New Mini-WSM build, question about a feature addition...

Discussion in 'Mini-WSM' started by kettlemetal, Oct 4, 2015.

  1. kettlemetal

    kettlemetal Fire Starter

    Hello all,

    I'm a new poster, but have lurked here and elsewhere for some time to study technique, recipes, etc. Very helpful stuff.

    I picked up a used SJS on craigslist recently for quick dinners and quickly decided to build a mini wsm as well. Fortunately, I was able to locate a 32qt Imusa pot at a local Walmart that fit the SJS lid well after some light crimping. I really wanted to attach the lid to the bottom, but it was a very poor fit. I opted to cut an 11" hole in the bottom instead of drilling holes. Additionally, I built a charcoal basket out of expanded steel and added a handle to the bottom vent.

    For the most part, it's a pretty standard build:

    I'm only working with a single rack for now, supported by 3 1/4"x3/4 stainless hex bolts. I did purchase a second rack, and will either use that or the steamer insert to accommodate a 10" pizza pan diffuser. Again, standard stuff.

    Where mine differs is the addition of a bowl to catch the ashes for easy disposal. Even when using the SJS as a grill, having to dump the kettle bowl is kind of a pain. The idea was to add a 5qt stainless steel mixing bowl under the charcoal grate so ash could be collected and dumped with ease:

    The screws and wingnuts that attach the legs to the bowl were reversed to accommodate the bowl. I made two cuts on the bowl rim and bent a piece upwards to serve as a handle. To avoid blocked vents I cut off the bottom of a coffee can and ended up with a 4"x2" vent cover with 4 holes. I also cut off the top of a coffee can, leaving 8 tabs to attach to the bowl. The coffee can rim fits the vent cover perfectly. The center of the ss bowl was removed, with slots cut for the tabs:

    Bottom detail:

    This all worked conceptually, but I ran into a problem quickly. When taking measurements before buying a bowl, I failed to consider the height of the charcoal basket when sitting in the bowl. Because of the slope of the inside of the bowl, the grate sat nearly an inch higher than normal. This was good in that it allows more space for ash collection, but bad in that my charcoal bowl now extended beyond the rim where the tamale pot sits. It wouldn't fit into the kettle bowl, partly because I also bent out the edges of the basket to serve as a handle.

    I went and measured the next size larger mixing bowl, 8qt, but found that the charcoal grate would actually sit much lower than I wanted. Instead, I increased the size of the tamale pot hole to 12", and it now fits. However, the top of the charcoal basket now extends into the pot a bit:

    I still have plenty of room to use a grate or steamer insert on the rim near the bottom, but do any of you foresee any problems related to the basket reaching into the pot?

    Unrelated to the build question, is oiling the inside of the pot necessary when doing an initial burn-in?


    Last edited: Oct 4, 2015
  2. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Nope, fire it up and start smoking!
  3. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    No need to oil the inside of the smoker either. I'd probably throw some chicken parts on there while your at it. No point in wasting fuel! There's nothing on the pot itself that needs burning off prior to using it.
    kettlemetal likes this.
  4. bdskelly

    bdskelly Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Yup! Don't make a big deal about it. 
  5. kettlemetal

    kettlemetal Fire Starter

    Thanks guys!

    I took her for a test run last night and ran into some pretty major temp issues. Will need to figure some things out. My plan was to see how well I could hold it around 275 for while, then crank it up and add some boneless chicken pieces to chop up for tacos.

    First I set up a minion basket. Didn't use too many coals, mix of fresh KBB and used, with 2 small pieces of hickory. Got about 12-13 started in the chimney:

    I added the coals and assembled the smoker without any diffuser. This was probably a mistake if I was looking for 275ish. Almost immediately, it shot up to 200, so I cut the bottom vent to around 1/4 open:

    About 30 min later. Still rising, around 325:

    I cranked the vent down a bit more, and took a closer look. When I bent down the vent tab to add the handle, I was a little sloppy and ended up bending the entire vent cover a bit. I started to wonder if this was letting in too much air. In the picture you can see a bit of a gap:

    About 15 min after the previous temp picture. Still rising, about 380!

    I wedged a brick under the handle to close the gap as much as possible:

    Somewhere around here, maybe a little bit earlier, I added my pizza pan and disposable pie pan to try and get things under control. It made little difference, I probably waiting too long.

    Temps kept going up, and I was soon in the 400-425 range. I decided to wrap it up for the night and throw my chicken on.

    Towards the end of the cook, I pulled the diffuser to get a look at the coals and get some direct heat/dripping action going. I took pics with and without flash, to show both the ash coverage and glow from the heat. As you can see, nearly all of my coals were engaged at this point, which I hadn't anticipated:

    When the food was done, I closed off all vents and headed in for the night. The good news is that the chicken came out great.

