Email John
Last update 12/09/2010

Oil Drum BBQ Pit

Custom Search

pits BBQd since 01/29/2009
My BBQ from John G's BBQ was regionally famous.  I was taught how to do it right by an old black fellow named Mr Woodall who operated Woodall's BBQ in Decatur, Alabama for about 60 years.  I remember eating there as a small child when tomorrow's meal (chickens and pigs) ran around under your picnic table under an open shed. 

My pit was huge and of course, impractical for family use.  I designed a pit using a 55 gallon open top oil drum that almost exactly duplicates the conditions in my big pit.  When I lived in Atlanta I built and sold a couple hundreds of these pits.  This pit is cheap to make, cheap to operate and does wunderful BBQ.  Here's how to build it.


This is an overall view of the pit.  The two most important ingredients to making good BBQ are burning some fat and blue smoke.  Blue smoke means that the fire is burning a flame and not smothered down.  A smothered fire makes white smoke that leaves bitter creosote on the meat.  A flaming fire makes a lot of heat so the meat has to be spaced properly above the flames or it will burn.

Details of the fueling door.  This door was cut out with a cut-off saw.  The piece that was cut out was made into the door by tack-welding strips of 1"X1/16" steel strapping.  Before welding, the strapping was heated with an acetylene torch and tapped to fit the INSIDE curvature of the drum.  Allowing for spring-back, the curve when cool perfectly fit the drum.  the fit is important, as it regulates the air flow to the fire.


Details of the door construction.  The metal about half overlaps the door steel.  If a welder isn't available then pop rivets or sheet metal screws will work fine.


Latch details.  This is a standard woodworking hold-down toggle.  it holds the door firmly shut.  Note that the foot is reversed. The rubber cannot withstand the heat so the latch makes metal-on-metal contact with the door.


Inside view of the pit.  The grills are standard weber replacement grills, available at Wallyworld, etc.  There are several grades of grills available.  Try to get the heaviest grill.  The grill pins retract so that the grill can be lifted straight up and out.



Detail of the grill pins.  This is constructed of half inch round stock and half inch ID DOM tubing, both available at the big box stores in the metal stock department.  The end is heated and hammered over to make the handle.  Inside, the end is heated and upset just a little to keep it from pulling out.



Detail of the inside of the grill latch.


Detail of the stack.  This is most important, as the stack is primarily responsible for regulating the fire.  The stack is 1.5" OD x 3.5" tall.  Exhaust pipe or EMT works equally well. (Yes, this stack is a bit larger and as a result, I have apply a damper.)


View of the top of the pit.  When selecting a drum, choose one that is perfectly round.  If it isn't then the lid won't snap onto the drum and remain there without the band.  It is important that the fit be almost air-tight.  If it is loose enough that smoke leaks out then the fire will burn too hot.

The most important thing for getting that sweet savory hickory flavor without any bitterness is that the smoke always remain blue.  I fire my pit with split hickory logs.  I start the fire with a gas lighter and let it burn for maybe an hour before putting the meat on.  This is time to allow some coals to form and the flames to receed.  Put the meat on, put the lid on and go relax.  One load of fuel (3 sticks of split, cured wood) will run the pit the whole duration.  Eight to 10 hours is a normal cook time. 

With boston Butts, cook the meat until the bone can be lifted away from the meat.  At that point the meat is falling apart.


For ribs, I let the fire burn down a bit more, maybe 2 hours.  I have some racks that let me stand the ribs vertically.  They cook relatively rapidly - about 3-4 hours.

This pit can also be used for conventional grilling.  Simply place some charcoal in a pan or on foil on the bottom grate and grill on the top, with or without the lid.  It does wunderful chicken that way.  I like to do whole splits - chickens that have been split in two.  A split is a meal.

Secret BBQ sauce for ribs and poultry -  Mix half an half Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ sauce and any generic sauce such as Kraft's BBQ sauce.  Add just a touch of vinegar and some celery seeds.  Mix up and baste the chicken or ribs during the last half hour.  Apply a coating and let it carmalize.  Apply a second coat and allow it to carmalize.  Optionally a third coat.  So damned good you can't stand it!