Help with WSM Temperature Control

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by walt408, Jul 26, 2011.

  1. I have a 18.5 inch WSM and have a difficult time controlling temperature. I want to hold 220 - 230 degrees, but usually I run 260 - 280 degrees at the cooking grate.

    I use charcoal briquettes. I start with 1 - 2 chimneys unlit, topped with 1/2 chimney lit; Minion method. There is water in the pan, cold or hot, matter not. A few chunks of wood are burried in the unlit charcoal and a couple chunks on top of the hot coals.

    The top vent is always 100% open. I start with the bottom vents 100% open, and rapidly bring them to 10 - 25% open.

    What can I do to lower the temperature? Start with less unlit charcoal?

    Thanks, Walt
  2. Please read about the Minion method of charcoal/heat control at Jim's advise and methodology will almost guarantee a good burn and heat where you want it. The advice works with other vertical/charcoal fired smokers like ECBs. I used to use the Minion method with my $50 Brinkman and then with my 18.5 inch WSM. Good luck.
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2011
  3. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I usually start with 6-8 lit briquettes. Also when the temp gets up around 200, shut the bottom vents completely & leave 1 just cracked open. It should slowly get up to the range you want, if it stops & the temp starts falling open the vent up a little more. I emphasize a little. You may have to play with the one vent a little to get it stabilized, but when you do it should stay there for hours. If this is a new WSM they do tend to run a little hot the first few smokes until they get a coating on the inside.
  4. shooter1

    shooter1 Smoking Fanatic

    Is it still fairly new? The first few times the WSM will run hot. I usually fill the charcoal ring completely no matter how long of a cook I am planning. I just shut her down when I am finished and use any left over coals on the next smoke. Depending on ambient temperatures I use about 10 - 20 lit coals. I individually place them in various spots on top of the unlit charcoal and have all vents wide open. Once temp is at or about 200° I shut the bottom vents completely except for 1 which I leave at about 25%. I then monitor temps until I get it where I want it and its on cruise control from then on with some slight tweaking through out the day. Alot of people will pour the lit coals into the center of the ring that they have used a tin can with the top and bottom cut out to hold the space. I tried this once but had to many coals lighting at the same time.

    Hope this helps!
  5. rowdyrawhide

    rowdyrawhide Smoking Fanatic Group Lead

    I very rarely have to run more than one vent barely cracked open in the summer on my 18.5 WSM, in the winter I still don't use more than one vent open although I do have to open her up more when the temps drop below 20 or 30 degrees outside.  

    I start about same way as you do, except if it is a long smoke I will put more unlit coals on the top before I set everything on top, I can usaully get 8-10 sometimes up to 13hrs before I need to add more lump.  I do start with all three bottom vents open, but once I hit 190-200ish then close all but one that I put at half way untill 225ish.

    If you have all three vents open then you should try using just one.  If I have a lot of wind I try to use the open vent on the downwind side of the smoker, and if there is little to no breeze then I will use the vent on the upwind side of the smoker.  I usually try to put the vent on the lid on the opposite side of the open bottom vent, and always put the lid back on the same way everytime afterwards, just on principle.

    I also make sure and put access door on the downwind side of the smoker, especially if you have a lot of wind.  I can usually get it to hold right between 225 and 250 this way.

    Hope this helps.
    Last edited: Jul 27, 2011
  6. heyer5

    heyer5 Meat Mopper

    Wow, I thought that I might be able to add some input but it appears the last three hit the nail on the head!  As SmokinAl once advised me, these smokers are a lot easier to get up to temp then they are to get DOWN to temp.  In other words, once it gets to 200, close 'er down and bring it the rest of the way slowly.  If not, you'll get it to 250+, you'll try and shut it down, you'll end up with temps that you are saying you are getting and you'll have little to no chance to drop them back into the ideal 200-250 (225 is where I like it for most things) range. 

    I learned this from experience on my last smoke.  Ran perfect temp until hour 13 or 14, dropped a few unlit coals in, they got hot quicker then I expected and temps sky rocketed to 275.  I shut all my vents down and had absolutely no change in temp for quite some time!

    Good luck and don't forget the Q-View!
  7. Success! I smoked two 10-pound pork butts yesterday; they came out great. I started with 1 1/2 chimneys unlit charcoal and 10 lit charcoals. It was slow to come up to temperature, but once there I was able to hold and adjust quite well. The bottom vents averaged 25% open each. I had to adjust when the 95* sun was baking on it and when I added charcoal after the sun went down. Thanks for all of your advice.
  8. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Glad it worked out for you Walt, but!

  9. jsun

    jsun Newbie

    I know this thread is old but I am a newbie, I have read the article and suggested comments but my questions with the hot coals do you put them in the middle of the unlit coals or do you spread them out?  As soon as I get this answer I am going to try it hehe! I am cooking on WSM 22 Thanks in advance! 
  10. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    In my 22.5" WSM, I pile them in the middle then use tongs to spread them a little.  I do not spread them across the top of the pile, just the center. 
  11. jsun

    jsun Newbie

    I did an experiment tonight used one chimney full of unlit coals, with 5 lit coals placed on top to smoke some chicken wings. To my surprise smoker just made it up to 200 212 max and I believe that is because of the small amount of coals for that size smoker. I got my smoker earlier this week and I have been smoking to season it and I think it is close to being ready. I am curious also to if you use a full bag of charcoal for a long burn how many coals would you light I am thinking no more than 10 your thoughts?
  12. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    First off, I dry smoke; aka no water in the water pan. 

