Weird First (pretty bad) WSM Smoking Experience

Gerry S

New member
Hi all.

I just finished my first cook with my new Weber Smokey Mountain 18" this past Saturday in rural NJ. I smoked a 10lb brisket flat, and used the popular minion method, with a full hoop of Kingsford Blue charcoal and 20 lit briquettes in the center. The water bowl was 2/3 full. Being just a brisket flat, and having read that it takes about an hour per pound, I figured it would take about 9 hours. Well... It took 18 hours! I started at about 9:00AM and didn't finish until 3:00AM Sunday.

First, I would like to know why it took so long. Isn't 18 hours extreme for 10 lbs of meat? I kept the air temp in the smoker between 225 and 250 degrees the vast majority of the day, with a few times where it got down briefly to 216 or as high as 260. The meat temp went from room temperature to 151 within the first 45 minutes of the cook, and even though I know about "the stall", this lead me to believe the cook would be short. Once the temp got to 151, though, it moved very slowly, and when it got to 161 it stayed there for many hours. Once it got to 163 or so, I wrapped it in parchment paper for the duration of the cook. I was trying to let it get to 203 degrees, as Aaron Franklin appears to recommend, but at 201 I couldn't stay up any later. (I used my new Inkbird IBT-6XS temp probes, and they seem to be accurate.)

Second, the meat had a good bark, and had a smoke ring, but it was quite dry - delicious, but dry. Anyone know what might have caused that? It seemed very wet when I wrapped it, and I had spritzed it with apple juice a few times before that. After spending $47 for the meat and burning about 16 lbs of charcoal, I felt like I got the short stick.

Third, although I had read that the WSM holds its temperature "all day" (or close to it), I had to work VERY hard to keep it from going too low or too high. I generally tried to keep the dampers closed about 1/4", which worked for awhile, but I found that as soon as the coals built up a layer of ash on them the temperature went down quickly to the 216 range, so I'd stir the coals or adjust the dampers and then it would shoot up to the 260 range, hold there for maybe 20 minutes, then spiral down again. It was a rollercoaster all day.

Honestly, the experience was so exhausting, and the results so dry, that I have no desire to do it again. I had done weeks of research, and I believe I followed the general recommendations explicitly. Unless somebody can point out something I may have done wrong, or offer some encouragement, my plan for next time is to only smoke until wrap time, then move the meat in the house to the oven.

I would love to hear some pointers from some of you others about how I can do better.
 

BFletcher

TVWBB Wizard
Hi Gerry and welcome! With all due respect, I'd be hard pressed to believe your brisket reached 151 in 45 minutes after placing it in the smoker but please clarify one point: you say it went from room temp to 151. What temperature was room temperature, and is that when you placed it in the smoker? And by your description it sounds like you did what many of us do when we first start... chasing temps. If you're using a brand new WSM it is more likely to yield higher temps more so than a well-used smoker. My recommendation is that you fight the urge to wrestle with your fire for the first several hours aside from tweaking your dampers a time or two. Honestly, 260 is not a problem for a brisket. And on my first few smokes I aimed for 220-225 but these days I almost always start north of 250; I'm happy to smoke in the 270's.
 
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Gerry S

New member
Thank you for the reply. I took the meat (which was never frozen) out of the fridge and let it sit on the countertop for an hour before putting it in the smoker. When I finished putting on the rub it felt slightly cool but not very.

My temp expectations were formed by watching T-Roy Cooks videos and some others, which made it seem like the temp stays just about in the same place for hours on end.
 

Dustin Dorsey

TVWBB Platinum Member
I'm not at all shocked that a 10 pound flat took 18 hours. It's more about the thickness of the meat rather than the weight. A 10 pound flat probably came off a 14 pound brisket. The flat of the brisket has denser muscle fiber and less fat and takes longer to get tender than a point. I think your temp control is pretty good if that's your first cook on the WSM. You are going to get better at it with more cooks under your belt. Just due to the vertical nature of the cooker, they tend to react slowly to vent changes. At least that's my experience so a lot of times when you are trying to dial that temperature in you start over-correcting and then your temperature starts ping ponging. Once you know where exactly to set it for a certain temp (or at least ball park) it gets easier.

I was super anal about my cooking temp at first. If I was wanting to cook at 225 and I saw my temp get up to 229 I'd want to go tweak the vent. If it settles in at 240 I'd just roll with it. Once you get it settled in it will hold temp really well. People probably exaggerate at how well it holds temp, though Mine tends to want to drift slowly up and down, but if I get it dialed in, I don't have to mess with it much. I don't see it as that big of a deal to tweak the vent every once in a while. I even do overnight cooks occasionally and manage to get a lot of sleep, just because I'm used to the cooker.

