We’ll go ahead and admit it then, here at the pond-side pit, we are Weber junkies to the core. Like most of the grilling populous, we started out on the humble Weber kettle, cutting our teeth on the venerable grill, which straddled its ash pan stalwart through the ages. A grill by and far in which we still use heavily to this day. Eventually however, if you delve far enough into the BBQ arts, you will want to acquire yourself a good smoker. A rig designed to run low and slow for hours on end, demand very little baby sitting, and at the end of the day turn out some exceedingly good Q every time. The Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5 is what we have used for years now. It is your classic water or bullet smoker in design, reminiscent of a space droid blowing smoke out its head. And it is by far and away the best bang for the buck we have spent in the hobby of smoking meat. Here then is a more in-depth look at the WSM 22.5, in case you find yourself in the market, or if you just have a passing curiosity about the cooker. Because every once in while, we do occasionally need to do something useful around here.
Weighing in at a shipping weight of 76 pounds of glorious porcelain-enameled steel , it comes in one giant box, the cardboard of which is thick enough to flip out on the back stoop and serve as a guest room for visiting relatives.
Some assembly is required here, such as: screwing on the legs, the grate mounts, and one of the handles, the other being welded in place already at the top of the dome.
When erected, the beast stands roughly at 23 by 23 by 48 inches tall, and is guaranteed by the folks at Weber to last 10 years.
Included with the Cooker:
- 2 nickel-plated 22-1/2-inch-wide cooking grates
- 1 Steel charcoal grate
- 1 Three-Gallon porcelain enameled water pan and fire chamber
- Built in thermometer
- Aluminum fuel door
- 3 Aluminum legs
- 3 dampers on the bottom / one up top
- 2 Glass Reinforced Nylon Handles
- 1 Cover and owners guide included
- All hardware is included
All of this equals 726 square inches of premium smoking satisfaction.
To give you an idea of what that looks like in your world, think six racks of St. Louis cut ribs, or six 15 lbs pork butts. Or if you’d rather, you could do the thanksgiving turkey and a ham all simultaneously, with room to spare. Its big, people. Plenty big.
A Closer Look
The fire bowl is comprised of the bottom enameled steel bowl, a steel fire grate, an inner enameled fire ring(fire chamber) three aluminum legs and three dampers. The general procedure here, as shown in the photo, is to fill the fire ring with charcoal. How much charcoal can the WSM 22 1/2 hold you ask? Well let’s just say, if you were so inclined, you could empty an entire 20 lbs bag of charcoal into the belly of this beast with ease. And we have. Set up with the minion method, as seen in the photo, the cooker will run at around 250 degrees for ten hours easily. We have heard of folks getting longer burn times than that even. Reminiscent of the big old American trucks with the 40 gallon tanks, that could go half way across the country before needing a fuel stop.
The nickel-plated cooking grates are your standard Weber affair. 22 1/2 inches in diameter and functional I guess. Nothing very exciting save for that there are two of them. The other one residing about a holiday ham distance below the top one. And this is what gives the cooker its large capacity. Three racks of ribs up top, and a couple of pork shoulders down below, dang, you’re ready to party!
The dome is gigantic feeling too. But then everything about this smoker is. Just lifting the lid is somewhat of an event. The dome is big enough to easily cover the largest turkey you’ll ever want to smoke. In fact, people have been known to somehow fit a young suckling pig in the 22.5. It comes with the standard Weber thermometer you see on most of their products, and we have found it to be reasonably accurate. But keep in mind it only registers the temperature at the top of the dome, and not at grate level, where most pit masters are interested. For grate level readings, you’ll need to use other devices, such as this probe, that we reviewed a while back. But for general smoker temps, it does just fine. The dome also comes with two nylon handles, one on the top, and the other at the perimeter, just below the thermometer. The 4-hole damper vent is just opposite the thermometer.
