The WSM is more versatile than many people think and is quite capable of slow cooking as well as high heat cooks. The set up for high heat cooking is quite different to that of low and slow and requires a little more mucking around, however the results are worth it when you can cook a brisket in under six hours.
For low and slow cooks, I prefer to use briquettes as I find they provide a very consistent temperature. It’s pretty rare to get big temp spikes or drops as they run in such a stable manner. However, if you’re trying to do a high heat cook in the Smokey Mountain you need to change things up and most of the advice for low and slow setup does not apply.
As you could imagine a key ingredient in high heat cooks is heat, and lots of it! So to begin with we need to look at the fuel source being used, as while briquettes provide very stable temperatures, they are not well known for their delivery of high heat. Instead of using briquettes find a good quality lump charcoal. In general, you get what you pay for with lump charcoal, so if you want high heat for a long time then buy the best you can. Look for charcoal that is very consistent in the size of its pieces. Lately, we’ve been using the Heat Beads lump charcoal with great success.
Packing the fire ring of the Smokey Mountain with all sorts of random sized charcoal can be a nightmare, but is necessary. When using charcoal for a high heat cook, it is vital to pack as much charcoal in the fire ring as physically possible. This is because lump charcoal is not as dense as briquettes and does not contain as much energy, so it burns out faster for the same volume supplied.
Now, it’s time to look at the water pan set up as using a typical low and slow set up with lots of water just won’t generate enough heat. When setting up for a high heat cook, it is really important to make sure the water pan is foiled very well. Start with foiling the outside of the water pan. Next, half fill the water pan with builders sand, which is commonly available from Bunnings. Now carefully foil the inner of the water and take care to avoid making any holes in the foil. This is very important as we are now going to add 1-2 litres of water to the pan. Although some people don’t use water for high heat cooks, I think it helps to maintain a moist environment in the smoker and it improves the end result.
To light the Smokey Mountain I still use briquettes, but only four or five in the chimney and its important to make sure the briquette are well lit before adding them to the centre of the fire ring. Don’t muck around for too long once the briquettes have been added, as the charcoal will light very quick and you want all that heat going into the sanding then the meat, rather than escaping. Also, a charcoal fire will very quickly get out of control if allowed unlimited oxygen.
Adjust all the vents on the Smokey Mountain to be fully open. The temperature will rise and fall far more quickly when using charcoal, so it is important to watch the temperature in the smoker very closely. When aiming for 320-250f, I begin closing down the vents at 300, but too big of a change will result in a significant temp loss, so make small adjustments over a longer period of time.
Using the method detailed in this article, it is quite possible to achieve temperatures in excess of 350 Fahrenheit. It is important to remember this because everything about the cooker will become dangerously hot and you will need gloves to handle it.
High heat BBQ certainly may not be everyone’s cup of tea as it goes against a lot of the low and slow philosophy, however it does have a place. Next time you are running late, want to experiment and need a brisket cooked quickly, why not give high heat a run?
Complete BBQ tragic and committed collector of BBQs, particularly Webers. Even known to talk BBQ recipes in his sleep, AJ’s years of cooking triumphs and failures have left him completely convinced that BBQ is overthought.