WSM test run temp controls and advice

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by manman, Dec 31, 2011.

  1. manman

    manman Smoke Blower

    I know I don't really need to season the WSM, but I decided to do a dry run anyway just to get some idea of how the vents and water pan.  I'm planning to do some spareribs with a friend tomorrow, I have a few questions about that as well.  I tried to do my homework (been reading a lot of sites like this months before I got my smoker), but I apologize if these questions were already answered...

    Here is the log I was taking to record my progress (was measuring dome vs maverik temp readouts at first, rest of temps are all maverik)

    1/2 bag kingsford blue unlit + 3/4 chimney lit (minion)

    11:28-  unlit.  No water, all vents open 100%  assembled (forgot to wait 15-20 min)

    11:35 - 280 f (mav) 265f (dome)

    11:40   327 f (mav) 315f (dome)

    11:50   358 f (mav)

    12:08   387 f

    12:12   396 f

    -adjust bottom vents to about 50%

    12:24   381 f 

    12:34   388 f

    12:35   -close 2 vent, leave front at 50%

    12:47   370 f

    12:56   363 f

    1:23    352 f

    filled water bowl about 3/4 way, no vent change  Was a lot of fumbling around here, got some water on coals, opened front panel about 2-3 times, took cover off 2-3 times

    trying to see water level.

    1:39     367 f

    1:57     336 f

    2:15     320 f

    It looks like i'm settling around 320 right now, but when I cook tomorrow I want to be around 225-250.  I know the temp will be lower when the meat is on, can someone tell me if this should put me around the right temp, or is there more I should do?  I feel like this is high for having the water pan almost full, 2 bottom vents closed and one at 50%.

    It was a friend of mine that suggested the 1 full chimney over 1/2 bag unlit, does that sound right as well, or should I start with fewer lit coals for the actual cook tomorrow? 

    Also wondering what the best way to fill the water pan is.  Maybe it will be easier tomorrow when it's light, but it seemed hard to fill using the access door.

    Any advice or feedback on my logs would be appreciated.
  2. pops6927

    pops6927 Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Not an WSM owner, but there are many on here who will be along to answer your questions; thank you so much for such a detailed post and for making a log!  Keep it as a great habit to do as it is an invaluable reference for all your smokes, tests, mods, upgrades, etc, plus take tons of Qviews too (and post them here for all of us to drool over!).

    Please take a moment and go to Roll Call and introduce yourself, and of course you can include the link to this thread  and ask for assistance; so that we can welcome you properly!  Welcome!
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  3. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    [​IMG]   Glad to have you with us!

    Would you please update your profile info to include your location. Thank-you.

    Then will you go over to roll call & introduce yourself so we can all give you a proper SMF welcome.

    Now for your WSM. You need to use the minnion method and start the coals with 10-12 lit briquettes. All vents wide open. When the temp gets up around 200, shut 2 bottom

    vents and close the third one about 50 %. when it gets to 220 shut the third vent down to about 1/4 open. From there you will have to tinker with it a little to keep it at 225, but once

    it stabilizes it will stay there for hours. Here's a photo of how to set your fire, putting a ring of unlit briquettes around the edge & putting a few lit briquettes at one end. The fire

    will just work it's way around the ring. You can see I just put a few lit coals on one end to start it. The can in the middle just makes it easier to lay out the charcoal, but I leave it in

    with a few wood chips in it & they smolder a little. You probably won't need to put this much charcoal in for a 6 hour smoke, but if there is some left at the end you can just shut all the vents & the fire will go out & you can use the rest of the charcoal next time.

  4. mdboatbum

    mdboatbum Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Also not a WSM owner, but I've done a lot of reading on them in hopes of getting one soon. From what I've read, they run hot the first 2 or 3 uses until a layer of soot is built up on the inside to dampen the reflection of heat all around the interior. The soot layer also serves to plug any small gaps that let air in when you don't want it. For next time, follow Al's advice and start shutting the vents at 200˚f. Apparently these things are much easier to bring UP to temp than to bring DOWN. Also, I'd start with a full water pan. If it's hot outside use tap water, if it's cold, use boiling water.

    A lot of guys on here use sand or a clay flower pot base in the pan, as it's really just a heat sink anyway. I'd start with water 'til I got a handle on things, then start experimenting with various methods/mods. Al and Craig are the most vocal proponents of these smokers and offer a TON of good advice, so maybe search thru their threads.

