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My first smoke on the Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM for short), I really struggled to get it started. I didn’t have a chimney starter at the time so getting the charcoal started was a challenge in itself. Then once I finally got my Weber Smokey Mountain fired up, it was running too hot!
I spent many hours researching and testing different methods of firing up the Weber Smokey Mountain. My goal is to share with you what worked best for me and what to avoid so you can start your Weber Smokey Mountain up with ease.
How Do You Start A Weber Smokey Mountain?
To fire up your Weber Smokey Mountain, follow these simple steps!
Light Your Charcoal
The first step is getting your charcoal started. I highly, recommend using a chimney charcoal (Amazon link) for this process. Seriously, they are very affordable, and it will save you so much time and frustration. You can grab them at your local store, or on Amazon. I didn’t realize how much easier it was to start my charcoal until I started using one.
I have found that the Weber Smokey Mountain likes to run hot. You don’t need much charcoal to get it started. When firing up my WSM, I use about half a chimney full of briquettes or 30-40 briquettes. For you rebels who don’t want to use a chimney starter I have a section below with tips for starting your WSM without a chimney starter.
Place your lighter cubes under the chimney starter and let the briquettes get hot. Once they turn white and start to ember over like the picture below (about 10-15 minutes) they are ready to be thrown in your smoker.
You can expect the charcoal to burn for about an hour. To avoid having to refill your Weber Smokey Mountain with charcoal every hour, I recommend using the minion method. The minion method works really well in the WSM as it allows the fire to slowly spread giving you a steady source of heat for long hours.
Reassemble Your Weber Smokey Mountain
Now that we have our charcoal lit and arranged, its time to reassemble your smoker. Place the mid-section on top of the base and place the water pan in your smoker. When filling up your water pan, it is easier to put the pan in first and use a hose of bowl to fill with water.
It is too hard to drop the water pan in the smoker when its full of water. I have put out my fire too many times from spilling the water trying to do just that.
With the mid-section on and the water pan filled, place your lid on to let your smoker come up to smoking temperature!
Adjust Your Vents
Adjusting your vents is the most crucial step in firing up your Weber Smokey Mountain. Your vents control how much air is let into the fire. The more air you let in, the hotter your fire will burn and vise versa, the less air let in, the cooler your fire will burn.
You need to find that sweet spot. As I mentioned above, the WSM likes to run hot. You need to restrict the air flow enough to keep your Weber from turning into a runway fire but not too much that you choke off your fire and produce dirty smoke.
The Weber Smokey Mountain has 4 vents. 3 on bottom and one on the lid. You should leave the exhaust vent on the lid open at all times and use the 3 bottom vents to control the temperature. Check out my guide to controlling temperatures on the Weber Smokey Mountain for more information.
When you first place the charcoal in your smoker, I typically leave all 3 bottom vents open half way to get the fire going. Once the temperature reaches around 150° Fahrenheit, I will close down all three bottom vents to the width of a pencil.
After about 20 minutes, your smoker should be up to temperature. There are a lot of factors including outside temperature, weather, humidity, etc. that effect your smoker’s temperature so use this a baseline and adjust your vents accordingly!
Once your smoker reaches your desired temperature, smoke away! You might have to check in every once in a while, to add charcoal or adjust the vents, but for the most part once you get your Weber Smokey Mountain set up, it can run untouched for hours!
How Do You Start A Weber Smokey Mountain Without A Chimney Starter?
Starting your charcoal without a chimney starter can be a difficult and time-consuming task, but here are 4 ways you can do it. And please, never use lighter fluid or match light charcoal. Do you really want those chemicals in your food?
The easiest of the 4, fire starters, as the name implies are great for starting fires. They burn for long periods of time giving your charcoal plenty of time and heat to get started. I have used the paraffin fire starter cubes (Amazon link) and those worked great, but I prefer the tumble weed starters (Amazon link).
Simply place a few fire starters in in the center of your charcoal mound and light them. Place a couple briquettes on top of them and let it sit. Make sure you give your fire extra air when trying to start it up. Either leave the mid-section off or open the vents and the door all the way.
If you don’t have the fire starters, another option is to use newspaper crumpled up. Another popular option is paper towels with oil drizzled on them. I found this method a little difficult as the newspaper didn’t burn for very long.
When using this method, it is better to only focus on starting 2-3 briquettes. Once those briquettes have started you can move them to the top of your pile of charcoal. Those 2-3 briquettes will then start the rest! Just note that this will take much longer to get your smoker up to temperature.
Similar to the two options above, Egg cartons work well for starting charcoal because they can burn a little bit longer. For this option you would want to focus on lighting a couple briquettes first as well before transferring them to the rest of the pile.
Another common way to light your charcoal without a chimney starter is to use a torch. Simply hold the torch over a few briquettes and hold it there until they catch fire and start to show white embers. Again focus on a few briquettes and the fire will spread amongst the pile itself.
How Much Charcoal Do You Put In The Weber Smokey Mountain?
How much charcoal you put in the Weber Smokey Mountain depends on how long you want to smoke. I have narrowed it down to two different set ups.
8 Plus Hours
If you plan on smoking for more than 8 hours, you are going to want to fill the charcoal ring up about ¾ of the way. This should give you 8-10 hours of smoking time. Most of the time I find that you won’t need more time than that. And if you do, I recommend just adding charcoal when more is needed.
I would caution you to filling the ring up all the way. I have made that mistake a couple times before and couldn’t keep my WSM below 350° Fahrenheit even with the vents almost entirely closed. Like I said above, the Weber Smokey Mountain likes to run hot.
Less Than 8 Hours
Trip tip, chicken, ribs all take less than 8 hours. In this instance we don’t need as much charcoal. For these types of smokes, I find that about half a ring full is plenty of charcoal. If I am smoking wings or something that takes even less time, I will use even less charcoal.
There is a lot of factors that determine how long your charcoal lasts in your smoker, but these are good baseline numbers to start with. It will take you a few smokes to get it down but once you do the WSM is an easy smoker to use!
How Long Does It Take For The Weber Smokey Mountain To Come Up To Temp?
If you are using the minion method with a half a chimney full of lit charcoal, it takes approximately 40 minutes to bring the Weber Smokey Mountain up to 225° -275° Fahrenheit. That is roughly 15 minutes to start the charcoal in the chimney starter and another 20-25 minutes to bring the WSM up to temperature.
Can I Use Lump Charcoal In The Weber Smokey Mountain?
You can use lump charcoal in the Weber Smokey Mountain; however, lump charcoal burns hotter and doesn’t last as long as briquettes do. Take this into consideration and adjust the amount of charcoal used to accommodate this change.
How Long Will The Weber Smokey Mountain Last?
The Weber Smokey Mountain can last for 8 to 10 hours with a charcoal ring that is ¾ of the way full. The WSM is a very efficient smoker and once you stabilize the temperature, can run for a long time with minimal adjustments.