Hi'all from London. WSM 14.5" and zip experience.

Discussion in 'UK Smokers' started by wade, Dec 8, 2015.

  1. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

  2. curb

    curb Newbie

    Thanks Wade ;)

    Apologies in advance if I haven't got correct terminology or techniques - just starting out after an initial failed attempt with dodgy gear.

    I originally bought an Ebay smoker for £40 - I checked out WSM's bought thought if it doesn't work or I don't get into it, it's no major loss. Well, it was a waste of time so much air was getting in even with the top (and only) vent closed the coals were operating more like a regular bbq so the turkey breast, whole chicken and 2.5kg bone-in brisket never stood a chance of getting to temp on the top rack. Total and unsafe fail.

    That was around 4 months ago. Zip forward to Cyber Monday and I found a deal for a 14.5" WSM starter kit for £230 and the dreams of juicy ribs began and I picked it up.

    Bought about 5kg of beef which consisted of a bone-n brisket (about 1.6 kg) an odd cut of short ribs (I think) and a 2.5kg slice of a beef shoulder around 2.5 - 3 inches thick. No sign of any boneless brisket and local butchers won't part with ribs - I was lucky to find a good guy who snuck a cut of ribs for me after I explained what ai was trying to do, but still maybe a one off.

    Ii already know I did plenty wrong.

    First of all I started the WSM and put the meat on the racks waaaay before reaching smoking temp - straight from a very chilly fridge. I also put way to few pecan chips so another wrong move. Because of this ( please let me know if I'm right) the temp with all vents open stuck at about 90c - I thought oh crap! Here we go again - should have stuck with the budget number. It was at this temp for around an hour - panicking, I put another 8 briquettes and a few large charcoal chunks on the chimney and topped up.

    After about 20 minutes the temp settled to around 113c. I tinkered a little with the vets and came back to check every 15 mins and it was just rock solid. This was a huge sigh of relief for me - this is what I'd read about with WSM's to see it hold temp for just over 5 hours with no fluctuation bar dropping a few degrees had me grinning. I checked temps through the grommet and at the top of the dome with a digital thermometer and it was around 16c hotter than the dome one. After the first hour thought the dome thermometer seemed to catch up and started reading much closer to the digital one. By now it was 2.00am and I removed all bit main brisket slice to check internal temps and foil up.

    I was totally starving at this point and went zombie mode on the single rib that was part of the brisket - it was juicy but not tender-but the taste was great! I'd say texture was much like a fast grilled lamb rib.

    Temps were 62c on the ribs and I could tell they were still very firm - more like a medium roast, so grabbed the brisket slice and that just felt totally hard and over cooked. I was kinda gutted because it reminded me of my pervious fail.

    I think I pulled the way to early in the fear of over cooking and the brisket was just too small and thin to retain moisture.

    By this time it was around 2.30am. Meat had been off the WSM for quite some time and I was tired and thought just call it a day and I'd just use the meat up in other dishes so not to to waste it.

    Then I thought ok, let's foil up and ad some liquid - no apple or any other juice in the house but I had Honegar which I drink for health benefits so I diluted that and put about half a cup in each foil parcel and back on the WSM. Temps got back to and over to around 116c after about 10 mins I just left it at that. Kinda given up thinking I can wait and watch as my eyes were rolling so the only option was to let it run - I'd messed it up anyway so at the least I'd have some beef jerky from the brisket.

    So I open the WSM up at 8.00am on a windy Saturday morning. Coals are out but the foil packages hot to the touch on the underside.

    I opened the brisket and yup, firm, not juicy, not jerky but definitely over cooked. As expected (I'd kept it bone down - wrong way?).

    So, I'm expecting nothing from the ribs - sure enough major shrinkage - but slicing up the ribs the knife goes in easy and I tracked a damn big smile to see what looked like juicy succulent meat on the inner ribs! One bite and wow! The beefiness was immense!

