Mixing charcoal - lump and briquette?

Discussion in 'WSM Owners (Weber Smokey Mountain)' started by brazosbrian, Apr 27, 2015.

  1. brazosbrian

    brazosbrian Smoke Blower


      Thanks in advance... WSM newb here.  Just got, after waiting all winter (this is Alaska), my 18.5" WSM.  Installed my Cajun Bandit door, latch, and Nomex seal kit, then ran a first seasoning run yesterday... about 8 hours at 250-275 with some greasy old freezer burned beef from the chest freezer(!).  While that was cooking away (and man was it easier than doing low and slow on a Weber kettle!!), I watched a bunch of YouTube videos ...and have questions:

    1. One guy claims that he can get 12+ hours out of an 18.5 WSM if he uses Kingsford blue bag briquettes and an empty water bowl, and about 4 hours less if you use water in the bowl.  Because I'm not a big fan of the asphalt-like chemistry in briquettes, I've been leaning towards American-grown (oak etc) hardwood lump charcoal ...but will it do an overnight burn if I use a minion method like he did ('donut' of charcoal around perimeter, small well in center where a dozen list briquettes go)?  Or should I mix the briquettes with the hardwood to at least reduce the chemistry a bit, still using as much hardwood charcoal as I can?  I'd like to do some overnight brisket runs...

    2. Minion method ...I see 2 kinds.  There's the camp where lit coals are spread over the top of a bed of charcoal, and there's the camp where you put a few lit chunks in the middle and let the charcoal burn outward as it goes.  What are the pros and cons?  

    3. With water, about 5 or 6 lbs of 90% frozen beef (2 chunks, one on each grill), and the 'spread lit coals over a bed of unlit' minion method, all vents wide open, my gasket kit and Cajun Bandit door (nearly zero leakage), my new unit ran 260-275 F or so ...seems cool, but is this expected for the water and frozen beef load that I put in it?  Even after the beef was thawed and apparently cooked (mahogany colored, shrunk up in shape), the cooker still ran at about 275 F.  Seems like it ought to have gotten hotter once the meat was hot ...but then again, my gasket kit results in very little air infiltration other than what's supposed to go in via the vents ...so maybe mine will not get as hot as some other folks'??  Is this normal?

    Putting on the lid hinge and maybe some caster wheels tonight ...new door latch from Cajun Bandit coming soon.  Planning on side handles too ...and yes, taking pix of my pimping-out of the Q as I go :).  Will post a qview soon...


    Last edited: Apr 27, 2015
  2. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Grats on the smoker! Now a few pointers:

    Charcoal: Lump burns hotter and cleaner, but does not pack uniformly into the charcoal ring so you tend to run out sooner.

                      Briquets - more uniform shape, packs the ring in a uniform manner that will burn at a very steady controlled rate.

    You can mix lump and briquets as much as you want, go nuts and once you find a mix you like stick with it.

    When it comes to fuel consumption the biggest factor is wind (not cold, wind). The WSM is not super thick skinned so wind will sap it's temps very fast. If you build a good wind shed or wrap your smoker you will find it much easier to control temps and get long steady burns even in the worst weather. I wrap my 22.5" WSM in a welding blanket and that lets me run it in below 30° weather with gusty cold wind almost as easily as running it in summer.

    To set up your WSM I recommend two basic loads. For smokes less than 6-8 hrs. fill the ring half way, bury 4 or 5 fist sized chunks of wood in the charcoal, light half a chimney of charcoal and dump it in the middle of the ring - just leave it in a pile in the middle, don't spread it out. For longer smokes repeat that layer again (so you have charcoal/wood/charcoal/wood), then light it the same way.

    Also remember the lid therm can be waaayy off, you need to use a calibrated therm and check each grate separately, then compare that to your lid therm.

    Me personally I just use Kingsford Blue Bag now. During the summer with nice weather I can get 22+ hours out of a 20 lb. load of charcoal, and during the winter with my welding blanket I get about 18+ hrs.
  3. brazosbrian

    brazosbrian Smoke Blower

    Thanks, JlRodriquez!  Those burn times are amazing... and to think that I went all winter re-feeding my Weber kettle every 45 minutes (once the first 1-1/3 hour load started to taper off in temperature) for long cooks.  This WSM thing is magic... love it!

    Understand on the welding blanket.  I used to have an old Brinkman (what a PITA to keep burning ...but I never mod'd it and it needed better ventilation) up in Fairbanks, Alaska that I ran in temps as cold as 45 below ...by building a 'smoke shack' around it out of foil-faced 3" thick foam insulation board (4 sides and a roof).  I used to have pictures... it worked great.  Now that we live in the Knik area, it's not as cold but it's more windy ...mostly in winter though.  My summer cooking ought to be in light airs most of the time...

    I will definitely give your 'pick one'  minion method a shot... thanks for the clear description.  Does the 'ring of fire' get hotter as it burns from the inside out?  Starts as a small ring of burning charcoal and the ring grows larger as it burns outward?  Just wondering... and happened to just think of that now.


