Hi Everyone, I frequent this site and decide to join and post my thoughts on the WSM 18.5. This is my first smoker that I've owned for about 18 months and I smoke just about every Sunday....winters included. My family loves ribs so this is what usually goes on, but I've also done just about everything else. Here are my thoughts in no particular order:
Fuel: I've tried 3 types of charcoal
1. Kingsford Blue - Excellent for long smokes (10 to 20 hrs) and very easy to maintain temp. This is what I use for overnight smokes. It takes a little patience and practice to get and maintain TBS (thin blue smoke).
2. Walmart Brand Briquests - Same performance as Kingsford from a temp standpoint, but they take a little longer to light up and seem to take a little more work to establish TBS. It might be me but my meat smoked with Kingsford seems to have a nicer smoke flavor.
3. Royal Oak Lump - Burns faster and hotter than briquets and needs less air on the intake compared to briquets. A little more work to maintain temp vs. briquets especially if you have a heat sink on the lower shelf like a pan of baked beans. Very very easy to establish TBS. This is my go to charcoal for smokes of less than 10 hrs and the flavor on my meat smoked with Royal Oak lump is excellent. An additional grate needs to be put over the original charcoal grate so that some of the smaller lump doesn't fall through.
I installed this on the lid, door and lower portion to make the WSM more air tight. The door and lower portion seem to work great. The upper lid gets a build up of smokey goo that runs down onto the lid gasket and after half a dozen smokes the lid will get stuck when the WSM cools down and the goo solidifies. This will happen with and without the Nomex gasket on the lid. The problem is that the gasket absorbs all of this goo and it impossible to get it out. I currently run without the upper gasket and when the lid starts to stick I do 2 things: first, I run a full chimney of charcoal with all vents open and the pan removed. This seems to burn off the goo. Second, I scrape the stuff off of the section where the gasket used to be and the lid where it meets the body. If my lid is stuck I fire up a MAP GAS torch and go around it a couple of times......this softens up the goo and allows me to remove the lid.
For smokes less than 10 hrs during the day I monitor temp using a remote digital temp probe and make an occasional adjustment. To start the WSM I use approx 6 pieces of lump or a dozen briquets and open one intake vent. Patience is the key. Better to use less charcoal and have it come up slowly than to use a lot of charcoal and choke it out to bring temps down. I purchased an Auberins PID controller and fan for overnight smokes so that I can sleep........It works excellent and doubles as an additional temp probe for day smokes. I use the minion method for all smokes and so far it has worked out fine. If you need to pull food out before it's done (like foiling ribs), pull the entire grate(s) and leave the lid off for as little time as possible......this makes easier to get your smoker back to temp quicker.
If I had to do it over I would purchase the larger 22" WSM. The only reason is that most rib racks at the grocery store are a bit too long to fit on the grate without cutting. Even if I cut 2 racks in half they take up the entire grate and sometimes I need to use the lower grate where I like to smoke beans. I haven't used the fancy hangers to hang the ribs vertically but I use the 3-2-1 cooking method and it sounds like it would be a pain to rehang the ribs after foiling.
Happy Smoking, Steve