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Early Experiences with our new WSM 18.5”

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

As mentioned in my Roll Call initial post, I’ve used a Weber 22.5” Performer for years – mainly indirect method for rib roasts and chickens. After a friend told us of the possibilities available with the WSM 18.5, we bought one to give it a try.

 

After seasoning the grill and calibrating the lid thermometer to actual internal temp (it reads about 15-20 degrees less than real internal chamber temp), our first smoke was a 3 rib roast on the top shelf with potatoes, onions, and whole garlic cloves on the second shelf using the water bowl filled about a third, and a baseball sized hunk of apple and cherry in with the coals (modified minion method to start). With the temp stabilized at 275 I took it off at an internal temp of 125. 

 

 

I was pleased with the appearance but the bark wasn’t as thick and crunchy as our previous kettle method. A sweet smoky taste was present, but the texture was not what I was used to when using the kettle indirect at 450 degrees.  It was a bit ‘rubbery’, kind of similar to when re-heating leftover meats.  Thinking it might be due to the steam/humidity from the water bowl, I read more on the reasoning and pros/cons for using a water bowl.  It seems there are differing schools of thought as to using water during a smoke – some adamantly for it yet another group against. So I thought I’d try our second smoke (two chickens quartered) with a dry bowl.

 

These first two attempts were mainly practice runs anyway as I was trying to learn the ropes of controlling the temperature using the bottom vents (I’m always leaving the upper vent wide open as many here suggest).  This second time was easier to hit a steady temp of 250 by leaving the two back vents closed and only using the front vent open about 1/3 or so. The suggestion to avoid large changes in the vent openings during adjustments and to allow five minutes between changes proved key, and the chicken turned out great – smoky yet mouth-wateringly juicy.

 

Personally, I don’t care for the large size of the water bowl, so I read some folks recommend a terra cotta planter saucer instead of the bowl.  I checked our local big box stores and nurseries, and found one about 14-1/4” in diameter (all other sizes were either too large or too small).  I would’ve liked it to hang further over the supports as it didn’t seem very stable, but by adding the aluminum foil it seemed to rest OK but still seemed like it wouldn’t take much to jar it off.

 

The third smoke was a pork butt on the bottom shelf and a few stacks of ribs on the top shelf.  This was a five hour smoke at 225 with a few baseball sized chunks of apple and one of cherry.  Although I had read that many recommend foiling the butt and even the ribs for at least 1-2 hours near the end, I wanted to see how it turned out without doing such, thinking that folks have been smoking meats for years, long before foil was discovered.

 

 

The meat fell off the ribs and tasted great.  The flavor of the pork butt was fantastic, but admittedly somewhat dry (suspect everyone is right about needing to cover with foil to retain moisture for this cut of meat).

 

Our fourth and fifth smokes were once again dry using the terra cotta saucer and two chickens quartered with about a 3 hour smoke each time at 250-75 degrees.  I don’t have pictures of those but they turned out great with some family saying they were some of the best smoked chicken they’ve had.

 

As I usually open all vents at the end to raise the temp so I can clean the grates with a short bristle triangle brush, on the fifth smoke my concern about the stability of the terra cotta saucer was justified.  Although I wasn’t scrubbing the top grate aggressively, it must’ve caused just enough vibration of the smoker as the saucer with all of the chicken fat and grease fell down on top of the coals.  Not a major problem as I was done with the smoke, so I just put the lid back on and closed all of the vents.  If this had happened in the middle as I was removing a butt to foil, though, it could’ve ruined the smoke, so I knew I wanted to find an alternative to the terra cotta saucer.

 

I found exactly what I had envisioned at a local cooking supply store –

It is a 14-1/2” round baking pan by Fat Daddio’s (just happened to be the brand our store sells – suspect there are many other mnfrs out there) with the sides vertical and the lower diameter (bottom) measuring 14”.  As the distance between the supports on our WSM 18.5” is 14”, it seemed this would be a perfect fit, and indeed it was.  To make for a bit more room I hammered a few times at the 0, 90, 180, and 270 degree positions to flatten it some (see red arrows in the picture) and to allow it to slip in easier when wrapped in foil.  Weighing only 1 lb 2 oz, it weighs about a fifth of the terra cotta saucer so is much easier to handle. 

