The Weber Smokey Mountain is the meat smoker used by multiple World Barbecue Champion Harry Soo, the pitmaster featured in the reality television show, BBQ Pitmasters. For over 10 years, Harry used the same WSM that he bought on Amazon and won hundreds of BBQ competitions all over America. Harry proved the WSM can match it with more expensive smokers, often beating competitors who used rigs worth up to 100k. So why is the WSM such an amazing charcoal smoker? I wanted to know more about this legendary Weber, so I went deep into the meat smoking community to find out why the WSM is so popular.
The Weber Smokey Mountain is a vertical bullet-shaped charcoal smoker known for its amazing ability to hold stable temperatures over many hours. The WSM isn’t a grill but is specifically designed for slow roasting and smoking meat. The Smokey Mountain is well constructed with an enamel porcelain coating, aluminium legs and chrome fixtures. It comes in three sizes; 14″, 18″ and 22″. If you’re considering buying a WSM, here is everything you need to know about the world’s best charcoal bullet smoker.
What is a WSM Smoker?
A Weber Smokey Mountain is a charcoal-fueled meat smoker made by grill manufacturer, Weber. The WSM isn’t suitable for grilling, only smoking and slow roasting, which makes it different to other grills. The WSM may not be as versatile as other grills, but if you want a pure low-and-slow charcoal smoker, the WSM is one of the best on the market and for a fraction of the cost of an expensive offset smoker or ceramic kamado/egg grill.
Weber Smokey Mountain Specifications
WSM Construction and Design
The Smokey Mountain has a distinct bullet-shaped design and a shiny black porcelain-coated enamel finish. The WSM is famous for having the ability to maintain consistent temperatures over a long period thanks to the quality construction and design. Poorly made smokers are a nightmare to control because they are made from thin metal and put together with fasteners. The thin metal makes it impossible to keep the heat locked in and the fasteners let in too much air, which causes the temperature to fluctuate. Most people don’t realize these problems until they get the smoker home and light it up. Weber grills and smokers constructed with thick metal and use welds rather than fasteners, so there are fewer leaks, which means fewer leaks and a more stable temperature.
The WSM has three parts that can be separated; a lid, the main body in the middle, and the firebox below. The dome-shaped lid contains a three hole daisy wheel exhaust vent, a handle, and an in-built temperature gauge. The main WSM body holds the cooking grates, the water bowl and a side door for adding wood, coal and water without having to open the lid. The main body also has and a handy grommet attached to the side so you can insert your own digital thermometer probe if you don’t trust the in-built thermometer (which you shouldn’t). The firebox contains a bottom grate, a fire ring and the legs.
How Does a Weber Smokey Mountain Work?
The Smokey Mountain uses charcoal as the main source of fuel, and wood chunks for smoke flavor. Lump charcoal sits at the bottom of the smoker in a firebox with 6 to 10 chunks of wood scattered amongst the coal. The wood slowly smolders and provides a steady flow of smoke.
The temperature of the WSM is controlled by adjusting vents at the bottom and the top of the smoker. The intake vents let in air from the bottom, while the top exhaust vent allows gases to escape. A water bowl sits above the firebox to help regulate the temperature and prevent the smoker from getting too hot, and above the water bowl is the lower grate and the upper grate where you place your meat. There can be significant temperature differences between the grates, so check the temps with duel probe thermometers.
Why is the WSM So Good? Is It Worth It?
The WSM is considered one of the best smokers on the market because of its ability to maintain stable temperatures over many hours. The market is full of poorly constructed smokers, and the biggest problem with cheap smokers is their inability to hold stable temperatures. Cheap smokers may look fantastic on the shop floor, but they struggle to hold stable temps because they have thin metal and leaky seals. High-quality smokers are well sealed and made with thick metal.
The WSM is put together with welds rather than fasteners, which means fewer leaks and stable temperatures for many hours. The WSM is the best value for money, and depending on the size, will only cost between $300 and $600, which is amazing considering what this smoker can do. The Smokey Mountain has a huge following, with many forums and dedicated websites, which is an indication of how many people love this Weber.
The WSM: Best Value for Money
The best thing about the Weber Smokey Mountain is what you get for the price. You get a smoker that can compete with the best for half the price. There are a lot of cheap smokers on the market, and many look good on the showroom floor, but once you get them home, they are a nightmare to control. Temperature fluctuations are massive on cheap smokers because they are constructed out of thin metal and have all kinds of leaks where air can get in and heat can escape. High-quality smokers are made from thick steel and have the ability to retain heat and maintain a steady temperature, but a good smoker will set you back at least 1k. The WSM can perform equally to the expensive smokers, but for only a few hundred dollars. Here’s a quick price comparison:
Price Comparison : WSM vs Other Smokers
|Smokers & Grills||Price Range|
|Weber Smokey Mountain||$200 – $500|
|Weber Kettle||$ 200-$300|
|Traeger Pellet Grill||$ 600 – $2000|
|Big Green Egg/Kamado Joe||$ 800 – $1200|
|Offset Smoker||$ 1000 plus|
What Size WSM Should I Buy?
