When the winter frost lifts and the birds start chirping, there is an inextricable pull that comes from deep within our souls for some down home barbecue. And when it comes to BBQ, there is nothing – and I mean nothing – that compares to slow and low smoked meats like pork shoulder, brisket and chicken.
But what if you’re in a situation where you do not have access to a dedicated smoker? Are you doomed to that hideous fate of awaiting an invitation from your smoker-endowed friends? Or making a pilgrimage to your local barbecue joint?
We answer you: no! Not at least if you have a Weber Original Kettle Grill on hand. Converting that fine piece of equipment into a Weber Kettle Smoker is easy and produces some awesome smoked meats.
Let’s begin with a quick checklist for your Weber Kettle Smoker.
As you can see, the list is quick and pretty self-explanatory. But let’s quickly go through it anyways.
Obviously, first you need your Weber Original Kettle Grill. This grill features a 22-inch cooking surface. That’s large enough for up to eight to ten pound pork shoulders and briskets, a slab of ribs, a whole chicken and other similarly sized cuts of meat. Weber does offer both an 18-inch and 26-inch version of the kettle. Don’t go for the 18-inch model if you want to smoke. It simply doesn’t offer you a large enough cooking surface.
The reason for needing a larger surface area is that when you smoke meats, you cook with indirect heat. In other words, the meat is located on one side of the grill and the charcoal is on the other side of the grill. When you’re grilling your burgers or steaks over charcoal with high heat, that’s called direct heat. Direct heat is bad for grilling briskets, pork shoulders, and other tougher cuts of meat because the end product will be charred and dry. You need an indirect heat source at a low temperature to gradually bring the meat up to temperature so that all of the fat and connective tissues can break down and essentially braise the meat into tender, tasty perfection.
Second, you need a drip pan. We suggest a 13 x 10 inch pan that you can get from any grocery store. The purpose of the drip pan is twofold. For one, it keeps your charcoal from getting under the meat when you’re smoking. Remember, direct heat is bad. The other reason is that when you fill it with water at the beginning of the cooking process, the water will help modulate the temperature of the inside of your Weber Kettle Smoker. That way you can have a consistent low temperature that will help bring out the best in your cuts of meat.
Third, you have the option between lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. Lump charcoal is essentially wood pieces burned without oxygen. In any given bag of lump charcoal, there are a wide variety of different sized pieces. Briquettes, on the other hand, are homogeneous pieces of wood byproducts and additives.
We suggest using lump charcoal with your Weber Kettle Smoker. Because you have different sized pieces, you can start the charcoal using smaller pieces. And then use the larger pieces as the base on which to put the charcoal starter. This will allow you to go hours without having to refuel the Weber Kettle Smoker. Which is key, of course, for keeping a consistent temperature.
Fourth, get yourself a remote thermometer. You can see the thermometer I use in the picture above. Here’s a link to some more (not an affiliate link; we have no relationship with the manufacturer). The key thing to look for here is that you want a device that will allow you to monitor both the temperature of the air inside the Weber Kettle Smoker and the temperature of the meat. And, of course, has a remote viewing device so you can handle other business while the meat is cooking.
That’s about it for your shopping list. Now let’s get started on the set-up.
Easy set-up: Drip pan on one side and charcoal on the other.
In this picture here, you can see the three basic components for your Weber Kettle Smoker set-up. On the one side you have the drip pan, filled about an inch high with hot water. The fact we suggest hot water should not go unnoticed. It is very important. If you put some ice cold water from your garden hose into the drip pan, you will end up with a smoker that takes ages to heat up.
On the other side of your Weber Kettle Smoker, you have your lump charcoal. You’ll notice that the drip pan takes up quite a bit of space. That is okay. Remember, you are smoking larger pieces of meat – whether it be pork shoulder, beef brisket or slabs of ribs. And all of that meat needs to be over the drip pan and not over the coals.
Side note: the Weber Kettle Smoker is not built to do full briskets or four slabs of ribs or anything else that requires a large dedicated smoker. So keep that in mind when you’re at the butcher and you ask for the pork belly to craft your own bacon and he comes out of the back with the full 12-pound slab. Yeah, you’ll want to get that cut.
The final piece of advice for the set-up is to arrange your grill such that the handles are at twelve and six o’clock (with the drip pan and charcoal at three and nine o’clock). This will give you the most surface space for your meats. Which, of course, is important with the space limitations of the Weber Kettle Smoker.
How do I set up my charcoal?
That’s a great question and one that is argued about ad nauseam on the interwebs. If you have decided to use charcoal briquettes, we will leave you in the hands of others because we believe that the best set up for the Weber Kettle Smoker uses lump charcoal. One popular method to burn briquettes is the snake method. If that’s your thing, go ahead and try it.
When it comes to lump charcoal, you need your starter and you need your fuel pile. The fuel pile will be made up mostly from the larger pieces of lump charcoal in your bag. I like to go with one really long log and about three to five medium sized pieces. It all depends on how much room you have to the side of the drip pan. This fuel pile will allow you to go without adding fuel for hours.
Your starter pile will include a bunch of briquette-size pieces of lump charcoal along with a couple of pieces that are just a tad bit larger. You can get a chimney starter if you like and many people swear by them. But it is just as easy to set the ash catcher inside the kettle (before you set it up for smoking, of course) and place your starter charcoal in there, put some lighter fluid on it and strike a match to it. Then when it is hot and ready to go, grab the ash catcher with a gloved hand, remove it, set up the grill, and carefully dump the starter charcoal on top of the fuel pile.
Remember to use your wood chips.
Wood chips are used to add accent flavor to your meats. There are all kinds of wood out there which have different characteristics.
To get your wood chips ready for the smoker, it is important to soak them for at least an hour before use. This will prevent them from burning too hot and too fast — neither of which are good for great barbecue.
When you are ready to put your meat on the grill, add a big handful of wood chips on the charcoal. You’ll also want to add wood chips one or two more times after that at 45 minute to an hour intervals. You can either remove the grill from the Weber Kettle Smoker to add the chips or take a little bit more time and put the chips in between the grill openings.
I only add wood chips during the first couple hours of smoking. If you do it too much, the taste can get to be a bit over done. Of course a great thing about BBQ is that you can experiment and see what you and your family like the most.
Adjusting the Weber Kettle Smoker lid and remote thermometer.
The set up for the Weber Kettle Smoker lid and remote thermometer is just like you see in this picture.
The lid needs to be situated such that the vent openings are located over the meat. This is important because when you add your wood chips, the smoke from them will be drawn towards the vent openings. If your meat is under the vent openings, then the smoke will pass over them and season the meat. Otherwise, you’re wasting wood chips.
The other main reason to position the lid this way is so that you can use your remote thermometer. Remote thermometers generally come with two sensors: one for the air temperature inside the smoker and one for the meat temperature. When you place your meat thermometer into the cut of meat to monitor its temperature the meat needs to be located near the opening.
A quick word on the vents.
You will learn about the vents on your Weber Kettle Smoker really quick the first time you use it. They are used to adjust the air flow and oxygen that gets to the coals. This, in turn, results in a hotter or cooler fire and resulting temperature increases and decreases.
We suggest starting out with both the bottom and lid vents being left in the half open position. This should allow you to obtain a consistent 250-degree temperature inside the kettle. If the temperature starts to move from your target temperature, use the top vent to reverse course. Rarely is it necessary to fiddle with the bottom vent during cooking.
That is basically it.
The set-up is pretty easy and once you grill a few meats it just gets easier. Your family and friends will appreciate you for the good grub. And a whole wide world of barbecued meats now awaits you.