The toughest part of this whole project was tracking down a food quality 55 gallon drum and it took a better part of a year to get one, so be prepared for a long hunt. I finally landed a barrel that had contained honey at one point in it's life and at the time I found it, it was being used as a trash can with barrel liners. In fact when I got it home, you could still see some of the honey residue inside of it. The barrel was lined with a tan epoxy and there is two ways to go about removing it. The easiest would be to take it to a body shop and pay to have it sand blasted inside and out, a few have even then had the body shop powder coat the outside for them. The cheapest way is to load it up with wood and burn it out, which is the technique I chose. Before I lit my fire I drilled four 3/4" hole around the bottom for intakes. It's important to do this before the burn as it will guarantee plenty of airflow for a good hot fire. I used this as an opportunity to burn up all the limbs I had collected from my yard over the last year as well as an oak log that was had been a yard ornament with the families last name carved into it. I did two burns that totaled 6 hours and this was enough to burn off all the paint from the outside of the drum, but I still had a fair amount of the liner left inside. I used a 3M Rust and Paint Remover drill attachment wheel that I found in the paint removal aisle at Lowe's. It took me about an hour to remove what was left of the liner as well as some rust that had formed from it's previous life.
When it came time to drill the holes for the cooking grate I had to do a little math to find out how far down to put the cooking grate. What you want is to have the cooking grate 24 inches from the bottom of the charcoal basket, with 2 inches below the charcoal basket for ash buildup. My barrel was 34 inches tall, so I did some simple math and came up with having a cooking grate 7 inches from the top of the drum.
Seasoning is an important step, the better seasoned a smoker is the more flavor you food will have. Now I'm not talking about having a pit or a grate that is so disgusting your spouse or kids would not eat out of it, but you do want the pit to be good a greasy. The seasoning process is as easy as spraying down the inside of the cooking chamber with Pam or covering with any cooking oil, then start a basket of charcoal as if you were going to be actually cooking. Then let the pit come up to cooking temperature 225º-275º F. Be sure to throw quite a few chunks of wood on there, like hickory, to help the seasoning process.
My extra's to this grill include a 6 inch piece of 2 inch conduit for a stack as well as a coat hook to the under side of the lid, which gives me a place to hang the lid while tending to the pit. I have plans to put a handle on the lid as well as two handles on the side of the body to make it easier to move around. I also have plans for adding a table to the side so I have a place to set things while I'm cooking. The paint is flat red Rust-Oleum 2000º High Heat Paint, that I picked up from Autozone. It took me two cans to paint the drum, but I also was forced to paint outside which is always makes painting with a rattle can difficult.
The thermometer required a 7/8 inch hole drilled just below the cooking grate, and is held in place with a nut and washer that attach to the back of the thermometer. This was the last hole I drilled because I wasn't quite sure where I wanted it. There are some who like the thermometer on the lid as appose to the side, which I found out from later cooks was because there is some big temperature differences when cooking in cold and windy weather. I have not had the opportunity yet to cook on a day where the temperatures got above 50º and the wind was not blowing. I will be sure to update you when some warmer weather comes along and I can get a better idea on how even the temperatures will be.