The Virtual Weber Bullet - Your best source for Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker information & discussion on the Web
Weber Bullet History
Models 1880, 2880/2890/2820, 721001, 731001

Originally posted: 08/01/2001
Last updated: 01/03/2015

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Here's the history of the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker as best I understand it. If you have additional information to share on this topic, please send it along by e-mail.

Click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.

Model 1880 & 2880

Model 1880 and Model 2820
Photo 1
Chris Allingham with Erich Schlosser, inventor of the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker
Photo 2

"There's an old Smokey Mountain tradition: when you build something, you build it to last. Now there's a smoke cooker worthy of that timeless tradition. You'll love what it does to fish, meat and game...season after season, year after year."

- Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Owner's Manual, 1981

In 1981, Weber introduced two Smokey Mountain Cookers: The Model 1880 14-1/2" cooker and the Model 2880 18-1/2" cooker (Photo 1). According to a 1983 Washington Post article about smokers, the Model 1880 sold for about $100 and the Model 2880 sold for about $120.

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According to Erich Schlosser, Senior Project Engineer for Weber R&D and inventor of the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker (Photo 2), the inspiration behind the WSM was his boyhood memories of his German father cold-smoking meat. However, the smoker Erich wanted to create would be a hot-smoker, not a cold-smoker.

Unfortunately, there was no budget at the time to build a smoker from scratch, so Erich cobbled together a prototype using existing parts from other Weber grills. For the 18-1/2" WSM lid and charcoal bowl, he used two charcoal bowls from the 18-1/2" kettle grill. For the water pan, he used the lid from a Smokey Joe. The door knob and latch were "off-the-shelf" parts from the local hardware store. The only pieces that had to be specially fabricated were the bottom cooking grate, the charcoal grate and charcoal chamber, and the door, legs, and grill straps.

Somehow, Erich convinced Weber to bring these "Frankensteined" cookers to market in 1981.

The smaller Model 1880 was discontinued in 1983. "I don't think the marketing folks promoted it very well," said Erich.

The story of these early cookers was discussed further by Weber Executive VP and CMO Mike Kempster, in a blog post about the reintroduction of the 14.5" Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker that appeared on in January, 2014. Mike writes:

"Long before we started selling Weber Smokey Mountain Cookers people were enjoying the smoky flavor of beef brisket, ribs, pork shoulder and chicken at their favorite barbecue restaurant. In my travels, I would search out barbecue restaurants that were local favorites and I would talk to the pit master. There was always an interesting story about their barbecue pit’s design. Although restaurants were using hickory, mesquite or post oak from the same region, diners would swear that the meat tasted different because of the unique design of the pit. I grew up in Kansas City and I remember lively debates between my dad and uncles over which restaurant served the best barbecue, and the nuances in pit design, rubs, sauces and type of wood used.

"In the late 1970’s many barbecue enthusiasts wanted to try smoking in their own backyard. We didn’t invent the backyard smoker, and we were far from the first grill manufacturer to get into the business. We surveyed consumers listening intently to what they liked and disliked about backyard smokers. I attended many research sessions where smoke was in the air and my clothing smelled like mesquite or hickory-smoke for months.

"We introduced the 18.5” diameter Smokey Mountain Cooker in the spring of 1981 and sales really took off. We knew we had a winner but some consumers commented that it was a large and expensive smoker, particularly if they were trying smoking for the first time. We had all the presses and welding equipment to make a smaller model, so we quickly tooled-up and introduced a 14.5” model that we debuted at the National Hardware Show in August of 1981.

"Well let’s just say that we pulled the trigger on this model before we had done enough consumer research. While backyard smoking was gaining in popularity, it was far from what it is today.

"Today, many restaurants that do not specialize in barbecue, serve planked salmon or cuts of beef cooked in wood-fueled ovens. Americans across the country love smoky flavor and many find the 14.5” smoker just the right size for the foods they like to smoke. So this time around, smoking is mainstream, we’ve done our homework and we’re pleased to bring back an updated version for 2014."