With a depth of 2-3/16”, it still provides enough room if someone wished to add some water (or sand), but still provides full access to the coal chamber if needed, and excellent air flow around the sides.  It almost seems like it was made for the WSM 18.5, and there is no way this will ever fall down into the coals.  So the large water bowl is now in the attic, and I now use the terra cotta saucer for the chimney to rest on while it is heating up.

 

I cooked a beef tenderloin wrapped in bacon yesterday -

 

 

 

The appearance of the meat looks dark in the picture (above) because I wrapped it in the fridge overnight with a layer of Kosher salt, coarse black pepper and garlic salt.

This portion weighed about 4 lbs, so I cooked at 275 deg for a few hours, off at an internal temp of 130, using a hunk of apple and cherry wood. Right at the end I opened all the vents to raise the temp for 5-10 min to cook the bacon more.

 

It was rare plus to medium rare and tasted great.  Next time I’ll try to find bacon with enough length to cover the beef without needing to overlap additional slices, as the inner bacon didn’t cook down very much. The new pan worked flawlessly.

 

In sum, as Beginners to the field of smoking our early experience with the WSM 18.5” shows it to be a great smoker which allows for a fairly smooth transition to the basic concepts of smoking for those accustomed to indirect kettle cooking, especially if one reads the wealth of information, tips, and advice found on this forum. Thanks.

post #2 of 17

Nice summary!  You sir will have that WSM mastered in no time flat. 

post #3 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thank you, Sir! New pictures (QView) of another rib roast, as I really wanted to compare it to the first one I did using water which turned out 'rubbery'.  This was a 2 rib roast weighing in at 4 lbs.  I know it is difficult to compare different cuts of meat, but as the rubbery texture was something new for me in a nice rib roast, it seemed less likely to be due to the cut as opposed to the water/steam.

I left at room temp for an hour or so and covered it in Lawry's Seasoned Salt.  Then into the readied WSM (with ring only half full, a piece of cherry, modified minion to start, my new round pan instead of the water bowl, and dry), for about 2-1/2 to 3 hours at 300 with some potatoes on the bottom shelf.

I took it off at 130-135 degrees this time, and it looked great and smelled even better with an amazingly sweet smoky aroma! Without the water/steam, the inside of the WSM also had a similarly mouth-watering scent yet with that dryness I've been more accustomed to over the years with the kettle.  When cutting, it was juicy with a warm red center and a nice crust and the knife just glided right through -

Needless to say there wasn't anything left on this plate!

 

So I remain pleased with the lightweight pan rather than the large water bowl, and clean-up is a snap. I am curious as to how many of you all use water in the WSM when cooking, as I don't ever see myself trying that again.  Maybe for some cuts of meat I can understand the humidity part, but why not just foil if you have a butt or other type that needs that extra time in its own juices?  And so far I'm not having any significant temperature swings for once I set the vents and get underway, it really remains incredibly stable.  And there's something about that dry sweet smoke that really seems to hit home for me.

 

Thanks for reading!

post #4 of 17

The only time I use water in the water pan is when I want to lay down some smoke flavoring quickly.  I rarely use water, preferring to "dry smoke" or "wet to dry smoke" the vast majority of the time. 

 

It has been proven that more smoke will adhere to the meat in a moist environment.  My wife is a "super taster" so she's not big on a lot of smoke.  She can taste the difference in a wet and dry smoke, I kid you not. 

 

As far as how the "steam" impacts the moisture of the meat, I'm hesitant to go there.  That will start a Mobius loop discussion on the impact of using water.  Bottom line, the water pan is there as a heat sink to control temps.  I've never noticed a difference in the moistness of the meat whether smoking wet or dry.        

post #5 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thank you for your comments.  Having read about the concept of using water, sand, lava rocks (etc.) as a 'heat sink to control temps', I am a bit puzzled as to the necessity for such?  Undoubtedly I am a neophyte to all of the nuances and science behind this great method of cooking, but it seems once I set the vents by making small adjustments and giving the smoker time to re-equilibrate, the temperature curve remains flat for hours (I have not done a smoke longer than six hours, however).  In fact, in my experience (N=1, though) of using the water, I had more difficulty with adjustments and seemed to overshoot or undershoot, perhaps as the water was blunting the effects of the vent changes I was making and not allowing a more accurate feel for what the coals were actually doing with the increased or decreased oxygen availability.

post #6 of 17
Water will definitely "blunt" the vent adjustments, thus proof of the heat sink. My dry water pan is merely a heat diffuser to ensure indirect heat. I have smoked without the water pan in the WSM. I definitely had hot spots so the dry water pan works fine for me.
post #7 of 17
Thread Starter 

