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New to Charcoal- WSM question

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Newbie to charcoal smoking...

Should I have my top vent completely open or not? Seems like I'm able to control my temp with the 3 lower vents, not so much the top. Manual wasn't very helpful.

Also, is Stubbs a good brand or should I use kings ford- that said, lump or briquettes? I'm leaning toward briquettes...

Thanks!
Steve, RI
Edited by Steve142 - 12/29/14 at 1:39pm
post #2 of 14
Steve, give them both a try.

There are folks who are diehard this brand or that brand. They all say heat, smell, taste play a roll. I've tried about a half dozen brands and both types and just stayed with the cheapest, Kingsford Blue Bag. Some folks despise Blue Bag. I've never had an off taste or bad bag.

I will use lump on occassion, Lazarri mesquite, for hotter smokes. I'm getting into wood fired pizza and will try both lump and brick to see what works best.

Some folks love Kingsford Competition. I wouldn't take a free bag because I found it to be less dense that blue and burned twice as fast.
post #3 of 14
I always leave the top fully open while cooking. And the KBB(kingsford blue bag) is what I always use. I've heard lump runs hotter and the uneven size doesn't work out so great. That said I will try Stubbs one of these days.
post #4 of 14

Since I replaced the door and tightened up my WSM 22.5, I always leave the top vent open all the way. I can easily raise or lower my temps by adjusting the lower vents. I always use Kingsford Blue. Not because I know it's the best...but because I'm used to it and I always know what to expect from it. No surprises.

post #5 of 14
Too vent always open. This will ensure that you have good air movement which will in turn ensure that you don't have stale smoke sitting in the cooking chamber.

For longer smokes and when smoking during inclement weather I will use Kingsford Blue. For shorter smokes I use 365 brand lump.
post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thank you all for the help- keeping it open make sense now...
post #7 of 14
As said above, top vent open. Down the road after you get to know how your smoker runs you can start to play with your top vent. I prefer stubbs for long cooks mainly for less ash volume. I use k b b in my chimney for my starter coals since it comes to hots a little faster than stubbs.
post #8 of 14
Agreed on the top vent. Always open. As for lump vs briquettes, I far and away prefer briquettes because it's just easier to load my mini consistently. I like being able to load the same amount and get predictable temps and burn times. It's not an oven, so weather will be a factor, but it's a lot more consistent for me with briquettes. I like lump and have a bag in the kitchen right now. Its especially nice for grilling or as Case said, shorter higher heat cooks. As for brands, my favorite is Stubbs all natural briquettes. They're consistent, long burning and I think pretty neutral tasting. Kingsford comp is probably my second choice. It's not nearly as long burning as Stubbs but produces significantly less ash than the blue bag and is also pretty consistent. It also has a nice neutral flavor.
post #9 of 14

Lump is good for shorter and/or high heat cooks (less than 8 hrs). The downside to lump is due to its uneven shapes it is difficult to get it to pack in evenly in the charcoal ring. This means there are larger pockets of air in the stack more air = more burn. Lump burns very clean so you have less start up smoke and a lot less ash. A trick to loading lump is fill the ring half way, then grab the ring and rotate it 1/4 turn back and forth a few times to help settle the lump into all the nooks and crannies, fill rest of ring and repeat. When you light lump only light a third to a half of a chimney - if you light a full chimney you will have a hard time getting your temps down.

 

Briquets are the opposite of lump in some regards. Uniform shape makes for an even pack in the ring and a more even distribution of air throughout the stack. There will be a lot of start up billowy white smoke for the first 10 min. or so until the temps start to come up. Briquets will burn at a very steady rate for a long time in a WSM, in the summer when the night time temps stay above 60° I can get a 22+ hr burn out of a 20 lb. bag of briquets.

 

I tried the Kingsford competition and hated it, way to much ash and didn't burn near as long, I mainly just use Kingsford blue bag for my long smokes. You can also mix lump and briquets together for a best of both worlds scenario as well. To do that fill the ring about half full with briquets, then work about 4 or 5 big pieces of lump down into them, then fill the rest of the ring with briquets and another 4 or 5 pieces of lump worked into the top. This is especially handy for overnight cooks in the winter, as the fire hits each piece of lump it gets a boost that can help keep the temps from dropping off at 4 AM when the temps dip down low.

 

With a proper load you should almost never have to add charcoal to a WSM during a cook. In all the years I have owned my 22.5" WSM there have been less than 5 times that I have had to add charcoal. Also for winter cooking if you live in a cold and/or windy area I highly suggest a welding blanket to wrap your smoker in.

post #10 of 14

I always leave the top vent completely open, its easy to control temps with the bottom vents. Most of the time I keep 2 bottoms closed and control with the other bottom vent. If more heat is called for I will open the other 2 bottom vents as needed. I prefer lump, but for a long cook you may need to add charcoal. For those just starting out briquettes may be a better option they burn longer and very consistently, the biggest problem is excess ash buildup.

post #11 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thank you all so much for the advice... It's much needed and very much appreciated! Gonna try some whole chickens tomorrow and will post a pix...
post #12 of 14

I always use Royal Oak all natural hardwood lump charcoal, the made in America version - noting that there is a Royal Oak charcoal option out there that has south american wood in it that doesn't burn as consistently.  I say "use anything you want", but am posting to dispel the "hot cook only" and "inconsistent heat" rumors.  I have a shallow wood box with my BBQ gear and when loading up the charcoal into my chimney starter, I toss the big chunks into the box ...and give them a whack with a camp hatchet and they pop into numerous pieces.  This quickly and easily resolves the issue with large chunks of charcoal ...and the Royal Oak doesn't tend to have very many of them.  Do this, and the charcoal burns every bit as good as, and much the same, as those nice consistent briquettes.

 

One point that I don't see many people making, noting that in the last 3 years that I've known 6 people who've died from cancer - and my mom's husband just died from cancer last week and she's fighting Stage 4 cancer (stable and back off the chemo, thank God), is that the whole chemical issue is something to consider.  There seems to be a cancer epidemic in western nations, where all the 85000+ artificial chemicals live in our environment and foods - great advances in the treatment of cancer, but few big advances in cancer prevention.  Education seems to be the best preventative.  So... I won't bore you too much.  The one thing that I don't like about the briquettes is all the asphalt-like chemistry in them.  Smoke itself is carcinogenic and I knowingly take that risk when it comes to smoke cooking, but if I'm going to do that ...well, I personally will also choose to avoid chemistry that isn't necessary.  We buy all organic, all natural un-enhanced meats, and use the natural hardwood charcoal ...and avoid asphalt chemicals, MSG, and any other non-natural flavorings that we don't have to choose.  Just my 2-bits...

 

Thanks,

Brian

post #13 of 14
I use kingsford blue bag primarily because it is cheap, reliable, and readily available everywhere. I also sometimes will mix lump and briquettes, the lump gives a Nice smelling smoke and flavor. For lump I like Stubbs, and cowboy brand.
post #14 of 14

I have tried lump, especially cowboy brand a few times and I don't like the way it burns up too fast. I have also heard horror stories about there being plywood and whatnot in there. I am totally against Match light and lighter fluid. Get yourself a chimney starter if you don't already have one. I pretty much swear by KBB.

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