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When it came time for the first smoke on my Weber Smokey Mountain, I butchered it. I started up my fire and went inside to prepare the meat, and when I came back outside, the smoker was hovering around the 350° F. I then spent the next 3 HOURS panicking and trying to figure out how to bring it back to my desired 250° F temperature! Here is what I learned from my mistakes.
If your Weber Smokey Mountain is running to hot, your fire is most likely getting too much oxygen. Start by closing down all three bottom vents to the width of a pencil. It should take about 10-15 minutes for you to see a change in temperature. Continue closing down your vents until you reach your desired temperature.
In most cases, learning to use your vents will help with you control your Weber Smokey Mountain’s temperature, but there are other factors that could be causing your smoker to run too hot.
Your Fire Is Getting Too Much Oxygen
Have you ever noticed that when you put the lid on a burning candle, it shortly goes out afterward? This is because fire needs oxygen to burn and without any oxygen, the fire will go out. This is the same principle when it comes to your smoker, and understanding this simple concept will help you master fire control. The three vents on the bottom of your Weber Smokey Mountain lead directly to the fire box and are the life force of your smoker. Opening and closing these vents will control the amount of oxygen being let into your fire. The more open your vents are, the more oxygen being let in and the hotter the fire. Likewise, closing your vents restricts the amount of oxygen being let in causing your temperature to drop.
If your Weber Smokey Mountain is running too hot, it is most likely because your fire is getting too much oxygen. Simply close down your bottom three vents to the width of a pencil and wait 10-15 minutes to allow your smoker to drop temperature. Continue closing the bottom vents until you reach the desired temperature you want. It may be necessary to have two bottom vents closed completely and one slightly cracked open. It is important to note that you do not want to completely close all your vents as it will kill the fire. Likewise, we always want to leave the vent on the top of the lid completely open. This is the exhaust vent and allows smoke to exit the cooking chamber. If your vents are nearly completely closed and your Weber Smokey Mountain is still too hot, then you most likely have too much lit charcoal.
You Have Too Much Lit Charcoal
One of the most common reasons I see people struggling with too hot of a fire in their Weber Smokey Mountain, is they are adding too much lit charcoal, as was the case in my first smoke. The more lit charcoal you have at once the hotter the fire is going to be. On my first smoke, I filled up my fire ring up with charcoal briquettes using the Minion Method. I then filled my chimney starter to the brim with charcoal and let the charcoal catch fire. Once the charcoal had embered over and was ready to be put on my charcoal in the fire ring, I dumped the entire chimney full in the middle. In hindsight, this was way too much lit charcoal to be used and it was no wonder why my WSM was running so hot. Every smoke since has been lit with a half a chimney full of charcoal and I have found that to be the perfect amount to get your WSM up to that 225°-275° range.
Your Fire Is Spreading Too Fast
Now this one is a little tricky because it is usually a combination of the two reasons above that causes this. Smoking low and slow requires us to maintain lower temperatures for extended periods of time, sometimes up to 24 hours. Now to achieve this, we are going to need a lot of charcoal, but if not done correctly, will lead us to too much lit charcoal and a Weber Smokey Mountain that is too hot. We want a method that will allow us to put large amounts of charcoal in our fire box to sustain a long smoke yet allow that charcoal to slowly light in stages. This is where the Minion Method comes in. The Minion Method is a specific way of arranging the charcoal in your smoke ring so that the lit charcoal you add will slowly catch the unlit charcoal on fire in stages throughout the cook; however, you have to be very diligent about using your vents otherwise your fire will spread to quickly and cause you to have too many lit charcoals. You can watch the Minion Method in action below.
The first time my Weber Smokey Mountain ran hot was because I was starting with a full chimney of lit charcoal which was too much. Once I started using just a half chimney of lit charcoal, I did not have any problems with my Weber Smokey Mountain running hot. That was until a few months later when I decided to try my first brisket. Knowing that the brisket was going to be my longest cook so far, I added much more charcoal than I normally do. The problem with the added charcoal was I didn’t adjust my vents accordingly. I kept my vents how I normally did, and my fire spread too fast causing there to be too many lit charcoals resulting in a runaway fire.
In short, use a method such as the minion method or the snake method to allow your fire to spread slowly. This will keep you from having too much lit charcoal at once. Also, the more charcoal you use, the more closed your vents should be. This will keep your fire from getting really hot really fast as in the case with my first brisket.
You Are Not Using Your Water Pan
You have a water pan for a reason, so use it! Water is a great thing for a smoker for two main reasons, one it acts as a heat sink to help stabilize temperatures, and two, it helps add humidity to the cooking chamber helping to prevent dry meat. With a full water pan, it is really hard for the Weber Smokey Mountain to get really hot. This is because water acts as a heat sink, meaning it traps and holds heat very well. Looking at the science behind it, it takes more energy to increase the temperature of water one degree than it does air. This not only helps stabilize your smoker’s temperature giving us a steady temp, but also keeps your Weber Smokey Mountain from getting too hot.
This is a simple fix, simply fill your water pan up 75% of the way with cool water. As the smoke goes on, the water will evaporate so you may need to add water a couple times depending on the length of your smoke.
You are Using Lump Charcoal
There are two main types of charcoal for you to use, charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal. Neither is better than the other as both have their pros and cons, but for the case of this argument, charcoal briquettes are the way to go. Lump charcoal burns much hotter than briquettes which could cause your Weber Smokey Mountain to run too hot. In the Weber Smokey Mountain manual, it even mentions that you shouldn’t use lump charcoal in the WSM. I am not too sure why Weber mentions that, but I do know that lump charcoal burns hotter than charcoal briquettes.
If you are using lump charcoal, switch over to using charcoal briquettes. They will not burn as hot and will burn more consistently making stable temperatures much easier to maintain. I would recommend using Kingsford original briquettes, but if using another brand, make sure it is free of accelerants or other chemicals. You can check out my article on choosing the right charcoal for smoking meat for more information.
It’s Your First Smoke On Your WSM
While this is not a huge factor, and there is even some debate around it, it has been widely known that the Weber Smokey Mountain runs hot on the first smoke. In fact, Weber used to claim that the WSM can run up to 50° hotter the first time. This is due to the shiny surface of the smoker reflecting the heat back to the cooking chamber. If you have already smoked on your smoker, this will not be an issue you need to worry about as the smoke and grease will build up on the walls of your smoker to dull the shine; however, if you have not already completed your first smoke, seasoning your Weber Smokey Mountain can help reduce the effect of the shiny walls.
How To Bring Your Weber Smokey Mountain Using The Minion Method
As mentioned above, the Minion Method is a great method for anyone looking for a sustained low and slow smoke. The Minion Method allows the charcoal to light in stages and is my preferred method for starting a fire in my Weber Smokey Mountain. Here is how you can start your WSM using the Minion Method.
- Fill your fire ring with and even layer of charcoal briquettes.
- Remove some charcoal in the center of the circle creating a divot (make sure to leave a couple briquettes at the bottom of the divot).
- Fill your chimney starter up halfway with charcoal and light it.
- Once the charcoal has turned white, carefully pour the charcoal into the center divot.
- Adjust your three bottom vents so that they are halfway open.
- Once your temperature comes within 50° of your target temp, close your bottom vents down further to the width of a pencil.
- Continue adjusting your bottom vents until you get the temperature you desire. Open the vents for more heat and close the vents for less heat.
There are a lot of factors that can affect how fast your smoker gets up to temperature like weather conditions. Use this a general guide to get started and make the necessary adjustments. Learning to control your smoker’s temperature comes with practice. After all practice makes perfect!