Did I Get a Lemon? (long)


 
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Jason M. Park

TVWBB Super Fan
OK, I've been on this site for a while now, but only as a Kettle Jocky... until Christmas, when I got a WSM... finally. I have done 3 cooks with my WSM, and I have to say that I'm fairly dissappointed in the performance of my WSM! /infopop/emoticons/icon_frown.gif I have done numerous (30+) successful cooks on the kettle, but all 3 of my WSM cooks have been difficult, and only once was I satisfied with the way the meat came out.

The biggest problem seems to be that the fire wants to go out on me. I'll detail my cook from yesterday, perhaps I'm doing something wrong or maybe my WSM has a "bad wheel."

The weather was ideal, low 70's, sunny, no wind. The WSM was in full shade all afternoon. Menu was 5 racks of pork back ribs, all but one of them were over 2 lbs each. I prepped them with a modified version of the BRITU recipe, as I always do. I fired up the WSM, using the standard method, I made sure all coals were gray, got the wood chunks fully engulfed in flame, then assembled the cooker. I filled the water pan with cold water and put on the lid. Initial temp reading was 330. I closed all 3 of the bottom vents to roughly 1/3 open, and the top one to about half way.

I'm pretty sure that my thermometer is accurate, I tested it upon purchase and again after my first cook, and it reads about 210 in boiling water, which is within the realm of accuracy. The cooker got down to 300 and I decided it would be a good time to start cooking, knowing that the temp would drop with the addition of 10+ lbs of cold meat. It did, and after 10 minutes the temp appeared to stabalize at 240. So far so good, right? Well after about 30 minutes at 240, the wsm started to rapidly lose heat. In 5 minutes it dropped to below 200, down to 180! I opened all the vents to 100% open and stirred the fire a bit. It looked as if most of the coals were no longer burning and only a few were still lit in the middle, toward the bottom. (this was the case with the other 2 previous cooks as well) Once the vents were opened, the temp started to rise, and eventually settled again at 245, where it stayed for the rest of the cook. I followed my usual regiment of basting every 2 hours and then saucing at the end. They turned out a bit dry, and not falling off the bone like my previous Kettle rib cooks. The guests still raved, but I knew these were far from as good as I have done in the past.

Did I do omething wrong? Is it because it is still rather new? I did notice a small amount of smoke escaping from the access door, and some from where the lid meets the center section, but I thought this was considered normal. Any advise from you folks would help me out alot. I KNOW that the WSM is capable of great things, all of your testimony is proof of that, but as of now, I feel like I missed the bus or something.
 

Doug D

TVWBB Hall of Fame
I don't see anything too unusual except for the top vent being only half open-- it's recommended never to close it all except under extreme circumstances, or to extinguish the fire at the end of the cook.

What was your total cooking time on the back ribs?
 

Rob Provost

TVWBB Fan
Jason,

It sound like everything is right. The only thing I can think of is the location of the water pan. Check out this page:

http://www.virtualweberbullet.com/tempcontrol.html

On the bottom of that page it has this text:

"Check Location Of Water Pan
I received an e-mail from a man who seemed to be doing everything right, but still couldn't get his WSM above 200*F. After exchanging a series of messages, I determined that he was placing the water pan right on top of the charcoal chamber, effectively smothering the coals!

Make sure the water pan is placed in the middle cooking section on the lowest set of flanges, right beneath the bottom cooking grate."

Probably not the problem since you were at 300, but the only thing I can think of.
 

Kevin Taylor

TVWBB All-Star
Jason....

How long did you have the vents "partially" closed? This appears to be after it peaked at 330?. You then closed the vents partially, including the top one.

When you put the meat on, were these vents still partially closed? You then state, after 30 minutes it started dropping.

Sounds like your vents were partially closed for quite some time....minimum 30 minutes and maybe as long as 45-50 minutes.

With the top vent being partially closed I am willing to bet the smoker was not getting enough air. You mentioned no wind, so without that top vent being WIDE open, simply not enough draw to bring in the air to keep the fire going. Add this to the fact you just loaded 10+lbs. of meat on and you maybe killed your fire.

As Doug mentioned, try to keep that top vent opened. I do close my top vents when battling temp spikes, but my cooker, after many miles of travel is prone to leaks.

