What am I doing wrong?

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Fire Starter
Original poster
Mar 21, 2007
I'm currently about four hours into my fourth smoke with the WSM. Every time I smoke, the same thing happens.

I start out with nearly two chimneys full of charcoal (Kingsford). If I leave the bottom vents closed, the heat never gets up above 200 (and that's at the lid). So, I open the vents all the way, but even with the vents open, the coals seem to go out, and the smoker begins to cool. I've added more coals twice now.

Does this happen to anyone else? After all the good things I've heard about the WSM, I figure I've got to be doing something wrong.

It's about 65 degrees outside today, and has been raining of and on. There is a breeze, but I put a makeshift barrier upwind of the smoker using stuff in my garage. Even when it wasn't really windy, the same thing happened before.

Any thoughts?


sounds like the coals aren't getting enough air and choking out..i don't know about the unit you use but you might have to drill some holes in it

Sounds like the coals are definatley not getting enough air. If they were damp they wouldn't start well in the chiney either. After burning two chimneys of charcoal they should be real dry. Have you cleaned out the old coal ash? Ash will choke your coals out real fast.
Hang in there. I don't own one, but I've heard the WSMs are almost set it and forget it. Something is drowning out your hot coals.
Tom, what method are you using to start your fire? Are you lighting two full chimneys or using the minion method and adding coals on top of two chimneys worth of charcoal? Either way, you would be able to make longer than 4 hours easy. I use both methods depending on the desired temp. and length of burn I need. It almost sounds like you are choking the fire from air. When it dies out, are there just ashes in the bottom of the base or are there pieces of coal left? Four hours seems a bit early in the cook, but it may be as simple as you just need to tap the legs with something to Knock some excess ash down.

Also, when you say chimney do you mean a Weber chimney? I ask because a Weber brand chimney is nearly double the capacity of some el cheapo brands.

The only reason to have your bottom vents closed is if the temperature gets away from you bad. To give you a starting point, usually the bottom three vents need to be about 25% open and the top vent 100% open. For temp adjustment, adjust the bottom three vents. When it is windy you may need to close the vent facing the wind down a little more than the other two. I guess since you are using dome temp. you probably know this, but 265° dome is about where you want to be.

Let's start here and see if we can't get you and the WSM up and running. BTW, don't drill anything please. You have a solid smoker as is, we just gotta get you up to speed.
Thanks everybody,

The charcoal wasn't wet, and I cleaned out all of the ashes from the last smoke, so that wasn't the problem. I used a Weber chimney starter. I filled the chimney and dumped it in the smoker without lighting it, then lit another chimney and let it burn until the coals were about 3/4 gray, stirred it all together, and waited until everything was gray. The meat I put on first was a pork shoulder (bottom rack), then about two hours later some back ribs on top.

I continued to leave the vents open all the way, but never got above 250 at the lid. I put more coals in twice, lighting them first.

By the time the smoke was done, things were actually going pretty well (at least compared to my other attempts). The ribs were excellent. This was the first time they were actually falling off the bone (also first time with back ribs).

I never did get the shoulder above 175. It's edible, but not falling apart.

Next time I'm going to wait a little longer for the coals to get hotter, use a little more, and try with the vents at about 50% and see how it goes. On the whole, this time things turned out much better than before.

Thanks for the advice.

To get the 12-16 hour burns out of your WSM for butts and briskets the minion method works best. Start out with your charcoal ring full and your wood chunks spread around. I like to mix a few in under the top as I fill the ring to keep good smoke throughout the cook time. This is expecially handy on a smoke like you mention where you will be adding ribs, chicken, or something requiring less cook time. It should look similiar to this before adding lit coals:

After this is done light some charcoal in your chimney. The amount of briquettes you want to lite will vary with the ambient conditions. 20 is an average and up to 40+ on the long cold winter nights. If you stack them to one side of the chimney it is easier to get them lit. A pair of metal tongs are very useful to move the lit briquettes around evenly over the top. It will look like this:

I would also question your thermo at this point. Usually two full chimneys lit at once it is hard to keep the temp below 250° lid much less not be able to acquire it. The concern was not over left over ashes from previous cooks, but the current briquettes ashing over and smothering themselves. This most always occurs, especially with the lighting all briquettes at once method, and as mentioned above just tap the legs w/ something to knock the excess burned ash down through the grate to the bottom of the bowl.

I hope you find this helpful and good luck on the next attempt. All this WSM talk today I had to fire mine up for a couple of meatloafs and a rump roast. One last item. I know this will probably be hard to buy, but to get the legendary WSM performance you will have to ignore the owner's manual intstructions. The directions in the manual will never get you the results you are expecting.
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