Just below the two cooking grates you will find the 3 Gallon enameled water pan. It hangs on four strategically placed, multi-purpose brackets, just above the fire bowl. The water pan does two things for this smoker. Firstly, it promotes a moist environment within the cooker, this operating on the plausible theory that such an environment will also help keep your meat moist. While this is of debatable value to some pit maestros, the other thing the water pan absolutely does is act as a heat sink. It absorbs a commendable mass of heat from the fires below, and in turn greatly assists the pit in operating at lower temperatures, whilst at the same time creating a lovely indirect heat that which envelopes your tasty spoils. In point of fact, when the water pan is full, the Weber Smokey Mountain has always seemed to us to be happiest running around 225- 250 degrees F. This is good, because that is also the ideal temperature range in which to tarry, if you want to engage in low and slow smoking activities. Which you certainly do, other wise you wouldn’t be reading this. Fire door opening is roughly 12 inches wide and 14 inches tall.
The Bottom Line
Tho there are better smokers out there, in which the ceramic eggs and custom jobs come to mind, but if you cannot justify thousands of dollars to smoke your weenie on one of them, then the WSM is the next best thing. They are simply adept at doing what they do. Pit masters have won competitions with them, Slap Yo Daddy, Harry Soo for example. These pits just work. Once you dial in the temperature it stays there, no baby sitting, freeing you to go about the important business of loitering belly-up in your man chair, with a lovely beverage in hand. The 22.5 Inch WSM is $400. There are two other sizes out there as well. The 18.5 inch goes for $300. And the 14.5 inch you can find around $200. The porcelain enameled coating keeps these rigs looking sharp for years it seems. If you’re just getting into smoking meat, or want to dabble in competitive BBQ even, these pits fill the bill and your tummy alike. We absolutely love the Weber Smokey Mountain. We think it’s a dang good pit, and it’s our privilege to let you know. Mission accomplished.
Check them out sometime via our amazon affiliate link! Help put some meat on our grill, people!
- Line water pan with aluminum foil, inside and out for easier clean up
- Start with all dampers fully open and gradually feather the lower ones until pit is running at desired temperature
- In place of water, you can also use ceramic briquettes or play sand in the water pan, which will do the same job of a heat sink
- Spray the cooking grates down with grease before hand to prevent sticking later on
- Brand new WSM cookers tend to run a little on the hot side at first, until a good layer of smokey grime is established on the inner walls
- The Minon Method is highly recommended when using this cooker for sustained low temps for long periods of time
- When adding more fuel, simply toss a chimney full of unlit coals through the aluminum fire door, doing so a half hour before you think you need to
- Fill the water pan with hottest water your tap can produce to get the cooker up to temp faster
- When the lid is off, avoid setting it on the concrete to prevent chipping the enameled coating
- Close all the vents when cook is done to snuff out the remaining coals and reuse them next time
*We are an Amazon Affiliate for this product and others, so when you go to amazon through our link, if you buy, we will receive a small commission. It’s a fantastic pit, and we’re proud to endorse it here at PotP.
I shuffled through the darkened house, groggy-faced, with hair tossed like a bad salad. I merged barefoot into the cold boots which were docked by the back patio door, and dawned my old, woolen smoking jacket there, turned up the collar, and stepped outside. It was 5:30 in the blessed morning, a toe nail moon shimmered through cracks in a cloudy veil, and the cold December breeze rustled the cotton fibers of my pajama pants. The world was still, almost abandoned it seemed, in perfect hibernation, whilst pale-blue moonbeams fell silent on crusty snow, and frozen ponds. A lovely time of day, peaceful like early mornings are, and unto which I thus and heartily pandiculated on my patio. Yes, that’s a word. Means to yawn and stretch at the same time. Something, off-hand, it turns out I am very good at come 5:30 in the morning. After that, and in one, easy motion born of sheer muscle memory, I snatched the charcoal chimney off the patio, shook the snow clean, and crammed a few choice wads of the political section up it’s underside. In no time, I had a pile of charcoal on the blaze, and the big Weber Smokey Mountain prepped for a long day’s duty. On the pit this morning, a classic in the smokey arts. Slow-smoked, pulled pork sandwiches. BBQ doesn’t get any more authentic than this folks. Or any tastier. This is the real thing. So grab your pork butt, and let’s get after it.
