Why do people love the Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM)?
In 1952 Weber introduced the first kettle charcoal grill in the marketplace, the 1956 model brought the look we know today. By the seventies it was breaking out as a national brand, and one of the most identifiable outdoor cooking products in the market. In 1981 Weber introduced the Smokey Mountain. Even with the built-in name recognition it took a while to get this product moving for two reasons. Backyard smoking for traditional barbecue flavors had not caught on in general, it was still a niche group. Weber was not the first device to the market, so they had to climb their way to success.
The WSM was well researched, well made, and most importantly cooked really good food. The simple sturdy components and easy learning curve won out, gaining consumer recognition and deemed ‘King of the Coals’ by aficionados. Yet again Weber built their name up by being part of the trend introducing people to the ease of making high quality food cooking outdoors. Now a known quotient in the market, the WSM is still attracting new followers and bringing great barbecue to more homes.
Why do the Pros love the WSM too?
It is a classic chicken or the egg thing as to who fell in love first. That point is moot because Weber is shown the love by both consumers and competitors on the barbecue circuit, pro and amateur alike. A big factor is how simply the WSM device provides the core components to successfully cooking barbecue. Anyone can do it with these. That ease of use has helped garner an amazing number of wins, awards and kudos at all levels, including the elite KCBS events.
But the pros in the know still get to a higher level much of the time. You cook as many briskets, pork butts or racks of ribs as they do, and experience becomes a factor. Their experience tells them this device is fully capable of creating a controlled environment of the big three; smoke, humidity and temperature. And unit can do this for 24 hours off a single load of charcoal. Many of us aspire to a high level of barbecue in our own backyard world, and the WSM definitely has an easy path to take us there.
As a result, there are common questions that come up that we will answer for you here.
1. How do I use a Weber Smokey Mountain?
This unit is known for easy assembly, typically 30 minutes. And the assembly mimics how you will utilize it to cook. Take it apart down to the lower grate and charcoal ring. For reference, we’re going to set up and prep for a full-length smoke of about 12 hours. Start by filling the charcoal tray 3/4 of the way with charcoal, and wood chunks if you wish, leaving a slight depression in the middle. Wood will burn slightly quicker. Separately, on a fire proof surface, light a full starter chimney of charcoal. When these coals are dusted white and hot pour them in the center of your unlit charcoal. Using a tool of your choice make sure they are evenly distributed and not quite higher than the ring in the center leaving clearance for the low point of the water pan.
Time to rebuild the WSM. Start by placing the center section of the device back in place. Next the water bowl goes in, empty, and we recommend lining it with foil for easier clean up. Immediately fill the bowl with water, the amount will range from 3 quarts to 3 gallons in the 22.5” model. Put your racks in and cover on the top, if you use them (we recommend it) slip the thermometer(s) in through the silicone gasket on the side. Close the top vent and leave the bottom vent open about a half inch. Give the unit 15-20 minutes to warm up all the components. Pop the top, remove the upper grill, place your slowest cooking food on the lower rack. Replace the upper and rack and put the rest of your food on that rack. Sit back and wait!
Water is an integral part of most smoking processes because a moisture environment helps impart more smoke flavor to your food. A vessel of water creates a heat sink delivering two things. A steady temperature and a lower temperature. In other words, a full bowl will help you hold an maintain that sweet temperature range of 225-275 degrees for slow smoking. If you want a more roasted process, working without the water in the bowl will give you temps of 325-375, with higher temps closer to the coals so you may need to rotate your food between the racks. Empty or full, always use the water bowl when cooking.
2. How do I clean the Weber Smokey Mountain?
Start getting ready to clean before you start cooking. Lining your water bowl with foil is the best example. Many folks like to wrap both sides with foil to minimize any build up or cleaning needed. The other step is properly season your WSM, see question four. Seasoning will create a patina on the inner surfaces of the three main components of your cooker; the base, the center and the top cover. This will appear to be a light layer of soot, maybe some ash. It is. There is no reason to try and remove it regularly. It will help protect the inner surfaces from corrosion to an extent. After a year or so, depending on frequency of use, you may notice flecks coming off. At that point get out the newspaper, cover an area and scrape the inside of the three pieces with a rigid plastic scraper. You can use metal too, just be aware of gouging the metal if you try too hard.
