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Weber Charcoal Smoker - 18.5" ; Inconsistancies, and Novice Issues - Please Advise!

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Greetings everyone!


In advance I would like to thank you for reading my thread. Any assistance would be greatly be appreciated.


My Comforts: Recipe - I feel I can handle and modify this area of my smoking/cooking craft. I haven't ate anything that has tasted, well, like total "crap".


My Concerns -

Charcoal: Ive used Kingsford charcoal predominantly. Twice I have stepped away from the blue and white Kingsford bag and have used lump charcoal (royal king) and the matchlight charcoal (with lighterfluid infused to the brickettes). I live in Ohio. I feel that is important to mention because I bought my smoker in the middle - late fall of 2013. I used it once in a while in the fall, winter, and few times in the spring.


Lighting method: I tried lighter fluid a few times. I should have revoked my man card immediately. I apologize for my mistake. I haven't used kindling, but have used with success (after a burning period) Weber's lighter cubes.




Specific Questions:


Air Temperature: Does this affect at what temperature charcoal burns and for how long? I would think it would, but I just don't know from my experience. During the winter months, I used the white/blue bags of Kingsford in the winter, 30 degree temperature from 5pm until about 1-2am and it burned at 250dg consistently for that duration. The air flow controls at the bottom were open all the way throughout the smoking. I only smoked wings, and purposely loaded the smoker up with charcoal as an experiment. However, the other week with air temperatures varying from 50 -70 dg, I used the same charcoal and lighting method, air controls at (approx) 80% open, and the smoker arrived at 300dg when I put my turkey breast on. I placed the turkey breast on, and the  immediate temperature peaked between 250-260 dg, and never went back up. I ran wings prior to that with similar air conditions to the 50-70dg temps, and at fully open air controls it maxed out around 400. I moved them to about 60% open, and cooled the smoker to 250 (which was the goal). The lack of consistency between the turkey breast and the wings at 50-70dg air temps bothers me. I understand that if a smoker peaks at a temp, and I open up the air flow, it won't get higher. Seems like I can only peak at a temp and back off, or hit a temp and maintain, and not to continue to climb once I under achieve a desired temp.


Bark: I bought a charcoal smoker because I had a masterbuilt electric smoker, and it wasn't working well for larger pieces of meat. I can't get a bark. Frustrated and can't get this going. Have followed recipe after recipe with no success. Thoughts? I also understand that sugars help caramelize which creates bark.


Amount of smoke: I have mastered chicken wings. In my weber charcoal smoker I use pieces of wood (apple) that are an inch in length, quarter inch in width, and a quarter inch deep. (Wings sit in the smoker for an hour, get flipped half way through, and finish on the grill). That seems to be enough smoke. I buy a bag of wood chunks, and it seems like its going to take years to get through it. Anyone else have this issue, especially those who have used the same type of smoker? I constantly worry about over smoking because I do it frequently. I did it with the turkey breast I just previously mentioned (not the point of not eating it, but should have just used one of those sized wood chips, instead I used two).



I tried to be as concise and thorough as possible. Thanks for reading everyone!


post #2 of 12
For lighting, buy a charcoal chimney. You fill them with charcoal, load the bottom with newspaper and light it. As for the temps, I have to think you're not using enough charcoal. What arrangement are you using with the coals?
post #3 of 12
I have a 21 inch weber and love it. I use a chimney as well. Mostly kingsford and royal oak brickettes. I go in dirrect stlye. I also made a copy of a smokeanator 1000 to do low and slow cooks. I have all styles of cookers, gas, weber, offset and a mes. But the forvorites is the weber. Happy grillin!
post #4 of 12

If you are loading it with all burning fuel, you will have high temp runs at first, then not enough fuel to keep temps up, regardless of air intake and exhaust vent positions. You have reduced the BTU potential in your fuel due to burning up too much at start-up, leaving ash-covered burning fuel on the coal grate.


Smoke wood amounts you speak of seem entirely too little to be over-smoking anything but the smallest pieces of meat. I think that using lighter fluid to ignite your fuel is tainting your food. As mentioned above, get a charcoal chimney...use it over your gas burner of a outdoor stove or even a gas grill will work to easily light the fuel. When in a pinch, I've used a small propane torch to light my chimney.


Also, consider using this form of the Minion Method for loading fuel and maintaining chamber temps for long burn times...I was linked this photo in a PM...can't find the source thread...called SmokinAl's Method...note the small amount of burning coals, the tin can to keep the fire from jumping across, and the smoke wood chunks spread throughout the unlit fuel...this can be used successfully with hardwood lump as well...some use briquettes to start the fire, with unlit lump as the main fuel source:

09 Smokin'Al's Method.JPG




post #5 of 12

I use an 18.5 WSM. Weather makes a difference, I sometimes have trouble keeping up temps during cold windy weather, the wind can suck the temps right out of the smoker. For higher temp cooks or cold weather I don't use water but instead use a terra cotta flower pot saucer covered in aluminum foil, placed in the water pan. His serves as a heat sink and shields the meat from direct heat. Not having to boil water also saves fuel.


