First cook with Billows, SmokeX and WSM 18.


 

JohnShepherd

TVWBB Member
I've got two racks of St Louis style ribs on the smoker, and hoping to have them ready for dinner time, so trying to maintain the temps at about 290ºF. I started with a full load on the charcoal grate, and dumped 40 lit coals in a dent i nthe middle of the pile. The water bowl started full of cold water. I've got the bottom vents (other than billows) fully closed, and tape over the exposed hole in the Billows vent. Following the Billows instructions, I have the exhaust vent about 1/8 opened.

It was chugging along great at about 288 for about an hour or so when the alarm on the SmokeX goes off, and the temps are 249 and dropping (just as I was sitting down to a hot sandwich and soup ). I peaked in the door, and it appeared the coals had gone out. I lit another batch real quick, added them, and poked around to make sure there were hot coals right in front of the Billows vent. It's made it back up to 277, but seems to be struggling, whereas before it was holding pretty close to the set point.

The weather is low 40s and windy/gusty which doesn't help. After refueling, I leaned some things around the smoker as a wind break.

Any ideas of what I did wrong to cause the coals to die out? I realize the Billows instructions are generic for all smokers, and the WSM may require different vent settings. All recommendations are welcome.
 
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Andy Linn

TVWBB Super Fan
I'm sorry John - I don't have any experience with automatic controllers. If I were trying to save dinner - I would cook it without the automatic assistance.
 

Rich G

TVWBB Honor Circle
.... tape over the exposed hole in the Billows vent...
Can you describe this more? What Billows vent did you tape over?

I haven't used a Billows, but used a DigiQ a ton, and the concepts are the same. Things I would recommend......
- If you just closed the intakes on your WSM with the vent dampers, I would highly suggest that you use the high-heat foil tape to ensure that they are completely blocked. Those dampers don't fit that tight.
- l always ran my WSM with the top vent fully open when using the DigiQ, so I would recommend that you try opening that vent up fully, or at least more than 1/8th.
- If cooking on a windy day, it's always good to protect the WSM as much as you can, even when using an ATC.

I'm sure you'll get it dialed in. Good luck!

Rich
 

DanHoo

TVWBB Honor Circle
Hey John, I've only used my billows on my BGE which is a completely different animal.

With that caveat, I've found if I can get my exhaust vent set to hold the desired temp without overshooting due to too much air flow, then my billows does a great job keeping the temp up.

good luck. like any change it will require some re-learning.
 

JohnShepherd

TVWBB Member
Doing a little more reading while the cook's happening. I've opened the exhaust 100%, which seemed to help some. Wanting to speed things along, I bumped the control set temperature to 305, but it still couldn't get above 275. I cracked open the intake vents to ~25%, but the highest it will go is about 285. In the end the higher setting just means the alarm is going off more frequently (not sure how it's calculating the alarm temp.) I think the water in the bowl is limiting it. Next time, no water if I want a higher temp. These will cook fine at 280, and they'll be done when they're done.
 

JohnShepherd

TVWBB Member
Can you describe this more? What Billows vent did you tape over?
Just now seeing your post. There was a small piece of high heat foil tape included with the Billows. I connected the Billows so that it covered two of the holes on one of the intake dampers, and used the tape to cover the third hole. The other two intakes are un-taped. I'm probably going to order some more tape for the other two intakes.
 

Bradley Mack

TVWBB Super Fan
Just now seeing your post. There was a small piece of high heat foil tape included with the Billows. I connected the Billows so that it covered two of the holes on one of the intake dampers, and used the tape to cover the third hole. The other two intakes are un-taped. I'm probably going to order some more tape for the other two intakes.

Your issue is as you’ve stated previously. The water in your water pan is your culprit. The first brisket I cooked was in the spring…a cold and rainy day. I had a bowl full of charcoal, a full water pan and in a few short hours- I burned right through it. That had never happened before.

The following week… same weather. Pork butt. Same set up. Temps were struggling. I emptied the water pan and bam! Hit my temps.

You won‘t need any more of the tape for your bottom dampers, since they should be closed while using your billows. And correct me if I’m mistaken, but your top vent on the lid should always be wide open. Billows or no billows.

