A few years ago, my father in law gave me a second hand electric smoker. It worked well enough, but had a limited amount of space and struggled in less than ideal conditions. A while later a co-worker loaned me his grandfather's smoker. It was big, ugly, heavy and filthy.
I played with for a few weeks and actually joined a competition with another friend. Needless to say, the first time we competed, it was a total disaster. It's a miracle no one caught on fire or got SERIOUS food poisoning.
Fast forward a few years. The borrowed smoker is now for sale. The guy I competed with ended up buying it. He tinkered with it quite a bit and became quite familiar with it's quirks and intricacies. So much so, that we made our triumphant return to the same BBQ competition we had previously failed at. With a lot of practice and a little luck, we did quite well. 1st place ribs, 3rd place pulled pork and third place brisket. Dead last in chicken. Admittedly, it was a VERY small event, but it felt good to win.
We now have an informal team, with a plan of participating in 3-5 cook-offs this summer. We also decided we might need a second cooker. Most of the stuff on Craigslist was overpriced junk or expensive high end gear. Then, one night on the web, I found the answer! A makeshift smoker made from an old 55 gallon drum. Thus was born, my version of The Ugly Drum Smoker.
Start w/ a 55 gallon drum, some screws and grill grates. A few holes here and there and you are close to being in business. The final step is the smoker basket. You will need something to hold the hot coals (the don't sit on the bottom of the drum). If you are pressed for time or not technically savvy, you might need to employ the help of a welder.
Up next, a high heat burn and then some seasoning. After that, you are ready to cook! I've done 2 cooks so far. The first was a bust, but the second time around was much better.
The whole concept is so simple, that all I could do was shake my head and laugh when it actually worked. You can literally set this thing up to run for as much as 10-12 hours and NEVER have to touch it. Unbelievable! It's ideal for larger cuts of meat. It's a brisket and pork butt machine! Ribs are good on it, but not great. I think it has to do with the direct (albeit very low) heat. Up next, my nemesis... chicken.