Lump Charcoal for the Weber Smokey Mountain
Arguably, the most important decision you can make when setting out to smoke some meat is what meat you are going to smoke.
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Almost as important is what you are going to use as fuel for your cook. When it comes to the Weber Smokey Mountain, you start with charcoal.
Yet when you walk into any store to pick up a bag of charcoal, it seems like there are more options than ever.
So what is best for smoking on the Smokey Mountain? The first question you need to address is whether to use lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes.
What’s the difference between lump and regular briquettes?
When you’re standing looking over the options, how do you figure out what’s best? By looking at the pros and cons of both types of charcoal.
Lump charcoal is all-natural charcoal, made by burning hardwood down in a low-oxygen environment to get rid of everything but carbon. Charcoal briquettes are made by processing sawdust with other components to create even-burning charcoal.
When you are looking to smoke, temperature and length of the burn are the two most important criteria for deciding on your fuel source.
Whether you are smoking a rack of St Louis-style pork ribs or brisket, you need to have control over both temperature and how much fuel you are using.
Temperature during the cook
Lump charcoal typically burns a bit hotter than briquettes, so you do need to be aware of that when using it.
However, it does light faster than briquettes, and managing the temperature on the Smokey Mountain is simple.
Briquettes do provide a more steady and prolonged burn due to their regular shape.
A quick tip if you search out briquettes: do not use match light or instant light. Those briquettes have lighter fluid as part of their ingredients, and lighter fluid should be as far away from your grill as possible. Use a chimney!
Cleanup after each cook
Grill cleanup is one of the most important tasks that can be easily overlooked. Having a grill clear of ash helps with airflow. Lump charcoal tends to burn down more completely, leaving less ash behind than briquettes, which means less work for you and makes maintenance of your Smokey Mountain that much easier.
Pricing and availability
All you need to do is walk into any big-box retailer with a lawn and garden section or your local hardware store and you will find more bags of charcoal than you can fathom.
Briquettes are still the most common type of charcoal, and there is arguably no bigger name in briquettes than Kingsford, and their briquettes are readily available and of good value. Home Depot has a two-pack of 20lb bags of their Original briquettes for 19.88 as of September 2021, a cost of 50 cents per pound.
Lump charcoal is more expensive than briquettes due to the lengthy and laborious manufacturing process. A 35lb bag of Jealous Devil, one of the premier lump charcoal manufacturers, costs 49.95 on Amazon, a cost of nearly 1.43 per pound. If you are interested in Jealous Devil, their website jealousdevil.com does have a locator tool for being able to purchase in person, but it is available in only select locations, so you might be better off ordering online.
If you are looking for lump charcoal to purchase in person, Wal-Mart carries Royal Oak lump charcoal in a 30lb bag for 16.96, a price of 57 cents per pound.
When to use lump charcoal for the Weber Smokey Mountain
The beauty of lump charcoal is that it can be managed. Do you want to sear some steaks on the lower cooking grate? Fire up that lump charcoal as hot as you can and you will get a beautiful sear on that ribeye. Looking to smoke a brisket to serve slices of tender beef to your friends? Make sure you break up any large pieces of lump, mind your dampers, and let the smoke roll.
When not to use lump charcoal for the Weber Smokey Mountain
There is never a bad time to use good lump charcoal on your Smokey Mountain! Many pitmasters and home cooks use lump charcoal to great success. Just be aware that the quality can vary from brand to brand and bigger chunks should be broken down to help with consistency. Also, smaller flakes of charcoal and dust can accumulate at the bottom of the bag and will not be of any help for the cook.
Can you use lump charcoal in a Weber Smokey Mountain?
Despite what the manual might say, you can use lump charcoal in the Smokey Mountain. There is nothing innate to lump charcoal that would damage the Smokey Mountain.
Best lump charcoal for Weber Smokey Mountain?
If you are looking for the best lump charcoal for use in your Smokey Mountain, it has to be Jealous Devil. They keep their lumps fairly uniform, which is important for longer cooks, as is the low amount of ash it gives off as it burns. It also works well for high heat applications, such as searing steaks or burgers.
How to use lump charcoal in Weber Smokey Mountain?
Just like most things, there is a procedure to properly use lump charcoal in the Smokey Mountain. Most people will use the Minion method, named after Jim Minion who was at a barbecue competition using a Smokey Mountain. Jeff Phillips of smoking-meat.com has a great breakdown of the Minion Method here, but here is a quick overview.
- Filling up the basket and chimneyFirst, you will fill up the charcoal chamber basket almost full with unlit lump charcoal, leaving enough room in the middle for the lump charcoal waiting in your chimney. The chimney should be about 2/3rds full. This is also the time to place your preferred wood chunks on top of the unlit charcoal.
- Lighting the chimneyNow onto everyone’s favorite part. It’s time to light something on fire. Now there are multiple ways to light the chimney. It was common to stuff the underside of the chimney with newspapers and light the paper to start the chimney, but not many people these days receive a newspaper. It could still be a good use for unwanted or outdated grocery store ads, though! Much more common these days are fire starters, whether made of organic materials or paraffin wax cubes. Whatever your preferred method is, light it with a match or lighter, and place the chimney on top of the burning fire starter.
- Pouring the charcoal on top of the unlit charcoalOnce the lump charcoal at the top of the chimney is glowing, it’s time to dump the lit coals into the space you cleared in the middle of the unlit charcoal. Pour carefully to keep yourself safe and to not scatter burning charcoal in all directions. Once that is done, assemble the Smokey Mountain and keep an eye on that thermometer in the lid. You will need to adjust the dampers to get the temperature dialed in for your cook. Once you’ve found that temperature, add your meat, sit back, and enjoy the smell of burning charcoal and smoking meat. Just remember to check those temperatures every so often.
How much lump charcoal do you need for your Weber Smokey Mountain?
You need enough lump charcoal to fill the basket if you are doing a full day’s cook for a brisket or pork shoulder.
Won’t lump charcoal fall through the grate?
You can add a second grate, rotated 90 degrees to help catch any loose lump charcoal. Jealous Devil also tends to be very consistent in size with few broken pieces small enough to get through the grate.
This article was written by Robert McCall, the founder of bbqdropout.com. Robert also owns and operates the BBQ dropout YouTube channel where he demonstrates his first-hand experience cooking all kinds of meats and strives to provide helpful, authoritative content for people looking how to barbecue.
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