WSM Initial Temp Spikes


Matt in MD

Hi all - I am hoping for some advice on temperatures in my 18" Weber Smokey Mountain. I use an old Cyber-Q fan unit and generally set it to 225. I have done pork probably 15-20 times and it always comes out great, with one exception. When starting it up I usually end up reaching temps close to or over 300 degrees for an hour or two before it settles down. Do most of you let it run for a couple hours before adding the pork butts? This weekend I am doing two 9.5 pound butts - I may wrap them but usually don't, and I don't use the water bowl (I leave the foiled bowl in place just to catch drippings). I typically use 3-5 big chunks of oak and a couple chunks of hickory. I use as much charcoal as I can, right up to the bottom of the bowl.

So I'm really just wondering at what point most of you add pork when using your WSM's or similar - should I add the pork when lighting and not worry about it getting to 300 degrees for the first hour or two, or should I let the temp settle down and add the pork after an hour or two?

I add the meat right away. I’ve not had the issue of a early temp spike, but I’d still add it right away.

When I do a cook, I don’t have an initial temp spike. I get the charcoal going and put the meat on. The temp is quite low because the fire is just starting. Then, I control the temps on the way up. When I get to around 200 degrees, I start closing vents and managing the fire. I might overshoot a little, but I don’t worry about that. Main objective is to get the heat in a controlled state and then it will stay very stable for the rest of the cook.
Sounds like you have a lot of lit coals at the beginning of your cook. How are you lighting your coal and how many lit briqs are you working with at startup?

Jerry’s advice is spot on and the norm for starting a WSM.
I agree with reviewing how many lit coals you start with and, if you feel it's appropriate, start with fewer the next time. Also: if you're allowing all ~7 big chunks to ignite simultaneously you might change that configuration.

It's been a long while since I used my Cyber-Q but if my vague memory is accurate I didn't start it until my pit reached near the desired cook temp by natural means (the thought being that the fan ramps up significantly in a cold pit but maybe the software is smart enough to account for that).

Good luck!
Thanks, all. Normally I fill the smoker with briquettes - literally as many as I can get in there so that it wont run out overnight. I toss one lighter cube in and just let it go. Maybe this time I will use a bit less briquettes as you suggested.
Matt... Where do you place the lighter cube ?
Using the lighter cube to light a chimney of briquettes which then is poured on top of the unlit works well...
I wouldn't reduce the number of unlit briquettes !!! They provide the longevity you need...
Thanks, all. Normally I fill the smoker with briquettes - literally as many as I can get in there so that it wont run out overnight. I toss one lighter cube in and just let it go. Maybe this time I will use a bit less briquettes as you suggested.
my recco is to light 5 or 6 briqs, that's all and place them in the center of your briq pile.

then build your WSM and leave the bottom vents open and the top too.

once you hit 200F you can start to close down your vents to stabilize the WSM.

if you're lighting the starter cube and then leaving the wsm unassembled, you're going to light too many briqs, thus have to dial down temps like you're experiencing.

i'm sure someone here can quickly link to TVWBBs link on how to best light the WSM. it's well documented and is a bible for making the wsm cook as intended.
Thanks, all. Normally I fill the smoker with briquettes - literally as many as I can get in there so that it wont run out overnight. I toss one lighter cube in and just let it go. Maybe this time I will use a bit less briquettes as you suggested.
I don’t think your method is the problem. I think it’s how long you “just let it go”. I’ve done it that way and once the lighter cube is done and I’m sure there’s a good start, I put the meat on and go.

I wouldn’t reduce the total number of coals, just don’t let the fire get going too far before you start your cook and monitor your heat. If the temp is already over 200 degrees when you put the lid on, you’re letting it go too long.
And good thing is 300 for an hour or two ain't gonna ruin your cook. I routinely do my butts in the 275-300 range.
Thanks for all the advice, everyone. What I normally do is fill it with briquettes, drop and light a lighter cube in the middle, then assemble the cooker and add the meat. I have been starting the cyber-q right away, so it does spin the fan up until it hits the desired temp inside. I agree that that's probably part of my problem and will not start it this time until I get close to temp naturally.