Good BBQ takes time. Lots of time. And pulled pork is the epitome of the concept. In case and point, this butt began its journey to excellence the night before it even hit the pit. We slathered it down in a cheap mustard to start, working it everywhere, like an Ecuadorian with a bottle of sun tan lotion, neath what balmy rays bequeathed. Then, we dusted it liberally with McCormick Sweet & Smoky Rub, 4.76-Ounce Units (Pack of 6) for that first step in the flavor profile. After that, it was wrapped in foil, then swaddled in a plastic bag, and placed in the refrigerator to marry overnight. The reason we opted for the mustard rub here, is to make the surface of the butt good and sticky for to receive the rub. That is the reason for any mustard slather – to act as an adhesive agent. Or maybe a primer for your rub, if you want to think of it that way. Regardless, and far be it any tongue nor taste bud that I know, can ever taste the mustard anyways. Hence, you might as well make it the cheap stuff then. At any rate, the better your rub sticks, the more potential you have for a robust and flavorful, and suitably awesome, bark.
Bark. Bark is the hallmark of good butt smoking. To the uninitiated, they will take a gander at your beautifully-barked-butt, and fall into a state weeping, and/or finger pointing, croaking forth their condolences as if you have just lost a loved one or something. No, that is just bark, you have to tell them. The magical residue wrought from the wages of smoke, rub, and hour upon hour of low and steady heat, at roughly 225. If you want to read about the science of bark formation, and all that sort of thing, we would refer you to amazingribs .com, which if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, is a fabulous resource for your BBQ aspirations.
Anyways, for the long smokes, such as brisket, and in this case, pork shoulder, it is hard to argue against the minion method. It is without hesitation the technique we turn to most concerning the longer cooks. Invented by a feller named Jim Minion, it is really rather elegantly simple. We ring the fire bowl parameter with unlit charcoal, resembling a doughnut, and dump a chimney full of blazing hot ones, right smack dab in the middle of it. What goes on here is the lit charcoals slowly ignite the unlit ones sitting next to them. And those coals, in turn, light the unlit ones next to them. And so on. Like a fuse. And it works exceedingly well. Such a technique will give you long, sustained burns to span the hours long. Which is perfect for the world of the big butts and savory pulled pork sandwiches. Man! Lets get this thing going already.
Once the pit was up to 225, and stabilized with a thin smoke, and the butt was on, fat cap up, I am not ashamed to admit that I went back to bed. And the sun rose over the pit with out me, casting long, morning shadows up to and onto my patio. Tweety birds emerged from their nocturnal tidings, and fed on the pit-side feeder, like they always do when I’m not there. And the world in general, was alive again, reborn, sunbeams falling through the spruce. But I slept in and was privy to none of this, courtesy of the minion method. A little pit boy needs his beauty sleep. Eventually I rose like a black bear, rubbed my back on some pine molding skirting the bathroom door, and ambled out to the patio henceforth to check on my plunder. The pit puffed contentedly away still, apple wood smoke softly curling from its damper, catching the morning sun. Ah what a way to start the day. Again.
The Venerable Weber Smokey Mountain
Off hand, as some have inquired, our pit we’re using today is the 22.5 Weber Smokey Mountain. These cookers run about $400, and to put it bluntly, they just work. A true, set-it-and-forget-it, type of smoker. Easily the best smoker we know of in this price range. If you don’t have yourself a smoker yet, and you wish to get started, this is a fine direction to point your wallet. You can get them at most good hardware stores, or online.
