Fire Control and Seasoning a New Weber Smokey Mountain pit

March 14th, 201467 Comments

 

BBQ Classes

 

 

How to control your fire and how to season a brand new WSM

One of the most common questions I get asked by from folks around the world who email me is how to season a brand new pit especially the Weber Smokey Mountain.  By coincidence, I happen to have the most popular Customer Review comment on Amazon.com since I posted tips on how I seasoned mine which I originally purchased in 2008.

Since one of my Giveaway winners from 2013, Jennifer G. from Oklahoma, sent me pictures of her seasoning her new WSM and she used my techniques, I thought it might be good to update and expand what I posted on Amazon so everyone could benefit from the knowledge. Consequently, this blog article adds fire control and drafting techniques as they are companion concepts to help you season your new WSM.

Please read on if you’re interested in these topics and a big thank you to Jennifer for providing her pictures of my seasoning process. The bonus is her yummy fatty creations that are a tasty by-product of the seasoning process. Here’s turtle fatty and a breakfast fatty recipe

Aug 2010 Amazon.com review – updated and expanded by Harry, March 14, 2014

My BBQ team Slap Yo Daddy BBQ from Diamond Bar, California, has been competing using these smokers which I bought off Amazon with free Prime shipping. They work flawlessly and are easy to use and clean up. My WSMs regularly win Grand Championships even when they go up against other smokers costing over $15,000.

The key step once your smoker arrives is to ensure you season it properly. New WSMs will tend to overheat until you are able to get grease and gunk on the inside and around the rim where the lid sits to ensure an air tight seal.

 

 

Fire Control

Before I describe how to season your new WSM, I want to explain the basics of fire control in a barbecue pit. Regardless of the pit you’re using, they all have three major components that you’ll need to learn to control to maintain proper cooking temperatures: 1) the air intake, 2) fuel you’re using, and 3) the exhaust vent/chimney. I use Kingsford Blue briquettes so my description assumes you use the same fuel.  If you use something else, your mileage will vary.

I’ve used KF Blue since I started competing in 2008 and with over two dozen Grand Championships and 80+ first places including a first place USA in chicken in the Kansas City Barbecue Society Team of the Year 2012; I know KF Blue works well.  Besides, I buy them on sale in the summer months for half price and stockpile them for my classes and contest year where I use over a hundred 20-lb bags annually.  Yes, I do use other types of fuel like lump charcoal and pellets but I like to compete using KF Blue (no, they are not my sponsor) because I can fly into any city in America and drive my rental car to Walmart to pick up one bag of KF Blue and win a Grand Championship.

In the WSM, there are three circular intake damper vents at the bottom that can be opened or closed as needed to allow more or less air to enter the pit.  More air and the temperature goes up and less air causes the pit temperature to go down.  The circular fire steel fire ring holds your charcoal and you can adjust the amount of charcoal depending on how long you need to run the pit.

If you run it for chicken (2 hours), you only need to fill the ring about 1/3 way.  If you want to cook ribs (6 hours), you will fill it about 2/3 way.  If you’re cooking brisket and pork butt (> 12 hours), you want to fill it all the way going past the top of the charcoal ring until it is overflowing. Be sure to remove the excess briquettes that have fallen over the side of the charcoal ring. Do a bit of Jenga and create a volcano shaped crater at in the middle of the overflowing mound of charcoal by removing excess briquettes and returning them to the charcoal bag.  When you’re ready to start cooking, carefully dump a half charcoal chimney of lit briquettes into the crater.  Over the next 12-16 hours, the briquettes will burn gradually outwards as the temperature stays constant. I cook my long haul meats at 250F and everything else (chicken, ribs, tri tip, beef ribs, etc) at 275F.

