painted steel

Grates: Stainless steel

Capacity: 306 sq in

Heat range: Approx 275°F

Dimensions: 23W x 23D x 40H

Price guide: $$$

Model: 309FB

Warranty: Limited lifetime

For unmatched quality, there’s simply nothing that currently rivals the Gateway Straight-Up 55G.

This thing is a bit of a mix between the Bronco and the Pit Barrel. You’ve got two standpipes like on the Bronco which, in my opinion, give you better airflow and movement than on the Pit Barrel. There’s a built-in temperature gauge, which is very accurate by the way. But, like the Pit Barrel, it’s set up to cook hotter and faster than your typical smoked temperature, with a semi-fixed temperature of between 250 – 325°F.

Check out these 4 hour ribs which are smoked to perfection. Heath walks you through every step of the way so you can do this at home too.

Everything about the Gateway is good quality. The drum is painted but can withstand up to 1000°F of heat, the racks are stainless steel, the welds are very good, and you can definitely feel the higher quality to it. The Gateway also comes with castor wheels which is a nice touch because this drum is heavier than most.

I especially love the charcoal basket which has a unique, narrower and taller design with extra vents in the bottom. One full basket will see me through about 14 hours of cooking time which is longer than both the Bronco and the Pit Barrel.

On the negatives, the Gateway Drum doesn’t come with your hooks for hanging. You can buy a rib kit separately so you can smoke up to 8 racks of ribs at one time but, factor that extra cost in if these are a must-have for you.

Rib hanging kit for Gateway 55G Drum Smoker

Some people prefer to run the Gateway with a heat diffuser plate as well. I haven’t personally tried it yet and have had good results on the Gateway without it. But, it’s an extra cost if you’re keen.

There’s also space to run two extra grates as well. Again, these are an extra cost which altogether, make this unit quite a bit more expensive than the competition.

At the end of the day though, the Gateway is capable of smoking some really good food. If your budget allows for it, I’d go for this because it’s so well built. Many competitions have been won on this Gateway Straight-Up Drum. Oh, and there’s a limited lifetime warranty, proving they stand by their builds.

Pros
Cons
BEST DIY

BPS Stainless Steel Drum

4.4/5

BBQ type: Drum

Material: Stainless steel

Grates: Stainless steel

Capacity: 362 sq inch

Heat range: Smoke

Dimensions: 55 gallon

Price guide: $$$

Model: 932BPS

Warranty: 1 year

Dreaming of making your own drum smoker? This kit from Big Poppa’s Smokers is my favorite, and the easiest way to gaurantee you’re getting a good build.

You do need to have some tools and skills up your sleeve. It’s not as simple as putting a barbecue together out of the box. But, it’s also not difficult to put together. For a quick look, check out the video below which guides your through the build.

Big Poppa’s give you two options, using your own 55 gallon drum, or a stainless one they sell. I would urge you to go for the stainless steel one, simply because it’s going to last a lot longer and is definitely food safe. Some drums have been used to store chemicals, and even if it is a food-grade drum, I’ve burnt them through in under a year of regular use. They’re designed for storage, not holding a fire in.

Once it’s together, you’ll have yourself a sweet, old school looking drum smoker that you can legit say you built.

Big Poppa Smokers Stainless Steel Drum Assembled

The dual bottom vents do a decent job of air intake and temperature regulation. The charcoal nest gives you about 10 hours of low and slow smoking time. And, you can get a lot of different parts so you can really customise your build. You can even fully automate it by adding the BBQ Guru fan kit.

Just be aware that by doing it yourself, you’re not going to get the same warranty back-up. Big Poppa’s do give you 1 year on the stainless steel drum.

Pros
Cons

FAQs About the Best Drum Smokers

Drum smokers are generally very easy to use, they give a strong smoke profile (which can be a negative to some), and they’re mostly a more affordable to use smoker.

Drum smokers are a lot easier to use than offset smokers, and while they can create really great results, I find the smoke profile on a drum, a little too strong for my liking. Smoked well on an offset, you can create cleaner smoke for good flavor without that harsh taste you can get from smouldering coals on a drum smoker.

Jump straight to our best offset smokers round-up if you’re thinking of going offset.

A good quality drum smoker, stored out of the weather can easily last for 10, 15, 20 years plus.

On the other hand, the steel on a repurposed DIY drum smoker can burn through in less than one season. So, you might be able to get your hands on a second hand drum for free or cheap but in my experience, you don’t get that much life out of them.

I prefer to use an all-natural charcoal briquette in drum smokers simply because they give a slightly longer and steadier burn than lump charcoal does.

Read about how lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes perform in our comparison of these charcoal types.

Or, jump straight to our recommendations for the best charcoal briquettes.

Jared Brown BBQ Expert Burning Brisket

Jared Brown, an avid lover of all things meat has a fearless enthusiasm for experimenting with anything that's grilling, smoking or outdoor cooking. With a wealth of experience across a range different barbecue types, Jared's got a real knack for helping others make a decision they're happy with, ensuring they find the perfect fit regardless of conventional notions of the 'right' choice. This unique approach has made Jared a trusted guide in the world of barbecue.

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