Routine cleaning is fairly easy. Before the unit fully cools you can remove the lid, set it aside, and take a wire brush to the racks. Prior to cooking a light coat of spray oil will make this task easier, although if you give it a quick brushing when warm it is pretty easy. Now wait for the unit to cool completely. Pull the lid and the racks. Lift out the water bowl, set aside, remove the center section and set aside as well. Line a bucket with a garbage bag. Take out the charcoal ring, wire brush the coal grate and remove it as well. Now take the ash tray and dump it into the bucket. Give it a quick brushing off, that should be all it takes to get it clean enough to use. Return the charcoal grate and ring. Dump any fluid from the water bowl into the ashes where the grease and water can be absorbed for easy disposal. Remove the foil from the bowl, replace the center section of the WSM, and rebuild it with racks and lid.
3. Where do I buy a Weber Smokey Mountain?
We are big fans of Amazon. Here are the links that will get you to each of the WSM in their various sizes along with some accessories to consider:
4. How do I season my Weber Smokey Mountain?
Seasoning your WSM is pretty straightforward, and a good way to become familiar how to operate it. There are those who would say it is not necessary, bur we see some advantages in terms of longevity and successful cooking. Remove the lid, grates, water bowl, and center section so that you just have the base with ash tray, charcoal grate and ring in place. Separately, light one full chimney of charcoal. Optional, place a couple wood chunks in the charcoal ring. When coals are dusty white and hot put them in the ring, over the wood if used. Replace the center, put the water bowl in place filled about halfway with water, put the racks in and replace the lid. Open the top and bottom vents until the temperature is over 200. Close the top vent and damp the bottom vent about halfway. Regularly check the temperature, looking for 250 plus/minus slightly. Use the bottom vent to adjust airflow, open it further if too cool, close it somewhat if too hot. You should get a 2-3 hour ‘cook’ time with this process. Cool it down, clean as needed, and your unit is ready for years of good smokey cooking.
5. How much charcoal do I use in my Weber Smokey Mountain?
Charcoal is your fuel for heat and smoke. Like the fuel for your vehicle, how much you need is dictated by how long you are driving, or cooking in this case. The formula is not entirely precise because of many variables. Things like different temperature from different types of charcoal, what is the outside temperature the day you’re cooking, or the ratio of wood to charcoal that you use. Ideally the wood is placed at the bottom of your fire ring that holds the charcoal. You want it to smolder, not create flames. So, chunk wood works better. You can use chips, again put the bulk at the bottom with some mixed in with your charcoal in upper layers.
In general. Filling the ring up halfway will get you 6-8 hours, near the top should be over 12, and mounded somewhat can give you 18-24 hours. Obviously if you are cooking at higher temps with the vents open you will burn through fuel much quicker, our times are geared toward a 250-275 degree range. In all cases, you make a depression in the center of your cold charcoal, light a chimney with additional coals to fill that depression. This initiates the desired process of the heat in the center, burning outward in a fairly controlled fashion, giving you the cook time that you want.
6. How do I add charcoal or water to my Weber Smokey Mountain?
You will need tongs, and we recommend sturdy gloves. To make either addition you will be opening the side door of the WSM. This is the one piece everyone loves to hate about this cooker. The door is well sized and allows decent access to the water bowl and charcoal ring while in operation. That being said, the door is somewhat light weight and prone to bending if you are not careful, which is why many folks like some of the aftermarket upgraded doors available. Speaking of careful, you will be exposing yourself to the open coals at this point, so stay safe. Glove up, open the door and you should be able to easily place charcoal in the ring with the tongs. Adding water, you can consider a couple choices. A good old fashioned watering can will reach far enough, just be careful no to spill or overflow the bowl. A large plastic bottle from ketchup has good reach, or other long necked devices will work. Try to get the additions done quickly and get the unit sealed back up to keep cooking.
7. Bonus Round; How do I make ribs on my Weber Smokey Mountain?
Ah yes, a member of the triumvirate of Barbecue. Prep is important for ribs. First step is getting the silver-skin of the back. Kind of a pain, it is really worth doing. We find using a butter knife, slipping it under to get a start, then wrapping it around as you pull more. If you are having difficulty at the start, pinch the skin between paper towel pieces for a solid grip to pull it off in sheets. Next, season them with your favorite rub, sweeter is better for s great look, and let them sit for about an hour at room temp with a loose cover of plastic wrap.
These are your candidates for a 250-275 degree smoke process. They will need a solid 3 hours for cooking, so fill your ring just about halfway to be safe. The first two hours they will just be exposed to the smokey air, and we do recommend that you have water in the tray for this. After two hours pull the ribs, wrap them in foil, meaty side down with ½ cup of apple juice, and return to the smoker. After one hour they should be at an internal temp over 200, ideally 203. Let them sit meat side down for 15 minutes. Return to the smoker, basting the bone side with your sauce of choice. After 10 minutes turn them, baste once again with sauce and let cook for 10-15 minutes. Enjoy!