Newbie Questions - confused by too many opinions



TVWBB Member
I'm getting my 14.5 wsm in a few days and have been doing some reading up in advance. I've got some questions I'm hoping ya'll can answer. I see conflicting info about some things :confused:

1. Can you (or should you) smoke fish on your wsm if you use it for meat? I'm thinking I might want to smoke salmon, otherwise it would always be meat/poultry. Does it transfer smells or something?

2. Water pan foiling - why not just use an aluminum disposable pan for water if you're gonna foil it anyway? Why do people clean the outside of the water pan, does it make the smoker work badly or something? I can see why you might foil the inside, to deal with drippings, but the whole thing just seems like a bad design. Why not put a couple tabs above the water pan for a drip tray?

3. In the 14.5 there a heat shield that just lays in the bottom, it looks like, takes up ash space. Does is actually do anything, especially since the wsm is on legs? Is there enough room for the ash in a long cook or does it choke?

I bought the book Low & Slow, 5 lessons, to learn how to use the wsm. Seems pretty good if you actually follow along and build up from a simple recipe to a slow and long cook. But as I read it, I realized EVERYTHING seems to have opposing opinions on various forums and bbq websites. So for a person new to smoking, how do you know which method to follow? :confused::confused::confused::confused:

Meats not cheap and I can't afford to ruin it. I appreciate any advice, especially if it doesn't send me off in another totally different direction, lol.

Dwain Pannell

TVWBB Hall of Fame
Craftsmen often have differing opinions to reach the same onjective. Figure out your way.

1. It's your cooker. If you like smoked salmon go for it.

2. Folks foil the water pan to keep it clean. It really doesn't make sence because we strive to build up seasoning then put shiny metal in it. I use a drip pan if I'm not using the lower rack. I think I put foil on about six months ago.

3. The heat shield doesn't take up that much space but if you need that space remove it.

I recommend Low n Slow to learn your cooker. You can deviate after you get the hang of it and build up seasoning.

Have fun!
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Dustin Dorsey

TVWBB Hall of Fame
Well you're asking some good questions. You'll probably get various answers.

1. You're right it can transfer smells. Generally throw the average Joe wouldn't notice. It's more of a competition thing.

2. I have no idea why people worry about the outside of the pan. I foil it though and don't use water lately. The drip pan idea is probably pretty good.

3. Dunno how well the heat shield works on the 14.5. On the larger models it keeps you from burning your grass or a deck.

There are many varying opinions about things. Most of it is personal taste. A lot of it came about by trial and error and people will do what they've been taught. I'm a stubborn low and slow guy for instance. That doesn't mean hot and fast doesn't work. Some things are adhering to a tradition. Foiling is a big argument. I'm sure you'll find a lot of opinions. Water in the pan or not is big.

I'm sure you'll get better answers than mine. Pick your strategy from anyone who's philosophy or tradition you like and you'll get great results if you stick to it and pay attention to detail.

Jose Suro

TVWBB All-Star
First off I have a 22.5, so mileage will vary. That said, Weber designed this thing as a water pan based smoker. I use it as such and get great results. I do not use the water pan for short, small cooks like pork loins and whole chickens. I use a an aluminum pan placed on the lower grate filled with water instead, or broth and veggies if I'm making gravy.

I'd say stay with the design intention at least for your first cooks and see how it goes. It won't do you wrong. When I use the water pan I do foil the bottom to keep cleaning to a minimum. The fat that falls in the pan can be cleaned easily by using ice. I posted that recently in the thread below, look for that post in the second page:
Try it as it was designed. It won't disappoint :)


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T MacGreggor

I'm with Dustin & Dwain - you're asking good questions and will get various answers. I was asking many of the same things a couple months ago as I was awaiting delivery of my 14.5 WSM. You've just got to figure out what works best for you.

1. I'm with Dustin. Outside of competition, it's doubtful most folks will notice.

2. I'm in the foil the water pan and run it without water camp here. Never had to clean the water pan yet and temperature control has been a breeze over 10 smokes in varying environmental conditions & meats.

3. As thin as the heat shield is, I doubt removing it would give you any ash clearance benefit. However, picking up a 2nd charcoal grate and placing it on top of the first but perpendicular will give you a little more clearance as well as help keep smaller pieces of charcoal, especially lump, from falling below the grate & into the ash area. Since it's relatively new, if the 14.5 WSM's charcoal grates are hard to find or overpriced, it is the exact same size as the Weber Smokey Joe Silver's, which is only $7 "shipped to store" at any Home Depot.

As far as the learning process and meat costs go I'll back up Tom by saying the five beginner WSM recipes here are a good start and relatively inexpensive, particularly the chicken.

It's a tasty learning process. Enjoy it!


TVWBB Member
Wow, all your answers are so very helpful! I'm getting the sense that smoking is something that can be approached different ways and still have the same result. I plan to work through the book to get a basic knowledge of technique, and then try some of the other "styles" and methods. While I grill on lump charcoal I did buy a couple bags of briquets to start smoking, but I will probably go back to lump once I finish the book. That tip on the second grill grate is terrific, thank you, T MacGregor. And I will probably foil the outside of my water pan, Dustin, just cuz it will be all nice and shiny at first. I really appreciate Jose's tip about the ice; I was wondering how to deal with the residue. And, Dwain, you're right - it's my cooker (yay) so once I get some more skill, I'm smoking that salmon! I truly am grateful for all the advice, and I'll be back once I start cooking for more tips.:wsm:

Bob Sample

TVWBB Diamond Member
Only advice I would give you is don't chase temperatures in the cooker. Make small adjustments on the way up and give your adjustments time to take affect. Also don't get hung up on meat temperatures learn to cook low and slow by feel and leave your temperature probe in the kitchen drawer.

RJ Banks

TVWBB All-Star
Just relax and have fun with it. Most things I have done have come out really, really good. Like you figured reading the responses, there are different styles and techniques to get to the same result. Try different things and find what you like best. These machines can make us look much better than what we are.

Tom Golden

Only advice I would give you is don't chase temperatures in the cooker. Make small adjustments on the way up and give your adjustments time to take affect. Also don't get hung up on meat temperatures learn to cook low and slow by feel and leave your temperature probe in the kitchen drawer.

First part is 110% spot on. Second part... not so much. Newbies should use a themometer to gauge doneness. If only for food safety/


TVWBB Member
First part is 110% spot on. Second part... not so much. Newbies should use a themometer to gauge doneness. If only for food safety/

The book I got is all about using your senses to see if it is done, but I have every intention of backing up my impressions with my thermopop. Killing people really takes the joy out of a new smoker:p It will probably take numerous smokes to develop a sense of when it is "done" so I will definitely be backing up with a thermometer as my second opinion. It's a tool like any other - a metronome doesn't make you a great musician, it's just a tool to help you get there.

Joe F

Good advice in this thread.
Some BBQ competitors will not smoke fish in their competition smokers...superstition ? reality ?
I don't really care, but IMHO the WSM runs too hot for proper fish smoking.
We smoke A LOT of fish here in the PNW.

If you've ever run a woodstove, running the WSM will be second nature.
If not, you will have to learn fire control, work on your recipes and develop YOUR OWN routine.

Have fun and don't over-think it !

Rich Dahl

TVWBB 1-Star Olympian
Lot's of great advice here, but as you can see lot's of different advice on the same subjects. Do what you're comfortable with and adjust as you learn.
But as previously stated make sure your food is safe most of all and just have fun with the rest.

Carl H.

TVWBB Super Fan
That book teaches one way to do it. It's a great way to start, though. Do what it says and you will likely not fail. By then you know enough that you can try some of the variations that might seem attractive.