Serious barbecue cooks demand smoker grills, with covers, separate fireboxes and cooking compartments and designs to have wood smoke flow around the meat. Weekend grillers are less picky -- a box to hold charcoal and a grate for hamburgers or steaks is just fine. Building a big smoker oven is a major undertaking. Making a basic charcoal grill just requires a round container and some metalworking or welding skill.
Find a Container
You can make a basic charcoal grill from a 55-gallon drum, an old compressed air tank or almost any other round or cylindrical container. Avoid any which have held petroleum products; those require extensive cleaning and careful handling. Be creative -- one do-it-yourselfer salvaged water tanks from an old concrete mixer truck. Clean any container thoroughly before starting work on it.
Customize Your Grill
Fit the grill to your lifestyle. You can make a horizontal grill from a drum cut in half lengthwise, with a big cooking area, or a small grill from a round compressed air tank split horizontally. Use a rotary tool equipped with a fiberglass reinforced cut-off wheel to cut through the metal, and switch to a aluminum oxide grinding wheel to flatten sharp metal edges. Leave the grill area open or make a cover that lifts off or is hinged to fold out of the way. Put a handle on a cover, preferably with a wood grip which won't get too hot to hold when cooking.
Use steel angle iron to make legs to support the grill. Make a basic square or rectangle frame for the tank to sit in, place legs at four corners and add diagonal cross braces to strengthen it. Size the angle iron to the weight and shape of the tank, a low frame on a vertical 55-gallon drum, taller legs on an air tank version. Put wheels on two legs to make the grill easier to move. Use old lawnmower wheels or some salvaged from a luggage carrier. It's best to weld angle irons together, but you can drill holes and secure them with bolts and nuts.
Buy or Make a Grate
Buy a grate to fit your container at a building supply or cooking equipment store or make one to fit. You can use expanded metal flooring cut to size, thin steel reinforcing bars or any similar material. It must be resistant enough to heat that it will not melt or bend when subjected to charcoal heat. Install lips or supports on the edges of the cooking chamber so the grate can be easily removed for cleaning.
Think about how you'll use the grill before you start building. Don't build a big 55-gallon drum cooker if all you ever grill is hamburgers for two. Consider where you'll store it if you use it infrequently; a heavy grill may be hard to move out of the way. Plan some way to clean the ashes easily, perhaps with holes cut in the bottom and covered with movable shields.
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