If you are using a full overflowing load of briquettes for a 12+ hour cook, the standard deep WSM water pan won’t work because it sits too low and will bump up against the top of your briquettes. No worries.  Just remove the deep water pan and use the silver aluminum heat shield instead. You need to unsnap the heat shield and wrap it in double layer of aluminum foil and use that ultra-light pan in place of the deep water pan.  If you have access to a WSM circa 2008 and earlier, those older WSMs come with a shallow water pan that does not bump into the briquettes.  Alternatively, you can go to Home Depot and get yourself a terra cotta planter base that’s the same diameter as the WSM water pan. I don’t like the terra cotta approach as it’s added weight I have to carry when I transport my WSMs which have already accumulated over 100,000 miles of travel all over the US.

Of the three components I mentioned: intake, fuel choice and amount, and the exhaust, the most effective component to maintain constant temperature is not the intake nor the fuel.  It’s the exhaust.  Many beginners I come across are not aware of that. All seasoned pitmasters know how to intuitively draft their pit using “clean” smoke to color and flavor their barbecue meats.  The draft refers to the vacuum effect when you open or close the exhaust vent of your pit.

When you open the exhaust vent on the WSM, you allow hot air to leave the pit and this creates a vacuum suction to draw air in from the bottom intakes.  Thus, by skillfully manipulating the top vent, you can control your WSM like a pro.  Many beginners constantly fiddle with their intake dampers in hopes to maintain a constant temperature with less success than leaving the bottom vents untouched and fiddling with the top vent to control the draft within their WSM. In future articles, I’ll address the mechanics of damper control on the WSM (e.g., old school versus automated blower systems) and the science on dirty smoke, white smoke, clean smoke, blue smoke, sour smoke, etc.  For now, just give my technique a try and see if it works for you.

Once you have seasoned your WSM using the steps below, follow my technique to light your pit and leave one bottom vent open and the top vent half open.  Allow your pit to come slowly up to temp (it may take 30-45 minutes). If the pit starts to over temp, gradually shut down the top vent and it will calm down. New WSMs invariably overheat until after half a dozen cooks so be prepared to cook with top and bottom vents all completely closed in your first few cooks.  If you have the top vent completely open and one bottom vent completely open and your pit does not come up in temp, you can open a second bottom vent, followed by a third.  Usually when you open the second or third, it means you’re out of fuel.  You can toss 20 briquettes through the fire door and be careful not to snuff out the fire.  If your fire is already out, you have to light your briquettes before you toss them into the WSM.

Here’s are a couple of tips if you need ramp up my temps quickly.  You can prop a ½ inch piece of wood to keep the WSM dome lid ajar.  Alternatively, you can open the WSM fire door and let air in to crank up the temps. With both of these quick fix approaches, do not leave your WSM unattended as the temps could rise fast and you’ll burn your meats.

Seasoning a new WSM

 

 

The fastest way to season a new WSM is to do the following:

Phase One – cover the water pan completely with aluminum foil and run a full load of lit Kingsford briquettes and let it run as hot as it can with no water in the pan (over 350 degrees) to burn off any manufacturing residue. Clean out the ash and proceed to phase two.

Phase Two – fill the charcoal basket 1/2 full of unlit briquettes. Then put in a 1/2 chimney of lit Kingsford briquettes in the middle. This will allow a slow burn for 3-5 hours at 72 degrees outside temperature. Adjust the vents to get 275 degrees on the dome thermometer. Put bacon strips, chicken parts, pork fat, or any other scrap meat you don’t plan to eat. The key is to get fatty meats to generate lots of grease. Toss in a couple of tennis-sized wood chunks to generate smoke. Repeat Phase Two at least twice before you cook meat that you want to eat.

 

 

Phase Three – When you cook meat you plan to eat, take a tip from me and don’t use any water in the pan. When I cook, I just cover the water pan with foil top and bottom. I foil it twice so I can remove the second layer after the cook and re-foil it. That way, I don’t have to clean my pan. It works just as well, AFTER YOU SEASON YOUR WSM, when you cook without water in the pan. Dry heat allows the crust to form faster on the meat (called the bark). Once the crust forms on the meat, you can introduce moisture. I just spray water with a regular spray bottle to encourage bark formation after the initial crusting (Maillard reaction) has begun. To test for properly formed bark, use your finger nail and scrape the meat surface. If the crust has formed, it will not come off when you gently scrape it with your fingernail. If the crust comes off, the bark has not set (still wet) so don’t spray until it sets. Let it cook longer and check back in 15 mins. You’ll get much better results this way. We’ve won many awards with this technique.

