11 Common Operating Mistakes With the Weber Smokey Mountain

Operating Weber Smokey Mountain

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I’m going to be honest with you. I made plenty of these mistakes when I first started smoking on my Weber Smokey Mountain.

While I still think it’s a great smoker for beginners, there’s definitely a learning curve. Especially if you’ve never barbecued before and need to learn how to control temperature and produce the right kind of smoke.

We have compiled this list of the most common mistakes people make when cooking with a Weber Smokey Mountain. We’ll also show you  how they can be avoided. Thanks to the folks over at The Virtual Weber Bullet for the inspiration to this guide.

1) Accidentally dropping the cooking grate into the water pan or charcoal bowl

A poor fitting top cooking grate can wreak havoc if it slips and falls.

Not only will any meat you had on the grate be wet, burned or both, you run the risk of causing yourself some serious injury.

The burst of steam that could result from the water pouring over the hot coals could scald your arms and face.

To avoid this happening, check that your top grill grates fit in securely before you light up your Weber Smokey Mountain.

Also, remember that your grill grate is not the appropriate surface on which to prepare your meat. Sliding, jiggling, cutting and unnecessarily messing with the meat on the grill grate could knock it out of place and result in the grate and its contents falling down into the smoker.

2) Cooking with a dirty water pan

We harp on about keeping your cooker clean. But the taste of your food and the safety of those nearby while you cook really are at stake if you don’t keep your cooker clean and well maintained.

If you cook with a dirty water pan, the chances of starting a grease fire are real. Especially if you are cooking at high temperatures with an empty water bowl.

Dirty water pan weber smokey mountain

Grease fires are fierce. Flames can shoot many feet into the air, meaning your cooker, any trees in the vicinity, and potentially your property are at risk. Not to mention the injuries you could sustain.

To avoid this happening, make sure you keep your water bowl clean, removing any grease or residue after each use.

3. Sitting the water pan directly on the charcoal chamber

When reading guides online, it can be hard to picture visually what we are talking about. So let’s be clear about something, when we talk about the charcoal chamber and the water pan being situated below the cooking grate, we do not mean sitting right on top of each other.

If you sit your water pan directly on top of the coals and light them, your charcoals are not going to burn well at all. The water pan will smother them, and you will struggle to get your cooker above 200OF.

Granted, it can be confusing when you read descriptions regarding the placement of the water pan. The water pan is indeed placed above the coals, but it is usually secured to the lower grate with a clip, meaning that it hovers above the coals without touching them.

4. Bumping or moving the cooker during use

Being a metal unit, the exterior of your Weber Smokey Mountain will get very hot while you are cooking. Bumping, moving or brushing against the super hot cooker while it is in use is very likely to end in burns.

Not only should you be careful not to touch the unit while it is in use, it is also a good idea to make sure there are no activities taking place near the unit that could end in injury. If kids are around, make sure they play well away from your Weber Smokey Mountain, and keep a close eye on them when they come near the smoker.

But burnt arms, legs, faces and clothes are not the only concern when it comes to bumping the unit.

As we have mentioned, a bump could shift the cooking grate, resulting in it dropping into the water pan or the charcoal bowl.

If your access door is not latched securely, an innocent bump could also result in the door falling off. If this happens, the temperature inside the cooker will skyrocket, due to the rapid influx of oxygen. Depending on how long it takes you to discover the missing door, your meat could well and truly be a burnt to a crisp before you know what’s happened.

Another possible outcome of bumping your cooker is a grease fire, but we will talk more about that in part 6 of this post.

5. Failing to close the vents after cooking

When you have finished cooking, don’t forget to replace the lid and shut all the vents.

This will reduce the airflow to the coals, and the coals will go out. If you leave everything wide open, your coals will burn hot. If you have water in the pan it will boil away and potentially smell bad. Worse case scenario; the intense heat could start a grease fire.

Shutting the vents to put the coals out also allows you to reuse any leftover coals that were not fully burnt.

However, it is worthy of note that Weber do not encourage the re-use of coals, as coals left sitting in the smoker can cause corrosion. Weber suggest that the best thing to do is to use the right amount of coals for each cook.

While this is good in theory, getting the amount of coals spot on can be a little tricky, especially when starting out. So don’t get too downhearted if there are a few coals left over at the end of the cook.

If you are concerned about corrosion, wait until the left over coals have cooled, take them out of the cooker, and store them in a dry spot ready to use again.

6. Starting a grease fire

We have touched on this a couple of times already in this post. You may be starting to get the picture that starting a grease fire is ‘up there’ on the list of the biggest things that can go wrong while smoking.