Obviously the size Weber Smokey Mountain will depend on your budget, the amount of meat you want to cook and the size of your yard. However, the size of your patio doesn’t really matter that much because all three WSM’s are compact and won’t take up much space. If you only have a tiny space, like a balcony, then I’d suggest a the 14″ tailgater.
The main consideration when choosing between the 14″, 18″ and the 22″ is the grill capacity. You may not need to cook large quantities of meat very often, but sometimes it’s nice to have the option to cook lots of meat during the holidays. If you can fork out the extra $100, then always go for the larger model. Each WSM model goes up in size by about 40%.
What’s the Total Cooking Area?
|WSM Model||Pork Butts||Rib Racks||Cooking Area|
|14″ WSM||2||2||286 Sq.In|
|18″ WSM||4||4||481 Sq.In|
|22″ WSM||8||6||726 Sq.In|
18″ or 22” WSM – Pros and Cons
Apart from meat capacity, there are a few differences between the 18″ and the 22″ WSM models. Some pitmasters find it difficult to keep the larger 22″ in the low-and-slow range between 220°F and 275°F. The 22″ has a larger firebox, so it gets hotter. The 18″ WSM has a wonderful ability to sit in the perfect low-and-slow range for hours on end, however, the larger 22″ WSM can be more difficult to bring down.
The 18″ WSM uses far less fuel than the 22″, which is an advantage, but some people buy the 18″ fire ring for shorter cooks. However, the 22″ WSM can run for up to 24 hours on a full load of charcoal, so if you need to cook a few big packer briskets, then the 22″ is the best option.
Weber Smokey Mountain 14”
The WSM 14.5″ is a compact smoker that will fit perfectly on a small deck or balcony, but the 14″ also works well as a tailgater. The smallest WSM can not only roast meat low-and-slow, but it can easily convert into a grill by cooking on the lower rack over the hot coals. The 14″ Smokey Mountain only weighs about 22 pounds, so it can be transported anywhere, which makes it perfect for camping or tailgating.
14″ Cooking Capacity
Although the smaller WSM has less grill space, you can still cook a lot of meat on this little smoker and it can feed an average family with no problems. You can cook two chickens or two pork butts if you put one on each rack, and you could smoke a small 10-12 pound turkey if you place it upright in the position of beer can chicken. The 14″ isn’t big enough to smoke a rack of ribs, but if you cut them in half or bend the ribs, you can cook two rib racks comfortably.If you use a rib rack, then you could fit about 6 rib racks into the 14″ WSM.
Weber Smokey Mountain 18″
The WSM 18″ was the original size before the larger 22” showed up. Opinions seem to vary as to which WSM is better, the 18″ or the 22″. Some believe the 18″ is the better smoker since it can maintain lower temperatures and is more economical than the 22″. The 18″ can hold the temperature comfortably between 225°F and 250°F which is perfect for slow roasting or smoking. Some people find the 22″ difficult to keep below 275°F. The 18″ Smokey Mountain weighs 37lbs, but it can be transported easily, especially if you take it apart.
18″ Cooking Capacity
The WSM 18’’ has enough grill area to hold two large briskets; one on the top grate and another on the bottom. It can fit 4 pork buts and 4 chickens with two on each grate. The 18″ can smoke a large turkey by sitting the bird in an upright position in a vertical rack on the bottom grate. As for rib racks, the 18″ grate isn’t quite long enough so you will need to bend the ribs or cut them in half, or use a rib rack. Either way, you should be able to fit about 8 baby back ribs into the 18″ WSM.
Weber Smokey Mountain 22″
The big daddy 22″ WSM is the considered by many to be the ultimate meat smoker. With a massive 692 Sq. In of cooking area, the large WSM can smoke enough meat to feed a large crowd. You could easily fit a full packer brisket on each rack or 4 smaller briskets; two on each grate. The 22″ can do marathon cooks, with a full charcoal basket, the big WSM could cook for 24 hours. One issue with the 22″ is it burns through more charcoal than the 18″ WSM. To solve this problem, some people use a charcoal ring from the 18″ when they need to do smaller cooks.
