Jeff’s Smokin’ Keg

For the up-cycling project, I have decided to make a BBQ smoker out of an old beer keg. The reasons are making a BBQ smoker is simple really, I like good food and I like hanging out with friends. Smoking meats adds flavor while still allowing the meat to be very tender by cooking them for a very long time (a full rack of ribs could take up to 16 hours to cook).

The Inspiration

I started this project, by looking at different types of smokers. I found that there are three main styles and many ways to make them from up-cycled materials. The three major types are show below:

Vertical Smoker (source:http://bbq.about.com/od/smokerreviews/gr/Meco-Combination-Electric-Smoker-Grill-Model-5030.htm)

Vertical Smoker (source: http://bbq.about.com/od/smokerreviews/gr/Meco-Combination-Electric-Smoker-Grill-Model-5030.htm)

Commercial cabinet smoker (source: http://www.walmart.com/ip/Bradley-Smoker-BS611-Smoker-Bradley-Origanal/41249902)

Commercial cabinet smoker (source: http://www.walmart.com/ip/Bradley-Smoker-BS611-Smoker-Bradley-Origanal/41249902)

Offset Smoker (source: http:/ /www.thesmokerking.com/page4.html)

Offset Smoker (source: http:/ /www.thesmokerking.com/page4.html)

After looking online at home-made smokers, I saw that the most common enclosures were 55-gallon drums and file cabinets. This gave me the idea to possibly use a keg as the outer shell. As it so happened, one of my friends had a keg that had been sitting in his backyard for a while (at least two years).

Actual cabinet smoker (source: http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/78039/filing-cabinet-smoker-finished-pics)

Actual cabinet smoker (source: http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/78039/filing-cabinet-smoker-finished-pics)

My brand new (brand new like a used car) Keg!

My new Keg, only slightly used!

The Vision

The primary end goal of this project was to end up with a smoker, but I didn’t just want an ugly thing sitting in my back yard belching smoke. No, I needed to make it look good as well. I really wanted to maintain the college/fun/party aesthetic of the keg but I also wanted to eat out of it too. All of the keg parties that I have seen are not the kind where I imagine enjoying really good ribs or brisket. I wanted people to think “Oh cool, you smoked this in a keg smoker” and not “Ew gross, this was cooked in that thing?”. Naturally I turned to google to find a look that would promote the emotions I was looking for. After a while, I stumbled upon something that might work; the look of brushed aluminum. This look is popular in more modern kitchens and kitchen appliances. Since the keg is aluminum, This would work great!

How it was made!

Upon receiving the keg, I deduced that there was still liquid in the bottom using a highly technical swishing technique. I was slightly afraid of opening the keg but it had to be done. The first step was to release any built up pressure by depressing the ball valve on the top. It was surprisingly less vomit-inducing than I was expecting and only smelled like extremely concentrated vinegar. The next steps were to pry out the locking spring and pull out the top valve.

Prying off the lock spring

Pulling out the valve

 

It went much farther than I thought

It went much farther than I thought…

I then took the valve completely apart and take out the inner spring that keeps the ball valve closed. As I was doint this, I found a new way of putting it back together so that the rod was sticking up and the valve was the same direction. After that, it was time to clean the keg, valve, screwdrivers… basically everything that had touched this keg. There was only one thing for the job: bleach…. lots of bleach.

Taking the valve apart.

Taking the valve apart.

Finding new ways to put it back together.

Finding new ways to put it back together.

It needed just a bit of persuasion from the hammer.

Testing the new valve setup.

Lots of Clorox

Lots of Clorox

To ensure that the bleach killed everything in the keg and the valve, I let the bleach sit for a full 48 hours. I really don’t want myself or anyone to get sick (or start a super-zombie virus) from eating anything that comes out of this smoker. I then cut off the top of the keg and a ring about half an inch below that. This was to let the top of the keg sit inside of the bottom section.