The hours passed, and the sun, how it swung across a beautiful, Minnesota sky, like a fiery pendulum to the gods. Chickadees flirted to and fro. Snow dripped fiercely off the roof. And I liked how my pajamas smelled like smoke. After breakfast, I went and did some errands for a while. After lunch, I settled into my man chair, which afforded a view out to the pit which sat stoically in the sun, still puffing away. Pork butts are safe to eat at 165 internal, but you’ll want to bring it up to 195 or so, whence the collagen has broken down, and the beast at last becomes pull-able. That is where the money is at. It is also done when the bone pulls out easily and clean. But again, it takes time. Be not in a hurry for this one. I thus kicked up my feet into a posture more suitable for the BBQ arts, and upon the cusp of instinctual reaction, I may have pandiculated again. In point of fact I did. And I won’t apologize for it. Then I fell asleep. This is the inherent rigors of making pulled pork sandwiches, people. It is not for the faint of ticker, nor those who fancy themselves impatient, or incapable of listing over on a couch if need be, for to fortify that bark a little more. And expect more than your fair share of lovely beverages to be drained whence commencing upon such mountains of pork. For there is a great spanning ocean of clock between you and your intended gastronomic rendezvous. And the only way to get there, the surest way, is to wait for it. To tarry in the wake of deeds well done, where the wood smoke also rises, and patron to the pit. Amen.
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A female Cardinal lit on the bird feeder yonder, pecking at the seed. The sun hung like a fiery chandelier in a blue Minnesota sky, dappling through the Spruce, and budding Cottonwoods, and glittering off the pond whilst a pair of mallards conspired for lunch along the edge of it. Chickadees flirted to and fro the suet I had hung for them, and a broad-tailed hawk spiraled upon the thermals far above. I stirred quietly in my BBQ chair, coming to for a moment to hear the tweety birds sing sweetly in the breeze. It felt good to loiter at the tail end of a sun beam today. To make the acquaintance of this old friend removed, from a winter long-standing. I stretched like a spoiled house cat in my chair, and took a sip of cool beverage, whilst casting an eye at the smoker thermometer. 225 degree it said. Which was perfect for the kind of loitering I had in mind today. Smoking ribs is hard work don’t you know, and I had been at it for a couple of hours already, and I do believe I could fancy another nap, as the BBQ rigors this day were decidedly high. Thus, I tipped my hat back over my eyes and resumed the proper BBQ posture, feet kicked up, at ease with the world, and the abiding aroma of smoldering hickory in the air. Welcome to rib smoking 101, POTP style.
Now I suppose, iffin you’ll let me, that I should go back to the beginning and show you few things about today’s smoke. There are a lot of wonderful things in this world you can choose to lay in a cooker and subject smoke to, and a man has got to reckon that a rack of succulent ribs might be the very best. There is nothing quite so fine as pig on the bone, perfectly smoked, married in a deep flavor profile, and yet tender to the teeth. Many a backyard pit keeper aspires towards ribs, often at first intimidated by the unruly cut of meat. Many a professional pit master, likewise, has spent the better part of their adult life pursuing this perfection in pork. No matter where you are on the rib ladder, one thing is for sure – ribs are good, and the journey, dare we say, is half the fun.
Things started out by firing up the big 22 1/2 inch WSM. As usual per my pit tendencies, I was in the mood for a little low and slow. The scenic route on the highway of BBQ. I set up the fire bowl using the Minion Method of course, because I had a lot of napping I wanted to get done today, and didn’t want to be bothered with the business of lighting up more charcoal again later. And let it be said, a Weber Smokey Mountain set up with the Minion Method affords a fellow a good deal of opportunity for napping. Its real easy to do too. Simply pour a chimney full of lit charcoal right smack in the middle of a bunch of unlit charcoal. Depending on how much coal you use, and how you tweak the vents, your cooker can burn at 225 to 250 for a very, very long time. Its a worthy technique used by many. If you want to learn more about it in-depth, feel free to waddle on over to our write-up, The Long Burn:The Method of Jim Minion.
After the smoker had gotten up to 225, and after I had ripped the membrane off the back of the ribs, and after it was liberally dusted over its entirety with SuckleBusters, Hog Waller Rub; after all these things, and procuring another cool, lovely beverage, the ribs were lovingly placed in the pit, top grate, like laying a new-born baby down on the diaper table. Well maybe not quite like that, but careful even so, so as not to knock off any of the precious rub. Lid on, and at once the Hickory smoke began to curl, bringing that signature scent to a man’s pit that equals sublime harmony with elevated levels of protein. Thus, and under very blue skies, I repaired to my BBQ easy chair, found something to kick my feet up on, and proceeded henceforth to ponder the day. And a sweet, pit-side nap was soon enough forthcoming.