    Ii put the ribs and juices on a plate, covered and placed in the fridge for later and sliced the brisket up and put that in a container for chilling and later freezing as it tasted a fair bit like jerky - I thought I'd be able to use it in a Chinese or chilli dish.

    I warmed up the ribs slowly in microwave later that night - I could see the juices were solid and coagulated and not watery, another smile thinking yes - collagen to gelatine (wrong/wright) and damn,they were good with a bit of homemade Carolina mustard bbq sauce.

    Middle two were very juicy, others over cooked for sure, but that beefiness was great even in those.

    So, ribs overcooked but damn tasty and brisket a fail. Ribs failure to my timing and not fully anticipating how long it would take, as well as I'm sure a raft of other mistakes, but the bone-in brisket I can't sussed out any ideas? Too small?

    I will definitely be using the same rub recipe AND the Honegar - I think they both worked brilliantly for flavour,.

    I've still got the shoulder slice - any ideas on that? I can see it turning into another brisket jerky, but I'm limited on types of cut from the local butcher.

    Sorry, built of an essay and thanks for reading about my first real 'venture' into smoking and the WSM.
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2015
  3. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Hi Paz

    It is great that you persevered to overcame adversity. Too many people would have given up and relegated the smoker to the end of the garden.

    The first lesson you have obviously started to learn is the temperature control quirks of your particular smoker. All models are different and even different smokers of the same model can behave slightly differently. You are almost there with the temperature control and when you have nailed it the other blocks will start to fall neatly in to place.

    With the WSM patience is the key. They are best brought up to temperature slowly and then they will retain that temperature for a long time with very little adjustment needed. A few tips to help with this...

    Firstly avoid trying to cook the larger expensive (and often more difficult) cuts of meat whilst you are getting the temperature control right. A supermarket chicken is nice and cheap to experiment with or maybe some sausages. This may sound weird advice on a specialist smoking/BBQ forum but nailing the temperature control now will pay dividends moving forward. If you would prefer then you could also practice using pork ribs (3-2-1 method) as they are also fairly forgiving and require you to hold temperature for 6+ hours.

    Secondly the type of fuel that you use will greatly affect the ease of temperature control. You did not say what you were burning but for this type of cook you need something that is going to burn hot, evenly and for a long time. The reason for needing them to burn hot is that longer smokes work more consistently using the Minion method, where the burn of the coals is allowed to progress slowly through the firebox over the course of the smoke. For this I have found good quality briquettes are best for the fire base with chunks of wood or pellets placed on top (or underneath) for the flavour. Forget your regular supermarket briquettes - you should look at something like Heat Beads  or Weber Premium Briquettes. These may seem more expensive to buy but you will use a lot less of them as they will burn with a consistent heat over a long period of time. The good quality briquettes also do not give off the strange smells when being lit that many of the cheaper briquettes do. 

    If you have not used heat beads before the attached document contains a temperature profile for them that you may find interesting.

    If you have never tried the Minion method before there are several good videos on YouTube (easier than me trying to explain it here). This one is shows it quite clearly with a WSM.

    Here he is using an air blower to fine control the temperature however without one just keep the bottom and top vents fully open to start with. The temperature will rise as the burn progresses through the briquettes. Have patience tough - it can take up to an hour for the smoker to get up to temperature. Keep an eye on it as the temperature will try to increase exponentially if left unchecked. When you are about 2/3 of the way there, close the top vent to about 1/4 open and the same with the bottom vent. The rate of the rise in temperature will then start to decrease and as it approaches the desired temperature progressively close the bottom vent. You will reach the point where the coals are burning at the rate where the heat produced by the coals balances the loss of heat through the smoker walls and lid. This is what you are trying to achieve. Once at this point the smoker should maintain that temperature over time. 

    External factors will affect this balance though so you will need to keep an eye on it. Wind and rain will increase the heat loss and so result in the temperature decreasing and strong sunlight on the smoker will result in it warming up. You may therefore need to adjust the bottom vent a little to compensate.

    The top vent is left alone throughout the cook. With the top vent left 1/4 open all the fine temperature control adjustment is done using the bottom vent.