Cutting off the top of the Keg (photo cred. to Roshan Mishra)

Cutting off the top of the Keg (photo cred. to Roshan Mishra)

The top is off of the keg!!!

The top is off of the keg!!!

But it still sits inside!

But it still sits inside!

I proceeded to polish the outside of the keg with a flap-wheel on an angle grinder to try to get that brushed aluminum look. In the future, I would definitely polish the keg before cutting the top off. Polishing it after, was like doing a drum roll on a giant metal drum… or it was exactly like that. Either way, it was extremely loud and I would like to thank my amazing roommates (Emma and Roshan) for putting up with the extreme ruckus that happened. This took a lot longer than I was expecting because the outside of the keg was smothered in once sticky residue from labels. My next step was to make the one inch holes for the intakes. Not having a 1″ drill bit, I had to get creative (always a dangerous thing). My solution, seen below, was to drill a lot of little holes and hit the metal between them really hard with a screw driver.

A bunch of really small holes.

A bunch of really small holes.

The end result of my creativity.

The end result of my creativity.

I then reamed out my hole with a big 3/4″ drill bit until the intake pipe fit. After the pipes were installed, it was a simple matter of putting in the pipe supports and installing my two grates. The lower grate is extruded metal to hold the coals and the top grate is a grilling grate for a Weber grill. I ended up having to shim the pipe supports away from the side of the keg in order to get the lid to fit back on.

The finished keg-smoker!

The finished keg-smoker!

Ball-valve to control air flow.

Ball-valve to control air flow.

Pipe cap to cut off air flow.

Pipe cap to cut off air flow.

Upper grilling rack for a Weber Grill.

Upper grilling rack for a Weber Grill. Extra long screws were used for the pipe supports to hold the grill grate.

Lower grate made of extruded metal to hold the coals.

Lower grate made of extruded metal to hold the coals. You can see the air intakes holding up this grate.

The Design Process

The design process for this project followed our design loop fairly closely. In blue was our group’s brainstormed design loop, and everything in orange was what happened in addition to this.

The design process. Blue is expected, orange was unexpected.

The design process. Blue is expected, orange was unexpected.

Alright, it kinda followed the design loop. There was a lot of activity between gathering materials, making a plan to use them, and executing that plan. The outside advice came from many places, almost all unexpected. One of these occurrences that was really helpful happened while talking to a home depot employee. He had built a smoker (“better than any store bought one and for a third the cost”) out of a 50-gallon drum that held apple cider. In addition to giving me a “killer” smoked cheese recipe, he recommended that I use three times the amount of air intakes. I also had a lot of help from my roommates, helping me think things through before I executed a plan.

Comparing reality to the vision…

Functionally, I am honestly not sure how this smoker will work. I have no reason to think that it wont work (except the whole winter thing that is going on…) so I consider that a success. I will update this after the Super Bowl and let you all know how it works.

Visually, I think that it did accomplish what I intended. I wanted something that looked very clean and presentable while still keeping the college/fun/party vibe about it. The air intakes definitely clue people into the fact that it is NOT a keg but I think that is alright. They don’t detract too much from the look of the keg. It was really hard to get the brushed aluminum look that I was going for because it was really hard to keep the angle grinder strait as I was polishing the outside. However, I think that the polishing that I did do looks good and made it look more like a clean, premium smoker instead of an abandoned two-year-old keg out of someone’s back yard.

Whats Next?

In the future, I fully expect that I will have this for a long time and make many wonderful meals in it. I hope to continue to refine this project as I continue to use it. Right now, it needs to be broken in. I hope to do this by participating in The Great American Tailgate (also known as the Super Bowl).

However, even before its first use, I have come up with some items to add. The first thing that I hope to do is to put a second meat grate below the first one. This will allow for more smoking area or the possibility for a very tall smoked something (maybe a turkey for Thanksgiving?). I also want to include a couple of thermometers to be able to measure the temperature at the different levels.

