First time with a WSM and it choked on ash

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by nick harman, Jun 2, 2014.

  1. nick harman

    nick harman Newbie

    New to all this, but can follow instructions!

    As I am in South London I got the smallest WSM, 18.7 inch

    Using the minion method of hot briquettes on a bed of unlit on the grate  I had the briquette ring filled up to its top edge.

    All went well, stable temp etc. But after about 5 hours the temp was dropping, looking in through the door I could see ash had risen past the grate level and was snuffing the remaining briquettes. I tried balancing some fresh briquettes on those still burning to raise them out of the sea of ash but they never caught and I had to transfer meat to the oven.

    It seems to me that there isnt enough depth between base of WSM and the grate to allow for the ash? Or did I get unlucky with my brand of briquette?


  2. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    That dropping temp happens more with briquettes than with lump.  That said, I still use briquettes primarily but I do pick up lump when it is on sale.  Briquette ash generally does not drop away unless "assisted."  Depending on how much time I have left on my smoke I do one of two things.  

    If it is just a short time left on the smoke I open up the all the vents to feed more air to the fire and "gently" knock the ash off the coals with long tongs.  That usually gives me another couple hours or more before the temp starts dropping again.  If there is quite a bit of time left on the smoke I remove the lid then reach in through the door with long tongs to "gently" knock the ash off the coals, minimizing the ash in the air flow that could settle on the meat.  Then I add more fuel fired up in the chimney.  I just dump it on the door and let it "chute" into the fire, then move it around with the long tongs.

    I always empty my ash bowl before each smoke to ensure I have maximum ash catch space below the grate. I always have left over fuel so I knock the cold ash off, remove the charcoal grate with the cold fuel still on it, scoop out the ash with a Weber shovel, then replace the grate with the leftover fuel.  Then I add more cold briquettes or lump, wood chunks, another layer of fuel, then the hot briquettes.       
  3. nick harman

    nick harman Newbie

    The ash fell down ok, but the catch area filled up and engulfed the grate, no way to get it out mid smoke!
  4. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Wow, that's a lotta ash!  Now I understand.  Never had that problem.  Charcoal ash volume on something like Kingsford Blue Bag is typically only 1/5th (or less) of the space of the unburned briquettes.  Kingsford Competition produces less ash still but burn up faster requiring you to use more fuel so it is probably the same as the blue bag on a longer smoke.

    What charcoal did you use?  
  5. nick harman

    nick harman Newbie

    Probably wont mean much to you, from a local nationwide UK DIY chain, their own brand

    This is btw the weber latest model, a 14.5 inch. Possibly someone has made a bad calculation in the design?

  6. Hi Nick, I've had this problem for ages on my WSM. I have made 2 changes and problem solved. The first I think is incidental but I made a gasket out of fire rope (as used on a log burner door .... pence on ebay) and I stopped using Tesco briquettes. I think the briquettes are the problem. I bought a 15kg sack of Big K restaurant quality lump.

    Hope that helps,
  7. nick harman

    nick harman Newbie

    Yes I think most briquette brands use a lot of inert material to make the briquettes and so save them money. This isnt really ash, more like fine sand! The thieves!

    Weber's own briquettes are expensive but are of a much higher blend of charcoal. I'd buy them more often but they are not always in the shops.

    Big K are I hear pretty good, I may have to simply get a delivery off the web
  8. sidpost

    sidpost Fire Starter

    It sounds to me like your briquettes are low quality and generating a huge amount of ash.  Try again with real LUMP and tell us if that makes a difference.  Also, try some different briquettes and let us know how it goes.
  9. nick harman

    nick harman Newbie

    I agree it's proably the quality

    I tried with a differerent brand and had a good run for almost 8 hours, but when I came to top up the briquettes literally sank into the ash and disappeared!

    Weber own brand briquettes are much more expensive but I would imagine may work out 'cheaper' in the long run, ditto decent lump charcoal

  10. mikey99

    mikey99 Newbie

    Interesting to read your method of cleaning and reloading.  I had a party over the long weekend. Started the day before with 3 pork butts, about 8.5lbs each.  Pulled them the next day (finished in kitchen oven)  around 11:00 am to start ribs, 8 racks of spares.  I didn't think to clean out the ash, just reloaded a charcoal ring with a shovel and added lit coals (only been smoking for a month).  I ran into major issues maintaining temps with the ribs, even though I had a reloaded a lot of charcoal with lit on top, and the coals seemed to be burning normally.  Vents weren't clogged either.  Ribs ended up taking me about 9 hours (!), and I'm pretty sure all of the ash in the smoker prevented the temps from coming up.  I eventually just added a full lit chimney.  
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2017
  11. browneyesvictim

    browneyesvictim Smoking Fanatic ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Make or buy a basket. it will sit on top of the bottom charcoal grate. With a basket with a medium fine grate (expanded metal) you can shake out the ash anytime mid smoke. You can do this quickly with a large pair of pliars when it is hot. You can remove it to flush out what sits in the bottom of the bowl and reload more coals in the basket if and when you need to.

    It seems Kingsford has gone cheap lately as they create more ash more than they used to. Royal Oak Ridge is the one I try to find and use now. As for lump, here is a great site to see how they are all rated:

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