    PS: My temperatures noted above were from the dome thermometer on the lid, which I now read can be up to 50F off and reads 15-20 F higher than grill height.  Note that I have the new (--742 something I think?) Maverick dual-probe wireless thermometer, but haven't tried it yet ...need to read up on calibration and/or checking for accuracy - and will check the dome thermometer too.  Mayhaps it has an adjustment so you can calibrate it to read lower than the dome actually is... say, adjust it to indicate an estimated grill temperature?  Not sure if that's possible.  Hot run tonight ...empty and supervised.  Fatty-meat 225 F run tomorrow night, then will start with some chicken this weekend... 
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2015
  4. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I just used my new 18.5 Saturday. Personally I like to fill the charcoal ring full then use a method of lighting that involves torching one area with a propane torch. For long smokes I use KBB for shorter smokes I use lump. I smoked beef ribs. They took 6 hours at 235. I let the smoker keep going and it finally dropped below 235 at around hour 16. I've made no mods yet, and everything leaks. I didn't quite use a full 18 pound bag. There's probably enough in the bag for another 2-3 hours of burn time. Should mention I don't use water, just the foiled pan.

    Side light method. I have the body removed for clarity. When using this method you want the body and lid on, all vents open. It took about 8-10 minutes to get up to 225. For hotter smokes I'll torch two different sides.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2015
  5. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    The main thing with the minion method is to have a large pile of unlit charcoal and then a smaller pile of lit concentrated in one general area. This lets the fire burn down and out as it goes - doesn't make it hotter, just keeps the burn going longer. Some folks use a coffee can with bottom and top cut out - the place that in the middle of the grate, dump the unlit all around it, then dump the lit inside of it, then use a pair of pliers to pull the can out of the charcoal. Other folks leave a divit on one side and dump all the lit on that side - I've always just done the dump on top method myself.

    Best way to use the lid therm is fire it up, use your probe to get a reading on both racks by shoving the each therm on your probe completely through a potato then placing the potato's in the middle of each rack. Once the top rack hits 250° note the temp on your bottom rack and on your lid therm - then mentally adjust for those offsets on future smokes. So if the top rack is at 250°, lower rack is say 265° and lid reads 235°. Then you can look at your lid therm and use that as a rough guide by adding +15° for the upper rack and +30° for the lower. Still a good idea to re-check the lid to the racks at least 1x a year if not more just to make sure it doesn't change on you, but that should get you in the ballpark most of the time.... and there is no way to calibrate the lid therm, it's just there.

    Here are a few shots of my WSM showing various set ups over the ages:

  6. welshrarebit

    welshrarebit Master of the Pit

    If you're gonna be doing a shorter smoke you could also put a smaller charcoal basket into the larger one and fill both edges, top and bottom, with unlit fuel and put half a chimney with lit fuel in the middle.


    I did a three hour smoke doing this. It worked really well and had about half the charcoal left....

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  7. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    You guys have some pretty charcoal setups.  I've got the 22.5".  I'll load the basket full then just keep reusing the charcoal until I need to fill it back up again.  Most of my smokes are chicken, ribs, turkey, meat loaf, sausage, pork loins/tenderloins, the shorter stuff (6 hours or less).  My wife isn't a big pulled pork fan (I am) and brisket is just too dang expensive for my tastes these days.  Those smokes go long, 9-18 hours depending on my chamber temp (I'm more of a hot n fast guy for big hunks of meat).  I'll do pulled pork, brisket, or chuckies when the kids visit if they request it.  I always do pulled pork for neighborhood parties and work pot lucks. 

    The pics below are what's left from my smoke this past weekend and I started with used charcoal.  The first pic is what was left in the basket after Sunday's smoke before I knocked the ash off.  The second pic is after it has been stirred and "de-ashed."  I just cleaned the bowl prior to this past weekend's smoke so it is good for another smoke without being cleaned.  I usually go a couple smokes before cleaning the bowl.  I knock the ash off, pick the loaded grate and basket up and put them on the bricks you see in the picture, clean out the bowl, then put it back.  Easy peasy. 

    This past weekend I just added 1/3 chimney and some wood (hickory and oak) to used charcoal in the basket.  Smoked SLCs for 6 hours then choked off the fire.  I easily have another 3-4 hours of charcoal left in that basket for the next smoke but it is ready to load again.  Had three previous smokes on that load.  I'll add some wood, more briquettes, then more wood and the hot briquettes. 

    If I am going to do a hot smoke (325-375F) for poultry, I'll add lump to the pile of used briquettes instead of KBB.  KBB works fine but lump definitely is hotter.  I still only use KBB in my chimney to start the fire.  I just dump the hot briquettes in the middle of the pile of whatever I have in my basket.  How much I put in the chimney depends how hot a chamber I want.  225F-about 1/4 chimney.  250F-about 1/3-1/2 chimney.  275-300F-about 2/3-3/4 chimney.  325F+ a full chimney.  I don't count briquettes.     

    Last edited: Apr 27, 2015
  8. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Yup that works to. [​IMG]

    Here in Oregon though I can't do that because there is so much ambient moisture in the air that any charcoal (lump or briquet) will absorb enough over a day or to that it will be damp and skunky smelling when I go to re-light it.
  9. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    The welding blanket works well on most smokers to help with temperature control - especially in the cold, wind or rain. Just be careful not to restrict the top vent too much by completely covering it as you need to keep a constant air/smoke flow through the smoker. The first time I tried it I inadvertently put the coals out part way through the smoke through lack of air flow. 

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