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Off to a rocky start

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    Off to a rocky start

    Sunday I did my first burn with the Webber 22" and a Slow 'N Sear. I have drilled two holes on the wheeled side of the kettle for thermometer probes, one about an inch above the food grate and the second about an inch above the coal grate. I put a temperature probe in each just to see the difference in those two areas in case I want to cook in both.

    I had read somewhere to start with 15 lighted coals, so I put them in the chimney and lighted them up. I filled the water chamber with room temperature tap water. Then I put the ashed over coals into the SNS and set the top vent to half open, according to instructions I'd read, and set the bottom vent to a random setting, probably about one third open. I got geeky last week and actually made a vernier scale to measure the bottom vent openings. It doesn't read in terms of what percentage of fully open the vent is, but allows me to measure the vent handle movement a millimeter at a time and reproduce some particular setting with precision. I recorded the temperatures every ten minutes.

    For about an hour the temperature held steady at 136. I had seen smoke coming out from the lid edges, so I put a 4 kg workout weight on the handle, which sharply reduced the smoke leakage. I couldn't seem to get it much higher than 136, and then realized that I had forgotten to wrap the part of coal grate not covered by the SNS with foil. So I opened it up, took off the food grate and put in the foil. The temp rose to about 250, but then began falling steadily. The coals had burned down to a very few. I have concluded that 15 isn't enough to start with.

    I added 20 unlighted coals and tinkered with vent. It took a while but came up to 250. I let it go long enough to feel confident that it was holding. I can't see burning coals but not cooking, so I had bought a fairly large whole chicken and about two pounds of boneless chuck short rib. The chuck was dry brined in the refrigerator for about two hours. I had cut up 3 large sweet potatoes and rolled them in brown sugar mixed with nutmeg and cinnamon. I put the pan full of potatoes on the coal grill and the chicken over it on the food grill. One temperature probe went on the food grill and the other in the thigh of the chiken, and I closed 'er back up. For a while things were good, but then the temperature began falling steadily again and opening the bottom vent had no effect. Again, the coals had dwindled so I filled the SNS full with unlit coals and another chunk of oak wood.

    The temp held pretty close to 250 and the temperature inside the chicken came up to 160 in only about an hour. I moved the probe to the breast just to be sure that it, too, was up to temp. Then I took off the bird and beef and took out the pan full of potatoes. In retrospect, I should have let the bird go up to 165. Anyway, the bird was bloody around the thigh joints and more liquid came out of that bird than I have ever seen. The potatoes were warmed up but not cooked at all. Also, in retrospect, I realize that it just wasn't hot enough to cook potatoes. The lower grill is from 30 to 60 degrees cooler than the food grill. I cut up the bird and finished it on direct heat over the coals. Meanwhile, I cut up the beef and tasted it-- The flavor was magnificent! This is very encouraging. The chicken flavor was also good. I had to cook the potatoes in the microwave. A lot of liquid from the chicken had dripped into them, and when mashed up, they had a bit of smoky flavor.

    After taking off the food, I left the temperature probes in the kettle and put the lid back on without the weight. While working on the potatoes, the grill temperature rose to over 370. I had not changed the vent setting. I think that there just wasn't enough air moving through with the lid held down and the top vent only halfway open. I opened the top vent all the way and continued monitoring temperature. I was up above 300 for a while. It did drop steadily, and further bottom vent adjustment did nothing. Again, the coals were nearly gone.

    My conclusions so far are:

    1: Wrap the part of the coal grate not covered by the SNS first thing.

    2: Food won't cook a lot on the bottom grill unless the whole thing is a lot hotter. It will pick up smoke flavor, though.

    3: Start with maybe 25 coals and a chunk of oak.

    4: No weight on the kettle lid. If I can see smoke coming out, there isn't cold air going in.

    5: Top vent full open unless it gets too hot and closing bottom vent doesn't help.

    6: Fill the SNS water tank with pre-heated water. I would have done that but forgot (getting old is going to be the death of me.)

    7: Check the temperature guide more closely for finished temperature.

