Let's get this party started.
Ok - One of the best things about a Weber Smokey Mountain, is that it allows you to build a charcoal and wood fire that will last a good 10 to 12 hours before going out. Using the infamous Minon method, developed by barbecue legend Jim Minon, you can basically set it and forget it, to steal a phrase from a barbeque non-legend.
The first thing you need for any good fire, is a hot bed of coals. Now when I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, acted as a child and lit my charcoal like a child - with lighter fluid. No self respecting pit master would ever put lighter fluid on his coals. So, you need a charcoal chimney to start your fire. These are really an amazingly simple invention. Basically it's a pipe with a cone shape of wire in the base. Into the cone shaped base, you put a few sheets of crumpled up newspaper and fill the pipe with charcoal. You light the paper and in about 15 minutes, you have enough burning charcoal to start your smoker.
While the charcoal is lighting, in the base of the cooker I like to do is to lay a single layer of charcoal brickettes in the charcoal ring. On top of this, I add another layer of charcoal, but I mix in some chunks of wood. For today's cook, I'm using just hickory. Why? Because that's all I have in stock at the moment. I have to make a wood run. If I had a fruit wood on hand, I'd mix that into the charcoal as well. Apple and cherry are my particular favorites when cooking ribs.
Usually I do three layers of charcoal and wood. Here's a picture of the second layer,where you will see a mixture of hickory chunks and chips. The last layer will be just charcoal brickettes and some more chunks of hickory. When I'm using wood chips, I always put them in on the second layer of charcoal. If you put the chips on the final layer, they will be burnt out before the meat is in the cooker and you are wasting your money and your wood!
Now here's where I stray from the standard Minon Method of fire building. Jim's original method of building a fire calls for the fire starter, in this case me, to put a coffee can, whose top and bottom have been removed, in the center of the fire grate. You then place your charcoal and wood chunks around the coffee can. Once the coals in the chimney are lit and ready to go, you pour the lit charcoal into the coffee can. Then remove the coffee can and your fire is ready to burn for the next 8, 10 or if you're lucky 12 hours. I follow what's known in Weber circles as the modified Minon method. I don't use the coffee can. I just pour my layer of hot coals onto the pile of charcoal and wood already on the smoker's fire grate.
After this, you put on the middle sleeve of the Weber Smokey Mountain. This sleeve will hold the water pan and the two cooking grates. Here's a shot looking into the sleeve without the cooking grates in place, but with the water pan full.
Now put the lid on the cooker, open all your vents and monitor the smoker until it reaches the proper temperature for smoking. Since time is short today, I'm going to smoke my ribs at the high end of the range. I want the fire to be between 240 and 250 degrees. I monitor my temperatures using a Taylor remote probe thermometer which I purchased in my local Ace Hardware store.
Once the cooker reaches the proper temperature, on the Weber Smokey Mountain, you close all the bottom vents approximately three-quarters of the way shut. Monitor your temperature for about one hour. The cooker should stay at temp. If not, adjust the bottom vents until it burns steadily. Don't ever close the vents in the top of the cooker or you will choke the fire. As the WSM settles in, the smoke coming from the topvents will slowly dissipate and become what we all know as sweet blue. But you will see a little grey smoke coming from the top vents every now and then. Don't worry, this is normal as the wood chunks and chips ignite during the cook. Just remember, you want a light smoke, almost invisible for most of your cooking time. If you're fire produces thick white, or worse dark black smoke, you're making inedible food.
I hope you found this interesting and not too disjointed. In my next post, I'll take you through the preparation, cooking and eating of the ribs.