What Is Normal For Temp Fluctuations?

ChristopherC

TVWBB Super Fan
Just a general question as to everyone’s opinion on what a “normal” or “average” temp fluctuation would be for a WSM (I have the 18)?

Say for example your target is 250d. How much do you expect/allow it to swing before you make adjustments during a 3hr+ cook?
 
Chris,
I have a pork shoulder on right now and my goal has been 250, I have been moving between 230 and 280 all day. With my goal being 250 I am ok with anything in that 230 to 280 range.
Now I am not completely sure I know what you are asking. Are you saying you put the meat on 3 hours ago and the pit is still not at 250 range? If you have everything 100% open and still not at temps I would crack open the lid or prop open the door (a little harder) and get more oxygen in there until you hit 245 and then once it hits 250 start to close down the vents to keep it from skying over the goal temps.
If you are saying you are 3 hours in and keep changing the vents to try to nail down 250, then don't do that to yourself. Set your dampers to where you think to get it around 250 then give it 30 to 45 minutes to see it is settles in or if it keeps climbing. If it keeps climbing you need to still close it down more to see if it can find a settling spot.
 

ChristopherC

TVWBB Super Fan
Thanks Michael!

No was just a general question. Not saying anything specific is happening. Just curious what most think is a decent range.

Actually doing a pork shoulder as well right now. See this thread:


Anyways, been fluctuating between 243 and 252. Just curious what might be too high or too low that you would decide to make an adjustment.
 
Chris,
243 to 252 is not fluctuating, it is pretty dialed in. You remember that post the other day were our fearless leader Chris said about the electronic temps readouts cause us to go crazy over temps.... Yeah trying to nail down a spot at 250 when you are cruising right there would be what he was talking about. It sounds like you and your WSM 18 are rocking this. Look forward to seeing your Mexican inspired pork shoulder.
 

ChristopherC

TVWBB Super Fan
Thanks again Michael.

Held there for the first hour and a half and then started dropping to 223 by 2 hours in. So, I just opened the other 2 vents half way. Had them closed with 1 vent open all the way and the top vent open. Now it is rising again towards 250 slowly. So getting the hang of it. I told myself anything between 225 and 275 is considered good. So when I saw it drop under 225, I made a slight adjustment. Hope that makes sense. Was going out to spritz anyways.
 

M Craw

TVWBB Fan
So 20-30° swings are normal, and it's not just me and my WSM? Hmmm... Not that my bbq is at all bad, but it's always stressed me out and I'm always fidgeting with it. Good to know I should just leave it alone if it's within that range.
 
Thanks again Michael.

Held there for the first hour and a half and then started dropping to 223 by 2 hours in. So, I just opened the other 2 vents half way. Had them closed with 1 vent open all the way and the top vent open. Now it is rising again towards 250 slowly. So getting the hang of it. I told myself anything between 225 and 275 is considered good. So when I saw it drop under 225, I made a slight adjustment. Hope that makes sense. Was going out to spritz anyways.
Chris,
I think that plan to let anything between 225 and 275 be considered OK is a great plan to not drive yourself crazy. Just pulled mine off the pit. Put on at 11 pm last night and just pulled off at 3 pm, 16 hours at 230 to 280, pulled at 195ish, but man did that prob go through like warm butter. It is now wrapped and waiting in a cooler for me to get down my last meeting of the day at 4:30. I am so hungry just thinking about it.
 

Chris Allingham

Administrator
Staff member
Chris, if you're curious, I post a table showing time/temp/vent percentage on (almost) all the recipes I post. You'll find them all here:


Skip the first four Beginner Recipes, they don't have time/temp/vent tables.

To be clear, you're not supposed to mimic these readings, I include them just to show the variability that I experience and how I adjust vents accordingly. I may be targeting 250, but you'll see in the table I'm fine with it wandering 20 degrees below or 30 degrees above. Sometimes there are almost no adjustments to vents, other times there are more adjustments. It just depends on conditions, meat being cooked, water or not in the pan, and so much more.

Here's the table from Best Ribs in the Universe where I'm shooting for 250-275*F. You can see that I might have opened the vents a little earlier, but 233 is an OK barbecue temp and temps seemed to be rising, so I didn't make an adjustment.

Main thing is just don't get too freaked out about cooker temp. You can cook great BBQ in the backyard at any of the temps shown in this table, it really doesn't matter how it fluctuates. Let internal meat temp and a tenderness test using a skewer or thermometer probe or a bend test/tear test for ribs be your guide.

TimeLid TempVent 1 %Vent 2 %Vent 3 %
11:00 AM​
000
11:15 AM​
233000
11:30 AM​
233000
11:45 AM​
233000
12:00 PM​
237000
12:30 PM​
250000
1:00 PM​
248000
1:30 PM​
250000
2:00 pm​
249505050
2:15 PM​
270505050
2:30 PM​
269505050
3:00 PM​
280252525
3:15 PM​
28225250
3:30 PM​
27525250
 
So 20-30° swings are normal, and it's not just me and my WSM? Hmmm... Not that my bbq is at all bad, but it's always stressed me out and I'm always fidgeting with it. Good to know I should just leave it alone if it's within that range.
When I started I had some more seasoned pit-masters teach me "don't chase temps, you will end exulted and Q is supposed to be relaxing". I was also taught to learn my pit and how it wants to act. I have really focused on learning how my WSM likes to come to temps to help get it "dailed" in beginning of the cook. I have also worked to learn the difference between temp swings and temp problems. If my pit starts to rapidly climb or drop in temps or if it just continuously keeps dropping or climbing over a longer period of time then there is a high likelihood if needs my attention, but if it is bouncing a little higher then a little low then a little higher for periods of time as the cook progresses that is normal. If I start trying to keep that perfect temp I find myself having to do 10 times the work then if I just lit it settle in. I find that is because if I touch the vents to bring it down, then soon its to low and I have to touch them to get it back higher and back and forth "chasing that perfect temp." Whereas, if I just let the pit do its think and as long as I did then the temp change is because of a problem, it is much more of an enjoyable process.
 

