WSM fire is dying, any advice?

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by undertakingyou, Aug 26, 2013.

  1. This is a second post, both similar. The first is here

    New to charcoal smokers, and have gotten the WSM 22 inch. The first three smokes I used charcoal briquettes (using the minion method), along with some pecan smoke wood and it turned out great. Heat lasted for hours. I then read that a lot of people prefer lump charcoal over briquettes, and bought three bags of Ozark Oak. Using the same method, I can't get it to hold temp. It peaks at 225, and then goes way down hill. I struggle to keep it at 200, and that is only with near constant stoking and blowing the coals.

    Any advice as to what I may be doing wrong or could do better?

    Last edited: Aug 26, 2013
  2. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Will.....   Add the lump to briquettes....  briquettes keep the fire going... lump will add heat and flavor.....    Dave
  3. dieselaw

    dieselaw Fire Starter

    I agree, mix it 50-50 and u will get the best of both worlds. Good luck!
  4. jerseydrew

    jerseydrew Smoking Fanatic

    i hate lump burns hot and fast and most of the time you have lump dust or pieces that fall right through the grate. i prefer lump biquettes like wicked good or even kingsford comp. the lump burns very hot and doesn't last very long i will say i like that there is much less ash but that is the only positive i find with lump.
  5. pgsmoker64

    pgsmoker64 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    I have a lot of experience with the WSM and in my experience if you mix 50/50 lump with your briquettes you will have to reload your coals before the end of your smoke (butts or brisket) though you would be okay with ribs.  I also agree with what Drew said.

    Make sure your top vent is wide open - always.  Use only your bottom vents to control temperature - open for more heat, closed for less heat.  If you are having trouble getting your temp to come up pull the lid off the WSM for about 30 seconds or so.  The chimney effect will cause the coals to heat up but be careful, you can lose control of your temps quickly.

    Heat is all about air flow, fuel, and ignition.  You must have all three to build a fire.  Once you have the coals lit that just leaves the air and the fuel.  Make sure you use a good quality charcoal - I like Stubb's because it leaves no chemical flavor or smell - and make sure you keep it dry.

    Good luck and let me know if you need more help.  Feel free to PM me if you like.

    Last edited: Aug 26, 2013
  6. The advice you've been given is good stuff. However, I have had a LOT of success with long burns using 100% RO lump. I prefer it over briquettes because I get a cleaner burning fire ...and I use the top vent so I guess I am a bit unconventional.

    I am interested why your fire keeps going out. It is either choking or not enough coals were lit. If choking ensure the vents are clear. I like to add a chimney full of lit and give the pile time to catch before assembling the cooker.

    Are you using water in the pan?

    Can you describe how you build a fire?
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2013
  7. How do you guys get such a long burn out of approximately 1 bag of kingsford blue? I recently purchased the 22.5 and barely get 6 to 8 hrs out of jusg about a full bag using the minion method if I recall correctly some people have gotten 10- 15 hrs on just 1 bag?
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2013
  8. dieselaw

    dieselaw Fire Starter

    I have the weber 22.5". I use the "fuse" method most of the time. I can get 6-8 hours of consistent temps. If i need to go longer i can add coals at the door to stretch a little bit. Hell, it would only take 3 minutes to fully reload the fuse method. U could do that when u pull your meat to foil.....
  9. Maybe ill try that I usually use the minion method
  10. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    A couple of things:
    • as mentioned keep top vent fully open, use bottom vents for temp controll.
    • if it is windy or cold weather that will effect your temps. I wrap my WSM in a welding blanket to act as both a wind break and an insulation layer - lets me smoke in windy cold weather.
    • don't buy charcoal (of any type) if the store is selling it on a pallet kept outside - charcoal acts like a sponge and will suck up any moisture in the air which then makes it very hard to get the charcoal lit and up to temp. Lump charcoal will take on a skunky smell when lit if it has been stored in a damp or moisture ladden environment.
    • store your charcoal inside - for reasons above. I store mine in the back of my garage away from the door.
    • fill your ring, get half a chimney fully lit, and dump it in a pile in the middle of your ring. Assemble the body with all vents fully open, and the water pan empty, watch the lid therm when it gets to 200°, then fill the water pan with HOT water, put the lid on and let it come back up to 200°. Then close two bottom vents and wait for temps to come up to around 250°, adjust the bottom vents to stabilize around 250°.
    I just ran my 22.5" WSM Saturday night on 20 lbs. of Kingsford Blue Bag - I lit it at 12:00, put pork butts on at 1:00 AM, pulled pork butts off at 1:00 PM Sunday afternoon, put 3 racks of ribs on at 1:00 PM, took ribs off at 5:30 PM, left smoker to run out and it was still running at 250° at 9:30 PM, burned itself out sometime before 11:00 PM. So I had a confirmed 21+ hrs. out of one 20 lb. bag of Kingsford Blue Bag on a breezy cool weather day with off and on rain.
  11. if I put more than about a dozen pieces in the center of the pile then my temps go way over 250 275 even with all the vents on the bottom closed. should I be leaving in a hole in the center of the pile all the way down to the grate or just lay the lit coals on top?
  12. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I just lay mine piled up in the middle. If you are overshooting your temp. you probably need to close your bottom dampers sooner during start up - you want to start closing them off at about 200°.
  13. Thanks everyone for your replies. I was starting to get pretty mad at the lump (I wouldnt' stop BBQing, that would be a tragidy).
    I have attached a picture here (very crudely drawn) that will hopefully describe how I build my fire. I have built it the same using briquettes or lump.

