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Usage Tips For The Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker

Originally posted: 03/30/1999
Last updated: 02/21/2014

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The Weber Bullet is one of the best values in barbecue cookers on the market today. It is very easy to use and you can get great results right away with a little knowledge and a little practice. Follow the tips listed below and you'll be a Weber Bullet expert in no time!

Preparation

  • Make sure you have everything on hand that you'll need for cooking—meat, rub, charcoal, smoke wood, utensils, and so on.

  • Use a cooking log to record your entire preparation and cooking process. This information can help you duplicate your successes and avoid your past failures. You can download a copy of the cooking log I use.

  • Prep your meat in advance of cooking. You'll have enough to do getting the cooker up and running without having to hassle with trimming briskets or cutting up whole chickens. Remove meat from the refrigerator about an hour before cooking to take the chill off. Apply rub either the night before or just before putting your meat on the cooker.

  • Prep your smoke wood. Most people use wood chunks for their smoke source, while others use small split logs, chips, or pellets. Some people remove the bark from their smoke wood, believing it contains substances that affect taste, while most just throw it in the cooker as-is.

    I use 3-6 fist-sized chunks of smoke wood, usually all oak or cherry, or sometimes oak with a single chunk of hickory. You can soak your smoke wood in water prior to putting it in the cooker, which causes it to smolder and give off more smoke, or just throw dry chunks on the hot coals as they begin cooking. Experiment with the type, amount, and soaking method of your smoke wood to find out what you like best. If you soak your smoke wood, do it for at least an hour prior to cooking. Overnight is OK, too.

  • Start with a clean unit. Empty any ashes, clean the water pan, and brush any loose material from the inside of the lid and middle cooking section. Brush the cooking grates with a brass bristle brush or crumpled aluminum foil, or wash with warm, soapy water if needed.

  • Some people like to line their water pan with wide, heavy-duty aluminum foil for easy clean-up after cooking, especially when cooking with an empty water pan as called for in some recipes. Be aware that this may cause marks or discolorations to appear on the water pan surface which cannot be removed through cleaning. This condition occurs especially after long cooking sessions when perforations develop in the foil and liquid gets trapped between the foil and pan surface.

Operating Instructions

With all due respect to the fine folks at Weber, my first piece of advice is to ignore the "Getting Started" instructions in the Owner's Manual. I've found that the following method works best for most people. See Firing Up Your Weber Bullet for pictures of this process and for alternate methods of lighting up your cooker.

  • Set up the bottom section of the cooker with the charcoal grate in place and the charcoal chamber removed. Set aside the middle cooking section and the lid.

  • Place a charcoal chimney on the grate and fire-up a batch of coals. Fill the chimney all the way to the top with charcoal. When the coals are going well, place the charcoal chamber on the grate and dump the hot coals inside the chamber. Don't forget to replace the chamber before dumping in the coals! Believe me, it can be really hard to corral all those red-hot coals if you forget the chamber.

  • Spread the hot coals evenly on the grate, then add more unlit charcoal to the chamber. Unlike the Weber instructions, our goal is to start with enough fuel to complete the entire cooking session without having to add more fuel later on. You can fill the chamber all the way to the top for extended cooking (up to 18 hours of 225°F cooking have been reported using a full chamber of Kingsford), or add less if you require less cooking time. The amount you add depends on how long you want to cook and how hot and consistent your brand of charcoal burns. Experiment to see what works best for you.

    Regardless of how much charcoal you add, wait patiently until all the coals have caught and are gray.

  • When the charcoal is ready, place the water pan and lower cooking grate in the middle section and place the middle section on the bottom section. Pour a gallon of cool tap water through the cooking grate into the water pan. This helps to bring the cooker's temperature down a bit, since the cooker tends to run hot when first started.

  • Close all the bottom vents. Place the lid on the cooker, leaving the top vent open. Wait for the cooker temperature to drop to 300-315°F.

  • Now go ahead and load your meat into the cooker. Place items on the bottom grate first, then put the top grate in place and load it up. Note that the top grate cooks hotter than the bottom grate by 10-20°F. Put items you want cooked hotter/faster on the top grate, and items you want cooked cooler/slower on the bottom grate. If you're cooking two big pieces of meat, put the larger one on top and the smaller one on the bottom.