Also folks, how long do you think I will be looking at for two 9.5 pound butts? I'm estimating 18-22 hours @ 250...I will probably wrap after 4-5 hours.

I'm a bit nervous this time as I'm cooking for a large group of folks instead of just my family. :)
When I used my Pitminder in my old WSM I would always ramp it up gradually, because setting to target temp from the outset would always cause an overshoot.

So I'd set to 180, give it an hour then step up to 210 then 230. That usually worked well.

If you're cooking at 230-250, I'd guess 2 large butts might take 16 hours, plus a couple hours rest. You could also bump to 280+ and still get good results.
Yeah, sounds like your fan drove temps up by adding too much air to your starting fire. With your lighter cube and or adding 5-7 lit coals, you should be able to get to temp in a reasonable amount of time, with your vents open.

Having sold my WSM years ago, I’d estimate your desired cook temp will be reached in 30-45 minutes from start.

I’d just light it, open the vents, wait 15 minutes and then add the protein and then adjust when your dial nears target temp.

Post some cook pics. Pics seem valuable and important here. We’re all learning from each other.
I'm cooking for a large group of folks instead of just my family. :)
One thing that I do when cooking for a group is make sure I add in plenty of rest time. Plan to have the butts done 2-4 hours before you want to pull/serve. Then rest them in a cooler. They will stay hot easily for 4 hours. That gives you cushion if the cook runs long. Personally, I’d cook it at 275 and plan on 15 hours. I’d bump the temp if it’s not finishing quick enough.

There may be people that can tell the difference between a butt cooked at 250 versus one cooked at 300, but I’m not one of them. Adjust your temp as needed to get them in the cooler resting well before you want to eat. I usually get cleaned up so I don’t smell all smokey for my guests.
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I use a Billows. I follow their instructions. Should apply to other ATCs pretty much the same.

IMO, you should always use MORE lit coals to start with an ATC. Works well for me.

You are not doing a naturally aspirated Minion burn where the small number of lit coals and gradual spread is required to maintain the low temp. Since that is what the fan is supposed to do. I find the fan works better when there's a MORE lit coals from the very start for the fan to puff on. Your cube into the pile is a good way to start a naturally aspirated Minion burn. No so good, imo, to generate enough lit coals to start when using ATC. Unless you wait a loooong enough time for the fire to get big enough.

I light up a lot of coals and load up the food immediately. You waste a lot of time and fuel if you wait for the fire to grow and stabilize first. And then destabilize that temp by adding a bunch of cold food. You aren't "stabilized" until after you have the fire fully going, AND you have all the food on and warmed up, AND you have the fan kicked in. So I get all of that going as early as possible.

The fan takes it from there. Also, you control the temp by adjusting the top vent, which is kept mostly closed. Which is the exact opposite of how you do it when cooking without a fan (top 100% open, control by adjusting the bottom vents)..

Billows instructions:

Start with the exhaust vent 1/8 of the way open. If the fire struggles to stay lit, adjust the exhaust vent to find the proper
positioning for your smoker setup.

Stack your fuel in a mound with a plateau at the top where the lit fuel will be added.

Fully light 1/2 - 3/4 of a chimney worth of fuel and place at the top of your unlit mound. [FYI -- That's 40 to 60 coals fully lit up from the very beginning.]

Let your cooker temperature stabilize before making any adjustments to the exhaust vent.

Ensure all intake vents other than the fan are closed and, if needed, adjust the exhaust vent to a more
closed position.
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Thanks for all the good info, everyone! Jim, yes, I will leave the top vent just cracked open as I usual do. Thanks for the billows info.

And Jerry, than you - I will plan to have them done 4 hours early. I do usually use a cracked open cooler to store them in to stay warm but avoid overcook in a closed cooler.