Hope this helps!
 

Jack H

New member
Leaving the top vent completely open is recommended in numerous locations on this site. A well connected WSM in calm conditions full of lit charcoal with the top vent 1/2 open can slowly go out! The unit is designed to allow slow, controled burning with a pan full of charcoal with the top vent completely open. I also have learned that the Weber kettle ceases to function as a grill with the top vent partually closed, even if the bottom vents are 100% open. The top vents are adjustable only to put the charcoal out.

Good luck.
 

Jason M. Park

TVWBB Super Fan
Rob, I had the water pan in the correct position.

Kevin, The vents were still partially closed when the meat went on, I would estimate they were at that configuration for almost an hour before the temp took the nosedive.

I guess the partial closing of the top vent must be the culprit. I know that to keep my kettle in the low & slow temp range would require me to shut my lower vents completely and keep the top vent at least half closed, sometimes BARELY open at all.

What still has me guessing is the fact that I had the thing WIDE open for much of the cook, and the temp never went higher than 245, and the weather was great, not cold at all. Shouldn't the temp have gotten upwards of 275 or 300 with all vents 100% open? I'm comparing my cook to the temp log in the cooking section for BRITU, and with all 3 bottom vents CLOSED it went for quite some time, actually increasing in temperature from 233 to 248. Could being in the shade all afternoon have caused this?

Thanks again for all of your collective advise...
 

Jim Clay

TVWBB Fan
Jason, it's definitely the top vent. I made the exact same mistake the first cook I did on the WSM. Open that vent WIDE and don't close it. You can control the temp with the bottom vents alone just fine. This isn't a kettle and you can't apply the same cooking techniques you use with a kettle.

As for the temp never getting over 245; how much charcoal did you have in the ring? If you had less then half a ring then you may not be able to get the temp over about 250 with a full pan of water.
 

Kevin Taylor

TVWBB All-Star
Jason....

I'm not too surprised by the failure to get above 245?. You had a good load of meat on there and no wind to stir the coals. Also, it sounds like the fire went out for a while....I just think with all those factors it's hard to really evaluate. Look on the positive side....you learned something about how the unit operates.

I am willing to bet your next cook will be perfect!

BTW, don't sweat the smoke coming from those places. My access door leaks as well. You can bend it to fit a little tighter.


Good luck on your next adventure!
 
G

Guest

Guest
Call me confused. In reference to the top vent: I posted a question earlier about screwing a Tel-tru thermo in the top vent. The response was basically, no problem. In doing so I have effectively decreased my top vent by 33%.
I've not noticed any differance in doing so, so I'm not sure how much there is to the top vent theory. /infopop/emoticons/icon_confused.gif
 

Steve Hilmer

TVWBB Super Fan
I am using a candy therm in a cork in the top vent. I tested it and its close to right on. I also used a standard oven therm at first on the grill to test all the info I was getting from this web site. I now smoke with only the 1 in the vent, and use a maverick probe in the meat. I have used both methods of starting the WSM. I adjust only the bottom vents. I have also smoked a turkey with a dry pan, as described on this web site. First problem I had was to learn to not futz with it much. The WSM is slow to change temp, I found myself over correcting the vents, trying to keep the perfect temp. Once the temp stabilizes, the only spikes I get are when I mop, add water or stir coals toward the end of a long smoke. I have had to open the bottm vents more as time went on. I really enjoy my WSM /infopop/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif .
 

Jason M. Park

TVWBB Super Fan
It goes to show you, you can learn something new every day. I had thought (by reading other posts about windy days) that wind was an enemy. I guess NO wind is bad and A LOT of wind is also bad.

Thanks all for the advise, I'll bet my next WSM cook will be nearly flawless.
 
G

Guest

Guest
Up here in the frigid arctic of central Wisconsin have had no problems with cold and wind with the wind break that I made. Take a 50 gal drum (top and bottom removed) and cut completely in half (so you have two pieces). Took three heavy-duty hinges and placed on the back half of the two pieces. Placed a couple of handles on the front. Voila! A nifty windbreak or you can completely enclose the WSM to keep it toasty warm. Having the handles makes it convenient to open up to have access to tend the fire. If you don't have snow and ice to contend with, you could add casters on the bottom for easier manuvering.
 
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