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Charcoal Newbie with Small WSM Fire Problem

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by bagmite, Nov 22, 2010.

  1. bagmite

    bagmite Newbie

    I've been smoking for a couple of years with an MES 30 inch (thanks for all of your posts for educational purposes) and earlier this year purchased a WSM 22.5 inch.  I'm generally happy with it but can't seem to maintain temps above 225F without a lot of effort, though they are pretty stable.  Here's what I do:

    Fill the ring (usually Kingsford Blue) and use an electric starter in two spots or two batches of chimey starter.  Let it get going pretty good, electric seems to get it going a bit faster.  Once most have white edges and lot of red underneath, put top on and fill water pan with 160F tap water.  Temp usually will rise briefly to 325F or so but then settle back to 250-260 or so.  Add meat (in this case a 7lb. turkey breast as per Jeff's October Newsletter.  Breezy and 50F outside here in NJ.  Usually have all three lower vents open 25% or so and top full open.  Eventually at 90 minutes of so the temp (dome thermometer) drops to 215F or so, though it will hold there pretty well.  Not horrible, but I'm trying to figure out the air control.

    My sense is that air movement through the unit due to wind knocks the temps down - is this reasonable to assume?  Put up a windscreen and closed upwind vents, then stirred charcoal a bit and temp rises, only to drop again in a little while.  Is this normal behavior or do any of you folks have tips for a charcoal newbie?  Is there a lot of tending for a WSM filled with charcoal or should it be set and mostly forget?  Too much water?  Thanks for any suggestions.

    PS - love the GGSA sauce Jeff - my wife can't tolerate many store bought sauces and we can control the ingredients in yours.   
  2. reichl

    reichl Meat Mopper

    The water in the waterpan is acting as a heat sink.  When doing poultry at high temps I find it is best to not put water in the waterpan.  Without water the skin will crisp up better and it wont be such a fight to keep high temps. 

    As for your comment about the wind, more air getting to the coals = hotter coals.  I use a windscreen when it is windy outside because wind can cause major temp swings within 15 min or less. 

    I find it is best to run the WSM with all vents completely open when doing poultry, and I sometimes even open the door to get more air to the charcoal.  This should get temps ranging from 325-375 which is right where you want to be with poultry IMO.

    I have the 18.5" WSM, and this has been what has worked best for me
  3. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Wind is definately a contributor to your problem.... espcialy in the winter months. Also you might try using a chimney starter instead of an electric. In the winter months it helps to dump a 100% lit FULL chimney of charcoal  on top instead of just lightting a few chunks here and there, then give it a good 15-20 minutes to really get the top of the ring going before assembling the middle of the body. Like Reichl said if you have a full water pan that is a lot of thermal mass to heat in the winter, either run with no water in the pan or cut it back to 1/3 or 1/2 full.

    I just did two chuckies and some ABT's on my 22.5" WSM yesterday. Outside temps were about 36°, but only light wind. Filled my ring, dumped a full lit chimney on top, gave it 20 min. to really get going, and put 4 quarts of water in the pan instead of 8. I ran with one vent closed and two vents 50%-60% open, I let the chamber temp get up to 250° before adding my hot water to the pan, then back up to 250° before adding meat. I was able to run at a steady 250° for 6 hrs. no problem.

    Here is a cool link showing some insulation wind break ideas if you live where it gets really cold or windy: http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/coldtemp.html  
  4. bagmite

    bagmite Newbie

    Thanks for the help guys.  I'll cut back on the water in the pan and work on my windscreen setup as well as keep one of the lower vents closed in the wind.  Doing another turkey breast on Wednesday so I'll see how it goes.  Thanks again.
  5. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    One of the main things in windy/cold conditions is start with more lit charcoal than you normally would. I have been debating on buying some water heater wrapping for my 22.5" WSM for this winter.
  6. bagmite

    bagmite Newbie

    Just wanted to thank responders.  It's very windy and chilly today (15+mph and 40F) and I set up a couple of scraps of plywood with some old door hinges to form a crude windscreen and reduced the water to less than 1 gallon.  Having no trouble holding 250F and could raise it with more vent open.  Never ceases to amaze me the expertise on this site.  This was my second post but I'm a long time lurker and absorber of information.  Thanks to all and especially Reichl and JlRodriquez.  Happy holidays to all. 
  7. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Glad it worked out for you! [​IMG]

    I have been debating on building an insulated box to house my 22.5" WSM during the winter smokes. Air vents around the bottom, exhaust vent out the top, one hinged side as a door, and some sheet insulation on the walls.
  8. bagmite

    bagmite Newbie

    Damn, now you've got me thinking about something similar.  I think the box, whether insulated or not might be a lot easier to deal with then insulating the unit and you could always add exterior insulation board outside the box later.  I though the Weber might have been a no-go in the winter, but yesterday's good experience with the windscreens is making me think Weber (not MES) all winter long.  Just a pretty tight box of half-inch plywood (exterior grade) with hinges and some sort of a top would vastly improve the thermal efficiency but I guess one would have to be careful to make sure the holes were big enough not to choke off the air supply.  I may start doodling on this later today to see what I can come up with.  Do you have some sense as to width of the box or clearance from the unit?  6.5 inches of clearance on each side would be a 36 inch wide box.

    On a side note, I took my smoked breast to my sister's house for Thanksgiving (actually Wednesday due to family work schedules) where my brother-in-law was frying a turkey as well.  The brined bird was slightly more moist than the fried bird but the best thing I did was put the smoked breast into the fryer for about 8-10 minutes to rewarm and crisp it up.  It was very good that way, makes me think about smoking/frying as an option.  Another thing I learned was that it only took two very small pieces (less than a fist total) of pecan to smoke a 7lb. turkey breast to everyone's liking.  My trial run earlier in the week was way too smoky for poultry - ribs and beef can tolerate a lot more smoke.