Model 1880 In Detail

1880 top cooking grate
Photo 3
1880 water pan
Photo 4
1880 charcoal chamber and charcoal grate
Photo 5
1880 lid handle
Photo 6
Charcoal bowl damper indicating "C" date stamp
Photo 7
Lid vent damper indicating "E" date stamp
Photo 8
Nickel-chromium plated steel access door
Photo 9

I was fortunate enough to find a Model 1880 in pristine condition in Southern California in 2004. Here are some photos of this pint-sized WSM.

Photo 3 shows the top cooking grate. Note that it does not have handles.

Photo 4 shows the water pan. Notice the wide, flat rim, followed by near-vertical walls, then a gently sloping bottom that terminates in a flat, 3" circle at the center of the bottom of the pan. The flat rim and tight fit against the grill straps results in a very stable water pan.

Photo 5 shows the charcoal chamber and charcoal grate. The chamber is made of the same material as today's cooker, but is smaller in diameter. The charcoal grate is not only smaller in diameter, but made of smaller gauge metal stock than the current grate.

Photo 6 shows the wooden lid handle with the Weber logo is stamped into the wood.

Photo 7 shows the letter "C" on the charcoal bowl damper, indicating that this bowl was manufactured in 1981. Photo 8 shows the letter "E" on the lid damper, indicating that this lid was manufactured in 1983. (It's not clear why this cooker has a mismatched lid and bowl.) See Determining The Age Of Your WSM for more information on Weber's lettering scheme.

The dampers on the 1880 are made of aluminum and are stamped with a series of lines between the vent holes. The dampers are attached using the same tubular aluminum rivets as in today's WSM.

Photo 9 shows the access door. It is made of nickel-chromium plated steel and is much heavier than today's aluminum door. The door has a smooth finish, but it sports the same "H" pattern stamped into the door like today's door, which helps it retain its shape.

The 1880's legs are made of the same nickel-chromium plated steel as the access door. Although these legs are sturdy, they apparently had a tendency to rust (like the access door) and were eventually replaced with aluminum parts.

Comparing The 1880 & 2880

Top cooking grates compared
Photo 10
Water pans compared
Photo 11
Water pan profiles compared
Photo 12
Charcoal chambers compared
Photo 13
Charcoal grates compared
Photo 14

Photo 10 shows the 1880's top cooking grate placed over that of the 2880.

Photos 11-12 compare the 1880's water pan with that of the 2880.

Photo 13 shows the difference in size between the 1880's charcoal chamber and that of the 2880

Photo 14 shows the 1880's charcoal grate placed over that of the 2880.

Here are the detailed measurements comparing the 1880 with the 2880:

Model 1880 14" Model 2880 18-1/2"
Overall height 29" 41"
Top cooking grate diameter 13-1/2" 17-1/2"
Distance between cooking grates 5-1/2" 7-1/2"
Access door opening 5" x 7" 7-1/4" x 10"
Water pan width 10-3/4" 14-3/4"
Water pan depth 2" 3-1/16"
Water pan capacity 1-1/2 quarts 1 gallon
Charcoal chamber diameter 10" 14-1/2"
Charcoal chamber height 4-3/4" 4-3/4"
Charcoal grate diameter 10-3/8" 15-1/4"

A copy of the Model 1880 assembly instructions and parts list can be downloaded from the Owner's Manuals page.

If you have additional information about the Model 1880 (for example, the original retail price, interesting stories, etc.), please send it in and I'll consider including it here.

Models 2890/2820

Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Model 2890
Photo 15
Wooden lid handle
Photo 16
Thermoset lid handle
Photo 17

Smokey Mountain Cooker Logo, 1981At some point the Model 2880 cooker was renamed Model 2890 (Photo 15) and was known by this model number as recently as 1999.

In 2000, the cooker was renamed Model 2820, coinciding with the lid handle change from wood to nylon (Photos 16-17).

One way of differentiating older WSMs from newer ones is by the lid handle. The Model 1880 and Model 2880 had teak lid handles with the Weber logo stamped into the wood. Some years later, Weber switched to an unknown species of wood that was stained to resemble teak, and they continued to stamp the Weber logo into the handle.

In 2000, Weber discontinued wooden handles and began using gray, heat-resistant nylon handles with the Weber logo stenciled on it.

Models 721001 And 731001

Weber Model 721001 18-1/2" & Model 731001 22-1/2" Smokey Mountain Cookers
Photo 18

In October 2008, Weber announced the improved Model 721001 18-1/2" cooker and the larger Model 731001 22-1/2" cooker.