The second major item to improve is the hole in the bottom. While putting the air intakes in, I was originally thinking of having one intake that exited to the bottom of the keg. I quickly discovered that the oblong hole in the curved bottom was not possible (only after I had started the hole of course). I am currently looking at something to cover this hole so I can better control the intake of air into the keg.

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41 Comments. Leave new

How do you get the valve off

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Ashley Zimmerer
February 15, 2016 10:19 pm

I’m interested in your aesthetic. Do you think the finished project fits? I like that it’s functional. Does it take a long time to smoke something?

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This is a thing of beauty. To answer you in class question, it is probably stainless steel. That is typical for kegs. When designing for maximum corrosion resistance, you tend to get non-ferromagnetic steel.

How do you carry it? It looks hard to move around, and I imagine it cannot be moved until after it cools down.

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Shawn Sprinkle
February 14, 2016 7:08 pm

Cool way to reuse a keg. Hopefully it’s not too hard to clean!

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Nicholas Flood
February 13, 2016 2:28 pm

This is a cool and creative project. It is very much a “college aesthetic”. By the way, your keg is stainless steel (the photo of you cutting the keg shows sparks, which you wouldn’t get if it were aluminum). Anyways, good work!

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Awesome idea. Excited to hear how it works and how the meat tastes!

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Nice design loop diagram. Great explanation of the build process. I am glad to hear that you took cleaning it seriously. The final product looks good, polishing is needed but I am sure you can do that when you have time. You put it in use, Great! Good ideas for next steps, melting might be an issue.

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Thomas Brunsgaard
February 12, 2016 12:33 pm

I really like that you made a functional piece of art. When you get the time, you can dial it in and figure out how to make it work even better as a smoker. Could you re polish it and give it some sort of lacquer coat to prevent oxidation? The image above where it is buffed out looks really industrial.

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This looks like it was a really fun project to build. I’m surprised how hot the smoker got with a relatively small smoke stack.

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Great looking smoker, I want to make one of my own now.

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This is a really cool functional idea. I am excited to see what it looks like when you finish the outside.

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It was interesting to see your design process and suggested improvements. This is a really cool design and looks like it could make some delicious foods.

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Vision instantiated! Congratulations.

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This is an awesome project! Polishing the keg would probably add significantly to the aesthetic.

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Great job on the smoker. It seems as if you did a lot of research on how to make it. It is nice that people from everywhere were giving you advice. Props to the super awesome guy who gave the keg to you. You threw a lot of work into the smoker and it payed off. The air intakes were well designed, it is awesome that you can mostly control the air flow.

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Project came out looking great! Great idea to convert something like a keg into something that makes some delicious food! I like how you added the temperature gauges to make sure the meat cooks correctly.

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Useful! I’d love to have a smoker… I think I’ll definitely make my own someday! Looks cool.

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Great idea like the industrial look, interesting that you cut it around rather than lengthwise. What did you use to make a seal to keep in the smoke? Great use of valves to control the air flow.

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This is such an awesome project and I appreciate that you got outside advice to make your project even better. I also liked how you improvised your project as you went along. I love it!

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Joseph Yoshimura
February 12, 2016 12:16 pm

It looks very useful. Glad that you were able to use it for the broncos big game! Hope it makes your food taste delicious.

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Rachel Grosskrueger
February 12, 2016 12:16 pm

I love how you embraced the college kid type of aesthetic! I’m glad you actually got to use it and that it worked! I hope you plan on keeping it and use it more!

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This is a really cool idea. I loved smoked meats, there is a flavor to them that you can’t get from just grilling. It was also good that you cleaned everything. It’s really innovative to see the valve system to control air and temperature. Really cool project.

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Anfal Abdulrahman
February 12, 2016 12:15 pm

the process you went through is very interesting, and I like your final results, very impressing.

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Sreyas Krishnan
February 12, 2016 12:15 pm

Great idea for an upcycle project and glad that it works!

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A little beach goes a long way. Sounds like you should treat your neighbors to some fine smoked meats.