The 22″ WSM weighs in at 52lbs, so it is much harder to carry around than the smaller models. However, WSM’s can be separated into pieces, which makes transportation much easier. Another positive with the large WSM. Even though it can cook a monstrous amount of meat, it still doesn’t take up an enormous amount of space in your yard.
How Accurate is the WSM Thermometer?
The Weber Smokey Mountain has an inbuilt lid thermometer, but always use your own wireless digital thermometer and never trust an in-built thermometer, no matter how reputable the company. Weber makes some of the world’s best grills and barbeques, but they aren’t a company that specializes in thermometers. Lid thermometers are notoriously inaccurate and are mostly just for show.
Your thermometer will make or break your cook, so it better be reliable. If you’re cooking a brisket low and slow at 250°F for 18 hours, you need to have a guarantee that the temp inside your cooker is roughly 250°F or your brisket will be ruined. Once you have a good relationship with a wireless digital thermometer, it’s hard to cook without it. Your thermometer is your best friend and your light in the darkness.
The other thing to consider is the WSM will have different temperatures between the top grate and the bottom grate. By having a good duel-probe wireless thermometer, it will give you a good idea of the ambient temperature in all areas of the cooking chamber.
If you don’t have a wireless meat thermometer, seriously consider buying one because they are a great investment if you’re wanting to do a lot of low-and slow cooking. You can pick up a decent wireless thermometer for about $50. The TP20 is my top pick for beginners and is the number one selling wireless meat thermometer on Amazon. See the latest price here. You may also want to check out my Beginner’s Guide to Meat Thermometers.
If you really must use the WSM lid thermometer, at least do an ice bath test or a boiling water test, and check its accuracy regularly. I have an article on thermometer calibration here.
Set Up Your WSM Like a World Champion Harry Soo
There are a few different ways to set up a WSM, the best way is to experiment and see what works for you. Some people use the water pan while others others don’t. I noticed a lot of people in the WSM community use a terracotta pot in the water bowl rather than water, but I haven’t tried this method. Hardcore pitmasters like Harry Soo use an automated blower system, an attachment that gives you more control over the temperature of your WSM. Harry uses a blower system made by Rocks BBQ, a system I found hard to locate. However, companies like ThermoWorks sell automated blower systems. Amazon sells a Flame Boss automated blower that fits the WSM and you can see it here.
There are a lot of WSM modifications, just Google ‘WSM Mods’ and you’ll see people doing all different things to trick out there WSM. I also noticed many people add a third rack or buy a smaller charcoal ring for the 22″ for better charcoal economy.
How To Light a Weber Smokey Mountain
As with any charcoal cooker, there is a few different ways to set out your charcoal, but when it comes to the WSM, most people seem to use a layout similar to the Minnion Method where you fill the charcoal bowl with coal and make a crater in the middle. Then ignite a charcoal chimney starter and place the lit coals in the middle of the crater. The lit coals will slowly catch the unlit coals and keep the fire going for 20-24 hours.
Where to Put The Wood on a Weber Smokey Mountain
If you watch a lot of barbecue videos on You Tube, you probably would have noticed most cooks throw the wood chunks on top of the hot coals. The problem with placing the wood on top of the fire is they will burn out too fast and you will have to keep topping it up. With the WSM, the best way to lay out your wood is to place the wood chunks underneath the coal so that it smolders and provides a steady flow of smoke for the entire cook. Depending on the size of your WSM, 8 to 10 big chunks will produce enough smoke for the length of the cook. As always, don’t be afraid to mix and match your woods.
Water Pan or No Water Pan?
The Weber Smokey Mountain is what is called a water smoker, yet many pitmasters don’t put water in the water pan, but rather use it as a drip pan or heat deflector. Most pitmasters choose to spray their meat with water while cooking and cover the water pan with foil to catch the meat drippings. An empty water pan will also add to the smoke flavor profile because as meat drips onto the dry water pan, it creates smoke which is different from the smoke from wood. This grease smoke will add another layer of smoke flavor to the meat, a smoke flavor that would be lost if the grease dripped into water. Keep in mind, too much grease burning grease will produce bad smoke and ruin the taste of your meat.
WSM vs Weber Kettle
Weber Kettles can grill, roast and smoke meat, which is why kettles are extremely popular charcoal cookers. The WSM isn’t as versatile as the Weber Kettle because the Smokey Mountain specializes in slow roasting and smoking. The WSM can grill if you take out the middle section, but that’s not really how it was designed to be used.
