Here’s your first time with a Weber Smokey Mountain and you’re excited to get to barbequing! Like with every new purchase, it takes a bit of time and practice to get the hang of things. Nothing you can’t handle, but some guidance could help you get familiar much quicker.
That’s what we’ll be doing today. Sharing all the tips and tricks to get your smoker working at optimum, the basics for proper set-up, and most importantly the challenges to expect and how to handle these. Consider it a beginner’s guide for everything Weber Smoker-related. By the end, you should be churning results like a seasoned pitmaster.
Start With a Dry Run
Before you can hop onto smoking all those summer meats you have lined up, it’s important to pause and begin with a safer approach instead – a dry run. However, some people do not consider this useful, but only a waste of time especially if you have been around smoking for a while.
Well, experience is an added advantage in itself but here’s the thing, the smoker in your backyard is new. You are yet to calibrate it, let alone understand how to work the vents, grate temperatures, and so on. It’s a whole new learning process altogether that’s going to pay off if you take the time. So regardless of whether you’ve had a ton of previous smokers before, this is a new unit that needs some getting used to.
The best part about beginning with dry runs is you could make mistakes and get away with it. If you happen to pile too much wood or perhaps spike temperatures mistakenly, it’s all part of the learning curve that won’t be as costly as if you tried to smoke dinner directly.
Typically, a dry run is done without food but if you still do not feel confident in handling your smoker, it’s wise to have a test run with a scrappy piece of meat. The kind that’s inedible either because it’s too fatty or of poor quality.
Don’t have brisket lying on the grates as a first-timer. Ruining that kind of cut can be disappointing. Sometimes a heavily marbled piece of steak may be a good alternative because it’s pretty hard to mess up a greasy cut.
For a dry run, you need to season your smoker. In a moment we’ll see all the benefits of seasoning but before then, seasoning is simply creating a greasy layer inside your Weber. It not only helps to better your cook results but also maintains your smoker much longer.
Here are other advantages of seasoning;
• Creates an airtight seal around the lid so that the airflow in and out is controlled.
• It helps to maintain consistent temperatures inside the smoker.
• Prolongs the lifespan of your grates.
• It tackles temperature spikes common to new smokers because of their shiny reflective surfaces.
• Improves the quality of your BBQ.
There are plenty of ways to go about the seasoning process and you may already have your own go-to. That’s okay, but for a Weber smoker here is the most preferred method. It’s done in 2 phases.
• Wrap your water pan empty using aluminum foil.
• Load charcoal briquettes into your smoker and turn it on a high. This is done to melt away the leftover chemicals and residue from the manufacturing process.
• After the charcoal has burnt to ash, clean out the mesh and prepare for the next phase.
• Load the second round of unlit charcoal in the chamber filling it halfway.
• Pour the other half into a chimney starter and light them up. These will serve as the active briquettes.
• Once up to temperature, transfer the lit charcoal into the center of the coal base.
• Add a few wood chunks on top as you wait for temperatures to come up to about 225F.
• Grab some fatty meat scraps and toss them onto the grills.
• Repeat the process a couple of times before bringing on the actual meat you intend to cook.
Others have used high-velocity oils in the place of greasy meats which work just as well. Provided you get a nice even coating all around.
Reminder, the healthy grease is what you want and not a buildup of dirt and rancid acids. The latter comes as a result of drippings and sauces so ensure to clean your smoker often with a grill brush to get these off.
What Type of Meat is Perfect for the First Smoking?
After getting to know your smoker, the next action is putting your skills to the test. Common to beginners, the urge to take on complex smoking activities is high. And yes, while you may be feeling confident about your newly learned operational skills, it’s advisable that you start simple.
Chicken is a good place to start. It’s convenient and won’t take as much time either. Once you get the hang of it, you’re better placed to challenge yourself with a bigger bird say turkey. But hey! Be careful not to bite more than you can chew.
