[gardeners] BBQ Pit Conversion from Oil Drum

Allen and Judy Merten (gardeners@globalgarden.com)
Fri, 09 Jul 1999 00:55:48 -0500

Hi Penny,
    Still a little groggy from the sedative for the MRI, but I 'll give
it a shot about the oil drum conversion. There are two types you can
make, horizontal and up right, with several variations like how to make
the lid or place the vents.
    Horizontal Pit: Lay the pit on its side, find the middle, and draw a
line dividing the barrel in half. Chalk usually works ok, you can use
spray paint also. Use a grinder, cutting torch, jig saw, even a hack
saw(last choice), to cut the barrel into two halves resembling troughs.
You will attach the two halves together with hinges later. In the bottom
half cut a square or rectangular door in each end, about the size of a
paper back book. Make the cut for the bottom of these doors where the
sheet metal and the ring of the end of the barrel meet. Attach this to
the barrel with hinges also. You prop these doors open to control air
flow. Alternative method is to cut out one rectangular door to add wood
and on the opposite end cut a circular hole for air intake. The circular
piece that you cut out is reattached to the barrel with a screw or nut
and bolt. You can move this flap left or right to cover most of the hole
to control air flow. It will not cover completely, that is not a problem
as you need some air flow all the time. You can get fancier to your own
ability. The top vents of the barrel should both be the circular type.
If you want to get fancy use one round vent and on the other end add a
smoke stack using two inch pipe and weld it to the lid or have one end
threaded, run a pipe nut all the way to the far end of the threads. This
will go on the outside of the lid. Place the end of the pipe with the
remaining threads through the hole and inside the lid. Put another pipe
nut or collar on these threads and tighten against the nut or collar on
the outside. They oppose each other and will keep the smoke stack in
place. The smoke stack can be welded in place if you have access to a
welder.  Some BBQ pits have the smoke stack on the top surface of the
lid. Some have the smoke stack sticking out of the end of the lid with
the smoke stack made into a 90* angle. It is best to mount a flap over
the smoke stack using the circular piece that you cut out of the barrel
for the smoke stack to be mounted in. Once again the smokestack flap can
be mounted with a hinge. The flap of course will control the amount of
smoke allowed to escape.
    The legs of the BBQ pit can be made from angle iron and attached to
the pit either with nuts and bolts or welded. You need four legs of
course and they need braces from each leg to the other. Some are braced
with an x brace. Some are just braced with horizontal braces. The x
braces are stronger. Most pits have at least one set of wheels, like
lawnmower wheels. I like to put wheels on all four legs. That way the
pit can be pushed or pulled much easier. If the pit rolls on its own it
is easy to block one set of wheels so that it doesn't go rolling down
the driveway.
    Add a handle to one end. Use wood for the handle, metal will get hot
and burn you. A wood rack added between the legs is nice but not
necessary. A handle on the lid is a must and it also must be made of
wood. A shelf attached to the bottom half of the pit just below the seam
where the lid and bottom meet is almost a necessity. It can be attached
with L shaped brackets, nuts and bolts, 6" to 12" wide and 1' to 2'
    Mount rods through the bottom portion of the pit just a couple of
inches below the seam where the lid and bottom join. These rods will run
from side to side. These rods can be welded into place or the ends of
them can be threaded and protrude through the sides of the pit so that
the can be attached to the pit with nuts. The grill will rest on these
rods. The grill is something that can be custom made or use light weight
grating or a mesh type metal. If the grill material is galvanized be
sure that you burn it off and sand or wire brush all the residue off of
it. Galvanized coatings are poisonous.
    It goes with out saying that the interior of the barrel must be
washed and burned to remove any residual material. Once it has been
cleaned, brush on a coating of vegetable oil and build a fire in the pit
to cook this oil onto the surface of the barrel to "season" it. Make the
fire real hot and then close the pit and all the vents. You will see
smoke escaping around the seams, that's ok. A BBQ Pit doesn't need to be
air tight any way.
    It is best to have some type of grating in the bottom of the barrel
to keep the fire off of the surface of the barrel to avoid the fire from
burning through.
    The vertical pit is set on it's end and  the lid is cut out by
cutting from the top down to the first rib of the barrel, across the
front to half the circumference of the barrel, and across the end of the
barrel.(the end is now the top since it is sitting on its other end.) If
you look at the barrel from the side you will see an L shaped cut. If
you look at the front of the barrel you will see a square shaped U cut.
Looking at the top of the barrel you will see a cut that goes from one
side to the other, dividing the top in half. This will be reattached to
the rest of the pit with hinges so that it opens kinda like a car hood
or trunk. It will need a handle.
    About 6 inches from the bottom of the barrel you will need to cut a
square or rectangular door to place wood inside the pit on a grating.
Once again attach it back to the pit with hinges so that the door opens
conventionally either right or left. It too will need a handle and a
latch to keep it shut.
    Inside the barrel about a foot form the bottom you will need to
attach at least 2 rods from side to side to hold a grating for the
firewood to burn on. Drill drain holes in the bottom of the barrel,
small enough that rain can drain out. Place sandbox sand in the bottom
of the barrel about 4" deep to keep the coals from falling through. Sand
will also keep the bottom of the barrel from being burned out. You will
need to repeat the procedure (except sand of course) at the top of the
barrel for a grating or grill to cook on.
    The door at the bottom can be propped open to allow air intake. The
smoke stack must be a 90* one like I described on the horizontal pit, or
a disc type vent can be cut out of the back side of the uncut top of the
pit, or in the top of the lid, reserving the disc to be used as a flap
or damper to regulate how much smoke goes out. You can get really fancy
if you want and make another rod and grill contraption about 2 feet
lower than the top one. The top grill should be 3 or 4 inches lower than
the cut you made to make the lid. This will keep the meat from falling
out. If you make a 2nd lower grill you will have to cut another door to
access the meat cooking on it. The closer to the coals the hotter the
smoke. The vertical pit will cook slower than the horizontal pit because
of the distance from the heat source to the top grill. The lower grill
would be for meats like sausage, chicken and ribs. They can still be
cooked on the top grill. The two grills come in handy if you are making
BBQ for a large party.
    I hope this comes in handy. I hope most of all that it is
    Please remember: Real BBQ is not cooked with a BBQ sauce on it. The
whole purpose of cooking on a BBQ pit with real wood is to get that
wonderful smoky flavor. You can't taste it if it is buried under a
tomato based BBQ sauce. You baste meat  to keep it moist and to
tenderize it. A good basting sauce is one part vinegar, one part lemon
juice, one part beer or wine, and one part water. Heat to boiling and
let simmer for 2 - 3 minutes. This concoction will break down fat and
tenderize meat too. One optional ingredient to add is a table spoon or
so of pickling spice.
   When you cook meat on a BBQ pit it is not a "cook out", it is a
    I learned to BBQ at my Dad's knee so to speak. In our younger years
my Dad, Uncle and I BBQued for weddings, holidays, anniversaries,
birthdays, baptisms, confirmations, etc.
    Bastrop Co.
    SE Central Tx.