Water versus Sand in the WSM?

Discussion in 'Pork' started by engineer68, Sep 17, 2015.

  1. engineer68

    engineer68 Newbie

    I have a 18.5" WSM and was wondering...if I put sand in my water dish will I run the risk of drying out my pork butts? Especially big ones running around 14 to 16 hours. I got the impression that the water helped keep the cooking environment moist to prevent drying out the meat especially since I don't foil wrap through the stall.
  2. No.  A pork butt has so much fat it will not dry out even with a dry pan which is what I use.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2015
  3. joe black

    joe black Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    When I had a WSM, I used water for a few times, then switched to sand and finally to a clay saucer. Then, I threw the saucer away and cooked naked until I sold it several years later. I don't think anything makes a difference in a WSM. They are so user friendly, I don't think you can hardly go wrong. Good luck, Joe
  4. oldschoolbbq

    oldschoolbbq Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I feel that water (as a heat 'baffle' ) keeps your temps. to a lower degree (water boils at 212*F ) , this is why a dry sand (or a clay plate) is a better choice !

    I have an offset 'Dragon' , and have baffles in it for my heat protection !

    Just my 2 cents opinion :biggrin:

    Have fun and . . .
  5. brazosbrian

    brazosbrian Smoke Blower

    Water absorbs energy and converts the water to 212F water vapor ...and both this energy absorption and the injection of 212F water vapor, counters temperatures that are higher than 212F... the reason for the water.  It is to help maintain a stable low temperature for low and slow cooking.  THAT said, the general experience in this particular user audience is that this isn't really necessary in the WSM.  Using sand (or bricks or whatever) instead does not counter higher temperatures, but as a thermal mass that either absorbs or releases energy, does act as a stabilizing thermal mass.  In other words, non-water thermal masses will help prevent dips and spikes in the temperature in your cooker, but will not regulate the temperature (down) for you if you've got your vents too open for the lower temperature that you are trying to cook at.  With a non-water thermal mass and properly set vents that keep the temperature low, the cooking works just fine.  The last, and only, advantage to water is that it helps keep the atmosphere in the cooker more moist ...theoretically helping to prevent water loss from what you are cooking.  The jury is still out on whether it really helps or not, and the circumstantial evidence among the users here suggests that meat will stay moist without having to have water vapor injected into the cooker.  The bottom line is that you can use water, or sand (etc), as your thermal mass and that it's up to you to set up those vents to maintain your target temperature.  And obviously, if you want to cook hotter, say at 350F+ for chicken, you should avoid water since it 'tries' to pull the temperature back down, resulting in having to burn more charcoal to try to get the temperature as high as desired.

    bryce likes this.
  6. As said above, the water, sand, saucer (whatever) will keep the temps lower.  I use a clay saucer covered in foil for easy cleanup.
  7. joe black

    joe black Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Now I know where to get the research material for my Doctoral Thesis in "The Physics of a Stabilized Thermal Mass within a Heated Environment". LOL. Thanks Brian
  8. dward51

    dward51 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I use a clay saucer I bought at Walmart.  The WSM runs longer than with water on the same load of charcoal using the saucer. 
  9. b-one

    b-one Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I just use the water bowl lined with foil.
  10. ivanstein

    ivanstein Fire Starter

    I did a write up in the thread about the WSM using lots of charcoal. It has a lot of the same thoughts presented here.

    I do have to contradict the water vapor and moisture theory though. I will cite Alton Brown here. The "moisture" in BBQ is actually rendered fat and collagen which coat the meat fibers and give the mouth feel of moisture. We pull pork butts and briskets at internal temps close enough to the boiling point of water (higher depending on altitude and atmospheric conditions) that most all water in the meat will have "boiled out".

