Short & Sweet: The Weber Smoky Mountain (WSM) is an enameled-steel, vertical drum style smoker that is fired by charcoal briquettes. It comes with two grill racks for food, an in-line water pan, and a little port for a probe thermometer. It’s available in two sizes: 18″ and 22″ diameter. New, it’ll run about $400.00.
And yeah, it’s worth it.
[Note: As will all product reviews here, I’m (sadly) not compensated or affiliated with the product or company. Also, I refuse to post affiliate links to the Internet Rainforest Store out of of principle. It’s just a straight-ahead review.]
As I’ve mentioned in my BBQ post(s), in my quest for smoky, juicy perfection, I’ve owned just about every kind of pit you can think of, from cheap “big box store” offsets, to ceramic kamado-style cookers, to a stack of cinderblocks and half a residential door I “found” across the street in a construction site in Miami.
Of all of them, this is the one I chose to keep when we decided to downsize, simplify, and move to rural Maine. And, let me tell you, there was no small amount of 3am writhing in this process.
So, what makes it so great? Well, nothing actually. It doesn’t look particularly cool or have the “wow” factor of an offset, it doesn’t hold a rock-solid temperature like a ceramic egg, and it doesn’t have any high-tech wizardry like a pellet smoker.
But, in simplicity lies elegance.
It is absolutely indestructible. The enameled steel is rust and weatherproof, and it’s light so you can move it around without fear of losing a toe. It can convert to a regular charcoal grill pretty much instantly, so it covers that base, and it runs on good ol’ Kingsford blue bag briquettes, which last a long time and are cheap. It has the cooking capacity of a modest airplane hangar.
But more than all that, it’s a good teacher. It’s hard to screw up too badly, but the mechanics of high-level, elite smoking and BBQ are all there for your tweaking pleasure.
What do I mean by that? Well, take the water pan for example. Smoke a rack of ribs with it in there, then without. Your results are going to be WILDLY different. Similarly, flip it upside down and cover it with foil so it’s simply a heat deflector, and the results will be different yet again. All of this is to say nothing of the air vents, charcoal fire design, and the list goes on. The point is, you can load it up with charcoal, set it on fire, and cook some damn fine BBQ. Or, you can obsessively tweak your method until you get the Mona Lisa of brisket. Seriously, there are professional competition pit-masters who cook on these instead of $15,000.00 custom rigs. The potential is there.
Finally, this thing is POPULAR, which means two important things: (1) there’s a ton of aftermarket accessories and modifications and bling out there designed specifically for the WSM; and, more importantly, (2) there are a lot of these on the used market for pennies on the dollar.
So, what are the big downsides? Well, there’s a front door to the firebox that is SHOCKINGLY flimsy and will have you cursing my name as you take it out of the box, but don’t worry, it’s fine. It doesn’t really affect the performance of the smoker, and if it really bugs you, there are some aftermarket upgrades out there. Personally, I’ve never bothered with it.
Second, the grate for the coals will rust, but hey, that’s every grill on the planet. The problem is this is rapidly accelerated by the fact that this thing collects rainwater like a cistern. I don’t know how it does it, but the bottom is constantly full when I go to fire it up on a Saturday, which turns the coal ash to sludge, and will also grow mold if unused for long periods. Solutions here are to get a cover (which I didn’t) or turn the bottom part upside down for storage, which looks dumb but works.
Lastly, it comes with a built-in thermometer in the dome that’s worse than useless. It’s actively bad. Evil. It’s there to ruin your food. The good news is there’s a little rubber port for a probe thermometer of your choice (and really, you need one of those anyway), and personally I think this is a tacit admission from Weber that they know their thermometer sucks. But, well… you’ve been warned.
So, that’s that. Were this to be abducted in the night by a culinarily-inclined black bear, I would have another on order by noon. Yes, it is worth it.