    To build my fire I have been placing unlit lump or briquettes (fuel) on OUTSIDE of the No. 10 can, and filling the fire ring. Over that unlit fuel I place some smoke wood, sometimes soaked, sometimes not. INSIDE the No. 10 can I put lit fuel. Full charcoal chimney worth (I have a couple charcoal chimneys from dutch oven cooking). This lit fuel always overflows the No. 10 Can. I then use pliers to remove the No. 10 can, so there is no barrier between the lit and unlit fuel.

    When my fuel has been Briquettes I have had great heat for a long time (11 hours worth). With Lump ... it just struggles.

    About Dampers: When using the lump I have left all four (the three bottom and one top) all the way open. I never close them, because I don't want to choke out whatever little fire I may have. With the briquettes I started with them open, and then closed them down as needed to pull down temp, starting with the top one.

    To Bama's other question, yes, I keep water in the pan.
  14. jerseydrew

    jerseydrew Smoking Fanatic

    if you're using water and trying to run temps higher than 225 it will chew fuel like no ones business. 225 without water is how to get super long burns. also after about 6 hours i have to shake some of the ash out of the fire. i do this by taking the mid section off and i have two 4 inch long u bolts attached to my fire grate that i grab with welding glove to rattle the ash out. then put the mid section right back on. 
  15. jerseydrew

    jerseydrew Smoking Fanatic

    problem may be too much space between your pieces of lump. when i did use lump i had to manually arrange them so there wasn't so much gap between the pieces. 
  16. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Not sure about that one - I always use water in my pan, and am usually running anywhere from 230-270 on the most of my smokes. Just did some overnight butts full water pan, running at 240-250° for 13 hrs. on the butts, the threw ribs on for another 5 1/2 hrs., then let it burn itself out.... looked at the therm around 9:30 at night and it was still at 250° and I had lit it at 12:00 the night before! I actually added a half gallon of hot water when I put the ribs on because the water pan was almost empty. The only time I don't put water in my pan is if I want to run hotter than 325° - only done that once or twice with chicken.

    One way to get longer burns out of lump is to pack it tighter, you can either stack each piece in by hand (pain in the rear).... or fill the ring half way, then rotate it about 1/4 turn each direction, fill the ring the rest of the way and rotate it 1/4 turn a few more times. This causes the lump to settle (kind of like filling a container with flour and you shake it a little to get it to settle so you can add more).

    This is the one benefit briquets have is their even shape. It allows for a consistant pack in the ring giving long even burns - one of the reasons lump burns hotter is it has more air pockets in the stack allowing for more air flow in the middle of the fire.
  17. I think your fire building is ok. I like the diagram. It explains what you are doing which is fine. I would kinda pack it a bit as mentioned above and instead of the can try just dumping the lit on top of the unlit to see if it makes a difference. I have a can but quit using it - I just dump it on ( lazy). In fact all advice on this thread is good stuff. I just can't figure why your fire is sniffing out. I can get 16+ hrs on a full load of lump. And could get more but I when I am done cooking I close all the vents to save the leftover charcoal.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2013
  18. jerseydrew

    jerseydrew Smoking Fanatic

    my smoker goes through more fuel when i am "boiling water" then when i am not and it get worse the more temp i want. i haven't used the minion method in a while, i fill the fire ring and add wood then take one of those cubes and stick it right in the middle of the pile. let the first 3-4 coals to light then i hit it with an electric leaf blower to get her going really well. one i have about 8-10 pieces going white and really hot. i then assemble the cooker. using this method i cut out about 20 or so minutes on the warm up. 
  19. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    When I use the minion method I am using at least half a chimney of fully lit charcoal to start with  - which is probably 20-30 pieces of lit charcoal. Try your cube/leaf blower method in a chimney start on half a chimney and let it get fully lit. That way you still get you quick light but start out with more heat.

    Personally I have just used the minion method with a chimney starter and some newspaper - never had any issues with start up or getting up to temp. Only times I had problem with burn times was before I started using a welding blanket on cold windy days. On those windy days you go through about double the amount of fuel if your smoker is left in the open. By wrapping my WSM in a welding blanket I have ran at 250° in 35° weather and a stiff wind, with one vent 50% open and ran for 18 hrs.

  20. volsfan

    volsfan Fire Starter

    Very nice explanation of how you start your fire and manage it. What you are experiencing makes no sense to me. I have used a WSM for 5 years now and have never had a fire go out.

    How often do you clean out the ash from the bottom?

    That said, I also use 50/50 charcoal and lump. I get 12 to 15 hours easy on a full ring, but rarely put in much more than 1/2 a ring.

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