    As for the bad news, here's what I'm thinking:

    1. Was the hole left for my hot coals in the minion basket too small? My lit coals may have been touching too many others after being dumped.

    2. I realize now that the diffuser should have been in place from the get go. Next time I'll experiment with the steamer insert instead.

    3. Crank the vents down a bit more next time. 1/4 probably wasn't cutting it.

    4. Maybe start with slightly less lit coals.

    5. Any combo of above issues.

    I should add that outside temps ranged from about 65 to 60 F with 5-10 mph winds while I was out there.

    I took a look this morning, and the coals stopped burning after I closed it down, so the vent gap probably isn't a major issue. Also, my ash bowl worked well and was easily dumped.

    My general usage will probably be fast and hot use, but I'd like to have low and slow in my arsenal too. Any thoughts on what went wrong?
  6. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Too many lit coals when you started. For the mini you only need 3-4 lit coals to get it going.  I can run my mini anywhere from 225°-500°+ without using a diffuser. I will say that it is easier to maintain lower temps with the diffuser in. When I use a diffuser it is usually just the steamer insert.

    The lighting method that I use is refereed to the side light method. Load you charcoal basket full add your smoke wood. Using a propane torch light one side. I do this by utilizing the side vents on my mini. I have done it through the bottom vent also. One could remove the pot and use the same technique. Using this method I can have the mini up to temp in 5-8 minutes and no white smoke.

    kettlemetal likes this.
  7. kettlemetal

    kettlemetal Fire Starter

    Thanks! I'll give fewer coals a try.

    I've seen your method, and it looks great, but two things:

    1. Even a simple vent cover, let alone my whole ash bowl apparatus, rules out bottom vent lighting on the SJS.

    2. I don't own a torch.

    If I got one, I suppose I could always pull the basket and take the torch to it. I DO have a tiny little butane torch, so that might be a good way to get 3-4 coals lit quickly. Hated using a whole weber cube to light those 13 last night, and they took damn near 20 min to ash over.
  8. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    If you are using the weber starting cube, use that to get your mini going and skip the lit fuel. place it to one side light it and your good to go.
  9. i use Dirtsailors side light method in my 14.5 wsm but my vents are at the same placement as any other wsm right next to the coal basket but before i used this method i would just light around 5-10 KBB coals and throw them on top of the unlit ones and it didnt take too long for it to come up to temp. but when i build a mini i will make my vents on the side like DS did.
  10. kettlemetal

    kettlemetal Fire Starter

    Good idea. Later today I'm giving it another run. This time I want to see how well I can hold 250 for an hour or so, then crank to 350 for some wings. Should I limit the air intake from the start, or go full until I hit 200 or so?
    I think I'll add some side vents at some point as well, but at this point I've spent all I'm willing to spend on the build.
  11. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I would leave the lower vent wide open until you get to about 215-225, the start shutting it down.

    Leave your top vent wide open during your cook. There is no reason to close it until it's time to snuff the fire.

    Last wings I did I was above 400, no diffuser, some of the best wings ever!
    kettlemetal likes this.
  12. kettlemetal

    kettlemetal Fire Starter

    I was able to start a little earlier than anticipated, will post up pics and all later.

    Just hit 225 and shut the lower vent. Much slower climb so far this time, but I did note that the smoke is fairly dirty looking, and I haven't added any smoking wood yet. Should this clear out as temps rise and hold?
  13. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Yes it will clear up and pretty soon it will be all TBS (thin blue smoke) That is one of the reasons I started using the torch to start, no white-grey smoke. When I used to start with a couple lit briquettes It would take 30-40 minutes to get up to temp and probably 20 minutes for the smoke to clear up.
  14. kettlemetal

    kettlemetal Fire Starter

    Second run. Goals are to reach and hold 250 for an hour as a test, then crank to 350+ and cook wings.

    Started with a mostly full basket, mostly fresh with some used, and placed a weber cube on the edge per dirtsailor's suggestion. This is 3:20pm, about 4 minutes after lighting:

    3:27 pm. I removed the cube husk and assembled the smoker with bottom grate/pizza pan diffuser. I didn't assemble right away because I didn't want the smell of the weber cube to coat the pot. I wonder now if that caused a hotter fire than I wanted:

    Lots of dirty smoke for a while, but temps climbing slowly, looking good. Aiming for 250, I cut airflow to 1/4 or less when I hit 225 at 3:46 pm:

    Things were looking good for a little while, but then it kept climbing, wanting to settle in at about 325. When it started passing 250, I started trying things based on hunches. Cranked the intake down a bit more and put my brick into place. Was my ash bowl contraption raising the coals too high? Is the temp guage sitting right over the area where I started the fire the problem? Pulled the bowl, turned the pot around, no change. 4:26 pm:

    A neighborhood kid stopped by to check things out:

    4:36 pm, still sitting around 325:

    Right about now, I found out that I was going to have less time to play around than I thought, so I opened the bottom vent to about 3/4 open and added 2 chunks of hickory. 5:10 pm:

    Cool effect behind me:

    5:15 pm. Smoke thinned out, temp at 350, looking good for wings:

    When I added the wings, I decided to try out the steamer insert for the combined diffuser/drippings into the fire effect:

    Pretty big temp drop after having the lid off for a couple of minutes, to be expected:

    5:38 pm. I've only reached about 265, so I fully opened the bottom vent. Frustration really set in here, as my temps are coming in the opposite order I aimed for. I think the steamer insert makes a bigger difference than I thought. I'll be trying that from the start next time.

