What Is The WSM “Burn Zone”?
It’s the super-hot area around the edge of the bottom cooking grate where meat tends to burn and thermometer air probes read much higher than the rest of the cooking grate.
Video: Avoid The Weber Smokey Mountain “Burn Zone”
This video illustrates the content described in this article.
What Causes The “Burn Zone”?
Heat from the charcoal fire rises up from the bottom of the cooker toward the top. As it does, it passes through the gap between the edge of the water pan and the middle cooking section. The outer 1-2″ of the bottom cooking grate extends into this gap.
Any meat you place in this area will overcook and possibly burn. Any air probe you place in this area will read a lot higher than the lid thermometer and a lot higher than an air probe placed toward the middle of the bottom cooking grate.
The “burn zone” is better visualized in this infrared photo of a hot WSM. The bright yellow area around the purple water-filled pan shows how heat rises up around the pan, causing any meat in this area to overcook.
What Can I Do About The “Burn Zone”?
To prevent meat from burning, keep meat away from the outer edge of the bottom cooking grate when possible. Do not place thermometer air probes at the edge of the bottom cooking grate.
What About The Top Cooking Grate? Does It Have A “Burn Zone”, Too?
The top cooking grate is much less affected by this phenomenon because it’s 5.5″, 7.5″ or 9″ higher than the bottom cooking grate, depending on the WSM model. This gives the extreme heat a chance to mix and diffuse before it hits the top grate. Still, I have noticed that meat placed at the outer edge of the top grate cooks a bit faster, so I recommend that you avoid that area when possible, too.
Does Water In The Pan Affect The “Burn Zone”?
Not really. It’s the presence of the pan in the cooker, whether empty or filled with water, that causes the “burn zone.”
Is There A “Burn Zone” When I Cook With The Water Pan Removed?
There is no “burn zone” when you remove the water pan to cook over direct heat, like we do with the Hot & Fast Chicken recipe.