Ditch the water. Save it for warmer days. Good luck!
 

Lynn Dollar

TVWBB Emerald Member
I just bought a Billows last month and have done one cook. It held steady and I had no problem with the coals going out. But I was shooting for 275 and could not get my 18 to hold that temp. I use the water bowl and I'm sure that was keeping my temp down. I will continue to use water, just cook at a lower temp, like 265.

Water pan in the smoker is an individual thing , some like it, some don't . I do . It keeps temps down, but it also acts a heat sink that stabilizes temps which reduces the work of the Billows.

I kept the top vent almost closed , as Thermoworks advised, it was open just a little bit. I don't like that. I don't want to back up the air flow. So I bought a damper from Thermoworks, that will allow me to reduce the air flow from the Billows and open up the top vent more. I will know more about this after my next cook.
 

Jim C in Denver

TVWBB All-Star
I started with a full load on the charcoal grate, and dumped 40 lit coals in a dent in the middle of the pile. The water bowl started full of cold water.
The weather is low 40s and windy/gusty


1. Your fire was too small.
2. Your fire was too constricted.

In those tough conditions (cold, windy, full bowl, cold water, cooking at 280F+) you just needed a lot more lit to start with. Less than a half chimney is inadequate.

For REGULAR conditions, Billows says use 1/2 to 3/4 of a chimney. Billows (which I use on my 18) just runs better when there's a good amount of lit that it can easily puff up and down to regulate temp.

When running normal aspiration, I use the constricted Soo donut to control the fire spread. When using Billows, I scatter the lit around the pile more broadly. Again, the Billows needs a lot of lit coals to blow upon to control temp. So the tight configuration of the coals in one spot is not necessary. And could get blown out on a windy day.

You were too concerned about the fire getting too hot, so it was too small and got blown out. You don't really have to worry about that with the ATC. Everything else you did seemed fine to me.
 

JohnShepherd

TVWBB Member
The big problem was I got a late start, so was hoping to make up time by cooking hotter. (Yeah, I know, it's done when it's done....)

So knowing I wanted a higher temp, I should have skipped the water, and I should keep the exhaust vent open wide. And thanks to Jim C for the recommendation to start with more lit coals, sounds like that will make a big difference.
 

Jim C in Denver

TVWBB All-Star
I don’t think opening the top vent wide is the right move.

Top vent should only be as open as it needs to be in order to maintain stable temp. Open it too much and you just mess up the equilibrium.

If you just need to get the fire amped up, then just open up all the vents. Open the door and crack the lid too if needed. After the fire gets going, then go back to normal settings for the atc.

Only time my billows has trouble keeping temp up is when the coals get ashed over. So a vigorous coal raking every few hours is a good idea. You want the fan to be able to blow on enough lit coals so the temp can be boosted (when needed) over and over and over by just a few degrees.
 

John K BBQ

TVWBB All-Star
I have a fair amount of experience with ATC's (BBQ Guru Party Q [RIP], and TW Billows) all on WSM 22". Normally I run with a dry pan (foiled)., and with the top vent less than 1/4 open. Most of my cooks have been 225 to 275. I've only ever had trouble when either lighting too few coals, or lighting too much. Winter is a tough time of year to try to run the WSM at temps over 275 - not only are we losing more heat thru the side walls, the fire has to "work harder" to heat the air that enters the bottom vents to achieve set point.

I also use the "Doughnut Hole"/Dent Method, but this is the method I use for doing low and slow cooks. It does a good job of not igniting too much fuel too fast. You may want to try a different fire building method next time you want to run hot and fast. Hit this link to see what our fearless leader has to say about fire building... there is a specific method for building a fire to run around 325 to 375 in the 18" WSM Fire Building in the WSM

Interesting note: BBQ Guru did not recommend the Party Q for the 22" WSM (fan isn't really big enough). We had a lot of success with it anyway because my buddy's smoker was in an unshaded location on the south side of his house. On a hot Missouri Ozark day, the smoker would hit 150F, uncovered, with no fire in it! :cool: ☀️
 

 

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