You all know the old saying, “good things come to those who wait“. Probably true. But I also suspect that maybe crap can show up right away. Oh how many of us, at one time or another, have rushed our beloved rack of ribs. Pressing them along too fast, or too hot, only to render them into flanks of inedible boot leather. That is not how to do ribs, or much of any good BBQ for that matter. Let us at once revel and thrive in the slow ways. Dare to practice thy patience. May your rendering collagen be bathed in sweet time, and your bark emerge like the glaciers of yesteryear. For the smokey arts are rather a beautiful past time when you think about it, so what then would be your hurry to rush haphazardly through it. Nay! Now is our time, as patrons of the pit, to slow it all down, and tarry in the good favor of rising wood smoke and the savory aromas of sizzling meat. It is our highest privilege, to take the scenic route and try if we can to pause the sun momentarily in the sky. And we will.
Now one of the most common mistakes to procuring perfect ribs is over-cooking them. Folks tho do rather love to gloat that their ribs were “fall-of-the-bone perfect”. But as any competition rib bloke knows, if they are falling off the bone, you have done went and over-cooked them. And the judges will dock you accordingly, because it took less skill. They still taste amazing tho, no doubt, because at the end of the day, good is good, and ribs are good. And back yard pit keepers, well, they don’t really care anyways, so long as they can muckle themselves some rib meat at cook’s end. But if you want to challenge yourself, and hone your pit craft some, try to smoke them so they have some meat retention left on the bone. You want the meat to easily rip of the bone with each bite, yet be tender and succulent to chew. Such perfection lurks in a narrow window, its panes fogged with smoke, and so you must check in on your ribs frequently then, and further more you must know when they are done.
When a rib is done is a fickle business, because ribs vary, and smokers do to. Many like the bend test, and that is when you hold the end of the rack in your tongs and let them bend, like a fat man walking out onto a diving board. When the meat starts to split open at the bend, they are probably done. Likewise, others fancy the toothpick test, where the picker pokes his pick in the pork, and if it slides through real easy, its probably done. Others like to twist on a bone. Others go strictly by the clock. What I like to do is just by-pass the wondering all together, and cut myself off a hunk and try and eat the thing. You’ll know pretty quick what you’ve got on your hands.
Anyways, after about three hours of supreme loitermanship, for good measure, I tossed on a pot of peach baked beans and some chicken legs, and I also went ahead and foiled the ribs with a splash of apple juice. Foiling them, or the Texas Crutch, never seems to fail in loosening the meat up a little. Often times, its where the magic happens. You certainly don’t have to, but its success ratio is too good to ignore. So foil them and be not ashamed. I checked in on them after about 45 minutes, and by golly, they were eager little things turned out, and ready it seemed for their destiny according to my belly. I was kind of dismayed the smoke wasn’t going to last longer. But that is the nature of the BBQ arts. It is done when its done, as they say. And boy these ribs were done just right! I proceeded then to remove them from the foil and lay them back on the grate and then to sauce them with SuckleBusters Original BBQ Sauce. Brush strokes of love, upon my own personal, Rib Rembrandt.
Nothing quite like meat on the bone to set a man straight. Succulent. Tender. Smokey goodness! I took this sample back to my BBQ chair from whence I have loitered so well, and needless to say, had my way with it. Truly a pit master privilege. I smiled contentedly, BBQ sauce strewn across my face and over my belly. I kicked my feet up again, content with what I had done. And the mama Cardinal watched from the Alders. Amen.
It was 5:00 in the blessed morning as I stumbled out onto the patio, bag of charcoal in hand, whilst sporting my designer pajamas beneath the twinkling stars above. I put a match to the old charcoal chimney, sending the initial rush of smoke aloft, for to honor the day and to get a batch of coals going. Obsessive compulsive, the neighbor was probably thinking, whilst gazing out the window during his early bird pee. I wouldn’t argue that I guess. But it was Boston Butt time at the pit, and as any one who smokes the big meats are well aware of, them butts take some considerable clock. So early starts like this are what you do some times. But I also had every intention of going back to bed, to those delicious, warm, blankets from whence I came. And after the smoker was under way, I did precisely that, thanks to a fellow called Jim Minion, and the good idea he had once.
