One trick to great BBQ smokers is that you can build a cooker all on your own for less than $200 by constructing an Ugly Drum Smoker. A “U.D.S.” as some call them.
“If you don’t include the lid you’re talking under $100″ says Seth Watari from Southern BBQ Network. Watari suggests a search on Craigs List to find deals on the Lids. Best to find cast-offs from Weber 22″ Kettles. Thaey are just the right size for the 55 gallon drums.
Watari very successfully competes in cook-offs throughout the South East and the UDS cookers work great. His “R-2-BQ” Star Wars themed smoker recently brought home the grand championship in Best Of Berkeley. One suggestion: Use high temperature paint where you can to customize. “I use a paint that withstands up to 500 degrees and if your cooker gets over 500 degrees – the paint is the least of your worries.”
One more advanced modification is the thermometer / fan control. One very popular brand is the BBQ Guru. The gizmo has advanced features including smart phone control.
The Ugly Drum Smokers are common on the BBQ circuit and you can find more details on how to construct your own HERE.