    8. The flavor of that beef has me hooked. This enterprise is worth much more effort.

    Smokin' Ham, Welcome! here is how I do mine.
    1, You are correct to use boiling water as not to suck all the heat out of your coals.
    2 if your going to do a short cook like for chicken I start with a half of a chimney of lit coals and shoot for 350 deg.
    If a low and slow as for chuck roast I would get 10 briquettes going in the corner till ashed over and then add a chimney of unlit against the lit, with vents open til it starts creeping up to 225 then close vents to half on top and cracked on bottom as per SnS instructions(see there online settings).
    In my opinion better to add extra charcoal as to be short since when your done cooking you can close the vents to extinguish the coals and use for the next cook.
    The lid should be tight as you want to control air with vents, I always leave top vent at half and adjust bottom for temp control. At least that seems to work good for me hope this helps and I'm sure you will get a lot of advice.
    Last edited by Powersmoke_80; November 10, 2015, 05:27 PM.


      I'm glad you came to the conclusions you came to. Always add hot, even boiling, water. I like to get hot tap water, then microwave it 5 min, then add...and do that after the coals have been heating the grill up already (wear eye protection and gloves to be safe). Otherwise warm or cool water is just a sponge for heat and your coals will spend themselves heating the water up.

      Cooking on the lower/charcoal grate is not part of the SnS design. The water reservoir shields that lower section from useful heat.

      How many coals you start with is weather-dependent. As the lighting instructions say this method is for mild weather...mild meaning neither hot nor cold, and variances in weather will require on the fly adjustments.

      Always check the chicken breast temp, take it to 160-165 in the deepest part. Move the probe down & back, and probe a couple spots to make sure the coolest breast temp is 160-165. The thighs, legs and wings will be hotter by this time which is good. Thighs and legs at 165 are slimy, usually not desirable. They are better at 175-185 in most cases.

      We strongly recommend you follow the vent settings listed in the instructions, for ease of operation and also for repeatability. The more you cook with it the more you'll begin to see what is necessary in different weather conditions. Typically, keep the bottom vent at a crack or 1/4", and the top vent maybe 1/3 open. This is usually sufficient in mild weather. Rain and wind and cold will require adjustments. To see the Weber kettle vent markings/handle positions on the 2015 Weber Kettle Premiums, check this handy reference out: http://www.abcbarbecue.com/#!vent-settings/c11ny

      Let us know if there's anything else you need!


        Thanks for the responses. Sorry to be a while in replying; I don't have internet access at home and only get to a wireless AP about once a week on average.

        I loaded the kettle up in my truck this weekend and took it for a visit to friends. They wanted burgers and sausages so I couldn't try anything bigger, but they were willing to indulge me a little, so I smoked the burgers for about an hour and a half, until they were 150 degrees, then moved over to the direct coals.

        I started out with top vents fully open, 20 lit coals and no weight on the lid. It was easier to get to 250 and stay in that neighborhood for most of that time with the lower vent, but I had to add coals toward the end because the temperature started dropping, plus I wanted a hot bed for the finishing grill. The result was ok. The burgers didn't taste very strongly smoked, so I figure that good smoke flavor takes several hours or more. Anyway, I'm starting to get the hang of it. Maybe next weekend I'll do something a little more competently.


        • JeffJ
          JeffJ commented
          Editing a comment
          Normally ground beef picks up a lot of smoke flavor with just a little bit of smoke - that's been my experience. For burgers I recommend just tossing a small wood chunk over the hot coals, cooking indirect with a fairly hot kettle (I would fill the Slow n Sear with a full chimney of lit coals) and then finish with a quick sear. It doesn't take long for burgers to pick up smoke, again, that's been my experience.

        • DeusDingo
          DeusDingo commented
          Editing a comment
          i would agree hamburger picks up smoke easily. i smoked some burgers for 30 minutes before and to me they came out too smokey.

        Maybe I'm expecting too much. Tomorrow I'm going to put a big slab of beef in it and cook it for 4 or so hours. I'll dry brine it overnight. My last smoked beef was just wonderful.



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