I occasionally receive e-mails like this one:
“I’m thinking about buying a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, but I’m not sure which size to get. We typically have 6 or so people to cook for, but have parties of 20 or more people a few times a year. Which model would you recommend?”
My first piece of advice is to familiarize yourself with the features, specifications, and cooking capacity of the three Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker models. This information is discussed in detail on these pages:
Once you have a good understanding of what the WSM can do, its cooking capacity, its weight and dimensions, and its price, it’s really just a matter of considering and balancing these factors:
- How much cooking capacity do you need?
- Do you need space to accommodate extra large briskets or slabs of ribs laying flat?
- How portable do you need the cooker to be?
- How much do you want to spend?
The 14.5″ WSM is best for those who cook small quantities of meat.
If you’re smoking a single chicken or two pork butts or 3-4 slabs of ribs (you may have to cut them in half and use a rib rack) or even a 12 pound turkey, the 14.5″ WSM is the cooker for you.
The 18.5″ WSM seems to satisfy the needs of most people, most of the time, when cooking in the backyard.
With the ability to easily handle 2 briskets or 4 pork butts or 4 chickens or 8 rolled racks of baby back ribs, the 18.5″ WSM provides the cooking capacity that most people need at home. It’s also very fuel-efficient relative to its cooking capacity.
The 22.5″ WSM is your best choice if you’re cooking large quantities of meat often for big crowds.
It’s also the right choice if you subscribe to the notion that bigger is always better. If you’re the kind of person that when buying a new car insists on a V-8 engine when a V-6 will do, or you buy a big pickup truck to tow a trailer just once a year, then you might as well stop reading this article and buy the 22.5″ WSM now.
Referring back to the original e-mail that said:
“…but have parties of 20 or more people a few times a year,”
If you’re feeding 20 people, that’s 7 chickens (3 people per chicken) or 7 slabs of spareribs (3 people per slab) or 12 pounds pre-cooked weight of pork butt (6 ounces per person, assuming 70% yield) or 16 pounds pre-cooked weight of brisket (6 ounces per person, assuming 50% yield). Cooking that many chickens or ribs in an 18.5″ WSM all at once would be challenging, but the pork butt and brisket would be easy (two 8 pound pork butts or two 12 pound briskets, one on each cooking grate). But if you’re offering two meats as part of the same meal, e.g. chicken and pork butt, you can smoke 1-2 pork butts the day before (because pulled pork reheats well) and 5 chickens at the last minute and serve them fresh. If you’re cooking for well beyond 20 people, you really need to be looking at two 18.5″ cookers or the 22.5″ cooker.
Space requirements refers to accommodating very large cuts of meat like an 18 pound brisket or a 30 pound turkey, or wanting to cook slabs of ribs laying flat instead of rolled or in a rib rack.
The 22.5″ WSM is best for smoking monster cuts of meat, but you’d be surprised at what you can cook inside the 18.5″ smoker if you’re creative. People have smoked 25 pound turkeys in the 18.5″ WSM using a vertical roasting rack on the bottom cooking grate, while others have draped large briskets over a chunk of smoke wood, a stainless steel bowl, or a rib rack to make them fit.
As for cooking slabs of ribs flat, this can only be done in the 18.5″ cooker when the slabs are on the small side or if you remove a scrawny bone or two from one end of the slab. You can see an example of me cooking ribs flat in the 18.5″ WSM in these two articles: Basic Baby Back Ribs and Spareribs – Sugarless Texas Sprinkle.
All WSMs are portable in the sense that they come apart into three major sections that can be easily picked up by one person.
The 14.5″ WSM is the most portable of the three cookers given its size and weight. Weighing just 22 pounds, the 14.5″ WSM is small and compact enough that an able-bodied person can pick it up as a single unit and move it a moderate distance, e.g. from the garage to the backyard. It’s ideal for tailgating, car camping, and RVing.
The 18.5″ WSM weighs 37 pounds and is moderately sized such that an able-bodied person can pick it up as a single unit and move it a short distance, e.g. around the backyard. Transporting this cooker is best done with a pickup truck, SUV or minivan, but I’ve done it easily in a 4-door sedan and in a hatchback.
The 22.5″ WSM weighs 52 pounds and is so big that one person would be hard-pressed to pick it up as a single unit. It’s best moved in pieces and reassembled at its destination. Those using this cooker in barbecue competitions tend to transport it in pickup trucks or trailers. Some ingenious owners have added wheels or casters or built platforms or rolling carts to make moving this cooker around the backyard easier.
Weber employs a minimum advertised price (MAP) policy that dictates the advertised price of its products online and in print ads. Weber provide incentives to dealers to comply with this policy, including cooperative advertising, specialized training, and the threat of losing the right to sell Weber products. For the most part, Weber dealers tow the line when it comes to the MAP policy, which explains why Weber grills sell for the same price everywhere and rarely seem to go on sale.
The MAP price for each Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker model is shown below. In essence, the MAP is the street price that everyone pays for the WSM, whether purchased online or in a retail store.
- 14.5″: $229
- 18.5″: $349
- 22.5″: $459
As for how price figures into your decision of which brand new WSM to buy, it’s not really a matter of finding the lowest price because the price is always the same no matter where you shop. Rather, it’s how much you’re willing to spend and whether you feel the price is a good value based on what you want in a smoker. If you ask WSM owners, almost all of them will tell you that the WSM represents a great value for the money, no matter which model you buy.
Of course, you can also buy used WSMs through online sources like Craigslist or our own Buy, Sell, Trade Grills & Gear forum on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board. These can be great deals, but are sometime few and far between given the popularity of the Weber Bullet.
One of the things people don’t appreciate until they see it in-person and cook on it is that the 22.5″ WSM is a MUCH bigger cooker than the 18.5″. Those extra four inches in diameter result in a 50% increase in total cooking area, a 40% increase in weight, more bottom vent holes for more airflow and a greater volume of air space inside the cooker, all of which requires more fuel to heat-up no matter what you’re cooking. Some people say a lot more fuel, some say a little, so perhaps it depends on the brand of charcoal used and how much meat is cooked.
It’s also true that the 22.5″ WSM is not as air-tight as the 18.5″ WSM. This is mainly due to the fit of the access door, which, according to a former Weber engineer involved with the design of the cooker, was not modeled as extensively or as accurately as the 18.5″ version’s door. As a result, some people find it easier to control temperature in the 18.5″ WSM.
More Reading & Opinions
If you’d like some additional opinions on this subject, it’s been discussed extensively in these discussion threads by members of The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board:
Smokey Mountain Cooker cutaway photos: Copyright 2014, Weber-Stephen Products LLC