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Old 01-30-2011, 04:22 PM   #1
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Join Date: 12-24-03
Location: Kennesaw, GA
Default High Heat on a WSM: A pictorial guide

There have been more and more posts recently about high heat BBQ (a subject near and dear to my heart). While there are quite a few posts with the results of the cook, there aren't many explaining exactly HOW to achieve a high heat cook with their smoker.

I'm doing a couple of 9 lb. Butts today, so I thought it would be a good time to give a step by step guide on how to cook high heat using an 18.5 inch WSM. I've never used a 22 inch WSM, but hopefully the same method will apply. And keep in mind, this is how I do it, I'm sure others have their own (and maybe better!) method.

The water pan. There is a lot of debate about water vs clay vs sand vs foil only in the water pan. I don't recommend using water for high heat, but that's just my preference. Personally, I use sand. I wrap the water pan in HD foil, fill about 3/4 full of sand, then cover the sand with more foil. I'm going to add a second layer of foil on top, but before doing so I make some foil balls and spread them around the bottom layer. This will create a gap between the two layers so the top won't get nearly as hot. This will help keep the drippings from burning at the high heat, which doesn't smell all that great.

All wrapped and ready to go. You can just skip the sand if you want, or use a clay saucer, whatever floats your boat. I do recommend creating a gap between the top and bottom layers though so the grease wont burn. On a side note, I stole the foil ball idea from another Brethren's post, but I can't remember who, sorry!

Stacking the charcoal. I only use lump for high heat. I've never used briquettes, but from what I have read of other's experience, it's more difficult to achieve the higher heats with briquettes. Start by forming a single layer of the larger pieces. Use your jigsaw puzzle skills, but as you can see it doesn't have to be perfect. This gives you a nice stable base for all the smaller chunks (I stole this idea from Rock's BBQ video on how to stack a 22" WSM for a Stoker).

Fill the ring about half way with the smaller chunks, trying to avoid large gaps of air between pieces.

Add your first layer of wood chunks. I'm using Kiawe today, so my chunks are kind of big.

Keep filling the charcoal ring, forming a mound. You are going to go through a LOT of charcoal with a long high heat cook, so don't be skimpy. If there is any left over, you can always re-use it.

Spread out about 25 lit briquettes on top of your mound of lump.

Add a few more chunks of wood on top. Assemble your WSM and have all three vents wide open until your temps hit around 200 degrees.

Once your temp hits 200, close down 2 of the vents, and close down the third until it is open just a crack. You should be able to use this single vent to control your temps around the 225 range, which is where I start my high heat cooks.

I usually give the WSM about an hour from when I first assemble it to when I add the meat. This gives it enough time to result in a nice blue smoke. Two 9 lb butts shown.
I like to go at least an hour at 225 before ramping up to 300. I feel that you get more smoke flavor and a better smoke ring compared to just ramping up to 300 right away. I usually take about 30 minutes to creep back up to 225, then let it go for another hour at 225.

After an hour at 225, open the three vents wide open and let her rip. Depending on quite a few variables, we are probably going to end up propping the access door open for periods of time in order to achieve 300. I can usually hit 275 easily with just the vents, but 300 usually requires a door prop mod, which we will discuss next.

There are multiple ways to get more air into your charcoal bed in order to hit higher temps. I turn the access door upside down, and keep it propped open with the chimney. I just happened to have a couple of clay saucers on my deck that gave me the perfect height to keep the door open just a crack. VirtualWeberBullet has a mod using screws you can see here:
Another method that some people use is to crack open the lid of the WSM just a tad to increase air flow. Personally I prefer to increase the flow under the meat, but that's just me.
Any air flow mod on the WSM is not going to be as stable, so be prepared to adjust your vents and door a little more often than a low-n-slow cook. If your temps are shooting up too fast when you prop the door, try shutting down one or two of the vents. Eventually it will settle down.

After an hour at 225, I pretty much run at 300 until done. I do my briskets the same way, although sometimes I wrap briskets at 160 so I can use the drippings. I never wrap butts, I like a crispy dark bark. When the butts hit 160 internal. I spritz every hour with apple juice until I hit an internal of 195-200, then wrap and rest for an hour or two.

Gotta have at least one pron shot. Lots of good smokey flavor even though I ran at high heat almost the entire cook. I really can't tell the difference between a low-n-slow cook and a high heat cook, but maybe that's just me. Give it a shot some time and see if YOU can tell the difference.

Bonus! Here is my Carolina style finishing sauce for pulled pork. Mix in a little at a time to taste. It's perfect with pork:

2 cups apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup ketchup
2 tsp coarse black peper
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cayenne
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Last edited by Saiko; 01-30-2011 at 04:50 PM..
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Old 01-30-2011, 04:32 PM   #2
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Great tutorial, Saiko!
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Old 01-30-2011, 04:33 PM   #3
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Thanks Mark, your tutorials have been a huge help on learning the high heat cook method for brisket.
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Old 01-30-2011, 04:38 PM   #4
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Nice write-up Mark !!!

like the simple sauce too...

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Old 01-30-2011, 04:39 PM   #5
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Great tutorial, thanks for taking the time to do it for all of us.
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Old 01-30-2011, 04:40 PM   #6
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I always cook 270-300 F it works for me Where does it say Thou shalt not BBQ on high heat. is that carve in stone somewhere
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Old 01-30-2011, 04:41 PM   #7
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I use the foil ball method, but what a great idea to use both sand and the foil balls. It gives you a heat sink to help stabilize temps, and it avoids the radiant heat that can sometimes dry out anything cooking on the bottom grate. Thank you.

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Thanks from:--->
Old 01-30-2011, 04:44 PM   #8
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Very clear and concise! Great pics!


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Old 01-30-2011, 04:44 PM   #9
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Nice work, I'll try that on my 22.5 one day.
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Old 01-30-2011, 04:53 PM   #10
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Excellent tutorial! And the principles you described can be applied to other types of cookers as well. Nice work.
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Old 01-30-2011, 04:56 PM   #11
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Very nice! Thanks, Saiko!
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Old 01-30-2011, 05:18 PM   #12
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Great post, especially the step-by-step instructions for using only lump in the WSM (something I have been meaning to try). I've used briquettes as a base before and filled the rest with lump, but the big-piece stacking/layering trick was one that hadn't occurred to me.
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Old 01-30-2011, 05:31 PM   #13
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Great write up, I got a lot out of this Thanks for the post I really like that wood layering thing.
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Old 01-30-2011, 05:44 PM   #14
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thanks mark, even though i dont have a WSM yet... it's always great to SEE how things are done!!!
Til next time, chew carefully, and dont let your meat loaf!

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Old 01-30-2011, 05:50 PM   #15
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Thank you Saiko. Nice presentation. A lot of great info.
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