Another less risky alternative is the pork butt. As discussed earlier, a good amount of fat is difficult to ruin. This one will take considerably longer hours in the smoker, 8 hours and above, but you will have borrowed a couple of lessons from the low and slow method.
Having a couple of BBQ enthusiastic friends to walk you through the process is another smart way to go about it. Learning on site is better than any tutorial you could ever follow, plus the fun of experimenting with different recipes should be thrilling.
Prepare Everything Before Starting the Smoker
It’s in order that you get all your tools ready before firing up your smoker. Apart from the smoker itself and the meat, additional preparation is necessary.
For instance, cleaning is a crucial step when it’s your second, third, or fourth time around. The debris left behind pile to form a sticky layer that you do not want in contact with your foods. So before you go ahead to prepare a fresh meal, clean out the nasty residue.
Here’s how to go about it:
• Begin by emptying the ashtray.
• Wipe off loose debris on the lid, walls, or outer surfaces.
• Use a grill brush to penetrate the grates and lift the dirt.
• Empty and clean the water pan.
Fortunately, this won’t be necessary when the smoker is brand.
Next, you want to have your meat ready by applying some dry rub or glazing your favorite sauces. It’s entirely up to you what spices to use and how much of it. If you like to get things out of the way early, have the marination done overnight.
As for the tools, you’ll need your chimney starter, fuel, and digital thermometer on standby. Grab your charcoal bag and wood chips and double-check whether they are enough to last through the entire cook. And for those who prefer dump wood chips over dry ones, do the soaking 30 minutes in advance.
You may be wondering why an extra thermometer when the Weber Smokey Mountain comes with one of its own? It’s not be relied on. This is because it tends to measure temperatures around the dome and not on the grates (the most important area).
For accurate readings, a digital probe is ideal. You can easily get one on Amazon or shop around your local BBQ store. And just for precaution, bring on a fire extinguisher in case a grease fire gets out of hand.
Related: Weber Smokey Mountain Modifications
The Minion Method for Starting Your Smoker in 3 Steps
To light up your smoker takes a bit of skill especially when you talk of the minion method. Unlike other methods, this particular one is designed for low and slow cooks.
Longer cooking spans such as this demand fuel sustainability. It’s frustrating to keep adding charcoal and wood perpetually during a cook session of 8 hours or more. The minion method takes care of this by slowing the rate at which your fuel burns.
By extension, there’s a decreased chance that temperatures will spike and so you have a smaller margin of error. The only thing you need to be careful with is the wood amounts. Being a long cook, too much smoke may cause a bitter taste. You should, therefore, do away with the wood once enough smoke has caught on.
Let’s see how to fire up your smoker the minion way. First;
1. Fill the coal ring with unlit briquettes
Get in a good number of charcoal lumps and spread them out. The Kingsford charcoal briquettes are superior for low and slow cooks however you can go with whatever brand you deem best. Ensure the coal ring is filled enough to last an enduring smoke.
2. Use your chimney starter to light some briquettes
Next, bring on your chimney starter and use it to fire up some briquettes. A lighter might come in handy here. You want to see the coals turn grey hot before placing them inside your smoker.
Since smoking is typically done outside, consider the weather because it’s going to determine how much hot charcoal you’ll need. A sunny day for instance requires fewer lit briquettes because the air outside is effectively keeping your smoker warm.
But if it’s winter or just a cold day, increase the lit coals since the wind outside might easily bring down temperatures below the target. Anything between 40-60 hot briquettes is good while on a warm day about 20 should suffice.
3. Add the lit coals into the coal chamber
It’s now time to add your burning coals into the main ring to bring the rest up to heat. Don’t be quick to pour them recklessly instead aim for right in the center. This way the heat will spread around evenly and not all at once.
Seeing that the minion method is suitable for consistent cooks, why isn’t everyone using it? Well, there’s a small controversy with opposing views as to its technique. The conventional way suggests that all charcoal lumps have to be scorching hot and grey before starting a cook.