    You have already found out that the thermometer in the lid and the temperature at the grate often do not correspond. Most people here will totally ignore any built in lid thermometers and rely totally on their digital probe thermometers at the cooking grate level. With something like the Maverick ET-732/733 the remote receiver allows you to monitor the temperature remotely.

    Once you have got the temperature control mastered then something like a pulled pork shoulder is a good one to progress on to. After that the brisket will be your oyster [​IMG]  
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2015
  4. curb

    curb Newbie

    Hi Wade,

    Thanks so much for the detailed advice - really appreciate it and I'll most definitely pit it into practice.

    I used weber briquettes that came with the starter kit and some large chunks of Big K charcoal . I also tried the minion method. I can honestly say my impatience and ignorance with timing as well as being a newbie with no knowledge really got the better of me - I'm pretty please with the results when all this factors in but I need to gain knowledge and technique to get consistent so thanks again for the advice and route way.

    With the ribs in order to get that breakdown of tissues and to get the optimism bite iit must be more than reaching a desired temp - is it like, ok I hit the temp so it should be the exact correct texture at said temp - or do you hold it at that temp for a set time dependant on the weight of the meat to get the optimum quality rib?

    I'll definitely be taking your advice on the quality of the briquettes, I probably would have gone regular from a supermarket without that info.

    About cleaning the WSM, should that be on every cook? The grates for sure, but do I need to get the soapy water out for the whole of it? I saw some vids of people getting it up to temp and using a wire brush on the grates - is that safe, or a no no. Also, doesn't that damage the plating on the grates?

    Is the waterfowl essential? Will I get a much longer burn without it?

    Cheers again.
  5. smokewood

    smokewood Smoking Fanatic Group Lead

    Well done for sticking with it, most people would have thrown it in the bin and gone to bed before midnight.
  6. smokin monkey

    smokin monkey Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Hi Paz, I am with Wade on this, practice on cheaper cuts of meat until, you know how your set up works. Play with it. I built a small smoker, lit it every day and adjusted temperature settings daily. Never cooked a thing in it for two weeks. That was easy for me to say, as I hade another set up to cook on!
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2015
  7. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    You should not need to clean the inside of the WSM body unless it gets too caked. Food safety wise you have no problems as every time to use the smoker you will be taking up to temperatures where it will be heat sterilised.

    Cleaning is really more to do with ensuring that you do not introduce off flavours into your meat. Usually a quick brush inside with a stiff bristled brush when it has cooled down is sufficient to remove most residue, but if you do notice any build up of fat on the walls then take the smoker up to ~250 C for half an hour and they will burn and brush off. Yes, keep the cooking grate clean - hot soapy water is good for this and using a wire brush is perfectly OK too to remove the harder bits of residue. Do clean out the firebox after each use as the ash will be quite alkaline and can shorten the life of the smoker if you get any chips develop in the enamel coating

    I wasn't aware that Weber were supplying their units with waterfowl these days - that that is what I call a complete BBQ starter kit [​IMG]. I assume that you mean the water bowl. This is actually quite important as it helps buffer the heat being given off by the coals and the cooking chamber. Some people place water in there and others use sand. The water will help to maintain a moist environment inside the smoker and it buffers the temperature by absorbing some of the heat energy to convert the water into water vapour/steam. The sand acts like the bricks in a storage heater by absorbing the fluctuating heat from below and giving off a more consistent heat above. There is no hard and fast rule as to which to use, mostly it is down to personal preference. I tend to use water in a foil tray my Weber Kettles (as it is at the same level as the fire) but I use sand when I have used a WSM as it is directly above the fire. I would recommend that you probably start with sand and at some point in the future try water and see how you get on with both.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2015
  8. curb

    curb Newbie

    Lol, damn auto spell. Thanks again for the encouragement and great advice - I'm gonna try chicken tomorrow. I picked up Bill Gillespie's book and he has some mouth watering recipes. All I need now is to locate a top quality butcher - quest is on for a boneless brisket ;)

Share This Page