Equipment,  Smoking,  Technique

Crouton’s Fortress of Smoke™

A while back I added an equipment & technique section to this blog. This post is the first entry in that section, and describes my method for setting up and using a Weber Smoky Mountain cooker (aka Crouton’s Fortress of Smoke™).

This post my way, but there are others: here’s a link to BBQ master Thinh Phan’s excellent and detailed article on  the “Minion method,” which my son Baguette in Nevada says gets great results.

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 my step-by-step:

Lighting the charcoal

To start, it’s necessary to unstack the smoker sections 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, stuff them in the bottom of the chimney, 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 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 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 water (cold or hot … it really makes no difference).

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 them 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 wood chips onto the charcoal.

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, but the idea is to maintain an interior temperature of 225–275°F while smoking. I place an oven thermometer on the top rack of the smoker and check it occasionally, regulating the temperature by adjusting the lower vent doors (the top one always stays wide open). One of these days I might add a thermometer to the lid of the smoker (new versions of the Weber come with one).

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 water to the pan every two hours by carefully pouring it down through the top and middle racks so that it doesn’t splash onto the charcoal below). I don’t lift the lid unless I’m replenishing the water or checking the temperature of the meat I’m smoking. 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™!


Amateur cook and barbecue fanatic.

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