I use lump charcoal and 3 to 5 fist sized chunks of smoking wood I don't usually add more smoke wood. I have a friend who used the smaller pieces of wood (chips) like you mentioned and she got too much smoke too fast. It also helps to let the initial smoke die back a bit before adding the meat. That first smoke can be bitter. Through much of there smoke there is no visible smoke coming out the exhaust.


I use a variation of the Minion method, I insert a propane torch through a bottom vent and through a hole in the charcoal ring and start a corner of the charcoal on fire. I just want a small section to be burning.  I remove the torch and place the center section on. This creates a chimney effect and helps the fire catch. Finally put on the lid and wait for  the temp to get up and the smoke to die down a bit.


Hope this helps.

post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 

Oh wow, you all are awesome. I learned a lot from reading through your comments.


@resstealth - If you look at the picture that @forluvofsmoke posted just a couple comments later, take that but no can, and fill the ring up completely all the way around, not just one side.


@resstealth & @dwsmith43 - I have a weber charcoal chimney, but the I feel that I dumped the charcoal on too late. They were glowing orange when I dumped them in, and were out shortly there after. Also, those were the only charcoal brickettes I had, nothing else so that could have very well had something to do with it. Would you recommend dumping the charcoal from the chimney onto a bed of other non-lit charcoal sitting in the smoker? What color does the charcoal look like when you dump it?


@forluvofsmoke - Thanks for the info / photo. I think the "over smoking" concern was touched on by @BadMoonT2, I've added the meat at the beginning when there is "harsh" smoke getting to the food. I get excited for lack of a better way to put it, because of my temp and duration of temp control issues, and want to get the meat on the smoker fast. I need to be more patient. I'll try that charcoal arrangement. Would you recommend just the half circle of charcoal like in photo, or a full circle?


For those of you who have a weber charcoal smoker, how do you deal with reloading and having that huge water bowl in there? Not use the water bowl, but something else for moisture? Is the charcoal glowing orange when you add more fuel? I assume you don't want to remove the middle section and lid to add /change charcoal.


I have a pork shoulder (2 1/2 - 3lb) I just pulled out of the freezer to smoke this week. I'm going adjust and do the following:

- Charcoal distribution, just like in the photo.

- Add a little more wood than a single fist full (or slightly smaller) chunk (maybe 2?)

- Let the smoke from the start initially clear out over about an hour or so and then add the meat.


Sorry for all the questions. I appreciate all the help!

post #7 of 12

If you load fuel like the photo shows, you want a fair amount of gap between the start and end of the fuel so the fire doesn't jump across and burn from both ends...temp control may be more difficult, as well as less burn time may be the result.


The initial smoke from wood contains a lot of water vapor...that's why it looks white. It's not necessarily a bad thing, especially with larger cuts of meat. I prefer a heavy white smoke when I first start a smoke on large cuts of meat...gets a good dose of smoke on the meat before the surface temps get higher...this allows for more smoke flavor. As for getting the meat into the smoker quickly, there's really nothing wrong with that, provided you don't have a runaway with chamber temps. It's easier to open you intakes a bit more to bump temps up than it is to try to choke a fire back after a runaway...that, and, a choked-out fire is sometimes difficult to keep burning consistently after you do do get temps back down.


This is a very good thread on the subject of smoke...how and why smoke does what it does...lots of research and experimenting to tell the story and very well written: Understanding Smoke Management


If you experience high-temp issues, usually adding more water will resolve this, as the water adds more mass that has to be heated, and, gives the potential for more water vapor in the smoke chamber...water cools the smoke chamber via evaporation. If you suddenly experience a high temp spike that is otherwise unexplainable, and you're using water in the pan, the water pan may have boiled itself dry...temps can go sky high if you pan runs dry and vents were set for a wet pan.


As for adding fuel/smoke-woods, I have a 18" stainless steel tong dedicated for that sole purpose. I can add burning coals or wood without disturbing the fire and causing air-borne ash to travel up through the smoke chamber and drop on my food...ah, ash covered food...that must be the charcoal smoker's #1 worst nightmare...nasty, gritty chew, for sure, not to mention the tell-tale color on the surface...BTW, yes, I've been there and done that...LOL!!!




post #8 of 12

Possibly you might get some insight from here:



post #9 of 12
Pops beat me to it... that's a good tutorial he posted...
post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 

@Pops6927 - If I read that correctly, after heating the charcoal in the chimney, you pour the burning coals into can, let the heat from that light the other coals, and then pull it out? I'm confused as to how that read about putting the coals into the can, and then pull the can. Other than that, its an awesome read! Thanks for the link! Appreciate your help as well @forluvofsmoke and @JckDanls 07!

post #11 of 12
John.. once you poor the lit coals into the can use some pliers and gently lift (twisting and shaking at same time) the can (open on both ends) up and out ... leaving the lit coals down in the hole... do this as soon as you poor the lit coals in ...
post #12 of 12
I'm a newbie as well, thanks for the great insight and suggestions!
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