Maintaining high temps on a Weber smokey mountain is a tricky task since the vents need to be configured properly and fuel needs to be restocked.
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That being said, once the smoker is properly set up, it can get very hot and maintain temperatures for an adequate amount of time.
Best way to maintain high heat on WSM
Maintain high heat on a WSM by letting it first come up to your preferred temperature before placing any meat on it.
Once the temperature has risen enough, place a water pan filled with sand or water inside. Slightly close each of the three vents at the bottom and monitor to see if the temperatures are steady for a period of 10 minutes. At this point, place the meat on the smoker.
Letting the WSM come up to temp before placing any meat on it is crucial. When no meat is present on the smoker, the ambient temperature is able to rise steadily and quickly.
The ceramic metal that comprises the smoker will begin to absorb all of the heat, thus increasing the overall temperatures.
Furthermore, once the smoker itself has come up to a hot enough temperature, the grates will start to heat themselves.
Having both the smoker walls and grates come up to temperature quickly can result in a more time and fuel efficient cook.
Once the temperature has risen to a preferred degree, feel free to grab your water pan and place it directly into the slot in the middle of the smoker.
You can either fill the water pan with sand or water to ensure it will absorb any residual heat.
The water pan serves as a heat sink, and will help to maintain the temperature the smoker is at.
Now that you have let the smoker come up to your preferred high heat temp and have placed the water pan inside, make sure to take not of the ventilation ports.
Specifically, you will want to turn all three to half way closed.
Take further note of the ambient temperature and see if it starts to decrease or stay steady.
If the temperature starts decreasing after a period of 5-10 minutes, slightly open one of the ventilation ports 3/4 of the way and reassess.
Repeat this process until you have a steady high heat temperature!
How much charcoal does it take to maintain high heat on a WSM?
Maintaining high heat with a WSM can take roughly half a bag to a full bag of charcoal throughout the duration of the cook lasting 12 hours. This can be a lot of fuel, making it critical to ensure there are no temperature spikes that use more fuel than it should.
Depending on the type of meat being cooked, the cook should last roughly 12 hours or less, especially if the temperature is consistently hot enough. In other words, different types of barbecue may take longer than others due to their fat, marbling, and weight – resulting in longer cooks and fuel in the process.
Types of meat that will take longer:
- High Grade Briskets that weigh 10 or more pounds
- Pork Shoulders that weigh 10 or more pounds
As you can see, the weight plays heavily into the overall cook time. The higher the weight, the more connective tissue that has to be cooked fully through.
Also take note of the type of brisket mentioned, higher grades of brisket usually have more fat and marbling within the meat – meaning even more fat and connective tissue has to be cooked through.
If a certain piece of barbecue is weighing in around 10 pounds or more, expect to cook them for roughly 10-12 hours. This will usually mean that cooks this long will use about a half to full bag of charcoal.
How Does a WSM maintain temperature?
A WSM maintains temperature primarily through its’ water pan and ventilation ports. The water pan acts as a heat sink, letting the ambient temperature steady out, while the ventilation ports let the PitMaster modify and change the airflow within the smoker.
Using the water pan to maintain temperature in a WSM is really easy. Simply fill it with either water, sand, or gravel. The point is to fill it with a durable and cost effective medium that can tolerate higher temps. It will start acting as a heat sink, making sure to absorb any residual temperature. The end result lets temperature regulation be very easy and effective.
The three ventilation ports at the bottom let air flow into the smoker, which combusts the fire on the charcoal. When they are all open, there is maximum airflow, causing the temperature to rise steadily.
As you start to close them, the temperature will decrease ever so slightly due to there not being as much airflow present.
This is where it becomes an art to get the configuration just right to let the right amount of airflow into the smoker to just maintain the fire and not increase or decrease the temperatures.
How hot can a WSM get?
A WSM can get as hot as 350 to 400 degrees. Anything past this point will be almost impossible to regulate or maintain and is not recommended.
The sweet spot for cooking at high temps in a WSM is between 300 to 350 degrees.
These temperature ranges will let you reap the benefit of a faster, more efficient cook, that is still easy to regulate.
One important fact is that the hotter you go in temperature with a WSM, the more wild and unstable the maintainability is. The fuel starts to be consumed quicker, and the vents become less effective at making a difference.
Just make sure to keep the maintained temperature no hotter than 350 in your WSM and you’ll be fine.
How should you configure the vents to maintain the temperature?
You should configure the vents to be wide open when starting the WSM. Once the temperature has come to your preferred temperature, start to close them slightly. Wait 5-10 minutes to asses the change in temperature and either close them more or open them a little bit and reassess to see the temps stabling out.
The more you open the ventilation ports on your WSM, the more air that will flow into the chamber. Once air is present, the combustion can increase rapidly, resulting in a higher temperature.
Opening the Vents to the right configuration is an art. Don’t feel overwhelmed if the temperature is not EXACTLY on point with what you wanted, just as long as the temps can be maintained steadily within a 10 degree variance.
Should you place a water pan inside the smoker?
Placing a water pan inside a WSM is important since it acts as a heat sink. It is a crucial step in ensuring the temperature is properly maintained. Without it, the temperature can spike up and down, resulting in an unstable cook for your barbecue.
Whenever you place your water pan inside a WSM, it starts acting as a heat sink that absorbs the residual temperature within the cooking chamber. This helps regulate temps and ensures your cook will be consistent.
Having a consistent cook is also very important, your fuel consumption be predictable – with no apparent spikes in usage. Large spikes in usage of fuel will result in a more sporadic cook and is frankly not optimal or repeatable.
Once you are able to fill the water pan with an adequate amount of either sand, gravel, or water – you will start to see the temperature either decrease slightly or steady out. This is also in conjunction with the proper ventilation settings, but once you have started to dial in the right amount of material to go into the water pan – take note of it for further cooks in the future.
Are higher temperatures better than lower temps on a WSM?
Higher temperatures are better if you want a quicker cook. Meat inside a WSM will cook faster if the temperatures are higher, and can be a great way to save time and money on fuel costs.
Smoking at higher temperature can certainly save you headaches since the cooking time is quicker and largely more efficient than that of a lower temp styled cook.
The main benefits of a quicker cook within a WSM are as follows:
- Faster time – cooking anywhere from 300 to 350 can cut your cooking time per pound of barbecue in half
- Fuel costs – although you may be using more upfront fuel in the beginning, over the course of the shorter cook, you will find that not as much is consumed than that of a lower temp cook that takes twice as long.
Best meats to smoke at a high temp
The best meats to smoke at a high temp are usually briskets and pork shoulders. These two specific cuts have heavy amounts of connective tissue, fat, marbling, and are often comprised of different grades.
Smoking briskets and pork shoulders on a WSM at a high enough temperature will result in quicker cook times.
Often, these two cuts will take well over 12 or more hours if the temperature is around the popular 225 to 250 degree ranges.
With a hot and fast cook in a WSM, these cook times can potentially be cut down in half, while also preserving your precious fuel.
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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