America’s barbecue culture is perhaps one of the countries biggest obsessions.
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We are almost addicted to it and, with good reason.
A barbecue brings everyone together to share in the one thing all humans enjoy doing.
Whether we are full-on carnivores, vegetarians and vegans, we can still come together around a fire and eat food.
It is one of the most addictive pastimes in America and, across the world.
Whether it’s a Mongolian Khorkhog or an Argentinian Asado, a barbecue can be found at the heart of almost every culture across all corners of the world.
It is more than just a meal, it’s a way of life and as such working out exactly what kind of barbecue to purchase is one of those big decisions that come along once (or twice, or three times) in a lifetime.
Just like marriage.
One of the most highly regarded manufactures of barbecues across the world is Weber.
You can find them on the beaches in Australia, in wet and windy British gardens and the home of Weber, here in America.
The name is synonymous with barbecuing worldwide. Of their entire range, there is one unit that has a cult following rivalled by none.
The Weber Smokey Mountain. A bullet-shaped water pan smoker which can grill as well as any of its Kettle cousins.
This iconic smoker is a fan favourite for new kids on the block and for long time Pitmasters.
One of many attributes the WSM has is its dual-level cooking grates which give you maximum cooking capacity and multiple options.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of the WSM rack system, from which rack is hotter to the best placement for your brisket.
Which Rack Is Hotter On Weber Smokey Mountain
At the start of your smoke, you will find that the lid and the top rack are the hottest.
As the smoke goes on you will find that the lid cools down and the top rack and lower rack become a more even temperature in the smoke chamber.
As a rule of thumb, use the top rack for grilling and hot and fast smokes and the bottom rack when you need the capacity and definitely when cooking low and slow.
Is A Smoker Hotter On Top Or Bottom?
One of the first things we are taught in science is that heat rises.
This is true within the Weber Smokey Mountain although there are exceptions to the rule.
You will find that over longer smokes the racks tend to even out in temperature after a few hours.
You will also find there are slight variants in temperature if you are cooking with a full water pan or an empty water pan.
Top Vs Bottom Grate Cooking Temperatures
If you are grilling or cooking something hot and fast, like chicken wings or butterfly breasts then you should cook on the top grate.
There have been reports that in the first few hours the temperature difference between the top and the bottom can be as much as 15 – 30 degrees.
However, most people report that by the end of a smoke, the temperature had levelled off and meats cooked on the top or the bottom grate ended up well cooked. moist and delicious.
You can find a brilliant, and very scientific (it has graphs) temperature test here.
Where Do You Put A Grate Thermometer?
The best place to insert a grate thermometer is just above the lower grate.
Then you will know the lowest temperature of the smoker.
If you want to have a really accurate read you could have a dual thermometer and place your second just above the top grate.
Lid Temp Vs Grate Temp
On Weber Smokey Mountains built from 2014 onwards, you will have a lid temperature gauge.
This measures the temperature of the dome at the top of your smoker.
Many people advise not to use the temperature gauge as an accurate reading for your smoke chamber where both the top grate and bottom grate are located.
You will find that your lid temperature is very hot just after lighting your smoker,
This temperature will reduce though and a few hours into smoking the lid temp will be lower than your upper grate temperature.
Does It Matter What Rack You Use In A Smoker?
In the WSM you have the option of cooking on the top and bottom rack of your smoker.
The top rack should always be used when cooking hot and fast or using the WSM as a grill.
For long and low smokes you can use either the top or the bottom rack.
The top rack will be easier for you to access so unless you are doing multiple joints of meat or using the full capacity of your smoker, it will be better to use the top rack.
If you are cooking on both racks, it is a good idea to rotate the meats on a longer and slower smoke.
This ensures a more even cook across your whole smoker.
Using Top Grate Of WSM
Unless you have a huge family or are entertaining every night, the top rack of your WSM will be the one you use most.
It is where a lot of the magic happens.
The top rack is great for chicken and for turkey, it’s also really good if you are cooking quicker meats like sticky bbq wings.
You will get a better flow of heat and smoke around your meat which could result in a better smoke flavour too.
The top grate is also where you will grill your faster cooks such as burgers and steaks,
Using The Bottom Grate Of The WSM
The dual grate aspect of the WSM is brilliant for cooking multiple joints at the same time.
It also offers you more space when cooking larger cuts such as ribs or tomahawk steaks.
The bottom rack is also a great place to smoke something that requires less temperature.
You could, for example, smoke some beans under a brisket on the top grate. An ideal way of creating a full meal on a low and slow smoke.
Meat Placement In A Vertical Smoker
When smoking meat, you want to use an indirect heat source to get the best smoke ring, best flavour and evenly cooked joint.
So it’s best to place your meat on the top rack where possible.
You need to keep the meat away from the sides of the smoker.
Seasoning your smoker is important and this will happen over time.
You don’t want the meat to soak up the seasoning on the edge of your WSM.
The top of the smoker will ensure the best airflow all around the meat.
If you are smoking multiple joints then place the second on the lower grate, making sure there is space around it.
You will also need to use the water pan with water in it if you are cooking on the lower grate.
Many people find it beneficial to rotate joints half way through cooking.
Should I Smoke Ribs On The Top Or Bottom Rack?
Depending on the size of the ribs you should always smoke them on the top rack.
If they are large ribs or you have a couple of racks, use the bottom grate,
What Rack Should I Smoke Brisket On?
Brisket can be cooked on the top rack if you have nothing else in your smoker.
This is purely for convenience.
The lower rack actually offers a far better cooking environment for your brisket, particularly if you are cooking ribs with it.
The temperature at the bottom of the smoker is slightly lower than at the top.
So a beautiful 12 hour smoked brisket will be in an ideal smoking environment on the lower grate.
As you can see, the Dual grilling zones on your Weber Smokey Mountain offer you multiple options when taking your next smoking adventure.
Also, we managed to get through this whole article without making any jokes about hot racks. Good for us!
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.
He primarily hand writes the bulk of the content but occasionally will leverage AI assisted tools, such as chatGPT, to properly edit and format each blog post on this website. This ensures a pleasurable reading experience for visitors. Read more about our editorial policies here. If there are any improvements that can be made to this article, reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org