Indeed, that was what the water seemed to do. And since our WSM seems stable around a set temp when I've correctly equilibrated the vents, the water just seemed to introduce an extra variable which made regulating the chamber temperature actually more complex than needed (at least for me). As you indicate, the dry pan (either the water bowl as you use or the smaller pan as I) serves the purpose of indirect heat generation, while also allowing the juices and fat generated from above to simmer on the pan's surface during the smoke.  Intuitively at least, it would seem that should enhance the flavor of the smoke inside the chamber as well.

post #8 of 17
I place my flower pot saucer in the empty pan.
post #9 of 17
Thread Starter 

That should absorb and radiate the heat well - some folks use terra cotta flower pots of decreasing size and bolted together as a form of radiant heater when camping.

 

I have two 4-lb chickens I'm planning on quartering and smoking today, so I'll take some more pictures for QView.  I'm thinking about two hunks of apple and one of cherry this time around with my standard Stubbs coals.  As 'Noboundaries' mentioned with his wife, my wife doesn't care for a heavy smoke flavor, nor do my relatives with whom I share, but they all really like the apple and cherry taste.  I'm also planning on letting the coals burn longer before I place the chicken on, as I think I have been starting the smoke a little too soon (where some of the early smoke is still burning off).  I think that was a recommendation from 'Noboundaries' in another thread, and I think I have been guilty of that in my learning curve.  That is one thing I have to get over from the transition from kettle cooking - the coals last a lot longer in the WSM so no need to rush.

post #10 of 17
I'm a bit confused. When you were talking about cooking the ribs and the pork butt you mention a 5 hour cook time. Which is fine for the ribs, but a typical butt takes much longer. How big was the butt, and to what IT did you cook it too. I do butts all the time without foil and have never had a dry one. Most that I smoke average 8-9 pounds in weight and usually take 16-20 hours to reach a finished IT of 200-205.

I should also mention that I am from the no water in the water bowl camp and prefer a dry smoke chamber. I use sand during the winter months in my water pans to add thermal mass.
post #11 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by falconNorthFL View Post

That should absorb and radiate the heat well - some folks use terra cotta flower pots of decreasing size and bolted together as a form of radiant heater when camping.

 

I have two 4-lb chickens I'm planning on quartering and smoking today, so I'll take some more pictures for QView.  I'm thinking about two hunks of apple and one of cherry this time around with my standard Stubbs coals.  As 'Noboundaries' mentioned with his wife, my wife doesn't care for a heavy smoke flavor, nor do my relatives with whom I share, but they all really like the apple and cherry taste.  I'm also planning on letting the coals burn longer before I place the chicken on, as I think I have been starting the smoke a little too soon (where some of the early smoke is still burning off).  I think that was a recommendation from 'Noboundaries' in another thread, and I think I have been guilty of that in my learning curve.  That is one thing I have to get over from the transition from kettle cooking - the coals last a lot longer in the WSM so no need to rush.


IMO, If your smoking chicken I recommend a dry pan (or no pan) and no heat sink ( water, sand, clay saucer) so you can get into the 350*F range +/- 25*F to get the skin crisp. If not you'll end up with rubber skin.
post #12 of 17
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dirtsailor2003 View Post

I'm a bit confused. When you were talking about cooking the ribs and the pork butt you mention a 5 hour cook time. Which is fine for the ribs, but a typical butt takes much longer. How big was the butt, and to what IT did you cook it too. I do butts all the time without foil and have never had a dry one. Most that I smoke average 8-9 pounds in weight and usually take 16-20 hours to reach a finished IT of 200-205.

I should also mention that I am from the no water in the water bowl camp and prefer a dry smoke chamber. I use sand during the winter months in my water pans to add thermal mass.

As that was about 4 weeks ago I can't recall exactly, but it was small - probably 3-3.5 lbs at most if I were to guess now, and I took it off at 200 as I remember. Thinking back it didn't seem to have much fat, but as that was the first one I had ever tried I didn't know what to expect when picking one out at the store (which is also why I didn't want to buy a large one and end up wasting it due to my inexperience). Interesting to hear you don't foil, for that is the path I would ideally like to follow on everything I smoke, so I may try another one.