 

 

When it comes to cleaning your WSM, never wash the insides. Get a good grill brush and scrape down the insides and dome. You need the “aroma” which takes several years to build up. I NEVER mix my meat WSMs from my seafood and hotdog WSMs. Nothing destroys the aroma faster than cooking fish/seafood/hotdogs in a WSM used to cook chicken, ribs, pork, brisket, and tri tip. That’s why you should buy a pair if you plan to cook seafood/fish/hotdogs. Better yet, get a Weber Kettle for those meats. Remember to always empty the ash from the bottom and grease on the foiled water pan to avoid fires and any rancid old oil smell before you cook. When you need to clean the grates, put the grates in a big plastic trash bag, put on gloves, and spray oven cleaner on the grates while in the bag and let sit for 1/2 hour. Hose off the grates. It’s as easy as that. To clean the outsides, I use Simple Green spray.

Enjoy your WSMs. They are awesome and built to last.

 

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67 comments... read them below or add one

  1. earl click says:

    Hi, I just retired and have taken up bbqing so my knowledge base on some things that may seem simple or obvious to others is perhaps small. I am trying to develop a system for cleaning and in reading your thoughtsI wonder why when you scrape the insides the aroma does not get scraped away. How vigorous should one scrape and how ‘clean’ are we looking for? Are we just looking to remove larger deposits or all the grease. I was also wondering if polish and the other various sausages are in the ‘do not cook in your rib/chicken/brisket dedicated WSM’ like the hot dogs are or are they ok to smoke with the ribs? Guess I’m wondering a lot. My fourth attempt at cooking babybacks, loins technically, turned out so good my niece said that every other rib she had eaten up to then was like garbage in comparison. Kids, their hilarious. Anyways thanks for your time, love ya, earl

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Earl, just a use a grill brush and scrape the insides of your pit and grates. You will not be able to scrape off the aroma. Try it and you will see. You can cook sausages if the brand of sausage you use does not have too much of a "chemical" flavor like some brands of hot dogs or sausages. Keep spreading BBQ love!

  2. Rob C says:

    Hi Harry, a lot of websites recommend using wireless thermometers with the WSM. That being said the reviews on amazon seem to suggest they are fairly unreliable and not very durable.

    Do you recommend a specific thermometer? Do you think the thermometer on the WSM is accurate enough?

    Thanks!

    -Rob

    • Harry Soo says:

      I don’t use the thermometer on the WSM. I prefer to use my "feel" of the temp of my WSM. The one on the WSM is just OK. Buy a TruTemp for $40 if you like.

  3. Steve L says:

    Thanks for the info on the top vent. That has been my experience but just about every BBQ website on the planet recommends always keeping it at 100%. Thanks again!!

  4. Joshua Jonas says:

    Hey Harry,
    Thanks for posting this. I have a just two quick questions. The first is regarding Phase One of the seasoning process. You say to use a "full load of lit Kingsford briquettes." Is that a full load in the WSM or a full load in a chimney? If it’s the cooker you are referring to, won’t a full load burn for many (+12) hours? Secondly, in Phase 2 you say to use meats you don’t intend to eat, but the article has pictures/recipes of sausage titled "Fat and grease needed to season a WSM." Are those recipes meant to be used after the seasoning process or would you eat those meats that were cooked in the smoker DURING the seasoning process? Thanks for your time and I appreciate your help!

    • Harry So says:

      Hey Joshua:
      Yes, run a full load in Phase One.
      I don’t know if my Giveaway winner Jennifer ended up eating the fatties. She sent me the pics of her seasoning her new WSM so I posted them. From the second cook onwards, everything is safe to eat as the first long hot cook basically burned off all the manufacturing residue.
      Good luck!
      Harry

  5. T Le says:

    Hey Harry – just trying to receive the same clarification as Joshua. Still a bit confused.
    – full WSM load
    – OR full Chimney load

    Or are they the same?

