(*from Sunset magazine, May 1984)
"These unconventional steel barrel barbecues are ideal for large-scale barbecuing. In each barrel, you can took up to 40 pounds of beef roasts or 20 chicken halves at one time.
The barrel barbecues are relatively inexpensive, simple to make, and easy to transport to parks or campgrounds. Because you can cook a lot of food at once, they are especially popular with groups. In northern California, the California Cattlewomen's Association often cooks up to 600 pounds of beef at a time, using 15 barrels. The Jones County Volunteer Fire Department has made a specialty of barbecued chicken cooked in a barrel
Used steel barrels (also called drums) aren't hard to find. Check the yellow pages under Barrels & Drums or Steel Distributors & Warehouses. Ask for a 50-to 55-gallon steel drum with removable lid. Check to see that the lid fits tightly (to eliminate heat loss during cooking) and, if possible, select one with a 2-inch threaded pouring hole in the lid.
Be sure the drum is either clean or reconditioned. Never sue a barrel that has contained pesticides or other poisonous substances (it should have a skull and crossbones or an equivalent warning painted on the side). Expect to pay $20 to $25 for a barrel. You'll find the other items readily available at a home improvement center. Making the barbecue, with help or do-it-yourself
The easy way out is to take your barrel to a welding shop and have them cut out the bottom, make the side and lid vent holes, and weld the handles to the lid. We found welding shops charge from $20 to $45 for this work. You'll still have to make the vent covers and mount the grill yourself.
If you have the time, muscle, and a few tools, you can do the complete job yourself. Besies the barrel, you'll need a hammer, 3/4-inch cold chisel, metal file, electric drill with 1/4- and 3/4-inch high-speed bits, heavy-duty metal shears or saber saw, two 6-inch metal gate handles with bolts and nuts, two 1/2- by 34-inch lenghts of steel rod (steel reinforcement bars work well), two 1-1/2- by 8-inch metal straps, four 1/8- by 1-1/2-inch stove bolts with nuts, about 24-1/8-inch washers, and two round ends cut from a 1-pound food can.
You'll also need a 21- to 22-inch-diameter barbecue grill (or cut a round of non-galvanized steel screen just smaller than the inside dimension of the barrel), two bricks, and a container such as an oil drain pan for the charcoal.
Set barrel lid aside. Build a big enough wood fire inside the barrel to blaze out of the top; let it burn until the inside surface is burned free of all substances. When cool, empty ashes, hose clean, and let dry.
Using the hammer and cold chisel, cut out bottom just inside the rim. This process requires some determined, noisy banging. Hold the chisel at about a 30 [deg.] angle as you cut sideways around the rim like a can opener. With bottom cut out, use the hammer to bang any sharp edges that against the sides.
Bolt the handles to opposite sides of the lid through predrilled holes. If your barrel lid does not have a hole, draw a 2-inch circle on lid about 2 inches in from rim. Just inside the circle drill a ring of small pilot holes, then punch out the circle with the hammer and chisel, or use a saber saw or metal shears. File sharp edges smooth.
Use the same method to make a second air vent in the side of the barrel, about 4 inches above the bottom (see diagram).
Make covers for the vents using the round can ends (or scraps of steel). Bend the metal straps as shown in the drawing and predrill holes through them and barrel; using stove bolts through the holes, attach straps to each vent cover and to the drum side and lid. Use washers to help ensure a tight fit. Vent covers should pivot easily.
To install the grill support bars, drill or punch two pairs of 3/4-inch holes on opposite sides of the barrel, about 12 inches apart and 9 inches down from the top rim. Run the metal rods through the holes. Set grill on support bars.
To hold the charcoal, you can use an oil drain pan (available at auto parts stores for less than $4), the base from an inexpensive round portable barbecue, or even an old plow disk. Punch holes for ventilation in pan or barbecue sides about 2 inches apart just above base."