 

What temperature do you aim for inside the chamber - 225, 250, or ?  Thanks.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bama BBQ View Post


IMO, If your smoking chicken I recommend a dry pan (or no pan) and no heat sink ( water, sand, clay saucer) so you can get into the 350*F range +/- 25*F to get the skin crisp. If not you'll end up with rubber skin.

That is a very good point (the higher temperature), and something I'm trying to get a feel for, especially with poultry.  We like the crispy skin that we've been used to with the kettle over the years, but I was concerned if I smoked it too fast that I might miss out on some of that good smoke flavor.  It seems reading some threads here that I may be incorrect in that assumption, though?

post #13 of 17
Typically I run my smoker around 265f when I am smoking pork butts. I buy mine bulk. Two 8-10 pound bone in butts (aka shoulders) come cryopacked together. What you had was one of the halls of the shoulder that you would get if you de-bones the whole cut.
post #14 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thank you, ds23. I may need to identify a smaller cut of pork with more fat amenable to a smoke as it is just my wife and I, although I always try to call relatives when I crank up the WSM as I might as well use all of the shelves.  As I write this the sweet apple and cherry smoke permeates my clothes, and the chicken is just about ready!

 

One other thought - I keep reading about the 'blue smoke' as the goal, but honestly, where it seems to get really interesting and enticing, is where there is 'no smoke', just an intense sweet smokiness of whatever in inside cooking away, but no visible smoke seen.  I followed nb's suggestion in the other thread to let the coals mature longer before adding the chicken, and although smoke did show for a bit after taking the lid off, it settled back down and I have seen virtually no smoke running at 325.  The aroma is amazing, though.  I'm really looking to see how this run turns out - I'll post QView tomorrow.  Thanks again for everyone for their seasoned advice.

post #15 of 17
Don't be alarmed by not seeing the smoke. If you can smell it you're smokin. Especially at the higher temps and depending on the sunlight the TBS can be really hard to see. If you really want to see it put a Twister game mat out near the smoker and start playing!
post #16 of 17

Great post. Glad you love the WSM. I love my Webers too.

post #17 of 17
Thread Starter 

QView Pictures of yesterday's Chicken!

Quote:

Originally Posted by dirtsailor2003 View Post

Don't be alarmed by not seeing the smoke. If you can smell it you're smokin. Especially at the higher temps and depending on the sunlight the TBS can be really hard to see. If you really want to see it put a Twister game mat out near the smoker and start playing!

Now that is a quote - "If you can smell it you're smokin." !!  I think that is something I misunderstood about this great way of cooking, feeling that 'smoke' had to always be seen.  It sure seems the 'sweet spot' to aim for is that intensely sweet aroma of the meat, pork, or chicken cooking with the apple/cheery undertones mixed with the drippings without seeing actual smoke.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by timberjet View Post
 

Great post. Glad you love the WSM. I love my Webers too.

Thank you, timberjet!

 

As promised, here is the QView from yesterday's chicken, which was two 4 pounders coated with vegetable oil and Lawry's Seasoned Salt.

As it was going to be a rather short smoke, I only filled the ring about 1/3 full of Stubbs and two apple and one cherry hunks.

The pan continues to work great, so here are three pictures before the foil showing in more detail how it fits perfectly between the supports and provides excellent airflow and room for the charcoal chamber.

 

 

After heating up the starter coals in the chimney, on they went -

 

 

As 'Noboundaries' previously suggested in a different thread, I let it heat up for about 45 minutes and started setting the vents so it would stabilize around 325, then on went the chicken -

It didn't take very long for the smoke to clear completely, and I stopped the smoke about 1 hr 45 min later.  The top rack has already been removed and off to our relatives, so here is a picture of the second shelf which was our portion -

As the grates are easier to clean right after the smoke I open up the vents and the door so I can heat up the bristle brush and quickly scrub.  I re-insert into the coal chamber above the coals to vaporize any of the grime on the brush.  The grates are simple to clean this way in less than a minute's time.

 

The end result tasted great, and everyone was pleased with the flavors of the apple and cherry.

Although it is not very cost-effective, I prefer to use only new coals with each smoke for consistency, so I always keep the vents open to allow the charcoal to burn completely, which also allows the following morning's clean-up to be accomplished quickly.  In less than two minutes I can remove the foil from the pan and dump the ashes from the bottom into a garbage bag, and I'm ready for the next smoke.

 

As one can tell, I'm really having alot of fun with our WSM, and once again thanks to this forum for the great advice and tips which allow those of us new to smoking to dive right in and get smoking!

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