Crouton’s Fortress of Smoke™

I’m starting an equipment & technique section on this blog. This post is the first entry for the new section … the subject is Crouton’s Fortress of Smoke™; specifically some techniques for setting up and using a Weber Smoky Mountain cooker.

In the past Ditalini and I have smoked and devoured salmon, turkey, chicken, duck, and goose, but today I’m smoking a beef brisket and two racks of pork back ribs. My method of setting up the smoker has, so far, always been the same. Here’s the step-by-step:


Lighting the charcoal

To start, it’s necessary to take the smoker apart to get at the charcoal rack in the bottom section. I use a chimney-style charcoal lighter: you wad up 4 sheets of old newspaper and stuff them in the bottom, then fill the top with charcoal, then light the paper. I place the lit chimney on the charcoal rack in the bottom of the smoker and allow half an hour or so for the charcoal to light up and get hot enough to use. It’s quite smokey until the newspaper burns out, so don’t do this by any open windows or doors.


Charcoal ready

When the charcoal’s hot and just covered with light gray ash, I dump it from the chimney onto the rack in the bottom of the smoker, making sure the three vent doors in the bottom of the smoker are all the way open. Then I start putting the smoker together, wearing oven gloves as I work, since the charcoal is really hot.


Water pan

I rest the empty water pan inside the barrel of the smoker, then place the barrel onto the bottom, over the hot charcoal. I fill the water pan with hot water.


Bottom rack with brisket

Using oven gloves, I lower the bottom smoking rack into place and put whatever I’m smoking on the rack. This is our beef brisket, which I coated with dry rub two days ago and have been storing in the refrigerator.


Upper rack with ribs

Still wearing the gloves, I lower the top rack onto the top of the smoker body. I’m using a rib rack today to hold the ribs upright.


Wood chips on the charcoal

Now I put the lid on top of the smoker, making sure the vent on the lid is all the way open. I then open the side door on the body of the smoker and toss some damp wood chips onto the charcoal. The wood chips have been soaking in a bucket of water for about an hour at this point.


Fortress of Smoke™ in operation

We’re smoking. As you can see, I try to keep everything I’ll need close at hand: a bin of charcoal with a scoop, more wood chips, a comfy chair, oven gloves, long-handled tongs, and a meat thermometer.

I’m not a scientific smoker. I don’t check the internal temperature of the smoker or strive to keep a set temperature by regulating the opening of the vent doors. I’ve found that most everything smokes up just fine without all that, and I always leave my vent doors, top and bottom, wide open.

My beef brisket and ribs will probably need between three and four hours on the smoker (four to five hours if it’s windy, which is not a factor today). I check and replenish the charcoal & wood chips every hour, and add hot water to the water pan every two hours. I don’t lift the lid unless I’m replenishing the water or poking a thermometer into the meat to check for doneness. Here’s the schedule I’m working with today:

  • 0950: assemble & prepare equipment
  • 1020: light the charcoal
  • 1050: meat on the smoker
  • 1150: open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, more wood chips
  • 1250: open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, wood chips; open lid, pour more hot water into water pan
  • 1350:  open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, more wood chips
  • 1450: open lid, check ribs & brisket w/meat thermometer; if more cooking/smoking is necessary, open side door, add 12-16 charcoal briquets, more wood chips

Voila! Crouton’s Fortress of Smoke™!

© 2017, Crouton deMenthe. All rights reserved.

About Crouton deMenthe  Amateur cook and barbecue fanatic.


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