The last thing I'll say is that there is no substitute for experience. You can read all you want to but you have to do it to really learn it. I promise your research got you way ahead of the curve, but you still just need practice. I need more practice.

Ok I lied, one more thing I'll say. I think you did fantastic for a first cook on the WSM. Pat yourself on the back. It's only going to get better.
 

Timothy F. Lewis

TVWBB Hall of Fame
Pretty ballsy choice to start with a brisket! Get a couple of pork butts and practice temperature control for a few cooks, they are not brutally expensive and very forgiving.
Get a little more practice and don’t be too hard on yourself.
The more you do the less frustrating it all becomes.
 

Gerry S

New member
Thanks for the encouragement, Dustin. As far as the ping ponging goes, I really don't think it had to do with my damper adjustments, which were small. After the first few hours, the rises and falls corresponded to the length of time the coals were left unattended, not to any changes I made to the dampers.

I was thinking... When I first started setting up the smoker for the cook, and after the charcoal was burning pretty will, I noticed that the center section was sitting on one of the thermometer probe wires, pinching it between itself and the base. Needing my left hand to remove the wire, I lifted the side of the center section slightly with just my right hand, and that caused the center section to slip inside the base on the opposite side, spilling a few cups of water from the water pan down the inside of the base, outside the charcoal ring, and into the area under the hot coals. Not having a good situation to remove the grate and ring holding the coals, I just left it that way. I'm wondering now if possibly the heat from the coals caused the water underneath to steam, limiting the burn of the charcoal. Part of me says that wouldn't be an issue, because I know lots of steam collects normally on the inside of the smoker and runs down to the bottom anyway, but maybe I broke the threshold or something. Next time will help to supply an answer... unless I do it again. I did get some bug U bolts from Home Depot a couple of nights ago and mounted them as handles through the bottom grate, so I can remove the grate/fire ring/hot coals now if I need to.
 

Gerry S

New member
Kelley: Yes, I did; nevertheless, the temp at the cooking grate was what it was supposed to be, so although I can see the extra energy consuming more charcoal, I can't see it making the cook take longer.

- - - Updated - - -

Pork butts are next on my list, Timothy. Maybe some ribs soon too!
 

Fred BW

TVWBB Fan
I agree with Timothy. I started out with ribs when I got my WSM,and they probably are the quickest and easiest thing to cook. I myself have a temp controller and set the knob around 275 for just about everything,and the higher temp definitely shortens the stall.
Here is a good recipe for ribs.
https://www.virtualweberbullet.com/spareribs-3-2-1-method/
There is also nothing wrong with taking a brisket to the oven when you wrap it. Especially in the winter.
 

Lew Newby

TVWBB All-Star
Welcome to the Forum. Great first post. If it was dry and tender you probably overcooked it. 203 is just a guideline. If it's probe tender at 195 the pull it off and rest it wrapped up. Using water for your first few cooks is smart. You just got a hunk of meat with some tough connective tissue and it took a long time in "the stall" breaking it down. Your cook was far from a disaster. You had some tasty Brisket to chew on and, importantly, you got that first cook under your belt. Each cook is different but we learn every time we fire up the WSM. Hell, you have the hardest cook behind you so keep doin what you're doin and it will get comfortable soon. Enjoy the ride.
 

MikeS in Alaska

TVWBB Fan
I have varying degrees of success with brisket.
Last one took 12 hours and was only a 4 pound chunk of flat. At 10 hours it was 170 and holding so I wrapped in foil with about 3 tablespoons of beef stock. Put it back on the pit for an hour then into a cooler wrapped in towels to rest.
The spill below the coals may have contributed to your time. To save $$$ while doing brisket practice, I get a full brisket packer at Costco and trim it into two flat sections and the point. That gives me three chances to screw it up.
 

Timothy F. Lewis

TVWBB Hall of Fame
Brisket has its own peculiarities the last 14 pounder I did went so fast I was scared of it! Put it on at about 10PM then went to bed, woke up at 6 looked at the remote thermometer turned a light on and looked again, jumped out of bed put on fresh underpants, flew down the stairs, out the door, took a look, probed like butter! Got it off and let temperature break, double foiled, into a cooler with towels and decided that it would be just fine so, I went back to sleep for a couple of hours!
It just shows me that “it will be done when it says it’s done!”
 

MartinB

TVWBB Pro
There can be lot of variability in temperature based on probe placement both in smoker, and due to proximity to meat.

Yeah, low temp takes loooonng time.

I did one low and slow intentionally at 225......19.5 hrs

250-275 is more optimal and waay faster.
 

RyanS_MN

TVWBB Member
I realize this is a bit old, but for any newbies it’s true that the smoker takes a few uses to level out temp wise. My first smoke was all over the place on a perfectly sunny day. But by my third smoke the temps only swung around 5 degrees which is okay with me. I can’t wait to do a cook for the Super Bowl
 

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