    Now, the benefit of moist air is that water carries heat better than air. So moist air will transfer more BTUs per minute than dry air of the same temp. So, cooking at 200° in moist air will transfer as much heat as, say 220° in dry air. Lots of variables here, just look up a thermodynamics book! But this is the general gist.
  11. lyricalchaos

    lyricalchaos Newbie

    I used the water when I first started, but hated having to deal with the mess when cleaning it out. I now just use the pan covered in foil with no sand or saucer. It doesn't need it, it still provides indirect heat as a barrier between the charcoal and whatever you are cooking. It also allows me to go easily from low heat to high heat depending on what I'm cooking. I am able to control temp with vent use and maintain easily for anything from hamburgers to pork butt. You just learn where to dial in charcoal amount and vents depending on what you are cooking.
  12. larosa94x

    larosa94x Fire Starter

    I know this is about a WSM but I think your question is more or less "will using sand v. Water dry out my shoulder" and to answer that- I just did my first butt which took 17 hours and I used sand and the butts literally fell apart in my hand as I was removing it from the grates..
    So no I don't think you have to worry about them drying up.
  13. dward51

    dward51 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I should have added that I put the foil covered saucer base in my water pan which is also foiled.  The water pan keeps the direct flames & heat off the saucer.  I think it might crack otherwise, and it's harder to find a saucer to fit the water pan tabs directly (without the pan in).  This way the foiled saucer sits in the top of the water pan so size is less critical.
  14. brazosbrian

    brazosbrian Smoke Blower

    I want to add a couple more water versus sand (or other dry thermal mass) to the discussion:

    Since water vapor counteracts temperatures above 212 F, you can get away with running your cooker with the vents wider open ...more forgiving and/or helpful if your charcoal doesn't burn well with very low venting.  That's the good thing.  But if your charcoal does burn well with low vent settings, then you will use less of it if you use a dry thermal mass ...saving you some money on charcoal and still getting the job done.

  15. drewed

    drewed Meat Mopper

    I run the big WSM, and if you are going to use sand, don't fill the water dish full.  That is way to much sand and really sucks to try and lift out.  You don't need that much thermal mass.  
    I can see a plus to running water in that steam looks like smoke and could help keep you from over smoking your meat!  Yeah, I've done it....  Billowing clouds looks cool, but tastes like yuck!
  16. valleypoboy

    valleypoboy Smoke Blower

    Water I understand. Sand and clay I dont. Brian, you did a great job of explaining it but why not use something with good thermal conductivity that will absorb the heat then retain it like a big chunk of iron or steel? Sand and clay are terrible thermal conductors. Aluminum is great but will heat up and cool down too fast (imo), copper is excellent, but even faster and expensive. Cold rolled steel is pretty cheap and would work great imho.
  17. engineer68

    engineer68 Newbie

    Thank you all!!!

    I don't think I could have learned more in a shorter period of time by any other method than this forum and those of you who contribute to it. I will be trying the sand method from a thermodynamics and also from a clean up point of view. Yes cleaning and re-foiling the water pan is messy and time consuming and I am also anxious to see the fuel consumption drop with accurate vent management. 

    Much appreciated advise.
  18. brazosbrian

    brazosbrian Smoke Blower

    I think you make a good point.  Higher heat conductivity is better.  If, for example, your (very conductive) thermal mass is not working very well at dampening the peaks and valleys in temperature, then it just needs to be bigger.  Hmmm... someone ought to do a side-by-side comparison of brick (or sand or clay) versus a big chunk of iron.  Of course, the iron is likely a lot heavier ...hopefully not enough to tweak the legs on the cooker [​IMG].  
  19. valleypoboy

    valleypoboy Smoke Blower

    It would have to have pretty flimsy legs. I'd think a 10 to 30lb pan or plate would do the trick.
  20. bobcats110

    bobcats110 Fire Starter

    Is this talk of sand and thermal conductors new?  I'm actually sitting at my desk thinking you've all split the atom again or something.  Learned more in the last five minutes about my WSM and a new way to use it, so thank you.

    I get the explanation that Brian gives and understand the theory, and if you take the experiences here that NOT using water DOESN'T result in dry meat, then awesome - I hated the water clean up myself.

    My question now is - What kind of sand are we talking about?  White Beach, Sandbox that you can buy at Home Depot, etc., etc.

    Thanks for a great thread,  friends in smoke.....

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