One of the easiest and least expensive ways to begin smoking food, a barrel smoker usually consists of a large cooking chamber made from a barrel with an offset fire/smoker box. To someone familiar with welding and the use of a cutting torch the barrel smoker is easy to make. If these skills aren't available, barrel smokers in a variety of sizes and styles are available from chain stores or individuals.
The first step in using a barrel smoker is to determine what type of food is going to be smoked and what type wood is best for that particular item. This is mainly a matter of taste with hickory, oak, or mesquite being the most popular choices but woods such as apple, pecan, or cherry also being available. Some prefer to soak the wood in water ahead of time so as to lengthen the amount of time before the wood burns out. For convenience, many cooks prefer to use charcoal for the fire itself and to maintain the temperature, using the wood solely to provide the smoke flavor. Regardless of the heat source, the fire will start out high and then die down to coals. Since the meat is cooked at a low temperature, discussed later, it is important to let the fire die down before starting the smoking process.
Next, the food should be prepared with any seasonings, marinades, or rubs. These enhance the flavor of the meat as well as provide a crust on the outside.
Barrel smokers use an indirect heat source, usually a small box mounted to the side of the barrel. This allows the meat to be cooked "low and slow", at a low heat over a long period of time giving the meat a chance to both tenderize as well as be impregnated with the taste of the smoke. A good example of the time required to cook most meats is 1 1/2 hours per pound at a temperature of 200-230 degrees.
While smoking, be sure and use the vents to control the heat, closing them to decrease the heat and opening them wider to allow more air and to raise the temperature.