Five KCBS Entries on One Mini WSM. . . . . . . A new world record?

November 14th, 20139 Comments

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12-inch Mimi WSM built by Kris Almquist from AZ

14-inch Mimi WSM built by Kris Almquist from AZ at the Cowboy Up BBQ, Lancaster, CA

 

Pitmasters are a passionate and quirky lot. We treat our pits like loving family members and give them pet names. Some teams like to go big with custom RVs and 5th Wheels, and some, like me, like to go as small as we can with one minivan. We proudly define ourselves by the genre of pits that we use in competition. We have the Ugly Drum Smoker folks who like to fashion their own grills out of used 55-gallon drums, the Pellet Heads who like to cook with wood pellet cookers, the Stick Burners who like the torpedo-shaped propane tank pits, the BGE’s with their Kamodo-style Eggs, the Smokey Mountain guys and gals with their WSM-22 and WSM-18, and many others.

Dry run on the mini at my home

Dry run on the mini at home

 

On October 19, 2013, I fulfilled a crazy dream of mine to cook an entire KCBS-sanctioned contest, plus dessert, on a mini WSM. I got 4 out of 5 walks and finished 1st Dessert, 2nd Ribs, 8th chicken, 10th pork, 21st brisket, and 10th overall out of 41 teams. Read on if you want to find out how I pulled off this craziness!

 

Easy to transport as all the pieces fit in the Mini

Easy to transport as all the pieces fit in the Mini

 

What’s a mini-WSM?  It’s a hybrid pit made by marrying a ubiquitous Weber Smokey Joe with a tamale pot as the cooking chamber. The cooking grate diameter is about 13 inches. The pot has a cutout at the bottom to allow the heat from the Smokey Joe to rise upwards. In my particular design (and there are many variations), I had a pizza pan to act as the deflector much like the water bowl in a regular WSM. The groove at the bottom of the pot served as a ledge to hold the bottom grate and 4 screws mounted on the sides of the pot about 5 inches above the bottom grate served as a ledge for the top grate.  Add a little thermometer and Voila you have a little smoker for less than $60 in parts and some elbow grease.

 

Brisket flat cooked on the Mini, about 14 hours

Brisket flat cooked on the Mini, about 14 hours

 

I gave myself a 50-50 chance of making it work as it’s hard enough to cook an entire KCBS contest using one WSM-18 much less its smaller Smokey Joe cousin. The mini has a cult following on the Internet among backyard pitmasters but I’ve never heard about anyone cooking an entire sanctioned contest with one. My mini was built by Kris Almquist, an Arizona pitmaster friend who builds them for fun. When I saw Kris with his, I knew I had to have one. Kris delivered the mini to me at the October 2012 Dana Point contest and I used it to cook the required chicken breast meat entry at the 2012 Jack Invitational.

 

Rib rack fits perfectly.  Need to trim 10 bones on the St. Louis to fit

Rib rack fits perfectly. Need to trim 10 bones on the St. Louis to fit

 

Why would anyone want to do this? I have two reasons why I wanted to do this.  One, there is a bit of a “Southern engineer” in me and my natural curiosity made me do it. I love to tinker and take apart mechanical things and decades ago, I gave up an opportunity to pursue an engineering degree in the University of Manchester in the UK to become a 747 pilot for an Asian airline. I think George Mallory, the often quoted British mountaineer who perished trying to scale Mount Everest said it best that, “Because it’s there”. Besides, I may be the only pitmaster in the world who has won 10+ Grand Championships using one WSM-18 so, in channeling Dr. Spock, it was logical that the next frontier was to step down to the mini.

 

Steve Aguilar of Vicious Smoke BBQ put his brand new WSM-14 beside my Mini (brother and sister?)

Steve Aguilar of Vicious Smoke BBQ put his brand new WSM-14 beside my Mini to compare sizing; Note the cute mini charcoal chimney to match the Mini; The mini blankie is custom made and courtesy of Donna Fong of Butchers Daughter BBQ

 

In reason number two, if you have ever heard about runners who train by running with weight vests or Tour De France riders who train with heavier steel bicycles you will hear that they can run faster or cycle faster when they do the actual contest without the weight and return to their regular carbon fiber bicycle. I’m employing the same concept here to train myself to cook better on my regular WSM-18. The stress level and attention cooking on a mini-WSM is about 3 times more than a WSM-18. So when I practice on a mini, I’m able to cook better when I use the WSM-18 in a contest.  Make sense? This is similar to an ice-hockey goalie who practices his reflexes using a computer simulation which has the hockey pucks coming at him at three times the normal speed. In an actual ice hockey game, he is able to better perform because the actual hockey pucks are moving slower. Did it work? I will find out at my next contest to see if my little experiment worked or not. If it did not, no worries as I had tremendous fun cooking with the mini.

 

Southern Engineering with  bungee cord as the ribs were too tall. Note the briquette "insulators"

Southern Engineering with bungee cord as the ribs were too tall to fit. Note the briquette “insulators”;  Custom wood handles are courtesy of Marty Leach; Bungee courtesy of Dennis McGrath of Porketeers

 

How was it done? With only 13 inches diameter of cooking space and two racks in the main cooking chamber, it requires a bit of choreography to switch meats across the top and bottom racks.  For example, you don’t want to have raw chicken dripping on ribs cooking below.