    Regardless of whether I'm doing a 3 hour smoke or a 21 hour smoke, I start with a full load of cold charcoal and wood.  If there's used charcoal in my WSM, I'll empty the ash below the charcoal grate, then put the charcoal grate/basket with the used charcoal back in the smoker.  Then I put down a layer of wood chunks on the used charcoal, about 6 pieces or so.  I'll add another layer of charcoal, more wood chunks.  If there's room, more charcoal, then more wood chunks. 

    Depending on how hot I want my chamber temp determines how much charcoal I start with in the chimney.  225F chamber temp, about 1/4 chimney.  250F, 1/3 chimney.  275F, 1/2 chimney.  300F 3/4 chimney.  325F+ a full chimney.  Light it up, ash it over, add to the center of the pile and spread out a little so it isn't touching the bottom of the empty water pan. 

    Back when I was controlling temp with vents I would adjust my vents into the position I wanted when the climbing temp was 25F-50F below my target.  AT 225F the bottom vents were basically closed.  That leaky door on the WSM allows a lot of air to enter.  An inexpensive gasket kit helps a lot, and I mean, a lot.   
  13. jsun

    jsun Newbie

    The door that came with the WSM is garbage I am loosing so much smoke, I have a new steel one I hope to be delivered today.  Thanks for your suggestions based off your model I did less than a quarter exactly 10 lit coals for a full bag of unlit coals. I have about 9 slabs of ribs I am smoking so I need her to burn all day. In reference to the gasket kit for the door what does that consist of? Also white smoke I would assume about about an half hour that would burn away but for me it is still smoking away, would that be because of the logs I have in there which are about 4 hickory chucks and 4 cherry chunks that should last me the entire burn I would think
  14. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I'm getting ready to do a 2-3 hour 200-225F smoke today of a tri tip, then I'll reverse sear it on my grill.  By burying the wood in the charcoal, the wood preheats and starts to carbonize, so the time to wait for TBS is less.  I can get about six 3 hour smokes out of that one load, just adding some wood to the used charcoal. 

    Last edited: Jun 10, 2017
  15. jsun

    jsun Newbie

    Pics from my first smoke
  16. jsun

    jsun Newbie

    I smoked beef ribs this week and I used a gallon of water only and my temp was not consistent at at. I was either going to low by 10 degerees using one vent or swing high do you think that is because I did not use a full pan or because it was windy? I am curious to know how do you control your heat with no water?
  17. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Wind will play havoc with your temps. Even with a temp controller, wind can cause spikes and drops.

    Before I used a controller, I learned to control my temps by varying the initial hot charcoal load, no more than 1/4 chimney for 225-250F. My bottom vents were all closed or just barely open. If the temp started spiking after I got TBS, closing the top vent to 1/4 to 1/2 open would stop the spike. Once the temp started dropping I'd open the top vent again.

    I still use the top vent trick even with the controller if it over stokes the fire.
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2017
  18. jsun

    jsun Newbie

    Ok I see you have your own method for controlling temps, what is a controller?
  19. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Look up Bbq Guru DigiQ Dx2.
  20. dward51

    dward51 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    A "controller" is a power draft device.  It's basically a computer controlled fan that stokes or chokes off the air to the fire.  With a power draft, you close all the bottom vents but one and use metal foil tape to tape over all of the holes in the open vent except for one.  That one vent hole is where the fan adapter mounts. The top vent stays 100% open all the time.  What you end up with is there is only one hole in the lower vents open and the air to that is from a fan under computer control.  There is a pit temp sensor that the computer uses to see what the temp in the pit is (yeah I know, duh!), and if the temp is below the set point of say 225*, it puffs the fan a little.  If it's way below the set temp it turns the fan on full. As it approaches the set temp, the fan stops.  The programming in these units does take into account that the pit temp will continue to rise a little after the fan stops.  A power draft will usually hold right at the set temp and in a WSM it's like a "set and forget" smoker as it will hold temp as long as there is fuel for the fire to burn.

    I've had a 18.5" WSM since 2005.  In 2006, I bought a BBQ Guru DigiQ 2 "power draft" or controller.  It is hands down the best thing I have ever bought for my WSM.  They are a little pricey, but like I said I've had mine 11 years and not a single issue and still using the original probes.  You can find other brands and designs that do the same thing for less, but BBQ Guru controllers are a proven product in wide use.  It's not a necessity for a smoker, but it sure makes life easier especially on long overnight smokes.  I can fill my fire ring with charcoal and let the guru tend the fire all night while I sleep like a baby on an overnight smoke.

    The comment about sometimes temps will spike even with a controller is wind can blow in the fan inlet and continue to stoke the fire even with the fire off (not super common, but it can happen). 

    Oh and one other thing I would add to the above posts about the minion method would be; the temp will spike a little when you put the hot coals on top as the wood chunks light.  I generally have my vents choked way down when I'm not using my power draft as I want to keep the pit from spiking early.  Also remember anytime you adjust a lower vent on a WSM (not using a power draft), you need to wait at least 5 minutes (and 15 is better) to see what effect your adjustment actually has on the fire.  It takes a few minutes for the fire to choke back or stoke up when the airflow is adjusted.  If you keep making changes without waiting for it to truly stabilize, you end up chasing highs and low temps like a yo-yo.

    This is what my BBQ Guru looks like:

    These are not my photos and they are on the 22.5" WSM (with 4 holes in each vent), but it shows how the blower adapter mounts on the WSM.


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