    Good luck, welcome and happy new year!
  5. hurriken

    hurriken Smoke Blower

    I 'm smoking a turkey today(first smoke in my new WSM) and reading this I just realized that I completely misunderstood the minion method. I made a ring of coals and dumped the hot coals in the middle. I also missed the whole part about the vents. I watched a video on youtube....I'm wondering if I should go close two of the vents now or is it too late? I'm running at about 275. I hope I'm not hijacking the thread, I thought it may add to the conversation.That one photo cleared everything up.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  6. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    For a turkey you want to be running at 275+, and being from Chicago, I'm assuming it's pretty cold up there. So if your vents are open & the temp is stabilized at 275, then you are good to go. I wouldn't change a thing. The biggest problem with the WSM is if you let the temp get too high it's very hard to get it back down. It is very easy to get it to go up by just opening the vents a little. Your way of dumping the coals in the middle will work too. The only problem with that is as the fire moves toward the outside the circumference gets bigger & more briquettes are burning so the fire will get bigger. In Chicago that may work. If the temp starts to go up just start shutting the vents down a little at a time. I think you will be OK.
  7. hurriken

    hurriken Smoke Blower

    The problem now, after 3 hours and 15 minutes, is that the temp is dropping(under 250). I'm thinking about taking the mid section and top off and re building the fire. I'm not sure how much "smoke" I'm getting either. I'm using apple and hickory chips in an old soup can but no chunks. I do have some mesquite chunks but I'm afraid that may be too harsh. It's a big turkey too, over 17lbs.

    I'm going to open the vents all the way right now and see what happens.
  8. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Throw some chunks & unlit charcoal on the fire thru the door & open the vents all the way.
  9. hurriken

    hurriken Smoke Blower

    I did that and checked the bird as well. The skin is getting dark so I foiled the wings and the breast temp is 155. I'm a bit surprised the temp is that high already. It needs to come off at 165 doesn't it?
  10. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Yes 165 in the breast, and 175 in the thick part of the thigh between the breast & thigh. Then put some foil over it & let it rest for 30 minutes before you carve it up.
  11. hurriken

    hurriken Smoke Blower

    I pulled it off. The breast got op to 175 and the thigh to 190...whoops. Dinner isn't for another 3 hours.

    Manman, I apologize for running away with your thread. NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAM.
  12. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Don't forget to take some photo's. Maybe you should start your own thread & post some finish photo's.
  13. fpnmf

    fpnmf Smoking Guru OTBS Member


  14. manman

    manman Smoke Blower

    Haha, don't worry about the tread hijacking, I got some great advice for today.  Ribs are all prepped and ready, starting the smoker now.  

    I was running it without water yesterday mainly to see the difference in temp, I wasn't planning to do that during the cook.  But I'm glad I did because your comments helped me realize that it's harder to bring the temp down than start with a low temp and move up, that's a big help!  Sounds like If I start with a lot fewer lit coals and place them as above, close the vents earlier etc I should be able to get a good temp going.   Appreciate the help.  I will hit the roll call section soon!

  15. dward51

    dward51 Master of the Pit OTBS Member


    I can't tell from your original post, but was the WSM empty on your trial run? If so, yes it will run hotter and the temp swings will be quicker since there is nothing to moderate the heat (even the food mass contributes to this as well).  A WSM does run a little hotter the first few smokes, but it's not much.  15 to 25* probably.

    As to how you run the WSM, it depends on what you are cooking and even what method you are using.  A lit chimney over 1/2 ring of unlit is standard load and will work. A lot of people go this way for pretty much all smokes in a WSM.  For longer smokes such as butts, the minion method is very popular.  Minion runs at a lower temp since there are less coals lit but it runs longer on a load of coals.  Neither is right or wrong, both will work.  I suggest you try them both as they both have a purpose and use in a WSM.

    Without a power draft controller, I would let the assembled smoker stabilize at around 250* and then put the cold meat on.  This will drop the temp a little but don't worry, it will quickly recover. Most people try to target 225* at the top grate (the dome temp is a little higher, so 240-250* on a dome thermometer would still be OK). Use the lower vents to throttle back the heat if needed or open them more if the temp continues to drop after 20 minutes.  Once you get it loaded and stable, you should not have to fiddle with the vents for quite a while in a WSM (if at all).  But until you learn your WSM, I would check the temps until you are comfortable you have a stable run.

    As to the water pan.  Just like with how you load the charcoal, you have a lot of options.  The options are what makes a WSM so great (in addition to the fact it is a real stable running smoker too).  You can go with an empty foiled water pan for high temp smokes, a foiled and water filled water pan, or a sand filled and covered with foil water pan, or a foiled 14" clay saucer base in an empty water pan.  The water and other "mass" items help serve as a temperature moderator and even out the temp swing.  It depends on what you are cooking and what method you are using as to how you set up the smoker.