    Thanks!

    • Harry Soo says:

      Sorry for the confusion.
      Full WSM load is about 2/3 of a bag of 20lb Kingfords Blue.
      You want fill the briquettes to come up above the WSM fire ring

  6. Joshua Jonas says:

    Thanks Harry!! I can’t wait to get started. I really appreciate the help. If you were ALOT closer to me I would definitely be interested in doing a class. Unfortunately, you’re quite a distance from Florida.

  7. Phil Hecksel says:

    Thank you for the GREAT detailed information. My electric smoker, which I got pretty good at running, finally had the display die. SWMBO bought me the WSM for Christmas. Yesterday, did the initial run, today running a chunk of salt pork. That will be it for seasoning, as she already has me doing Turkey on Sunday. One question, I always struggled with butt, as it would take 12 hours to finish. It’s one thing to get up at 4am and push a couple of buttons, it’s a completely different thing to get charcoal and wood going. Thoughts?

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Phil:
      If you cook your butt at 250F, a 10 lb butt will take 7.5 hours.
      If you cook at 275F, a 10 lb butt will take about 6 hours.
      Good luck.
      Harry

  8. Ken says:

    Hey Harry,

    When you create your fire and the crater in the middle of the unlit coals, do the lit coals you pour into the crater go all the way to grate in the crater in the middle of the unlit coals? Thanks for all your great information.

    Ken

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Ken: I find that about 1/3 Weber chimney of lit Kingsford briquettes works well. You don’t want to overfill the crater else the pile of lit coals will touch the bottom of your water pan. Most WSM folks prefer the older shallow WSM water pan for this reason. Alternatively, you can use a terra cotta pot from Home Depot. For new WSMs with the deep water pan, I just use the heat shield as it’s the same diameter as the water pan. Be sure to wrap the heat shield in foil to aid cleanup and be sure to empty any accumulated oil as you don’t have the risk of a grease fire from the oil if you’re cooking with a dry water pan. Good luck.

  9. Robert B says:

    Hi Harry,
    My wife used to live in Diamond Bar, off Diamond Bar Blvd and Grand Ave. As a matter of fact 2 of our kids still go to Maple Hill Elementary. Anyways, just got my WSM 22.5" today and I’m planning to season it this weekend. I just need to clarify something on Phase 1, you said to "cover the water pan completely with aluminum foil." Does that mean I just line the pan with aluminum foil, covering it completely? Or cover the top with foil creating a "void" between the bottom and the top of the pan? Or cover it from the top and filling the gap between the bottom and the top of the pan with foil as well. Thank you.

    • Harry Soo says:

      You cover the entire water pan completely top and bottom. Since the 22 has big water pan, you need to crimp two pieces of foil to get a sheet wide enough to cover the bowl. I usually foil the bottom of the bowl first. Then I foil the top of the bowl. I repeat the process as I like to do two layers on bottom of bowl and two layers on top of bowl. When you are done, the water pan is completely wrapped in foil on both sides. Good luck!

  10. Ken says:

    Another question Harry,

    I used your fire control method of leaving one bottom vent open and adjusting the top vent to control temperature on my last cook and I thought it came out pretty good. Everything I read says to leave the top vent open or I will get bitter meat. The meat did taste a bit smokey but I’m new to bbq and really don’t know how smokey the meat should taste. Do you think you will get a cleaner burning fire from using all the intake vents and leaving the top vent open fully?

    I was thinking that by having all the intake vents open slightly and leaving the top vent open, air will enter the fire evenly from the bottom and allow the coal to burn more evenly. By only leaving one bottom vent open the coals in the area of the open vent will burn more than the coals around the closed vents. Also, how do you position your wood chunks on the lit coals? Thanks for your help.

