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What Have You Been Smoking?

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This weekend marks the official start of barbeque season! If you've already mastered grilling, and are ready to move up to the next level, welcome to the world of smoking. Just remember, grilling is like a one-night stand and smoking is like a marriage. You should prep the ribs the night before and start smoking them six hours before serving. It requires a certain level of commitment. But the commitment is only one of time; there is not very much work involved. It is also not a big financial commitment. There is no need to shell out hundreds of dollars for a smoker. Any barbecue can be used to smoke meats. But if you are into shiny new toys, go for the Smoky Mountain.

Larger barbecues are the best ones for smoking, because the grill sits higher, further from the coals, plus you have more grill space to work with. You will only be able to use half of the available grill space when smoking meat using the "indirect method”. If you are currently in the market for a grill, no barbecue works better with this method than an old-fashioned oil drum. Historically, wherever the US military goes, it leaves behind a surplus of empty oil drums. People in the West Indes used them to make Calypso's famous steel drums, but the GIs in Viet Nam turned them sideways, sliced them in half, and added a grill.

You can still find old-fashioned oil drum barbecues in Los Angeles. After years of searching, I found mine at "Sweet Daddy's" on the south side of Century Boulevard, west of the 110 freeway. Just keep an eye out for the barbecues lined up in the front yard, and if you hit the racetrack, you’ve gone too far. Some of the barbecues come with an attached smoker, which is handy if you want to maximize grill space and want to achieve an especially smoky flavor. Just remember that the metal is thin, because this really is just an oil drum which was not meant for this purpose. You need to add about 4 inches of sand to the bottom of the barbecue so that the hot coals don't gradually burn through the bottom. Sand can be purchased at home improvement stores, or stolen from your local playground. The only problem with Sweet Daddy's oil drum barbecues is that they do not have a trap door on the side for shoveling in more coal if the coals die down. With a truly long smoke, the coals will need to be replenished, and you will have to lift the grill right off the barbecue to add more. Commercial barbecues based on the oil drum model are more convenient, even if they lack the nostalgia of the genuine article.

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Or if you are a super-duper overachiever, you can make one yourself.