While this seems sensible, the only problem is that the fuel quickly creates an overpowering smell due to the heavy smoke and soon enough this finds its way into the food. The taste, the smell, and even the appearance of your meal may change drastically and not for good.
Fortunately, with the minion method, this is not a problem. Everything is controlled from the burning of the fuel to the smoke, to give a delicious outcome. It’s highly unusual that there be a negative effect on the smell or taste.
You can also check our comprehensive article about how to fire up your smoker with the minion method
Use Aluminum Foil
When setting up your smoker for a run, you will find that using aluminum foil to line the water pan may save you some cleaning time.
The water pan is primarily a medium that promotes moisture during a cook. Especially if you are smoking a sensitive steak that could easily dry out, filling up your pan with water might be the solution. Other people like to get creative and throw in a few aromatics here and there to kick up the smell and taste. In other cases it’s beer.
Whatever you choose to go with, taking the extra step to wrap the pan in foil paper will make the after clean-ups much easier. All the drippings from wet rubs and inherent fat juices tend to spill all over and when they dry up, it’s hard getting them off. With a protective foil layer, cleaning is made easier. Simply unwrap the dirty foil, crunch it up and throw it into the bin.
Worth mentioning, moisture tends to get trapped in between the foil and pan. As a result, some slight discoloration may occur on the pan. If this is no bother to you then the long hours spent cleaning have come to an end. But in case it is a bother, find another alternative.
Handling Temperature Variations
Knowing how to stay on top of temperature changes is needful for a successful cook. All elements from the vents, lid up to the door all play a crucial role in this area.
The Weber Smokey Mountain is one of the premium smoker choices you can go with, however; there have been previous complaints with the door. It gets flimsy and as a result the airflow in and out becomes hard to control
As you get to use it the more, the leakage problem might be remedied by grease buildup from frequent smokes. But in the meantime, when new, it gets hard to keep things under control.
The good news is you could fix the problem quite easily with a few different hacks. For example;
• Seal the door with strong gaskets. You could get these from a local hardware store at an affordable price. Ensure you use food-safe adhesives to avoid poisoning. And while attaching the gaskets trim the excess off to get the perfect fit.
• Apart from adjusting just the bottom vents to control temperatures, when the door is leaky, you could also regulate the top vent to control the air circulation.
• If you need a permanent fix and have the budget for it, try replacing the door completely with a heavier duty.
In some cases, it might be the wind outside causing a temperature shift. When this is the issue;
• Get an enclosed spot where the wind is shielded from blowing directly into the vents. It could be under a tree, your patio, or anywhere not as open. The more wind getting into the vents, the greater the oxygen supply and likelihood of temperatures exceeding the expected range.
• Avoid taking the lid off your smoker. It initially drops temperatures but if you keep it open long enough and the fire will start to burn hotter.
Using a Quality Thermometer Can Save You
As discussed earlier, a digital thermometer is important for getting accurate temperature readings. Investing in a dual probe can save you tremendously and prove economic. As one probe focuses on the grate’s hotness; the other can be used to test the doneness of the meat.
You must use the thermometers correctly otherwise you might end up with inaccurate readings altogether. The grate probe shouldn’t sit directly on the grills, also, be about an inch away from the meat. And when testing meat doneness, push the meat probe into the thickest part preferably the center without touching the bone.
The Right Amount of Wood
When it comes to wood amounts, less is more. Over smoking, due to excess wood provokes a bitter flavor in your steak. So when piling wood, about 3-6 wood chunks is all it takes to last the entire cook. If these happen to deplete before time, don’t be in a rush to replenish. There’s a possibility that enough smoke has already infiltrated the cook.
Getting to learn your machine comes at the expense of trial and error. You make mistakes along the way, but they only help you get better and understand the intricacies of your unit. Hopefully, the above pointers make learning much easier and enjoyable!