 

Steve Aguilar of Vicious Smoke BBQ with his new WSM-14 just released by Weber

Steve Aguilar of Vicious Smoke BBQ with his new WSM-14 just released by Weber

 

I have two 13 inch racks in the mini so I cooked one butt on the bottom rack and a brisket flat on the top rack. The key was to be extra careful not to damage or mess up the butt since I only have one butt. It was challenging to be able to slice six nice pieces from one money muscle. I typically cook two butts to get six nice slices so it was stressful to have to check the butt constantly to ensure I did not overcook the butt. With the brisket flat, I could not turn in any burnt ends in my brisket box so I focused on cooking the flat perfectly.

 

A look inside the brand new WSM-14. Released in Nov 2013

A look inside the brand new WSM-14. Released in Oct 2013

 

I planned it so the butt and brisket would be done by 7 am so I could put the three racks of ribs in at 7:30 on a rib rack.  I had to figure a way to get 14 thighs into the bottom rack and have the 3 slabs on the top rack by 9:30 so the raw chicken did not drip on the ribs. Also, I had to solve the problem as one 13-inch grate was not enough real estate to cook 14 thighs.  So I purchased a third rack and a beer-can chicken roaster to stack a third cooking rack on top of the top rack. That way, I have ribs on the top third rack and two racks of chicken with 7 thighs on the second and bottom racks. This arrangement was based on the premise that my ribs were foiled by the time the chicken had to go in else I was in trouble as the mini is not tall enough to take the rib rack once the third grate was stacked on.

 

It was a Bolshoi ballet trying to even heat my sauces

It was a Bolshoi ballet trying to even heat my sauces

 

If you want to try what I did I should mention some tips and important safety issues.

1)     The Smokey Joe is not designed to run for 16 hours so the ash buildup will eventually choke your fire out.  So my cooking plan had me emptying all the ash at the 10 hour mark and reloading with a fresh load of coals.

2)     Be prepared to empty grease out of your deflector pan (I used a foil wrapped terra cotta pan) else you might accumulate enough grease from the brisket and butt to get a grease file.  This is very dangerous and will ruin your entire cook

3)     Use a blower system for the cook as it’s too difficult to control the temps by fooling with the Weber dampers on this small of a cooker. I used my trusty Stoker System from Rocks Barbecue

4)     Be sure to fashion a fire ring to prevent ash from choking your blower system air inlet.  My fire ring was created from some foil grill covers

5)     Get a fire-proof blanket to cover the mini to conserve your fuel.  I used plain old Kingsford Blue and got 10 hours before I had to refuel.

 

Sous chef Donna walking the 1st place dessert entry

Sous chef Donna walking the 1st place dessert entry

 

Did it compromise your cook? The short answer is yes but I already knew it would going into the contest.  It was a fun challenge and it made me appreciate my solo WSM-18 even more.

 

SYD crew at the 2012 Jack with the debut of the mini-WSM

SYD crew at the 2012 Jack with the debut of the mini-WSM

 

Will you do it again?  Yes.  After pulling it off and getting 4 out of 5 walks, I wrote down 10 improvements so I could do it better next time. I’ll be contacting my metal fabrication friends to build some more tools and props to make it easier and allow me to cook my regular two butts and one full brisket.  Stay tuned to my work-in-progress project.  I think if I can show everyone that you too can cook a contest with a $30 pit plus a $30 tamale pot, more people would not be held back by the cost of equipment to enter competitions.  Now, if I can win a GC using the mini, that would be an awesome personal goal.  Look out for me in 2014! I’ll be known as the mini-Man!

 

Some cash and bling from my first outing with the Mini!

Some cash and bling from my first full KCBS cook on one Mini!

 

9 comments... read them below or add one

  1. earl click says:

    Hahaha that is so funny. Love it! May the Lord bless this desire of the Mini Man’s heart.

  2. Harry Soo says:

    Have mini and will travel!

  3. BDSKELLY says:

    Respect Mr. Soo. Ive owned a mini for a few years now but usually use it for chicken. Spatchcocked. But it excels as a wing machine.
    Your smoke was over the top!
    B

  4. Justin says:

    Harry i have a question. How did you hold your butt and brisket from 7am to 1 and 1:30pm respectively. I just purchased a cambro myself and I can’t get those kind of hold times. How did you pull that off?

    Awesome read by the way! I’ve been reading and rereading your blog for years now.

    • Harry Soo says:

      I use a UPC 400 Cambro.
      You must not open the Cambro.
      Ensure your seals are seated properly.
      Ensure the vent knob, if any, is closed
      Ensure you don’t put one cooked butt into a cold Cambro.
      Use hot water to heat it up.
      I put two hot butts and one brisket so the thermal mass keeps it hot for many hours.
      Good luck

    • Justin says:

      Thanks for the quick reply Harry. How long do you vent your meats before going into the cambro? I vented for 15 minutes and I’m thinking that may have been too long.

      Thanks so much for all you do for new cooks.

    • Harry Soo says:

      Wait until meat cools down to 170F before you Cambro it. Don’t rely on time as ambient temps will vary

  5. Jason says:

    Hi Harry, thank you for this post I have a WSM Mini since the big brother was out of my budget. I’m having difficulty getting a smokey flavor into the meats do you have any tips? I’m using about 4 5 fist size chunks of wood.

    • Harry Soo says:

      Be sure the wood is UNDER the briquettes and not on top.
      For Lancaster, I used KF Blue with 2 tennis-chunks of hickory and 2 of apple. Brisket was 11 hours, butt was 8 hours, ribs 5 hours, chicken 2 hours.
      Add more wood during the cook and you’ll be good.
      Best of luck.
      Harry

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