    Ken

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Ken:
      Feel free to experiment to see what works best for you, your cooking style, and your pit!
      I like to bury my tennis-sized wood chunks at the bottom of my pile of Kingsford Blue briquettes
      Good luck,
      Harry

  11. Albert Brennamen says:

    Hey Harry,

    Awesome article! I just got a WSM as a gift and can’t wait to get started with it. Just a clarification about seasoning it – once I put the full load of lit charcoal briquettes in, how long am I letting it burn at 350 for? If my understanding is correct, does that mean the Phase One of seasoning the WSM takes around 12 hours?

    Thanks,
    Albert

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Albert:
      Yes, a full load to season will burn a long time.
      You can also do a half or a quarter load if time is a constraint for you.
      After the first burn, you can also spray some cooking oil on the inside walls and the dome to speed up the process to dull the insides. It’s the shininess of the insides that causes a new WSM to overtemp. Dulling the inside service is the key to seasoning a smoker. Old pits have a nice dull internal patina.

  12. Ryan Morgan says:

    Hi Harry. I have had my WSM for a few years. Just want to be clear that you don’t put any water in the water pan? How often would you spray a 10 Lbs shoulder or brisket?

    • Harry Soo says:

      Yes, I double foil my water pan and cook it dry to get a good crust. Once the crust begins to set spray every 30 mins until the crust sets and you foil your meat.

  13. Curt Fieleke says:

    Hi Harry,

    Thank you for the way you share your wisdom! Just a question out of curiosity. Do you ever add water to the pan partially through a cook to introduce moisture? Would that still be damaging to the bark?

    Thanks!

    Curt

  14. Chris P says:

    Hello Harry,

    Thank you for sharing your experience and wealth of knowledge with the WSM. I’m trying to decide which smoker should be my next. Some of the negative reviews I read about the WSM are in regards to the the aluminum side door being leaky. I went to my hardware store to inspect the WSM they have on display and I can see some gaps. I was wondering if you ever have an issue with the door and if so, are there any fixes you may recommend (gaskets, cajun bandit door, etc.)

    Thank you!
    Chris P

    • Harry Soo says:

      I have no issues with my doors because they are Cajun Bandit stainless doors. Get some at http://cajunbandit.com/wsm-parts-mods/

  15. Andy says:

    Harry,
    Can you expand on why you don’t use water in the pan and people like Aaron Franklin swear by it? Arron Franklin says you need humidity and he even loves his extra humid Austin days and says best brisket comes out those days. You on the other hand don’t even put anything in the water pan… I personally would like to use my WSM 22.5 with no water since its a pain to keep full, move around and also forces me to consume much more fuel. I just want to know your reasoning behind the no-water choice.

    • Harry Soo says:

      Reason is simple. Dry pit promotes crust/bark formation. Wet promotes smoke ring. Both are contradictory conditions. That is you can’t have dry and wet as the same time.

      So I control the moisture-level in my pit using a spray bottle. I cook dry first. Then I start to spray only when I observe the crust starting to set. If you spray too early you risk the rub falling off.

      That way, I get best of both worlds by combining science and art.

  16. Andy says:

    Harry,
    Can you tell me how much spraying introduces the right amount of moisture or do I need to come to class for that? 🙂

  17. Kirk says:

    Hello Harry,
    I just purchased the weber 22.5 WSM. I have ordered the stainless door from Cajun Bandit. Did you put gaskets around your lid and bottom section or do those seal up fine with use?

    • Harry Soo says:

      I don’t use a gasket as the Cajun Bandit door fits very snugly. I’ve not had any issues even with the wind blowing. Good luck!

  18. Darren says:

    Hello Harry. Sure wish you had some school offerings in the Midwest…I would love to attend.

    I’ve been smoking on a 22.4 inch WSM for about a year. Can you provide any tips on avoiding the "charcoal" taste from coming through? I always seem to have a bit of that tang on everything I cook. I use the minon method on all my cooks 6 hours and longer. I use blue bag brickets and wood chunks. Can’t figure what I’m doing wrong. Maybe I need to hold off an putting any meat on until the smoke disappates? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    Darren from Akron Ohio.

