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What are the tools I need to get started in smoking food?
A 22.5” Weber Kettle, either the newer one’s with slotted lower vents or the older ones with three separate controllable vents either will work.
The Weber Performer model with the gas assisted charcoal lighter.
Good set of tongs.
1 or 2 pair of oven mittens or OvGloves
Wood chunks for creating smoke flavor.
Container to hold a couple of quarts of water.
What is the best way to load fuel?
Set the Smokenator in the Weber securely.
The Smokenator cavity will hold up to 60 briquettes and between 4 to 5 ounces of wood chunks. Remove the pan. 50 briquettes pack quickly.
Remove 16 coals and place in a chimney lighter.
Light the 16 coals - about 20 min or until they are glowing.
Lay the lit coals in the cavity through the big hole used to hold the pan.
Stir the lit coals to arrange them in the cavity use the skewer that is provided. Sometimes in pesky situations, wear an oven mitt to hold the Smokenator in place while you arrange the coals. Set the pan in the hole. If it sticks up ¾” to 1” above the top it is ok, the grill will rest on it and eventually it will settle into place.
Set the grill over it if you are using the food support grill.
Or set your 3” risers on the coal support grill to set the turkey roasting pan on.
Fill the pan with water to about an inch or ¾” below the lip of the pan.
Cover the kettle with the lid. Put your thermometer in the top vent, after adjusting the top vents to what it says in the manual.
Let the whole unit come up to about 200 deg or so.
Set your food on the grill and cover
This packing method will fuel your Weber for between 5 to 6 hours at 230-240°F Dome , plenty time to do ribs or 4 chicken halves. If the dome temperature runs at 250-260°F burn time will be considerably less.
I was wondering if it would be ok to use hardwood charcoal instead of Kingford?
In the manual you will find a whole section on how to use lump charcoal. I recommend carefully breaking the huge chunks into more briquette sized pieces. Pack the cavity with the processed hardwood charcoal and wood chunks. You will have to pinch the upper vents a bit, but by and large there is no problem running the Smokenator with hardwood charcoal.
How do you light coals under the Smokenator?
The cavity of the Smokenator is filled with coals and wood chunks. 12 coals are taken out of the cavity and put into a charcoal chimney lighter and lit until glowing, with typical Kingsford about 20-30 minutes. These are placed in the middle of the Smokenator, the pan placed, filled with water, and kettle lid set in place. The kettle is brought up to 200-230 °F dome before food is placed in the kettle. If more than 12 to 15 coals are lit, the temperature in the kettle will tend to go to 250 to 260°F at the dome and will take over 30 minutes too cool off. The technique is to start with the right amount of coals to bring the kettle up to the 230-240°F Dome temperature range.
My question is will this work in cold climates? I live in Michigan and it gets pretty cold here. I live in Northern California; I recently had a 30°F morning. I started and ran the kettle at a 230°F dome temperature with no problem the upper vents were open about 1/16” more than normal. It’s very wise to shield the kettle if weather is bringing, wind, snow or rain. My best guess is that the kettle can be successfully in the 20’s. If it gets windy or in the teens I recommend that you get a big refrigerator cardboard shipping container to isolate the kettle from the environment.
How often does the water need to be added to the pan?
If the dome temperature is kept at 230°F the water will last between 70 to 80 minutes. As soon as water rises above 230°F that water evaporates faster! That's why some people report that the water evaporates at a faster rate than above.
If the dome temperature is 250° to 260°F the kettle is running way too hot and vents have to be pinched or adjusted to your kettle's characteristics. Remember that for every 36°F rise in temperature one basically doubles the evaporation rate! How ever as long as there is water in the pan the food will not dry out! As a cook matures, you tend the coals and water about once an hour, you will find that the fire spreads to the side away from the pan giving you a bit longer time between fill ups.
Does the removal of the lid significantly increase the cooking time?
The removal of the lid doesn’t affect the cooking time to any significant degree. Why? Filing only takes 5 seconds and if you keep the lid horizontal and move it about 8” from center exposing the pan so you can fill it, you actually don’t lose much heat, if you look at the dome thermometer. The unit recovers temperature quickly. I think of it this way. Take a pan of water put it on a stove burner, bring the temperature of the water to 180 degrees, remove the pan from the burner for 10 seconds and see how much the temperature drops. My guess is not very much, the same is happening with the food you are cooking which is 70% water.
Temperature Gradient in the Weber Kettle
If the Dome temperature is 230-240 degrees F what is the temperature at the food support grill? The instructions provided give you exact instructions to achieve 210 °F to 225 °F at the food support grill. This is the ideal temperature range for low and slow cooking.
Dome. 230-240 °F
Coal support grill 175-185°F
As temperature gets above 260°F to 270°F at the dome vent the food support grill temperature is usually about 10°F less.
How do you clean up the ashes under the Smokenator?
My Weber has the three slots in the lower and the aluminum ash catcher. I pull off the coal support grill and push the ash down the slots. Using the Weber with the Smokenator has so much less clean up time than the Vertical Water Smoker which can take 30 minutes to just clean the water pan that catches all the drippings.
When you use the Smokenator to smoke a turkey do you use both charcoal and wood? Yes, do the “Minion Method” described in the manual. Get some wood chips or chunks, Pecan, apple are good for turkey. I put smoke to the bird for about 4 – 5 hours. 4 to 5 oz of wood chunks will smoke for about 1.5 to 2hours. A 20 to 24 pound turkey takes about 7 hours to cook. Typically, it doesn’t need to be brined to retain moisture.
Notes on a smoking a spiral cut baked ham
Over the Superbowl weekend the wife bought a ham that was cooked and had the spiral cuts in it. One would think that this would dry up in a kettle cooker, not with the Smokenator working in humid mode!. I smoked it at about 240 deg F dome temperature for 5 hours and keeping water replenished in the pan. The whole ham had a very rich traditional smoked flavor, yet it was still very very moist.