A Weber Smokey Mountain cooker is one of the best smokers that you can buy regardless of price. A WSM will give you precise temperature control and the ability to cook “Low and Slow” with up to 10 hours of unattended operation.
Many championship winning competition barbecue teams will only use WSMs. These cookers have a cult following with a strong sense of community among their owners.
The Weber Smokey Mountain cookers are like your high school girlfriend. You either end up marrying them and enjoying their company for the rest of your life or you slowly drift apart but think back to the fun times with warm memories.
I broke up with my WSM about five years ago but I made sure she went to a good home. I am sure she is still turning out amazing barbecue.
The WSM comes in three sizes: 22.5, 18.5 and 14.5 inches.
All of the WSMs share some common characteristics. They have a top grate below a domed lid and a bottom grate above a water pan. Below the water pan is a high capacity charcoal ring and a standard charcoal grate.
The temperature of the smokers can be precisely regulated by adjusting the air intake vents at the base of the smoker as well as the outlet vent at the top. Most people leave the top vent completely open and control the airflow with the bottom vents only.
The smokers have a side access door that can be opened to add more charcoal or to refill the water pan.
18.5 inch WSM Specifications
- Top Grate: 17.5 inches
- Bottom grate: 17 inches
- Water Pan Capacity: 2.5 gallons
- Height: 40 inches
- Weight: 40 pounds
22.5 inch WSM Specifications
- Top Grate: 21.5 inches
- Bottom grate: 20.5 inches
- Water Pan Capacity: 3 gallons
- Height: 50 inches
- Weight: 50 pounds
14.5 inch WSM Specifications
- Top Grate: 13.5 inches
- Bottom grate: 13 inches
- Water Pan Capacity: 0.7 gallons
- Height: 30 inches
- Weight: 20 pounds
What I Love About WSM Smokers
The WSM is what enabled me to learn how to barbecue. Before I had a WSM I had cheap, leaky smokers and I spent all of my time trying to maintain temperatures.
The temperature control that you get with a WSM is amazing. It will take you a few cooks to figure out how to dial your cooker in. The most common mistake people make is being impatient and getting the cooker too hot too fast. Once a WSM over shoots a temperature it is hard to bring it back down. That being said, once you figure out how to drive this cooker it will be as easy as falling off a log.
Set it and Forget it. The large capacity charcoal ring combined with the precise air control means that once you get your smoker lined out it can run attended for hours at a time. You can set your WSM and then run errands around town all day. When you get home the temperature on the smoker will be the exactly the same as when you left.
The Price. The WSMs cost less than $500 but cook better than most smokers in the $1,000-$2,000 price range. When it comes to paying for performance a WSM is a steal.
What I Don’t Like About WSM Smokers
If you haven’t used a WSM before then watch this video from Weber. It will help you understand what I think are the biggest issues with these smokers.
Moving: The WSM is a three piece cooker that has to be taken apart to move it from one place to another. I kept mine in the garage but had a spot in my yard where I used it. It would always take at least three trips to move the smoker to the yard. It would often take four trips because I would drop a grate or the water pan. Then, after cooking, you have to break everything down and move it in pieces back to the garage. It isn’t hard to move the smoker, just tedious.
Dumping Ashes: There is not an ash removal system on a WSM. When you are done cooking and the coals are extinguished you need to pick up the bottom section and dump out the ashes. I always ended up creating an ash cloud and snorting up a nose full of dust. Again, not that big of a deal but it got annoying.
The Water Pan: One of the most debated questions in the WSM world is, “How do you use the water pan?” Some people say that it serves to add moisture to your meat or that the humidity it creates helps with bark formation. Other folks say that it only asks as a giant heat sink to keep temperatures stable. The folks that think it is a heat sink will fill the pan with sand or a large terra cotta saucer.
I was never sure which was the right answer and kept trying different approaches.
Whichever route you went the undeniable fact was that when you were done cooking the water pan was filled with grease and getting it clean was a pain in the butt.
Everything about the water pan just bugged me. Actually, looking back, I hated the water pan.
Size of the 18.5: I had the 18.5 inch WSM and it was just a little too small. You can easily fit six Boston butts on this smoker but when it came to ribs and brisket things can get real tight real fast. There are workarounds and hacks that you will figure out to make things fit but it really is just a little too small.
When the 22.5 inch version of this cooker was released I thought long and hard about getting it but eventually decided against it. Even though the 22.5 inch cooker is the perfect size it still has the same issues about moving, cleaning the ash and dealing with a water pan.
Which Size WSM Should You Get?
I’m going to say that the 22.5 inch WSM is the best of the smokers. I don’t see any reason not to get the biggest smoker possible and the price difference between this and the 18.5 inch cooker isn’t very much considering that you are going to use the thing for 15-20 years.
Here is a snapshot of the reviews that people have left for the 22 inch cooker on Weber’s site. Folks just flat out love this cooker.
I am NOT a fan of the 14.5 inch WSM. Weber introduced this little guy after people started making homemade versions with a Smokey Joe kettle and a modified tamale pot. The 14.5 incher is cute and functional. It makes a nice addition to a collection if that is your sort of thing. But as far as being a good value I would take a pass….you can smoke meats just as well on a standard 22.5 inch kettle grill.
Versus the Summit Charcoal Grill 24”
The Weber Summit 24 inch charcoal grill is an absolute beast and is a worthy challenger for the 22.5 WSM. The Summit is a metal kamado style cooker that is an amazing Low and Slow smoker as well as a High Heat grill.
Here is a nice video that walks you through this amazing cooker.
The fuel efficiency of the Summit is flat our insane with many people reporting that they can hold Low and Slow temps for over 24 hours with a single load of charcoal. The propane fired charcoal ignition system is as nice and functional as on the Weber Performer Deluxe.
The absolutely only negative thing about the Summit is the price tag. Current pricing should be seen in the links below. Depending on if you get the base model or the one with the Grilling Center, a Summit will cost 3-4 times as much as the 22 WSM.
If what you want o get is the most outrageous, decked out smoker and grill ever made by Weber then throw down the cash and buy a Summit. If you are like the other 99% of the population and just want an amazing smoker then the 22.5 WSM is what you want.
Check out this article: Big Green Egg vs Weber Summit Charcoal Grill.
Versus the 26.75 inch Weber Kettle
The 26.75 inch kettle from Weber is also a legitimate challenger to the 22.5 inch WSM.
While you can use a standard 22 inch charcoal grill as a smoker it is cramped for room and, unless you are using some aftermarket accessories, precise temperature control can be problematic. The massive size of the 26.75 inch kettle moves us past those limitations.
Here is a slow smoked, pulled pork, Head to Head showdown between the 26 inch kettle and the Weber Summit. Justin is using a Slow N Sear charcoal basket with the 26 inch kettle but you could get the same results using the Snake/Fuse technique.
I really like the 26 inch kettle for its price point (especially in comparison to the Summit) and the fact that it is a great smoker as well as a spectacular grill.
If you are looking for the best All in One solution then the 26 inch kettle may be a better buy for you than the 22.5 inch WSM. You will be ridiculously happy with either one.