  19. Jimi Stuart says:

    Harry,
    First of all thank you for the informative post. I’ve also, watched your video with Meathead on the Amazing Ribs Pitmaster Clib about getting the most out of your WSM. I have about 5 cooks under my belt with my WSM 18.5. I also seasoned it prior to any of my cooks per specifications listed above. Based upon all experience I went online to purchase the Cajun Banditt door, high air flow ring, and removable grommets. I have some questions though.

    1. What type of brush do you use for cleaning the inside of the cooker? My standard grate brush doesn’t seem to get the good contact with the cylinder.

    2. When you using your modified minion method, why not start with a half chimney wood chunks for the "Jenga" hole you create to obtain a smoke profile? To me this makes sense while developing the bark in the first few hours prior to wrapping a large cut of brisket or pork

    3. Being from Texas my cooks tend to be brisket and ribs. So far I have placed the brisket on the top grate and ribs on the bottom. What would you recommend?

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Jimi:
      Thanks for your support.
      I use http://astore.amazon.com/sydb02-20/detail/B000FGVIQE
      The wood chunks go UNDER the briquettes so they smoulder.
      Brisket on top and ribs on bottom are good. I use a rib rack.
      http://www.amazon.com/Brinkmann-812-9236-S-Brinkman-Non-stick-Rack/dp/B00G6JXNT4/

  20. Pete says:

    Hi Harry,

    Thanks for sharing your passion and knowledge of BBQ! My question is when do you put the meat on? Should I add the meat as soon as I dump the hot coals into the center, or do I wait until the temp is already at 250 or 275 before I add the meat?

    Thanks!

    • Harry Soo says:

      Both ways work. If you put the meat in right away, it will take a while for the pit to come to temp. Depending on how much cold meat and how much hot coals your start with, it will take 30-60 minutes to get to temp. For example, when I cook a 15 lb brisket on the WSM, it takes 45 minutes to get up to temp not using an automated blower system like the Stoker. With the Stoker, it is 5 minutes. Good luck.

  21. Mark Brown says:

    Hi Harry! I would like a 22.5" WSM but have read that it is difficult to keep the temps low around 225. I was told for that low I should get an 18.5".

    I especially do not want to lose the ability to hold 225 without alot of bother and I’ve seen several demos with the 18.5 and its ability to hold temp was amazing to me.

    Question: can an amateur keep the temps low and stable with a 22.5 or would I be better off with the 18.5 (from a temp control perspective that is)?

    THANK YOU HARRY!!!!!!!!

    • Harry Soo says:

      I think both the 18 and 22 work very well. Temp control is a reflection of the skill of the pitmaster. I would not blame the equipment.
      If you’re cooking for less than 20 persons, the 18 is best choice.
      Good luck.

  22. Joe Marcum says:

    Hi Harry, thanks for all the information you provide through this site, it is all very helpful. I have two questions for you:

    1. What are your thoughts on using the Weber Expandable smoking rack which allows you to hang meats instead of laying them on the grate? Some people indicate hanging might be better, but not sure how this will work for ribs and larger cuts in a Weber 18.5

    2. What are your thoughts on the WSM vs. the Pit Barrel Cooker (30gal.) that people rave about? Seems like the PBC is high heat and could replicate this on the WSM using no heat shield with hanging meat rack. Also the PBC does not use a heat shield or water pan.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Joe:
      I don’t have the gizmo you mentioned. I won many rib first places using a rib rack (including last Sat’s 75 team contest in So Cal). This is the one I use http://www.amazon.com/Weber-Grill-Rib-Rack/dp/B00W975ALQ
      Try both approaches and let me know what works for you.
      If you like using barrel smokers or UDS, the best one IMHO is Gateway http://www.gatewaydrumsmokers.com/
      Best of luck!
      Harry

  23. Keith Collette says:

    Hi Harry, I have adapted your methods discussed in this article and they have worked great for me on both my 18.5 and 22.5 WSM’s. I’m waiting for the future article you mentioned on damper control and the science on the different types of smoke. When will we see that? Thanks for all the great info!
    Keith

  24. That’s surprising that the exhaust, rather than the intake or fuel, is the most important component of maintaining the right temperature in your grill. I’m planning a barbecue for the extended family on New Years Day, and I’d like to perfect my skills. I’ll try to manipulate the top vent to control how my meat turns out. Thank you for the advice!

