For Christmas last year, my loving wife purchased a smoker for me. It was a sweet gesture, and much appreciated; however, the Brand "X" smoker simply didn't meet the expectations. I couldn't achieve (let alone maintain) temperature. Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed. With her approval, I began to research a replacement. (Fortunately, the store where she purchased the substandard unit accepted the return).
Recommend this product?
My research led me to the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker 2820 (The WSM). The price was surprising, and not in a good way. After a few discussions, my wife and I decided to pursue a purchase. We were able to order one through a local hardware store, and I assure you: this IS a worthwhile investment.
I was new to smoking, but not new to Weber products and BBQ low-n'-slow cooking. Although the specifics of operating this product were new to me, the overall concept was not.
I had researched this product before purchase, and found that there wasn't much of a learning curve.
My impressions of the WSM in a few categories:
FIRST IMPRESSIONS / ASSEMBLY: The new WSM arrived in great shape, and all necessary pieces for assembly were present. The assembly instructions were more than adequate to assemble the smoker.
Weber included a heavy-weight cover for the WSM in the package. I'd suggest using it! The lid for the WSM fits INSIDE the flanges of the middle-section. This is, of course, a perfect path for rain or sprinkler water. The Weber kettle grills are just the opposite, the lid straddles the bottom section, thereby preventing water intrusion into the grill.
QUALITY/DURABILITY: The WSM is indeed a Weber. I've owned many Weber products through the years and found them to be of consistent high quality and superb durability. All pieces are of durable design, and they feel "heavy"... an indication of quality, heavy gauge metal. Out of the box, I must note a few minor annoyances. First, the fit of the smoker sections was not, by any standards, perfect. A bit of hand 'tweaking' was necessary. Yes, it would have likely functioned just fine without the 'tweaking', but things just didn't quite fit perfectly.
I also noted that the porcelain finish at the bottom edge of the lid had been factory repaired with a paint. Again, not a functional issue, just a very minor annoyance.
FUNCTIONALITY: I bought this smoker not to visually admire, but to BBQ. (In truth, it is visually pleasing). My first functional experience, and each one thereafter, was a complete success. I don't use the standard method for lighting the smoker and never have. I've found that the "Minion Method" (described on another website) works very well.
Weber mentions that, due to the shiny internal surfaces, the first use will result in higher-than-expected temperatures. Since I didn't have a baseline for comparison, I can't confirm nor deny Weber's assertion.
What I do know is that achieving and maintaning the desired temperature is simple. A set of three (3) vents in the charcoal chamber are fully adjustable, providing flexibility in temperature adjustment. I've used the smoker in ambient conditions ranging from about 10 degrees F to about 95 degrees F and have not experienced problems with temperature control. I will mention that wind can have a significant effect on temperature. This isn't unique to the WSM, but I thought it fair to mention that it isn't exempt from it either.
The charcoal/smoking wood capacity is more than adequate. I can, on average, get 14-16 hours of burn time without adding fuel (while using the "Minion Method".) I do have to stir the coals around late in the burn cycle to knock of ashes and maximize the burn, but it isn't anything that I'd consider out of the ordinary.
The water pan is small, but well built. Many owners, including myself, have substituted a charcoal pan from a competing smoker for the water pan included with the WSM. I found that the OEM water pan only holds a few hours worth of water... not nearly enough for an overnight cook.
The two (2) food racks are fairly well built and have sufficient capacity for the home user. I can easily fit two 14-pound briskets in the smoker... or 10 racks of baby backs (on rib racks)... or four (4) - 8 pound pork butts... or... you get the picture.
The lower food rack is substantially built. The upper one, a standard Weber 18-inch kettle grill rack, seems flimsy by comparison. There is absolutely no problem with the upper rack, it just seems a bit weak compared to the rest of the WSM.
Monitoring temperature while cooking is, in my opinion, fairly important. Unfortunately, Weber didn't include a built-in thermometer with the WSM. It's not too difficult to monitor the temperature in the WSM with an aftermarket thermometer, however it would have been nice to see one included.
Functionally, the WSM exceeds all expectations with ease.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: Overall, I am genuinely pleased with my WSM. I got the WSM in late January and quickly became familiar with its operation. The WSM is fun to operate! What fun can be had watching an electric or propane smoker?
I became very confident in operating the WSM. So confident, in fact, that a friend and I entered a BBQ competition with it. We finished 1st in brisket and 3rd in ribs. Not too bad for a newbie!
Although I'm impressed, I'm a tough customer. Yes there are a few things that could be better on the WSM:
As I mentioned above, there is NO thermometer. Not a big deal, but one could easily be included.
Second, the water pan is undersized. Yes, it's an easy fix, but why would the designer include a 6-hour water pan to complement a 16-hour charcoal chamber?
Third, the WSM could benefit greatly from a "One-Touch" system similar to the kettle grills. I tend to take 'low-'n-slow' to extremes. I've worried, more than once, that the ash would smother my coals. It hasn't, but it surely could. As designed, there is no safe, simple way to remove the ash during a cook. It could be removed, but it would involve disassembling the smoker while hot. The "One-Touch" system would allow a BBQer to 'sweep' the ashes away without having to disassemble a thing. Alas, this feature isn't included.
Fourth (or maybe not), the price is pretty high compared to competing models. Of course, the WSM works very well compared to the competing models. Like my dad always said (along with millions others), "You get what you pay for".
Fifth, and already mentioned: I had to do a bit of shaping of the grates to get them to fit. Also, the fuel door needed a bit of adjustment.
SUMMARY: When I received the WSM, I was cautiously optimistic. I realized that the price was relatively high, but the WSM exceeded all expectations. I've been pleased with Weber products for many years, and the WSM is no exeption!
Yes, I mentioned many negative issues with my new WSM. Every one of the mentioned issues is VERY minor and in no way detracts from my opinion of the WSM. It is the elite water smoker, and won't disappoint.
One lesson from experience: The WSM, unloaded, is fairly top-heavy. As such, the wind can knock it over. This happened to me... twice. The first time, no damage was done and I didn't worry about preventing it. The second time, the fuel access door was seriously bent out of shape and the lid handle bent... thereby chipping the porcelain adjacent to the handle. Bottom line: The wind WILL blow the WSM over. Either physically catch it, or prevent it.
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Amount Paid (US$): 249