  • Replace the lid on the cooker. The temperature will drop quickly with the addition of the meat. Keep the top vent fully open throughout the entire cooking process. Keep all the bottom vents closed to help bring the temperature down to a target of 225-250°F.

  • Open the access door and carefully place your wood chunks on the hot coals. I find that a single application of 3-6 chunks is enough for the entire cooking session. Too much smoke is not a good thing...as long as you've got good smoke wood in the cooker burning cleanly, you'll have good flavor, even if you don't see smoke billowing from your cooker.

  • In the beginning, check the temperature every 15 minutes. I try to maintain a temperature of 225-250°F for all meats, but being up or down a few degrees at any given moment is OK.

    Open or close the bottom vents as needed to achieve and maintain your target temperature. You may find that one bottom vent open 50% will hold 225°F for a while, but a few hours later you need two vents open, one open 100% and the other 50%. If you're using a hot-burning brand of charcoal, you may find that you go for several hours with all the bottom vents closed—that's OK, too.


    Since the Weber Bullet runs hotter or colder depending on the outdoor temperature, and hotter in the direct sun and cooler in the shade or wind, you will have to make vent adjustments due to weather conditions.

    Don't be afraid to experiment with adjustments—remember, you're just trying to maintain a steady 225-250°F range. Once the cooker settles in, I check the temperature every 30 minutes or so. Here's where you begin to enjoy one of the greatest features of the Weber Bullet—the way it hold temperature so consistently for such long periods of time!

  • Replenish the water pan every 1-1/2 to 2 hours. I use hot tap water so I don't bring the temperature down too much from that magic 225-250°F. Be careful to not spill water on the coals...that stirs up lots of ash that gets all over your meat. Yuck!

  • Remove the cooker lid only when turning or removing meat. I try to follow the common approach of turning meat "at the halftimes". For example, if cooking for eight hours, I turn at the four hour mark, then again at the six hour mark, and finally at the seven hour mark. In other words, divide the remaining cooking time in half and turn at that point.

    I like to turn meat over and end-for-end, meaning that the side facing up is placed facing down, and the ends of the meat are reversed on the grate. This helps promote even cooking in the event you have a hot spot in your cooker.

  • You may want to baste your meat when turning it. Many folks simply use apple juice applied with a spray bottle, while others use mops. You can learn more about bastes and mops in better barbecue books like those listed on the BBQ Shopping page.

  • To sauce or not to sauce...that is the question. Do it if you like, but not until the last 30-45 minutes of cooking to prevent burning the sauce.

  • A full charcoal chamber should give you plenty of cooking time for meats that require extended cooking like brisket or pork shoulder. If after six to ten hours it seems like you're running out of heat, try stirring the coals to dislodge the accumulated ash around the coals—this may get your temp up again. However, if you've just flat run out of fuel, start another batch in your chimney and add them through the access door using tongs and heat-resistant gloves. Make sure you anticipate needing more fuel, as it will take 20-30 minutes to fire-up a batch in your chimney.

Safety Tips

Safety should always be your first concern!

  • Keep an eye on your Weber Bullet throughout the entire cooking process.

  • Do not operate your cooker near combustible materials.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher on-hand in case of emergency.

  • Operate your cooker outdoors with plenty of ventilation.

  • Use heat-resistant gloves or mitts when handling cooker components while they're hot.

  • Follow all the standard recommendations for safe food handling, refrigeration, internal meat temperatures, personal hygiene, sanitary work surfaces and tools, etc.

Finally, a note about disposing of ashes safely...

Ashes that seem cold on the surface may still be hot deep inside, even after sitting for two days, so take care when handling and disposing of them.

The absolute safest way to dispose of ashes, regardless of whether they're red-hot or seemingly stone-cold, is to put them in a small, galvanized metal trash can that is dedicated to the purpose of ash storage. Keep the can away from any flammable materials, including your house, wood pile, dry grass, or weeds. Let the ashes sit for a good, long time until there is absolutely no doubt they are fully extinguished, then dispose of them in your regular household garbage.

If a dedicated ash bin is not an option, stir through the ashes to make sure they are absolutely cold before dumping them in the garbage.

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