Jim Minion was at a BBQ competition one day, and had his wife pick him up a WSM cooker from the store. He slapped it together on the spot, and needed to figure out a way to “light it off“, and not being one for reading instructions apparently, he just tossed a bunch of lit and unlit coals together, and called it good enough. Worked out pretty good for him too, go figure, as he took 1st place in chicken, and 2nd place in ribs. Henceforth, “The Method” had been discovered. And it works exceedingly well. This is no news for you old timers I know, ye keepers of the flame and brethren of the smoke, but our readers are a diverse lot, patron to all the rungs of the BBQ ladder. And like hot coals lighting other coals still new, so to should we pass the flame of knowledge, igniting others, like the Minion Method personified.
As you delve deeper into the BBQ arts, you will want to try this technique. It is worthy for such endeavors as brisket and pulled pork, and really anything you want a long, controlled, burn for. And it couldn’t be easier. I usually start with a doughnut of unlit coals in the fire bowl, and dump a chimney full of blazing lit ones right smack dab in the middle. What happens is the lit coals work sort of like a fuse, lighting any unlit coals that might be sitting next to it. And those coals in-turn light some other coals next to them. And so on. It’s a beautiful thing really, of which gives you the time for the all-important business of kicking up your feet in the sun, with a good narrative and lovely beverage. If your smoker is of good quality, and you put enough coal in, I’ve heard of guys routinely getting as much as 18 hours of steady burn time, averaging around 225 degrees. Now that’s one long burn.
If you have an offset smoker, or some other cooker where this method described above doesn’t seem right, there are gadgets like this to be found. Working off the minion method principle, or more precisely, the “snake method” many a pit master has had success with these sorts of charcoal baskets too.
Turns Your Kettle Grill into a Smoker!
Here is another alternative for you kettle owners. This thing has gotten outstanding reviews, and they say it will give you 8 hours of burn time in a single load. It also works on the minion principle, and has a nifty little vertical water pan, to help act as a heat sink.
It’s not all perfect tho. Within the Minion Method there are two camps. The debate you’ll find between these two are about things called binders. Binders are the chemicals and what-not which basically hold the charcoal briquette together, and it’s these chemicals that are released when a briquette is being lit. So naturally, there are some BBQ folk who say this is not good for you, as this stuff may leach into your food, while the rest of us sort of shrug our shoulders because we don’t really know. Luckily, if it’s something that’s going to bother you, there is a solution in products like, Stubbs All Natural Charcoal, as seen in this link, Stubb’s 9-Pound All-Natural Charcoal Briquets, or lump charcoal, such as Fogo FHWC35LB 35-Pound All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal Bag, neither of which are supposed to have binders in them. At any rate, it’s something to think about, and you’ll have to make up your own mind on that I guess. Or if you have some knowledge otherwise to enlighten us, do share, as the community of BBQ is only better for it.
Regardless, the method of Jim Minion is quite the effective strategy should you fancy the likes of a long burn with minimal maintenance. Something I can attest to is a glorious thing, should you find yourself one day, lighting up the smoker at 5:00 in the morning, groggy-faced, whilst still in your favorite pajamas.
Off-hand and by the way, if you’ve come here to learn about the minion method, then you’re also probably thinking brisket. Good thinking! The Minion Method is made for brisket. Here is a great read concerning how to smoke the proper brisket, as told by the best in the business. Aaron Franklin makes the best brisket in the country. How do we know? Just read the reviews of his book below, you’ll see!
*People who read this article also read: How To Melt Your Maverick:Wireless BBQ Thermometer Set – Maverick ET73
**Patrons of the Pit are affiliates with Amazon for Stubbs All-Natural Charcoal, among other things. We do receive a small commission if you buy through our link. We do appreciate it!