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Original poster
Jan 17, 2014
I am in the middle of the second smoke on my WSM 18.5 and I'm having trouble keeping my temp UP to 225. I encountered the same issue the first run also. I'm fairly certain I have everything assembled and in place correctly (no water pan smothering my coals, etc). In the beginning, like first hour or 2, maintaining 225 is possible with all vents 100% open. But now I'm 2.5 hrs in and the temp is dropping. I utilized the Minion method of charcoal ignition this time and the traditional charcoal chimney my first try. I thought possibly the lump charcoal I used was causing issues so this time I'm using regular Kingsford briquettes. Any help or suggestions at all will be greatly appreciated!!! I'm having a St. Pad day's day smoked corned beef party in 6 hours I don't want to disappoint my guests [emoji]128563[/emoji]
Oooh, you asked this question 2 hours ago and I see you are offline.  With everything full open like you have that baby should be running 350F or hotter. 


   1.  The 225F, is that on the hood thermometer or something like the 732?

   2.  How full of briquettes was the lit chimney?

   3.  How full was your charcoal ring?

   4.  What do you mean by "no water pan smothering the coals?"  The water pan should be in the WSM whether filled with water or dry.

   5.  If you filled a coffee can in the middle of your charcoal ring briquette pile, did you then remove the coffee can as required?  Sorry for asking but just trying to cover all bases.  If the can was not removed those initial hot coals are going to burn out in two hours without lighting the other briquettes.

   6.  What's the outside temperature?

Everyone has their own technique for lighting the WSM.  In my leaky WSM in a relatively warm environment I put down a single layer of cold briquettes, then several pieces of wood, then add more cold briquettes to cover the wood.  If low n slow cooking I'll choke down my lower vents to 1/8th open, top vent about 1/4 open, then add about 20 hot briquettes to the center of the pile, no coffee can.  I then choke the vents down further once it gets up to temp because my WSM is leaky.

If hot n' fast cooking I use a chimney that's almost full but open the lower and top vents to about 1/2 open.  I do the same whether smoking wet or dry because my WSM is so leaky.

I hope you got it resolved so you have happy guests!
Thank you so much for replying. The meat turned out ok. I'm my toughest tough critic though. Beer was plentiful so my guests were happy regardless :)

1. The 225 is the thermometer on the lid of the WSM
2. The chimney was about half full
3. The charcoal ring was pretty much full to the brim. I layered some wood ( maybe 6 fist sized pieces) throughout.
4. My water pan was filled w hot water and properly hanging from the brackets inside the middle section. I read on that a cause for unexplained low temps was placing the pan directly on the coals.
5. No coffee ring was used
6. It was COLD in Indianapolis yesterday, 28 when I started and a high of about 35. Not much wind tho.

In lighting it I used the "Minion method" of pouring hot briquettes into a full ring of cold charcoal. When the temp first started dropping I kicked the legs and attempted to shake the charcoal ring and kinda stir the coals with my tongs. That bought me about another hour at 225. I ended up adding some hot coals to finish out the 10 hrs my briskets took. Do you know any better way of adding hot coals other than with tongs and a prayer? It was time consuming and dangerous. I think I saw something about a chute? Again, thank you so much! :)
Hey LizzieG.  Glad it was a success! Beer always makes up for all but the worst Q mistakes.

Sounds like you did everything right as far as setting up your WSM.  Folks who live in the colder environs might have better input than my Northern CA brain.  I think the coldest outside temp I've smoked is 38F.  Did two smokes this weekend and it was a bone tanning 82F.  Physics is physics though and keeping a WSM or any smoker at temp is a matter of physics.  My apologies for the long answer below but my engineering educated grey matter seems incapable of short answers.

When the temp is that cold you've got three issues, especially when you've got water in your water pan.  First, the available heat from the burning fuel has to warm the cold air entering the unit.  Second, the cold outside air is sucking heat through the uninsulated walls of the WSM.  One of the reasons why folks wrap their WSMs in cheap welder's blankets is to insulate the WSM from the cold ambient air, allowing the available burning fuel heat energy to do what it is supposed to do, keep the air inside the unit at the desired temp. Third, the available heat has to heat the water, even if you started with hot water.

Assuming you don't buy a cheap welder's blanket you'd probably be better off with a dry smoke, ie, no water in the water pan, when it is that cold.  I dry smoke 95% of the time in my WSM only because it is more fuel efficient and I know how to control my temps well enough.  I don't need a heat sink to stabilize temps, which is the water's major task, but it does work well when I use water.

Second, the minion method.  I've done it.  Some swear by it.  I don't use it but others might pipe in who live in the cold.  Personally, if it was that cold I'd lay down a layer of cold briquettes and wood then dump a full chimney of hot briquettes over the top of the cold ones, spreading them out just a little but leaving a nice center pile for concentrated heat.  If the cold briquettes loaded in the WSM were kept outside in 28F temps, they'll suck a lot of heat out of the hot briquettes to get to their ignition point but with a full chimney you should be fine.

Third, once you get the unit up to temperature, try closing down the upper vent to 1/2 open to keep the heat in the unit and to see what it does. I use all four vents to control my temps and have yet to run with them full open, even with 350F smokes.  Remember, when it is 28F outside, pulling cold air through the WSM requires more heat energy to warm it up to your desired temp.  If you restrict the volume of cold air entering the unit but still allow enough air flow for a steady burn, you'll be able to keep your temps up easier.  Closing down the top vent controls the air flow into and through the unit from the lower vents.  You'll find you can probably close down the lower ones too.   That's part of the art of temp control and minimizing fuel usage.

Finally, adding hot coals and the "chute" you already have attached to your WSM.  When I need to add hot coals during a smoke I get the chimney roaring hot with a half load or less of briquettes.  Wearing protective gloves I open the side door on the WSM, kind of lift it a little and wiggle it around so I can tilt the door about 45 degrees, then carefully but quickly dump the hot briquettes onto the tilted door.  The door acts as a chute and the hot briquettes roll right into the hot coal pile.  Then I use my long tongs to reach into the unit and kind of spread them around equally.  Practice with a cold WSM and cold briquettes before you try it first with hot ones.  It's really easy.

I'll bet you'll have your WSM technique NAILED in another smoke or two. Then we'll be asking you for advice!
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Just a thought. Did you have the top vent wide open.  I have used my WSM up here in Alberta at -30c and have been able to hold 225.

I founf a cheap improv method of insulating my WSM by using a moving box with both ends opened up and slid over the WSM.. Have not had it catch fire yet!

Colder climbs I would suggest Playbox sand instead of water. It will give you hotter temps and keep the temps more consistent. I would also check your gauge.
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Thank you all for the input and tips! Noboundaries, no need to apologize for length. I also have a science brain, so I appreciate the rationales ;) One more question do I check the built in temperature gauge for accuracy? I use a digital probe thermometer in the meat. is reader supported and as an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.

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