    • Harry Soo says:

      The exhaust vent controls the vacuum effect in your pit.
      The vacuum effect is what sucks oxygen into your pit.
      In a WSM, what works best IMHO is 70% exhaust vent and 30% intake vents.
      It’s based on the science of thermodynamics.
      Best of luck.

  25. Mark says:

    Do you run king ford or lump or a combo of both

  26. James King says:

    One question I have is the temperature setting. When using a thermometer in the side port I have a different temp than on the dome. 280 on the port and about 255 on the dome. Which would you recommend going by when trying to cook food @ 250-275???

    • Harry Soo says:

      When you smoke meats at 250F, this is the temperature of the grate. It’s NOT the dome temp.
      The best constructed pits will usually have the thermometer mounted at the grate level.
      The dome temps is always hotter (about 20+ degrees).
      Good luck!

  27. Jim says:

    Can I use a pizza stone instead of the water bowl what’s your thoughts on this?

    • Harry Soo says:

      A pizza stone is fine. You could get better clearance versus the deep water bowl so it does not bump into your coals. The terra cotta plant tray from Home Depot works well also and is a lot cheaper than a pizza stone. Be sure the measure the diameter before you go to HomeD. Good luck

  28. Joel says:

    Hello Harry, great information. Do you ever use both grills to cook? I know the heat would be higher on the lower grill. What meat combination could you cook like that? Pool roast ribs. Do you always leave the water pan in and cover it with foil or do you cook with it out? I am purchasing my 22.5" WSM tomorrow and I couldn’t have found a better site to help me on my competition endeavor.

  29. Joel says:

    Hello Harry. For competition cooking, which size is best, 18.5 or 22.5"? How would you cook two meats? Ribs on top grate and brisket on bottom or vice versa? Do you ever cook with water pan out? I know you talk about wrapping it in foil for easier cleanup and better bark formation. Wouldn’t the juices dripping on to the hot coals add to the flavor?

    • Harry Soo says:

      I have won 27 GC’s and 100+ first places using the WSM-18.
      Brisket on top and pork butts on bottom
      I leave my water pan in. You can try without but the meat on the bottom rack will burn.
      Good luck

  30. Joel says:

    Good morning Harry. If you use lump charcoal, does it burn the same as Kingsford Blue, or do the amounts of lump used vary? Found some lump and competition kingsford on sale. Do you ever use the Competition Kingsford charcoal? Sorry for being so full of questions, but this new WSM has meal fired up. thanks.

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Joel:
      I’m not a lump expert. Perhaps this site might have the answer?
      http://www.nakedwhiz.com/lump.htm
      Here is my buddy Chris Allingham’s website with info on the new KF professional.
      http://virtualweberbullet.com/compkingsford.html
      Good luck.
      Harry

  31. Sam Speers says:

    Hello Harry,
    Thanks for the tips here. I’m ready to break in my new 22.5" WSM cooker using your tips. My question has to do with cooking. I use a BBQ Guru DigiQ & Blower for temp control. What do you recommend for venting, top and bottom.

    • Harry Soo says:

      I general for automated blower systems, you leave the top vent open and all the bottom vents closed except the vent your blower is attached to.
      Good luck with your new WSM. They are affordable smokers that can put out world class Que in the hands of a skilled pitmaster.

    • Sam Speers says:

      Thanks for the reply. That was pretty much what thought you’d recommend.
      I did the "gunk" burn today. The porcelain coated now looks bluish grey. Have you seen that before?