    For the standard smoke, just foil the water pan to make clean up easier and use a chimney of lit coals over 1/2 ring of unlit.  Take the middle section off, put in the water pan and load with hot water (I use hot tap water, but some people go so far as to boil a large pot of water).  Then carefully lift the middle section back on the lower coal holding section, put in the grate and top dome and let it run for about 15-20 minutes to make sure you have the temps stable where you want them (temp depends on what you are cooking also).  Then once it's stable, load the meat.

    You can either use fist size chunks of smoke wood in the unlit charcoals, or just open the door and throw some chips or pellets on top of the lit after you add the meat. I prefer the chunks in coals method as it provides thin blue smoke much longer than chips or pellets on top of lit coals.

    As to what to smoke?  You can smoke anything in a WSM.


    As to the other point in this thread....

    Turkey = full load of coals (not minion method) and a foiled but empty water pan or clay saucer base in an empty water pan.  Control the temps in the 325-350 range with the lower vents only.  *ALWAYS* leave the top vent in a WSM full open and do not use it to try and control the temps.

    Black bird skin?  Not burnt, it's smoked.  It will be wonderful once you let it rest a few minutes and slice it up!

    I remember the first turkey I smoked in 2006. Wife was sure it was ruined and her brother brought over some oven roasted turkey breast "just in case".  Well at the family gathering my turkey was all consumed and no one even touched the oven version.  That says a lot.

    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  16. manman

    manman Smoke Blower


    Yeah it was empty during the test run.  But yeah, that's why I mentioned that I knew it would be cooler with the meat on there, I just didn't know how much of a temp difference to expect, so I thought if my log numbers seemed unreasonable someone would mention it.  Thanks for all the advice though!

    I didn't see that last post before I started today, but so far it's been going great.  I did the minion method using the coffee can style, and used much less lit charcoal in the beginning, probably only about 1/3 a chimney.  Got it dialed in to 225-235 over the next 40 min or so, and it's been sitting there for the past few hours.  I sprayed them with a mix of apple juice and rub at 2 hours, and now the temp has jumped to the 240's, I wanted to wait and see if it starts to come back down, if not I'll see if I can get it down.

    I'm not sure whether to do the 3-2-1 method or just let them go.  I've got 2 slabs on, maybe I'll do one of each and see what I think about the difference.
  17. manman

    manman Smoke Blower

    Quick question if anyone sees this soon-

    I've had the ribs on for about 6.5 hours now.  One of them I did 3-2-1 as I said, but both of them don't seem totally done.  They bend- almost 90 degrees, but not close to tearing.  And i tried separating two bones, also twisting one bone. neither happened easily.  I've been at 225-235 for most of the cook.   One thing that might make a difference is these are totally untrimmed spares, only the membrane was taken off  (not sure if I did it totally right, but I believe I got it off.

    EDIT: almost at 7.5, just checked temp of the meat and it's around 152 as well, not 160 yet.  The dome temp shows lower than the maverick, I thought that was normal, but I'm wondering if maybe the maverick is reading higher than actual temp or something?'s clipped to the grate with the clip that comes with it.  I'll probably take them off pretty soon.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2011
  18. sprky

    sprky Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    when I do ribs i use the 3-2-1 as a guide. the 3 may be more or less. I move to the foil when the meat starts shrinking on the bones. The foil is usually 2 or there bouts. the 1 is when when they firm up off they come. hope this helps ya out

    Happy New Year

  19. manman

    manman Smoke Blower

    do they firm up?  I think i read conflicting info.  I read before that they just get more tender and eventually the meat barely holds onto the bone, but you want to take them off before that while they still have a little firmness.  But they were saying that toughness indicates they are undercooked and not overcooked.  That's why I just let them keep going for a while...

    Here's a picture of how they came out.  They were good, and pretty juicy, but the normal tests for doneness (pull two bones apart, bending/tearing when you hold one end etc) didn't really seem to pass.  They were a little too firm I think, especially at the smaller end it was pretty tough.  



    According to the maverick my temps were good the whole time, I don't know if I just missed the window and they got firm again or what.  


    when I pulled the maverick off last night it was still showing 150f way after it was off the grate... That would explain a lot...  anyone else with the   ET732  have a similar problem?  Seems like some people on amazon have seen the same thing.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2012

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