Why Does The WSM Run Out Of Fuel Mid-Cook?
The reason the WSM runs out of fuel mid-cook is because you didn’t start out with enough unlit charcoal to begin with! Even with years of WSM experience, it’s hard to estimate exactly how much fuel will be required for a cook. And there are variables that are hard to adjust for, such as:
- Wind, rain, and cold temps
- How much meat is being cooked and its starting internal temperature
- Whether there’s water in the pan and its temperature
And many more!
The Solution: Always start with more unlit fuel than you think you will need.
I’m pretty good at this when it comes to shorter cooks, but I sometimes blow it on longer cooks and I end up needing to add more charcoal mid-cook.
Video: Adding Charcoal Mid-Cook To The WSM
This video demonstrates the methods for adding charcoal mid-cook to the WSM that are described in this article.
Always Add Some Lit Charcoal
Before we go into the “how” of adding charcoal mid-cook, let’s discuss the question of whether you should add lit charcoal or unlit or both.
When you’re mid-cook and you notice the temperature is dropping, you want to get that temp back up ASAP. The best way to do that is with lit charcoal. On those occasions when I’ve tried adding only unlit charcoal, it’s often the case that there’s not enough lit charcoal left to quickly ignite the unlit. So it’s best to drop some fresh charcoal in a Weber chimney starter, light it, and add it to the charcoal chamber.
How Much Charcoal Should You Add?
It depends on how much additional cooking time you need. More often than not, I find myself falling about an hour short of my estimated cooking time. In that case, I will add 40-50 lit briquettes to the charcoal chamber. That’s about half a Weber chimney starter of Kingsford charcoal.
If you need several additional hours of cooking time, you will have to add more than just 40-50 briquettes; you’ll have to estimate how much depending on the amount of time. But in this instance, you may decide to add some unlit charcoal first, followed by some lit charcoal on top of that. This will bring the cooker temp back up ASAP but also provide enough unlit fuel to take your cook across the finish line.
Two Ways To Add Charcoal Mid-Cook
There are only two ways to add charcoal to the WSM mid-cook:
- Through the access door
- Lift off the lid and middle cooking section as a single unit to get to the charcoal chamber
It can be tedious to use tongs to move hot briquettes one by one from a chimney starter into the cooker. It can be dangerous trying to pour lit charcoal from a chimney starter into the WSM, and depending on which size WSM and chimney starter you’re using, pouring may not even be an option.
The safest way to add lit charcoal mid-cook is through the access door using a charcoal chute.
In a moment of desperation early one morning while cooking a brisket, I “McGyvered” this charcoal chute using a 24″ x 8″ piece of cardboard, folding it lengthwise into a “V” shape, and covering the top surface with a sheet of aluminum foil.
I quickly inserted the end of the chute into the charcoal chamber, ran 50 hot briquettes into the cooker, and removed it just as quickly. It worked fine, and no, the cardboard did not burst into flames!
A few days later, I came up with a better charcoal chute made from a 24″ section of split aluminum duct, something I found at Lowe’s for under $5. I used a portion of a plastic coat hanger and a rubber band as a brace to hold one end of the duct open so I’d have a wide space when pouring in the lit charcoal. The thick black tape was applied just to protect my fingers from the sharp edges of the duct.
As with my original chute, I simply inserted this one into the charcoal chamber, dumped in the lit charcoal, and tipped up the chute to run it all into the cooker.
The coat hanger brace and rubber band are easily removed for compact storage.
You can get all the details on this aluminum charcoal chute by watching the video linked earlier in this article.
After posting about my charcoal chutes on social media, someone mentioned that he uses a long, narrow garden shovel as a charcoal chute. That might work, too…but I like my chutes better!
The Hot Squat
Some people like to gain direct access to the charcoal chamber by grabbing the middle cooking section just below the lid (wearing heat-resistant gloves, of course) and lifting off and carefully setting aside the lid, middle section, grates, meat, and water pan contents as a single unit. This is affectionately knows as the “hot squat.” You can now easily survey the situation, stir the coals to dislodge ashes, and add more lit and/or unlit charcoal to the chamber. Then you must carefully replace everything in a reverse hot squat.
The hot squat is a risky maneuver. Spilling meat and water pan contents into the fire can result in steam explosions, grease fires, personal injuries and property damage. Weber, in their infinite wisdom, does not want you doing the hot squat. If they did, they would have added handles to the middle cooking section. Of course, you may have noticed that some WSM owners have added handles to the middle cooking section on their own to help with the task.
All I can say is that attempting the hot squat, with or without handles, is dangerous and something you do at your own risk. I also admit it’s something I have done on several occasions.