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Everyone knows that the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker is easy to operate on a warm summer day, but what about on a cold, windy day in the dead of winter? Here's what I've learned from people that are experts in running the WSM in the most extreme weather conditions.
Click on any of the photos to view a larger image.
Wind—not cold—is the biggest problem when it comes to maintaining temperature in the Weber Bullet. Wind sucks the heat out of the cooker, or it forces its way into the air vents and ignites more fuel, actually driving up the cooker temperature. Cold air temperatures affect the amount of fuel consumed by the cooker, but don't have much affect on temperature control.
Your best approach is to move the cooker to a sheltered location that still offers adequate ventilation. If you can do this, there's usually no need to undertake any of the methods illustrated below.
Before proceeding with a wind screen, insulation or enclosure, see the Warnings From Weber at the end of this article.
If you can't move the WSM to a sheltered location, then a wind screen is a simple way to protect your cooker from wind.
A wind screen is made of wood or metal and wraps around the cooker on 2 or more sides. It should be taller than the cooker and heavy enough (or anchored to the ground) so that it will not blow over. When making a wind screen from wood, it's very important to provide adequate clearance between the cooker and the wind screen so that it does not catch fire.
Photo 1 from Wayne Sizemore illustrates the construction of a three-sided plywood wind screen. Hinges connect the three pieces so the unit can be folded for easy storage.
Photo 2 was submitted by Tormod Eikill of Stavanger, Norway. Tormod writes, "I asked a local workshop to custom build a windshield in galvanized steel. A little bit expensive and heavy, but very good. You can fold it together after use and easily carry it under your arm."
Photo 3 shows a hinged metal barrel used as a wind screen from Dan N. of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. Dan says, "I use hinges with pins that I can pull out so the halves fit inside each other for storage or transport. I also added handles on the front to help in opening and closing. Also, I added a bracket on top into which I can insert an old umbrella to ward off precipitation."
Photo 4 was submitted by Buzz and shows unhinged metal barrels used as wind screens with some blankets draped over one side for additional insulation.
Photos 5-6 were submitted by Chuck R. He modified a portable dog enclosure and wrapped it with Reflectix insulation to create a folding, four-sided wind screen. You can read all the details on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board.
Photos 7-10 show a single plywood sheet windbreak built by J. Biesinger of Buffalo, NY. He cut a 4' x 8' sheet of oriented strand board into 4 two-foot sections and connected them using door hinges. The sections open to form a box or fold flat for easy storage. The two cuts at the center of the plywood were made at 45° angles to allow that joint to swing open more fully (Photo 8).
Wind screens can also be fashioned in a "V" shape, or even single-sided. Imagine a sheet of plywood standing on edge and anchored securely to the ground. In a pinch, other large, sturdy objects will do. For example, place your WSM behind a gas grill, or behind a patio umbrella laid on the ground on its side.
If you don't have a wind screen and a mild breeze is driving up the cooker temp, close the two bottom vents on the upwind side and control temperature using the single vent on the downwind side. The top vent may be partially closed until temperature is brought back under control, then fully opened again.
As an alternative to a wind screen, you may want to wrap insulation around the cooker.
Photo 11 shows the Silver Bullet Smoker Jacket sold by The BBQ Guru. It is made of 1000°F aluminized Fiberglas, is designed specifically to fit the WSM, and costs about $99. Thanks to Bill Hays for the photo.
You can make your own insulated jacket for the WSM. A popular material to use is 3/8" fiber tech insulation with a reflective aluminum face. Some home improvement stores sell hot water heater jackets made of this material, or it can be ordered by the roll as "heat shield insulation" or "fiber tech padding" from automotive suppliers like J.C. Whitney. Some folks use a single layer of material wrapped around the cooker, while others put two pieces of insulation together with the aluminum sides facing out, sealing the edges with aluminum foil tape.
Photo 12 shows two WSMs wrapped in high tech hot water heater jacket material by Keri Cathey.
Photo 13 shows a WSM wrapped in fiber tech insulation by Lee Reiser.
Another material used is called Reflectix, an aluminized bubble wrap sold in rolls and fitted to the WSM like the fiber tech insulation shown above.
Photo 14 shows a Reflectix jacket made by Mike A. After cutting the insulation to size, the edges can be sealed using aluminum foil tape for a neat appearance, also available where these insulation products are sold. To keep the jacket fastened around the cooker, use tape or Velcro fasteners in several locations, or run a bungee cord around the cooker, or clip a clothes pin on the top edge of the jacket where the two ends overlap.