Let’s round up the most common ways a grease fire can start:

  • Overfilling the water pan – Fat floats on the surface of water. As fat drips from the meat into the water (as it inevitably will), if you have overfilled your water pan, the first thing to overflow onto the coals is going to be… fat. Perfect recipe for a grease fire.
  • Knocking or moving the smoker while it is in use – Even if you have not overfilled your water pan, if you give the smoker a good bump, the water could easily splash onto the coals. Again, the fat sitting on the top of this water is likely to catch alight once it hits those super hot coals.
  • Cooking with a dirty water pan – Especially if you have left your water pan in but have not filled it with water, if the pan is greasy and dirty, there is a good chance it could start a fire.
  • Failing to shut down the vents and replace the lid after a cook – If you do not reduce the airflow to the coals, they will just burn hotter and hotter. If you have enough coals left over, left unattended there is a risk this could end in a fire.

7. Adding hot coals without the charcoal chamber in

For your own sanity, make sure the charcoal chamber is in place before you light the coals and place them in your smoker.

Putting the charcoal chamber in place is not an activity that is just as easily done after the coals are lit.

Trying to fit that thing over red hot coals sitting on the charcoal grate is near impossible. Taking on the challenge of adding it after the coals are lit and in place also invites disaster in the form of burns to the arms and hands.

8. Placing the hot lid directly on your deck

Unless you want a Weber Smokey Mountain lid sized burn mark on your deck, then this is a practice to avoid.

Granted, when you are in the middle of a cook, finding a place to plonk the lid of the cooker can be an afterthought, so it is easy to see how this happens. Especially when something needs attention inside the cooker.

So it is best to prepared. Weber Smokey Mountain devotees have found that an automobile oil drip pan does a great job. Grab the largest size drip pan you can find. That way you can pop it under the Weber Smokey Mountain while you are cooking and catch any stray drips, and have plenty of left over space to place the lid when you need somewhere to sit the lid.

The pan itself is really easy to keep clean. Soap and water will do the trick. Much easier than re-sanding the deck.

9. Removing the lid to reduce the cooking temperature

If the temperature in your cooker is spiking, you may start to panic and feel that you need to take off the lid and let some ‘fresh air’ in to cool it all down. In fact, in this situation you need to go against all your instincts. Taking of the lid will make the temperature spike even further.

If you want to learn more about how to control the temperature on any charcoal cooker, not just the Weber Smokey Mountain, head over to this article.

In short, oxygen is part of the combustion process, so more oxygen means a bigger, hotter, fire. As you can imagine, taking off the lid lets a whole lot of oxygen in, and those coals will really start to burn hot.

If you need to bring the temperature down, close the bottom vents. You might need to wait for a bit until you start to see the temperature drop. If the bottom vents do not drop the temperature low enough, you can also close off the top vents.

10. Not wearing heat resistant gloves

This can be both a rookie mistake, and a sin committed by ‘old hands’. Don’t forget that everything on your Weber Smokey Mountain will get hot when in use. So whether you are opening or closing vents, taking off the lid, pouring coals into the cooker from your chimney starter, always wear gloves.

Using heat resistant bbq gloves

If you are a new user of the Weber Smokey Mountain, remember that parts of the cooker you don’t expect to be hot probably are. So it best to be safe and wear gloves whenever you need to touch the cooker, or any tools accessories that have been in contact with heat.

To be prepared, buy a pair of heat resistant gloves before your first cook, and keep them in a handy spot near your cooker.

While we are not advocating you don’t wear gloves, if you get stuck without gloves, you can use tongs to adjust the vents. But this really is not ideal. As you can imagine, a pair of tongs is nowhere near as dextrous as your hands.

Another tip along these lines is to wear closed in shoes when using your smoker. We know the thought of smoking in your flips flops on a balmy summer evening is appealing. But not if you drop a red hot lid, a lump of coal, or a piping hot chimney starter on your toes.

11. Relying on the built in dome thermometer

Despite being a well loved and hugely popular smoker, the built in dome thermometer on your Weber Smokey Mountain cannot be trusted, sorry.

There are two main reasons this is the case.

  1. Even really well made smokers usually have lower quality built in thermometers. It is a matter of cost cutting.
  2. The temperature in the dome is very different from the temperature of your food. Due to the dissipation of the heat in the metal in the dome, it will be cooler up there. As in up to 50°F different.

As you no doubt can appreciate, a poor quality thermometer placed in a part of your cooker that is much cooler than where your food actually sits is going to lead to dry, overcooked food, time and time again.

Save yourself some headaches, and avoid the need to throw out inedible, overcooked meat by buying a reliable, good quality thermometer.

Wrapping it up

We hope you have enjoyed our list of the most common mistakes made by people who cook with a Weber Smokey Mountain.

While we love cooking with these smokers, they are not foolproof. But most of the common mistakes made by people who use Weber Smokey Mountains are easily rectified. Armed with this knowledge, you are sure to be cooking up some great grub with zero disasters.

We also have another article which addresses the common mistakes made when smoking in general, but this one gets into the ‘nitty gritty’ for those who cook with a Weber Smokey Mountain.

Do you have any other points you would like to add that you think we missed? Or do you have any other questions that you would like answered? Be sure to leave them in the comments section below. And if you found this article helpful, be sure to share!

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