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Common Operating Mistakes

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Here are some of the common mistakes made by WSM owners while operating their cookers. Hopefully this topic will help you avoid some of these common pitfalls.

If you have a blunder you're willing to share (or admit to), send me an email and I'll consider adding it here. Thanks to lewjeff on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board for suggesting this topic.

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Hot Surfaces & Fuel

  • Wear heat-resistant gloves when handling the cooker, a chimney starter, and hot charcoal.

    Even experienced WSM owners sometimes forget to wear heat-resistant gloves when handling a hot Weber chimney starter, hot cooker parts, or adjusting the bottom vents. Wear gloves at all times, just to be safe. Use tongs or other barbecue tools to adjust vents if not wearing gloves.
  • Use caution when handling parts that have been sitting near a heat source.

    For example, the middle cooking section or a Weber chimney starter can get very hot while sitting next to a charcoal bowl full of red-hot coals. Again, wearing heat-resistant gloves is important.
  • Don't brush up against the cooker.

    Folks have burned their arms, legs, and even faces by brushing up against a hot cooker. Not only should you use caution when working with a hot cooker, but also when engaged in recreational activities around it.
  • Wear closed-toe shoes when working with the cooker.

    If you want a real "hot foot", try dropping hot charcoal briquettes onto your toes while wearing flip flops or stepping on a hot coal while barefoot. Ouch!

Water Pan

  • Don't start a grease fire by cooking with a dirty water pan.

    Always start cooking with a clean water pan, especially when using an empty pan and cooking at high temperatures, as accumulated grease can cause a grease fire. A member of The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board reported that a grease fire like this occured in his WSM with flames shooting 16 feet into the air and resulting in a melted lid handle and ruined Stoker pit and meat probes.

  • Foil the water pan properly.

    Improperly foiling the pan may cause water to wick up and over the edge of the pan and down into the charcoal, making a real mess in the bottom of the cooker. See Using A Water Pan In Weber Smokers for proper foiling techniques.
  • Don't place the water pan on the charcoal chamber.

    I got an email from a man who couldn't get his cooker over 200°F. After several messages back and forth I realized that he was placing the water pan directly on top of the hot coals in the charcoal chamber. The pan was smothering the fire!
  • Don't spill water and grease into the hot coals.

    Make sure the water pan is properly seated on the support flanges before placing the middle cooking section over the hot coals, then add water immediately before the pan gets hot.

    When filling the pan before or during cooking, be careful to not overfill the pan. Do not bump the cooker or attempt to remove the water pan during cooking.

    Spilled pan contents may result in a super-hot burst of steam coming out of the cooker and can even cause a grease fire, potentially burning your hands, arms, and face. Remember, fat floats on top of the water, so if you bump or overfill the pan, the first thing to hit the fire is grease.

    In addition to the issue of personal safety, from a cooking standpoint, spilling pan contents into the fire isn't such a good idea, either. Your fire will be extinguished, your meat will be covered in ashes, and your cooker will be an absolute mess inside. There's even an acronym for this: STUPID BOYS (Spill The Unfastened Pan Into Da Bottom Of Your Smoker).

    If a grease fire starts inside the cooker, extinguish the flames by replacing the lid and closing all the vents. If you attempt to remove the water pan during cooking and find yourself holding a pan of flaming grease, do not take the pan indoors and do not try to extinguish the flames using water. Set the pan down in a safe location and extinguish it by placing the WSM lid over the pan, or use baking soda or a fire extinguisher put out the fire.

  • Don't put your face or hands over a hot, empty water pan while adding water.

    To avoid serious burns, make sure the water pan is properly seated on the support flanges before placing the middle cooking section over the hot coals, then add water immediately before the pan gets hot.
  • Don't forget to replace the lid and close the vents after cooking.

    The contents of the water pan will begin to boil and burn if you leave the lid off after cooking. Not only does this smell really bad, but it might cause a grease fire in the pan.

Charcoal Chamber

  • Don't dump hot coals into the cooker without the charcoal chamber in place.

    It's not much fun trying to fit the chamber over a bunch of hot, loose coals scattered over the charcoal grate. Make this mistake once and you'll get in the habit of putting the chamber in place before lighting your chimney starter.

Access Door

  • Make sure the access door is properly latched.

    "I added a few chunks of smoke wood and replaced the door. I checked the cooker 30 minutes later. The door was laying on the ground and the cooker was running 350F." Make sure that door is latched securely!


  • Don't peek at the meat while cooking.

    You don't help the cooking process by removing the lid every 15 minutes to check on the meat. The only reason to remove the lid of the WSM while cooking is to add, remove, turn, rotate, baste, or mop the meat.
  • Don't put the lid down directly on a deck or patio.

    Want to leave a big, oily circle on your beautiful wooden deck or patio? No, of course you don't. Go to the auto supply store and buy the largest automobile oil drip pan you can find. Place this pan under your WSM during use. It will catch any drips from the cooker with room to spare for the lid when removed. The pan cleans easily with a little soap and water. Patio saved, problem solved.
  • Don't put the lid down on a dirty surface.

    The oily edge of the lid will grab dirt, grass, leaves, or anything else it comes into contact with. You don't want that stuff near your food. Get that automobile oil drip pan I just told you about.
  • Don't remove the lid thinking it will reduce the cooker temperature.

    Removing the lid lets a ton of oxygen into the cooker for combustion, which can cause the cooker temperature to get even hotter. Be patient and close the bottom vents for temperature control, and close the top vent partially only as a last resort. See Temperature Control Problems: Too Hot, Too Cool for more details.

Wind Screen

  • When using a wind screen, make sure it is securely weighted down or staked to the ground.

    "I made a wind screen to protect my WSM from high winds during cooking. One day I heard a loud crash outside and found that the screen blew down and knocked over the WSM. The smoke wood and charcoal caught fire and were igniting the wind screen. The access door was a contorted mess. A pork butt was laying on the driveway while another was inside the lid."

    By the way, you should always have a fire extinguisher handy while barbecuing.

Updated: 06/16/2016

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The Virtual Weber Bullet is your best source for Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker information and discussion on the Web. Popular with competition barbecue teams, the WSM is an easy-to-use water smoker that's equally at home in the backyard. See the WSM and its component parts; get recipes, usage tips, and modification ideas; check-out BBQ-related resources; and discuss the WSM with owners and enthusiasts in our online forums.
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