A beer-drinking buddy of mine recently turned an old beer keg into a smoker and BBQ. All of us thought this was a great idea but we were never sure whether it would work or not.
So we were all surprised when, after working on it as a simple DIY project, this recycled beer keg he found at a garage sale turned into one of the best smokers we have ever seen. And it looks pretty cool too – well, to us beer enthusiasts it does!
It got us all thinking about the ways we could reuse or upcycle those old metal beer barrels, and maybe turn them into essential household items or give them other cool uses.
Most beer enthusiasts have an old beer keg knocking around somewhere, we recently found about 40 kegs when clearing out an old storeroom in the community center where we meet for our brewing club. Some were kegs that had been filled with beer from breweries, while many were perfect draft kegs that had been used for homebrew projects.
Just a few minutes of searching on the internet brought up pages and pages of Pinterest or forums containing a variety of creative methods to turn these old kegs into sometimes useful, sometimes cool, and sometimes just plain strange new items.
With the majority of beer kegs being made from stainless steel, they are the ideal base for many DIY projects. As stainless steel is a solid metal, they are durable, clean, and buff up to a nice shine, as well as being ideal for either indoor or outdoor use.
So if you have a few old kegs lying around, then crack open one of those cans of beer you have been saving while you decide what your next DIY project is going to be. I guarantee that after perusing some of these ideas, you will be hunting for an old keg to convert into one of these popular items.
Maybe you’ll be asking your local restaurant or brewery if they have any beer kegs that are coming to the end of their life. Just please ask first, as it’s never cool to snag a keg that can be reused from a brewery without asking first, it’s also highly illegal.
Safety When Recycling Old Beer Kegs
If the old beer keg you find still seems to have several pints of beer in it you will need to drain it first. Be sure you wear some protective footwear before moving the keg about as a half-empty keg of beer can still be quite heavy.
Obviously, it’s not just about the beer inside the keg but also the pressurized gas which may still be present in the barrel of beer. You should start by spinning the keg so it is on its side and facing away from you. Using a spanner, you should try hooking it onto one of the handles on the shoulder of the keg with the other end of the spanner pressing against the gas release valve or ball of the keg.
When in place, you should find the pressure starts to slowly release, you may hear a slight hissing sound as the gas slowly escapes. There is sometimes a lot of pressure still in the keg, so you should repeat this process 3-4 times to ensure you remove all the pressure that has built up inside.
The most dangerous thing about draining the keg of beer is the pressure – once you have released the pressure the rest of the process is very straightforward.
You can either simply open the tap and allow any leftover liquid to drain out, or you could even remove the spear and coupling to fully empty the keg. This way you can properly clean inside the keg too. Just make sure ALL the pressure is released before attempting to remove the spear. Many of my buddies have spear-shaped holes or dents in their garage ceilings – they’re just lucky they hit the ceilings first!
Old Beer Kegs in the Garden
One of the most popular uses for old kegs of beer will be outdoors. The anti-rust properties of stainless steel mean they can be weatherproof under even the most extreme of conditions. From garden furniture projects, fire pits, BBQs or smokers, tables, and chairs, to even a simple planter, the uses of an old keg in the garden are limited only by your imagination.
Perhaps one of the most simple but effective uses for these popular beer containers is as a planting pot for the garden. With varying keg sizes, there are many size options for your planting bed. You can use full-size kegs, older-style wooden barrels, or even those cute (as my wife calls them) mini-kegs that you find Heineken in.
Turning your old keg into a planter is quite simple. Just use a circular saw or angle grinder to cut the keg in half and then fill it with fertilizer and you are ready to go. For some larger plants a half keg could be used to protect the plant and as a barrier by removing just the top of the keg, filling it with fertilizer, and then drilling a few holes to allow the water to drain through.
Beer keg tables are the ultimate in beer lovers’ chic furniture. It can be as simple as placing a glass sheet on the top of an old keg, or you can get more elaborate using old wooden barrel-style kegs. if you are using wooden barrels or thinking of fitting a wooden top to the keg, bear in mind that you will need some basic woodworking skills.
If the primary material of the keg is stainless steel, be warned that it can get extremely hot during those summer months. Wooden barrels tend to make more rustic-looking tables and, although not as durable, can be easier to move around your backyard.
These industrial-looking tables are also perfect if you have a “man cave” where you and your buddies gather to drink beer.
Chairs or Bar Stools
Of course, if you are going to make some tables or just little snack tables out of those old kegs, you are probably going to need somewhere for your guests or family to sit. You can save lots of money by refashioning those old kegs into benches or garden chairs.
At the simplest, you could just use a couple of kegs as the ends of a garden bench with a seating surface screwed to the top of the two kegs. But if you want to be more ambitious, you can often find kits on Amazon or at your local hardware store which could help convert an old keg into a comfy chair or bar stool.
You can simply drill a hole into the top of the old keg before attaching a swivel platform with a padded cushion seat.
