The Weber Smokey Mountain cooker is designed to perform best for long cook times at low temperatures, which is why the temperature gauge at the top of the unit has a gray area from 200-275 degrees labeled “Smoke”. Since outdoor cooking has so many variables such as type of food, amount of food, air temperature, fuel, weather conditions, etc. there could be instances where the cook needs to run the smoker at a higher temperature. So how hot can a smoker get?
How Hot Can a Weber Smokey Mountain Get?
The easy answer is more than 350 degrees, since that is the highest that the integrated temperature gauge goes. To measure more accurately, an additional thermometer will have to be used.
Assuming the smoker is unmodified and highest possible temperature is the goal, a few things can be done to have the unit function as an oven instead of a smoker. Loading the unit full with lump charcoal, lining the water pan with foil but not adding water, and opening all vents fully will yield the hottest cooking conditions. Cooking in the middle of the afternoon on a hot summer day will also help raise the temperature more than a wet, cold day in winter.
All of these factors being taken into account, it is reasonable to get the unit to product temperatures in excess of 450 degrees, though a search internet forums will find claims of temperatures of 500 degrees or higher. For sustained cooking however, 400 degrees is most likely the upper end of the range that can be expected. After all, the Smokey Mountain is designed to be a low temperature smoker, not a pizza oven.
How Hot Should a Weber Smokey Mountain Get?
The Smokey Mountain performs wonderfully when used for its intended purpose, cooking meats primarily through indirect heat at low temperatures for long periods of time. To find the optimum temperature for a particular unit, some trial and error is necessary conditions are unique to each situation.
Fortunately, that presents Smokey Mountain owners the opportunity to spend a lot of quality time with their smokers figuring out the best vent settings, space placement, water bowl fill level, and fuel source. As a general guideline however, the “Smoke” range on the temperature gauge is where cooks should aim to keep the smoker’s temperature. In particular, the 225-250 degrees area seems to be the sweet spot for the Smokey Mountain.
Once cooks are able to dial in their unit to maintain a constant temperature in the smoking zone, they will be able to figure out the timing of various foods and plan their cooks accordingly. This becomes important when preparing several different types of food in a single session, such as pork ribs, chicken, and sausage links.
Which Rack is Hotter on the Weber Smokey Mountain?
The design of the Smokey Mountain allows for multi-level cooking on the lower rack in the middle section of the unit, and the upper rack near the top of the unit. Over long periods of time the temperature should be mostly constant throughout the unit, but the top rack will typically be about 5-10 degrees hotter than the bottom rack.
If using the Smokey Mountain as a grill instead of a smoker, the top rack will be the best cooking zone. Heat rises, so this is not surprising and can be helpful in planning where to place food. Large briskets and pork butts will be at home on the bottom or top rack, but cooking them on the bottom rack keeps the top section accessible for other foods that do not require as much cooking time.
Strategic placement of items also lets cooks take advantage of top rack drippings. Those briskets and pork butts on the bottom rack certainly can benefit from drops of flavor falling from foods cooking above them.
How Do I Get My Weber Smokey Mountain Hotter?
If a particular unit is running too cool, there are several things that can be done to raise the temperature. First and foremost are the vents both at the top and bottom of the unit. The Smokey Mountain’s vents are adjustable, so sliding them to the fully open position will yield the greatest possible airflow, feeding the fire and making the unit hotter. Where the smoker is placed can also affect cooking temperatures due to external airflow. In a pinch, the fuel access door at the bottom of the unit can be propped open to provide an additional vent, though this should be done carefully.
Moving the unit to a spot with increased airflow due to wind will help stoke the fire as well. The water pan is another tool of the Smokey Mountain that can be adjusted. Removing water from the pan will raise the temperature inside the unit while adding water to the pan will lower the temperature. A full water pan will make it quite difficult to get the unit hotter than the “Smoke” zone upper bound as the water will absorb heat.
Fuel amounts and types are another variable in the equation. Loading the smoker full with fuel will raise the temperature, especially if only a small amount of food is being cooked at the time. Higher end lump charcoal should also burn hotter than standard charcoal briquettes. Finally, resisting the temptation to open the lid and take a look will help raise and maintain the cooker’s temperature. The more times the lid is opened, the more temperature fluctuations will occur. Simply letting the Smokey Mountain run will produce the best results.
Vent Settings for Hotter Temperatures
In general, the more airflow, the hotter the fire. The air intake vents at the bottom of the unit near the firebox will feed the fire with air to keep it burning hot. Running these vents in the fully open position will produce higher temperatures, which can be adjusted downward by closing the vent doors as necessary.
The vent at the top of the Smokey Mountain functions as an exhaust valve, allowing air and smoke to escape the unit and creating a cycle of airflow. As a general rule, the top valve should remain more open than the bottom vents to let air circulate around the unit and let it function safely. Basically, to cook on the Smokey Mountain in the hottest and fastest way possible open all vents as wide as possible, then adjust the doors on the bottom vents as desired to lower the temperature and increase the cooking time.
Charcoal Method for Controlling Temperatures
The design of the Weber Smokey Mountain allows for what is commonly known as the “Minion Method” to keep temperatures constant and involves combining lit and unlit charcoals. First, fill the firebox with unlit pieces of charcoal and spread them out evenly. Next, the lit charcoal will come into play.
A chimney starter works well for this method. Fill the chimney starter with coals and light them. Once the lit coals ash over and are burning hot, empty the chimney starter onto the center of the unlit coals, then put the pieces of the smoker back together. This method causes the lit charcoals to ignite the unlit coals as they burn outward concentrically, keeping the fire burning and maintaining a constant temperature for hours at a time, which is ideal for barbecue.
Charcoal briquettes are especially well suited for the Minion Method, as they are uniform in size which helps to keep a constant temperature. Another advantage to this particular method is fewer instances of opening the fuel access door.
The Smokey Mountain functions best when left alone as much as possible. Also, adding lit charcoals through the door while cooking must be done carefully to prevent accidents. The Minion Method removes this step from the process.
The Weber Smokey Mountain is a versatile and affordable tool in the arsenal of the barbecue aficionado. Once cooks use their smokers several times and dial in the settings that work best for their individual environments, they will be producing delicious ribs, chicken, pork butts, turkeys, sausages, fish, vegetables and just about anything else that can be eaten. When combined with the array of possible dry rubs and sauces, the possibilities are truly endless.