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This would be great to bring to a tailgate. Great execution on the project, I really like how rustic it looks and the direction you headed with the project

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Hey the smoker looks great in person. I like during your presentation, explaining how you got a lot of outside advice and took the time to carefully walk through each process to ensure high quality aesthetics and hygiene.

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Samantha Maierhofer
February 12, 2016 12:14 pm

Sitting in a yard for two year is quite a bit of time. I don’t envy you on having to clean it out but looks well worth the work. You put a lot of hard work and thought into it. Seems like it works well. Good job!

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Gardner Nichols
February 12, 2016 12:14 pm

This looks like a really high quality piece of equipment. Really good idea, it’s fun to that it is functional too!

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Awesome project, would never guess it would be a smoker. Nice recycling of kegs, do you know if kegs are recycled in any other way?

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cool college part aesthetic. nice job Jeff :-p I’d be interested to watch it in action and see how well it works.

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This looks like a lot of fun to make! Let me know if you’re going to make any modifications or a new one so I can help!

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Nice idea! I wonder if the keg passes some beer flavor to the meat naturally?

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College party aesthetic, i love it! cool project

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Christopher Coffman
February 10, 2016 12:34 pm

This idea is AWESOME. Great combination of the two greatest things on earth.

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Peter Brunsgaard
February 8, 2016 7:38 pm

Your smoker turned out incredibly well! Thank you for letting me taste some of your delicious smoked pork at the Super Bowl. You mentioned that you though you over cooked the meat a little, which made me wonder if it would be appropriate to put a thermometer on the inside of the smoker. That way, it would be a lot easier to adjust the temperature and know how long to smoke the meat for. The brushed aluminum look is really cool as well, it makes it look a lot classier than a simple old, worn down keg. In my mind, the most logical next step for your project is to practice on the smoker and enjoy your creation!

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I really enjoyed your report and your project. It’s great to have more meat smoking devices in this fine country and yours is one of the most unique!

Correct air flow is critical for a smoker and it seems like you created a good, creative system to achieve this. I think another meat rack is a good choice its always nice to smoke a lot at one time (smoked meat keeps well and it stinks to put in the time and only get a small amount) or get creative with what you can throw on the barrrby!

I like your choice of the brushed aluminum aesthetic why did you leave the top as is? Was that an aesthetic choice or another reason? Using up-cycled materials is difficult but I think it might be nice if the pipes were lustrous and polished like the body.

It turned out incredibly good looking. I hope the meats live up to it lofty aesthetics!

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Dude! That’s an awesome smoker! Thanks for feeding me during the Super Bowl! The meat came out great! Go Broncos!!!

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Wow! The keg smoker is a sweet build! I think polishing the keg shell creates a newly manufactured look to it. So, You 100% succeeded in your project with keeping to the college party aesthetic. Also your foresight to know that there might be possible contamination in the keg was a really good call, since you don’t want to be the guy to get everyone sick. If you wanted to add something a little more visually pleasing to your project, then how about a stand for your smoker? Its not a lot of supplies or a lot time to build. Plus would keep it off the grass or dirt. How is the Super Bowl BBQ/Smoked food party going? Go Broncos!

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Elyse Skinner
February 7, 2016 3:03 pm

This was a spectacular project Jeff and I think it is awesome that you took it on. You really improved and settled upon your final design since we last talked! I think it turned out really well with polishing the outside and bleaching every inch of it to make it look safer to cook food in! I really liked your design process and your descriptions of each step you took in designing your Keg Smoker. I definitely think you achieved your college aesthetic, but with a finished design. This is a great blog as well describing your thinking from your inspiration to your own plans for it in the future. I also like how practical a design it is. You took something that was taking up space for two years and redesigned it into something very useful and fun, and I think that fulfilled the assignment well. I can’t wait to hear how it works for the Superbowl and hopefully try some awesome food smoked in it sometime! Great project!

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