    6:10 pm. With temps still low and being pressed for time and looking for crispy skin, I decided to pull the pot and finish directly over the coals. They're plenty hot, so I'm a little confused on the low temps I was seeing in the pot:

    Wings in place, time for some furious flipping over the inferno:

    No pictures from here unfortunately. I was scrambling to keep the fire down, flip wings, and coat with a honey sriracha sauce. The end product had a bit more char than I was looking for, but the smoke flavor was really nice.

    In some ways, my second run was even worse. While it didn't take off like a rocket this time, I was unsuccessful in trying to hit both test and cooking temps.

    Lessons to consider for next time:

    -Use the steamer insert from the start if I'm looking for low temps, but leave it out if I'm trying to hit 350+ for chicken, and go with the grate + pizza pan instead.

    -I liked the lighting method used, but wonder if I should have assembled immediately. If the weber cube fumes are a concern, I might also try going with the earlier 3-4 lit coals suggestion.

    -I still have my suspicions about the bent bottom vent. When the airflow is reduced to between 1/8-1/4, there's a gap that sits right above one of the vent holes. Going to see if I can get it back to where it should be. If not, might set up a craigslist search alert for cheap SJ's.

    As always, thoughts and ideas much appreciated. Thanks!

  15. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    You definitely want to keep the pot on the fire when starting and bringing it up to temp. If fumes are a concern then go with the briquette route. On a side note when I built my first mini, I started out with out side vents, then I added one valved, then I added the other with just a cap. Then I added a valve to that one. The side vents made a huge difference in the performance and temp control. So much so that I removed the ash deflector, and only use the lower vent when starting or when I am shooting for super high temps. When running low and slow I usually only have one of the side vents barely open.
  16. kettlemetal

    kettlemetal Fire Starter

    Thanks for the tips Case! I'll likely add side vents down the line, but am also keeping an eye out for cheap SJG's on craigslist.

    Since I don't have control exactly where I want it to be yet, I'm going to keep the thread going a little longer if that's OK.

    Picnic is on sale in my neck of the woods for $.99 a lb this week, so I'll be giving that a shot on Sun. I believe that my mangled bottom vent is introducing more air than I'm looking for, so I may skip going wide open at the start, and begin with 3-4 lit and a limited intake instead to try and maintain 250. If I can't get a hold on it, I can always go hot and fast instead. Sound like a plan?
  17. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Sounds like a plan to me! FYI I have smoking my pork butts high temp, 285-325. Haven't found any negative effects, meat is just as good as low and slow and it's done a lot faster.

    The longest burn I've ever had in my mini was on a perfect day. No wind, no rain. Tan the morning ni at 265 and got 14 hours out of a overloaded charcoal basket.
  18. kettlemetal

    kettlemetal Fire Starter

    I've been doing them on the 22" kettle in the 275-300 range and wrap in foil when it hits the stall, but want to try it a little different for once. I'm looking for a pretty heavy bark this time, and want to skip the foil. To that end, my rub won't have any sugar. I'm hoping the no sugar/low and slow/no wrap combo gets me what I'm looking for.

    The things is, shoulders are so flexible that I can split the difference if temps go higher than I want in the mini or if I get impatient. It's also just a good low temp application on a cooker I'm trying to get a handle on. 
  19. rabbithutch

    rabbithutch Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Two things.

    First, I think you are still using too many briquettes. Less fuel means less heat. Start counting the number of briquettes you use with each cook and the temperatures you get. Unless my results are far different from yours, you should find it easier to hold lower temps with fewer briquettes.

    Second, I start a few briqs in my chimney by placing it over a tuna can with a shot of rubbing alcohol in it. Lit with a butane torch, I have red hot coals in about 5 minutes. Pour those lit coals on your basket and you should be good to go at 225 in only a few minutes.

    Keep notes. Take pics. It'll come together for you.

    (mind you, I don't have Case's experience with the mini, but I've used mine considerably without the extra side vents, but I do use a flower pot saucer diffuser with sand in it and wrapped in foil.
    kettlemetal likes this.
  20. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    No foil will get you the bark, cooking either hot and fast or slow and low. I have never foiled any of the shoulders I cook. Excellent bark everyone. I do not use sugar in my rubs.

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