Fiberglas hot water blankets have fallen out of favor for insulating Weber Bullets, primarily because they are bulkier than the high-tech materials now available, and because fibers can get loose from the blanket and make a mess, getting into your cooker and potentially your food.
No matter which insulation you choose, to service the fuel and water pan, simply remove the insulation and set it aside, go about your business, then replace the insulation.
For more insulation ideas, search the posts in the WSM Modifications Forum of The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board.
If wind screens or insulation aren't your thing, try sheltering the WSM with a removable enclosure. A large cardboard or plastic barrel with the bottom cut out will work, or you can build a custom enclosure.
Photos 15-17 show an enclosure built by Harry Jiles. I learned about Harry years ago on The BBQ Forum. Harry is a hard-working farmer from central Illinois who's not going to let something like a little cold weather stand between him and some mighty fine barbecue. Harry was kind enough to share his method for building an enclosure.
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Photos 18-20 show an enclosure belonging to Bren Hickey of Dublin, Ireland, and was built with the help of a carpenter friend. Bren wanted to shelter the WSM both during use and when stored between uses.
It consists of a frame mounted to the wall of the house and three hinged sides that swing out to reveal the cooker. The tongue & groove siding is lined with an aluminum-faced insulation. Each side is 39-41" tall and 24-28" wide.
The lid measures 31" x 28" and slopes 2" from back to front so the rain will run off. The lid is fitted with a vent so smoke can escape and a viewing portal so the lid thermometer can be read from inside the house.
Bren writes, "I have used the WSM a lot in the last couple of months since building the enclosure, and it works very well and saves me a lot of fuel. Most of the time I can do an entire cook with the vents only 1/4 open. If the WSM starts to run hot, I just prop the lid of the enclosure open slightly and it will bring the temp down."
Photos 21-23 show an enclosure from Bob Hunter of Orange, CA. It has a work surface and storage cabinet for supplies on the left, and holds a WSM on the right.
Folding doors open up to service the WSM. Close the doors and prop open the lid and the WSM is protected from the elements while cooking. Note the openings below the WSM to allow air for combustion into the enclosure. And the whole thing rolls around on wheels!
You'll find the details of this project on Bob Hunter's photo gallery.
Photos 24-28 show a portable smoke shack built by Greg Maciejewski of Douglas, MA. Greg's wind/rain shelter has a pressure-treated base with aluminum flashing floor boards for fire safety. The walls and roof are made of tongue and groove pine and coated with water sealant. The roof in angled to allow for rain to run off. The door has stainless steel hinges with magnetic latch.
Inside, there is a rack for hanging the WSM lid while servicing the cooker. There is an allowance for an extension cord to enter the enclosure to power an automatic temperature control system. It's large enough to handle an 18-1/2" or 22-1/2" WSM. And last but not least, it can be assembled/disassembled in less than 5 minutes with no tools required.
Photos 29-36 show an enclosure built by Jamie Ward of Nebraska for his 22-1/2" WSM. It's lined with Eclipse Radiant Barrier Panels, essentially reflective foil laminated to oriented strand board, as a form of insulation. Jamie wrapped the outside with 1 x 6 cedar picket fence boards. It features a storage area for accessories, and locking casters.
You can read more about this project and see more photos at The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board.
Photo 37 shows an enclosure built by Todd Randall. The framing is 1" x 1" composite decking material, the skin is aluminum, and the hardware is galvanized/zinc plated. The roof is angled to shed rain.The enclosure breaks down for easy storage. The roof is held in place with pins that fit into holes in the wall frame. The walls are basically two bi-fold panels connected with hinges.
You can read all about Todd's project on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board.
Interestingly, rain does not have much impact on the performance of the WSM unless the rainfall is very heavy. It is usually the wind accompanying the rain that negatively affects cooker temperature.
Folks living in the Pacific Northwest report that they operate the WSM in light rain without any overhead protection, and they use the techniques described on the Firing Up Your Weber Bullet page without modification. Some water can enter the cooker where the lid meets the cooking section and will collect in the bottom of the charcoal bowl with the spent ashes, but this has no impact on the cooker's performance—unless the rain is extremely heavy and fills the bowl with water.
To protect the WSM from rain, move it to a sheltered location, or place it under a patio umbrella or E-Z Up shelter.
Here are some other ingenious methods from WSM owners:
Weber recommends that the Smokey Mountain Cooker never be used in the following conditions or locations due to the risk of fire and toxic fumes:
Send in a photo of you using your WSM in sub-freezing temperatures and I'll post it here for the world to see!
Photo of plywood wind screen: 2004 by Wayne Sizemore.