      …guess it got really hot

  32. Chris W says:

    Harry,

    I have been a Weber Kettle fan for years, but a good smoke was always elusive, and I began desiring a WSM in lieu of an offset firebox smoker, which is the gold standard among BBQ smokers here in Texas. I ended up picking up a WSM, and have done a couple of cooks (meatloaf and ribs) with it, both with water in the pan, and both were great. I have yet to take on a longer cooking meat like brisket/pork butt. From other research I have done on the WSM opening th top lid throughout the cook brings in too much oxygen and can affect stable temps. From your practical experience, does establishing a bark after a dry initial cook, and then removing the lid every so often to spray the meat with water cause temp spikes. If so have you/your contemporaries had any success with an initial dry cook for bark, and then adding hot water to the water pan part way though the cook to add moisture, without having to remove the lid periodically. The hot water would minimize an initial drop in the WSM temp. I am not planning on entering any competitions, but want to produce good BBQ. I also don’t have the time to always tend to the WSM every 30-45 minutes throughout the cook. The water in the pan after an initial dry cook would seem to help stabilize temps, provide adequate moisture, and not make the lay BBQer a slave to the WSM. What I am suggesting is the practical viability of a "modified Soo" moisture method. I know this is an option, just trying to determine how this "modified" method works in the real world. Any thoughts on this method, and or the science behind it would be appreciated by a novice, just trying to learn. Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Chris:
      There is no issue opening the lid to spray as the WSM temp recovers rapidly.
      When the WSM is properly seasoned and after you get the hang of it, you’l find it runs pretty much unattended for many hours.
      I definitely do not tend to my WSMs every 30-45 minutes. After the 5th hour or so, I may have to open the second vent, and the third at about hour 8.
      The reason you control moisture with a 99 cent spray bottle is you want to generate a world class smoke ring.
      A dry pit, with good airflow, and the right kind of wood will crust your meat faster to establish thousands of flavor compounds called the Mallard reaction.
      Best of luck.
      Harry

  33. Greg S. says:

    Hi Harry,
    I’ve had my 22 1/2" WSM for about 5 years now. I’ve only used water in the water pan and I constantly have trouble keeping temp high enough. I’ve read about putting sand in the empty water pan to help with maintaining the heat. I want to smoke at a higher temp (325F) and was wondering if the sand will help keep a higher temp or if just an empty pan works best? Also, I live near the ocean and have a constant breeze here. Did you ever use anything to wrap the smoker to protect it from the wind and cold? Thanks for your help!

    • Harry Soo says:

      Hey Greg:
      No need for samd. Just light a whole Weber chimney of briquettes and once the entire chimney is lit, dump the hot briquettes on top of a half fire-ring of unlit briquettes. Keep the three bottom vents and top vent open and you will easily get 325F.
      If you still can’t get 325F (which I doubt), remove the water pan and cook using only the top grate with meat directly over the fire. This is how hot-and-fast is done using the WSM-18 for folks who are competitors.
      The WSM is not affected by cold but strong winds can get air into the leaky stock door. Get a tight fitting stainless steel door from my sponsor Cajun Bandit on my sponsor page.
      Good luck.
      Harry

  34. KEITH P ENGELMEYER says:

    I have set up my charcoal using the doughnut and minnion method and both tim
    es the smoke smells bitter. Is that ok?

    • Harry Soo says:

      The smoke should not smell bitter. What brand and type of charcoal are you using. If you use brands like Kingsford or Royal Oak, you should have no problems.

  35. James Martin says:

    Harry,

    Creosote has become a problem for me at times. I see Steve Raichlen tossing a couple of wood chunks on top of his WSM fire pit after adding meat, but if I try that, I get creosote smoke which can ruin everything. Here of late, I am burying my hickory under either briquettes (Royal Oak) and / or lump (Royal Oak, too). That has pretty much eliminated any creosote, but I am not getting the smoke flavor that I desire. I live in western North Carolina, and BBQ around here has a strong hickory flavor. Stronger than I am creating. For what it’s worth, I am using locally-cut hickory which has aged for about a year now.

    • Harry Soo says:

      Yes, chunks go under the lit briquettes.
      For more hickory smoke flavor, use more tennis sized chunks of barkless hickory under your briquettes.
      Year-old wood is good. Use a moisture meter to ensure it’s about 12% moisture for optimum smoking effect.

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