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.