MartinB

TVWBB Pro
What are you cooking at 250 that only takes 3 hours?

Any temperature between 225 and 275 is fine . It just takes a little longer or shorter, but it cooks the same.
Don't stress about temperature.

Now that said you might want to stress about it a little. I like to 265 to 275 to give bark formation. Below this, you may not get good bark, above it you may have to heavy hard of a bark. At least that's my experience.

But I use a temp controller that can hold right on the money , and the reason is because it makes it easy.
Really easy.
 

ChristopherC

TVWBB Super Fan
The only thing I have done so far that is less than 3 hours is:

- smoked wings
- ribs

What I meant was on the longer cooks (ie pork butt, brisket, etc...), how much fluctuation should you allow? Not really concerned about fluctuation with wings and ribs as I find them very forgiving.

What are you cooking at 250 that only takes 3 hours?
 

Lee Ingraham

TVWBB Fan
I typically just let it settle in where it's going to and then watch for trends after that. If it's falling or rising towards an extreme for an extended period of time I'll make some small adjustments, but that's all.
 

CaseT

TVWBB Emerald Member
When I had me 18 it liked to settle in around 285°, so that's where I did most of my low and slow cooking at. It would run at 285° for hours on end.

My 14 likes to run at 265° so that's where I ran it for low and slow cooks. I can get it lower around 180° which I do when smoking beef roasts.

Most of my cooks are hot n fast. Poultry ribs. So typically I shoot for 325°+.

Last fall I finally broke down and bought the BBQ Guru Party Q controller. Once lit I turn it on and let it run the show. It will hold on within 5 +/- degrees of the set point for as long as the batteries last. Which I have been using rechargeable AA's and I've never killed a battery during a cook or even after multiple cooks.
 

Erik Tracy

TVWBB Super Fan
I get temp swings between 10-20 degrees. Depends on the wind, too as my smoker setup is out in the open on the patio.

My 18.5WSM seems to like to settle in at around 250F, but some cooks it's lower, some a bit higher. I keep a log of the temps every 15 minutes for every cook (I've got a problem, I know). But I did learn not to obsess over a single fixed target temp and if I'm 10 degrees high or low of my target temp I usually find myself muttering out loud "I'll take that". ;)
 

KE Quist

TVWBB Super Fan
My 18.5 usually settles in around 230-240ish or so. Last cook it was almost dead-on 225 for hours and hours, so much so that I forgot about it towards the end of the day, and suddenly remembered when my family got home late and mentioned that it smelled good.

I have had fluctuations of 20-30deg or so, but tend not to care unless it looks like it is moving up or down too quickly.
 

Jim C in Denver

TVWBB Super Fan
Same here. My goal is to have the WSM run on its own for hours without having to touch it. Cruise control.

So long as it isn't trending strongly so that it might bust out of the 225-275 zone, I really don't care.

The temp variance doesn't seem to have much impact on the final result. The cook is just longer/shorter if the temp is lower/higher.

I also don't much care if the cook turns out to be a bit longer or shorter. I always leave many hours of potential extra time. And if the cook turns out shorter, you can hold for many hours with towels/cooler.
 
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GilFisher

New member
I'm not getting much fluctuation at all in my 22" since rounding out my mid section.

For starters: water pan is filled with sand, covered in foil. I spend my first hour or so getting my temp up to wherever I wanna smoke at (usually somewhere between 225-265...maybe 275). I have two vents wide open (the other is set up to take a GURU, so I just keep it plugged/closed), and leave the lid vent wide open the whole cook. Once I'm nearing temp I close both of those vents down to about pencil width and dial from there. If it keeps rising, I close one vent all the way, leaving me with just one vent opened at pencil width. Once I got it sitting steady I just leave it and it'll stay there for hours and hours depending on how much charcoal I put it. If anything it may rise 10 degrees or so, I'm guessing because the sand in the water pan heats up. I'm okay with it rising a bit.

I don't use my GURU anymore, but I keep the port on the one vent for if I ever decide to do a high temp cook, 'cos I can see it coming into handy there.
 

Matt-M

New member
With water in the pan my 18" will cruise along at 250 for 5-6 hours. I have not cooked much longer than that with water. I like how much more stable the temp is with water.

Mals
 

Gib Gibson

TVWBB Member
With water in the pan my 18" will cruise along at 250 for 5-6 hours. I have not cooked much longer than that with water. I like how much more stable the temp is with water.

Mals
This is me too. I have an 18.5" and it will run around 240-250 without much effort for several hours with water in the pan. I like the temperature stability the water provides like Matt said.
 

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