Stainless steel, being a fire-resistant material, makes an old keg the ideal choice for a homemade fire pit in your backyard. In terms of how much wood it will contain, the size can vary and it could be as simple as just cutting a keg in half and sinking it into a pit, or it could be a more elaborate overground model. I’ve seen some fire pits made with old kegs which have had doors cut into them, grates for raising the wood and lids, etc.
Depending on how comfortable you feel with power tools and basic welding, you may need to call in a few buddies to help. But imagine those winter nights sat around a beer keg fire pit toasting marshmallows and, more importantly, drinking those latest winter brews.
BBQ Grill or Smoker
For me, the ultimate use for an old keg is to recycle it into a barrel-style BBQ or smoker. Although normally old oil drums are used to make barrel-style grills, I much prefer the idea of grilling my food in a beer barrel rather than one which use to contain oil.
Beer keg BBQs can be as simple as a keg with the top cut off and a grate fitted to the top, or they can be full-hinged devices where the keg has been cut in half vertically and then turned on its side for a full-size grill.
The minikegs which hold just 1 -2 gallons of beer, like those used in restaurants or often found as a keg of craft beer, can make small portable BBQs you can easily fit in the trunk of your car for your next camping trip.
There are plenty of online forums which have instructions for building a beer keg grill including this excellent one we found at Instructables.
If you want to get fancy and you or a buddy of yours can weld, you can even use kegs of different sizes to attach a smoking chamber to the side of the full-size keg for a more elaborate setup. It seems from surfing the net that this is one of the most popular ways of reusing an old beer keg.
If you are going to be cooking at those backyard grill sessions, you are going to need a way to keep your alcoholic beverages and beer cool. Simply cutting a beer keg in half lengthwise and filling it with ice is a great way to keep those beers chilled when entertaining and can be an entertaining talking point too.
A larger deconstructed keg with the top simply cut off can also be used as the perfect way of keeping a corny keg filled with your latest homebrew chilled. if you don’t have a kegerator or beer fridge this can be the ideal way of serving your latest brew to friends at your next cookout.
If you have kids, a fun project for reusing an old beer keg is to make a time capsule for them to fill.
The kids can use an empty keg to store their things and bury them. With kegs being made from solid metals like stainless steel, they can withstand the pressure of the earth they’re buried in, be more durable than plastic boxes, and help preserve the treasures buried hidden within.
Other Ideas for Old Beer Kegs
Kegs are a versatile bit of kit which can even be recycled for use indoors. With a little bit of polish, the stainless steel of a keg can be used for decorative items in almost any living space.
When cleaned up well, the stainless steel inside of a keg is a brilliant reflective surface suitable for making light fixtures or lamps. They can add that cool industrial look to your man cave or garage as well as serve as weatherproof outdoor lights.
You could also refashion old kegs for your homebrew setup. Full-size kegs make the perfect brew kettle and are a simple DIY project you can be ready to use in just a few hours.
In their most simple form, you can just cut the top off to make a perfectly sized brew pot or mashing tun. But you can also add more advanced items like spigots or thermometers to the empty keg to make a brew kettle that can easily transfer the wort and monitor the mash temperature more accurately.
And Finally……Beer Keg Urinals!!
You may not be crazy about the idea of beer kegs which once held gallons of delicious beer now being used as urinals, but you have to admit that these industrial-chic toilets are certainly a talking point. If you are thinking of opening your own craft beer taproom or a brewery, this option at least shows a commitment to quality draft products (sort of!).
You will require some plumbing skills, however, if you decide to go down this route. It may be best to enlist the help of a professional plumber to ensure your chic keg urinals don’t leak and are installed correctly.
What to Do With Old Kegs – Final Thoughts
Hopefully, I have given you a few ideas on what to do with those old kegs which have been lying around at the back of the garage for many years. I know my beer-drinking buddy and I have certainly had some fun thinking of inventive ways of making use of those no-longer-used but still-beloved beer kegs.
If DIY isn’t your thing, there are other ways of disposing of those unused kegs – don’t just take them to the local landfill site.
One of the most common ways to dispose of old kegs is to return them to the brewery that supplied them. Many breweries have keg management programs in place that allow them to reclaim kegs from their customers. Once they receive the kegs, the brewery will inspect them and either refurbish them for reuse or recycle them. This is a great option for those who have a large number of kegs to dispose of, as it’s an easy way to get rid of them all at once.
Selling old kegs to a scrap metal dealer is another popular option. Kegs are made from high-quality stainless steel or aluminum, which makes them valuable as scrap metal. If you have a few kegs to dispose of, you may be able to sell them to a local scrap metal dealer. The amount you’ll get for them will depend on the current market price for stainless steel or aluminum, as well as the condition of the kegs.
Just be warned – please ensure you have ownership of the keg. Most kegs remain the property of the brewery which filled them with beer for sale, even if you did pay a small deposit on the keg. Officially selling a keg for scrap is classed as theft and many scrap metal merchants won’t buy old kegs due to the rise in keg theft. It’s probably easier to take the old keg home and refashion it into one of the simple DIY projects we have looked at above.