Improvements to the Model 721001 18-1/2" cooker included:

  • Built-in lid thermometer with 1.5" stem.
    • Temperature range of 100-350°F in 5°F increments.
  • Improved access door.
    • Door handle indicates locked position.
    • Latching mechanism pulls door tight to middle cooking section.
    • Clever new design allows the door to be removed entirely or have it open downward but still attached to the cooker—without hinges.
  • Improved water pan.
    • 2.5 gallon capacity.
    • More solid fit on grill straps.
    • Slightly less headroom between bottom of water pan and charcoal chamber.
  • Sturdier legs.
  • Heat shield mounted to the legs under the charcoal bowl protects patio or deck.
  • Improved packaging protects the product during journey from factory to front porch.
  • Updated owners manual operating instructions and modern recipes.

The Model 731001 22-1/2" cooker included all of the features of the Model 721001 18-1/2" cooker listed above, plus:

  • Two 22" cooking grates.
  • Additional handle on edge of lid to assist with lifting.
  • Larger 4-1/4" vent dampers, each with four 3/4" holes.
  • Taller, wider access door opening.
  • Three-gallon water pan.
  • Improved charcoal grate prevents charcoal from falling through into the bowl.
  • Larger charcoal chamber holds an entire warehouse club-sized bag of briquettes.
  • More headroom between the top cooking grate and the lid, and more space between the top and bottom cooking grates.

Comparing The 721001 And 731001

Overhead of nested top cooking grates
Photo 19
Overhead of nested bottom cooking grates
Photo 20
Overhead of charcoal chambers
Photo 21
Overhead of nested charcoal chambers
Photo 22
Nested charcoal chambers inside bowl
Photo 23

Photo 19 shows the 721001's top cooking grate placed over that of the 731001.

Photo 20 shows the 721001's bottom cooking grate placed over that of the 731001.

Photos 21-23 compare the 721001's charcoal chamber with that of the 731001.

Here are the detailed measurements comparing the 721001 with the 731001:

Model 721001 18-1/2" Model 731001 22-1/2"
Height 41-1/2" 48-1/2"
Width 18-7/8" 22-7/8"
Weight 37 pounds 52 pounds
Top cooking grate 17-1/2"
240-1/2 sq. in.
363 sq. in.
Bottom cooking grate 17"
227 sq. in.
338 sq. in.
Distance between cooking grates 7-1/2" 9"
Water pan 14-3/8" x 7"
2.5 gallons
18-3/4" x 4-1/4"
3 gallons
Distance between water pan and charcoal grate 5-3/4" 12-1/2"
Charcoal chamber 14-1/2" x 4-3/4" 17" x 4-3/4"
Charcoal grate 15-1/4" 17-3/4"
Distance between charcoal grate and bottom of charcoal bowl 4-1/2" 5-1/4"
Lid 18-1/2" OD x 13" (including handle)
10-1/2" between inside top of lid and top cooking grate
22-1/2" OD x 14-5/16" (including handle)
11-13/16" between inside top of lid and top cooking grate
Lid damper One 3" damper with three 3/4" holes One 4-1/4" damper with four 3/4" holes
Thermometer 100-350°F, 5°F increments
1-1/2" stem
100-350°F, 5°F increments
1-1/2" stem
Thermometer hole in lid 3/8" 3/8"
Middle cooking section 18-3/4" OD / 17-5/8" ID x 17-1/2"
6" between screw holes
22-7/8" OD / 21-3/4" ID x 21-1/2"
7-1/4" between screw holes
Access opening 7-1/4" x 10" 12-3/4" x 13-7/8"
Access door 8" x 11-3/4" 14" x 16-1/4"
Access door knob 3" long 3" long
Charcoal bowl 18-1/2" OD x 10" (without legs), 12-3/8" (with legs) 22-5/8" OD x 12" (without legs), 14-1/4" (with legs)
Charcoal bowl dampers Three 3" dampers with three 3/4" holes Three 4-1/4" dampers with four 3/4" holes
Legs Three, 11-1/2" x 1-1/2" Three, 13-1/4" x 2"

Smokey Mountain Cooker logo: Copyright 1981, Weber-Stephen Products LLC

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