The kettle grill is a good entry-level meat smoker and a great way to learn the basics of low-and-slow cooking, however, kettles have their limitations. There is only one grill grate so you can only cook one roast per cook. The grill grate on a kettle is large enough to hold two pieces of meat, but one would put one roast into the hot-zone. The secret to low-and-slow cooking is slow roasting with indirect heat. Once you put meat above the hot coals, you’re cooking with direct heat rather than indirect heat.
The Weber Smokey Mountain is designed to do one thing and one thing well, and that is smoke meat. Not only can the WSM hold more meat than the kettle, the WSM is easier to control the temperature and can cook for longer. Kettle grills need a lot of monitoring, especially when you’re doing long cooks. Kettle grills can have a lot of temperature fluctuations, which can be frustrating. With a full basket of charcoal, the WSM can hold the same temperature for 18-24 hours without fluctuating. The key to slow roasting is maintaining a 220°F to 275°F range over the entire cook, and no smoker does it better than the Smokey Mountain.
Weber Smokey Mountain vs Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe
Ceramic kamado grills like The Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe are the most versatile grills on the market because they can roast, smoke, grill and bake. There aren’t many grills that can double as a pizza oven! Kamado-style grills are one of the few grills that can be used year-round and cook in any climate because they are the most insulated cooker on the market with an amazing ability to retain heat in freezing conditions. The WSM can be used in wintry conditions, but they will burn through a lot more charcoal. If you really want to grill on a WSM, you can remove the middle section and cook over the coals.
The WSM is about half the price of a kamado grill. A Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe will cost about $1000, while a WSM is only $300-$400. The WSM isn’t as versatile as a kamado, mainly because it can’t grill or bake. However, with slow roasting and smoking, the Smokey Mountain is equal, if not better than any kamado grill. Kamado grills are amazing heat insulators, therefore will probably burn through less fuel than the WSM.
Weber Smokey Mountain vs Offset Smoker
Many consider stickburners to be the purest form of meat smoking. Meat smoked on a stick burner will have smoke flavor that mostly came from wood and nothing else. Offset smokers are normally reserved for the more experienced pitmasters because they have a steep learning curve. You don’t just buy a stick burner; you work your way up to one! Brisket masters like Aaron Franklin have made an art form out of offset smokers, and if you see him in action, you’ll see why.
The Weber Smokey Mountain and offset smokers are similar in that they are both pure meat smokers and aren’t designed to grill. However, WSM’s and offsets do what they do very well. The other important consideration is size. An offset smoker is huge and will take a a large portion of your patio. One of the great things about the Smokey Mountain is the compact design. Even the large 22″doesn’t need a great deal of space.
Offset smokers are a lot of work, whereas the WSM is more of a set-and-forget smoker. Part of the enjoyment of using a stick burner is spending the day tending to the fire. A Smokey Mountain doesn’t need constant babysitting, all you do is fill the charcoal basket, throw on some chunks of wood and it will maintain a stable temperature for hours and hours.
Another significant difference between the WSM and an offset smoker is the price. A decent offset smoker is will cost well over $1000 compared to the WSM, which is only a few hundred dollars. There are cheap offset smokers on the market but don’t buy one, they are a total waste of money. Cheap offsets may look good in the store, but they are poorly constructed, made of thin metal, and spring leaks everywhere. A true offset is well constructed and put together with thick steel, so it can retain heat and maintain stable temperatures.
The Weber Smokey Mountain can defiantly go head-to-head with a stick burner in a brisket competition, and as Harry Soo has proven, the WSM can match it with any pit. The WSM can produce delicious smoked meat that can rival any offset smoker. The differences between the WSM and a stick burner mostly come down to cost and design. Offsets and WSM’s are different beasts, and both are exceptional in their own way.
Weber Smokey Mountain vs Traeger
Traeger’s and other pellet grills are fantastic set-and-forget smokers that can smoke, roast and grill meat. WSM’s were not designed to grill, which makes the Traeger more versatile. The smoke flavor from a Traeger comes from wood pellets, whereas the smoke from a Smokey Mountain comes from wood and charcoal. The flavor differences between a pellet grill and a charcoal smoker such as the WSM will differ depending on who you ask. Some people say the flavor differences are subtle, while others believe the charcoal flavor is distinct. The WSM is more compact than most pellet grills, although the Traeger makes smaller tailgater models. Traeger grills on average will cost a few hundred dollars more than a WSM if you are considering a mid-range Traeger. The WSM will require a little more work than a pellet grill. Traeger grills are easy to operate, all you need to do is dial in the temperature and sit back and relax. A WSM is fueled by charcoal, so you have to manage the fire, although the Smokey Mountain isn’t much work for a charcoal smoker. A full basket of charcoal in a WSM can last up to 24 hours, and if you set the fire up the right way, you shouldn’t need to touch it.
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.