Released in 1981, Weber’s Smokey Mountain cookers (sometimes shortened to WSM), like its more famous Kettle cookers, are deceptively elegant. Where offset smokers require frequent vent tinkering and fuel management, the Smokey Mountain holds temperatures steadfast from morning until night.
Where pellet smokers exact massive control through computers and dozens of built-in gadgets, the WSM does it with sound thermodynamics and a water pan. The product was popular at launch and remains popular today, undergoing very few design changes in its 40-plus years of existence.
The question, then: should you buy one? We tested the classic 18-inch model of this iconic grill to find out.
Weber 18-Inch Smokey Mountain Cooker: Key Specs
Weight: 21" x 19" x 41"
Dimensions: 39 lbs
Fuel Type: Charcoal
Available Sizes: 14", 18", 22"
Cooking Area: 481 sq. ft. (fits four racks of ribs)
What's Good About the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker
It's stupidly simple to use
Barbecue and smoking is famously taxing, but using the Smokey Mountain — despite not being an automatic or machine-driven device — is not. Most of barbecuing is temperature control, and during testing, the WSM held a steady 225º–250º Fahrenheit temperature for close to 8 hours with virtually no work on my part (unless you count reading a book and slugging beers as work).
I set my temperature probe to ring if the temperature dropped below 225º F or rose above 250º F; it rang four times in my five-hour cook and five times in my eight-hour cook. I have some experience with barbecue pits and smoking meats and was expecting to have to at least shake the coal bed or play with the vents, but it is a suspiciously hands-off smoker once lit.
(Note to reader: I used the Minion Method to light my Smokey Mountain, and would absolutely recommend it to new and seasoned smokers alike.)
Assembly time is quick: about 15 minutes
Having had my patience tested assembling other grills, Weber’s Smokey Mountain is joyously simple. Other reviewers noted some diagrams were unclear, but that wasn’t my experience. Fifteen minutes expired between opening the box to admiring the finished unit, the largest chunk of which was spent trying to wedge the rubber temperature probe insert into its spot on the side of the grill.
This grill offers significant smoking and grilling flexibility
You can’t really grill with offset smokers, smoking cabinets or most pellet grills. You can with the Smokey Mountain and other bullet-style smokers. The WSM’s body is three parts stacked on top of each other: the base, where the coal bed is; the mid-section, which holds the water pan and two grates; and the lid, which houses the (relatively useless) built-in thermometer and one vent.
The mid-section is the important bit here. The order goes water pan, lower grate, then upper grate, and if you pop the water pan and upper grate out you’re almost using a Weber Kettle. Considering its smoking bonafides, the fact that it doubles as an effective charcoal grill is a serious value-add. This is all before mentioning the two grate heights, which provide options and means to leverage temperature in different ways.
During testing a medium-small coal bed put the temperature at grate level between 500º and 600º Fahrenheit, which isn’t as high as you’d want for flash-grilled steaks, but works for weeknight cooks like chicken breasts just fine. The browning on the meat follows this logic as well; it’s good, but it won’t give you that I will do terrible things for that feeling you’d get from a super-high dedicated grill. Still, it’s a nice-to-have.
The Smokey Mountain Cooker is very portable
While it lacks one significant piece of the mobility puzzle (seriously, where are the wheels?), because the unit isn’t too heavy and breaks apart into smaller pieces it’s perfect if you need something to go where you do. Hauling most smokers requires a trailer — not so for the WSM.
There's a massive community of Weber fans to help you
The hobbyist (and somewhat tribalist) nature of barbecue combined with the popularity of the Weber brand means there are a lot of other WSM users out there, which means there is a lot of discussion of the product. Though an overwhelming amount of Weber content doesn’t make the grill perform any better or worse, it’s undoubtedly an asset.
Want to know what modifications make the cooking experience better? Check. Want to know how to use one like a competition pitmaster? Yeah. What’s the best way to clean it? This way. The Weber Smokey Mountain is priced higher than most grills in its category, but it’s also the only one that’s regularly used in backyards and in the competition barbecue circuit.
What's Not So Good About the Weber Smokey Mountain
The grill space conundrum
Considering their size, Weber’s Smokey Mountain grills offer loads of cooking space. But because the cooking space is split between two different grate heights, things get a little murky. The 18.5-inch WSM (with 481 square inches of cooking space) fits a few racks of ribs per grate level, but the temperature at the lower grate was consistently about 25 degrees higher than the top grate. That isn’t a smoke-breaking variance, but it is a minor frustration (especially so if you were to cook a more fussy cut of meat, like brisket).
What was more frustrating — and probably noticeable — was the difference between the bark on meats smoked on the top and bottom grates. The top-level meats develop a regular (and glorious) bark as they smoke, but because those proteins are dripping onto those on the lower-level meats those below don’t get the same look to them.
Where are the wheels?
Seriously, where are they? I imagine the decision to forgo wheels and put the grill on stationary metal stilts is one founded in fire safety, which…fair enough. But there’s a reason one of the most popular mods to the WSM is the addition of caster wheels. It is portable, but it isn’t particularly mobile.
Performance is significantly hindered by outdoor temperature
One of the most common critiques of the Weber Smokey Mountain is that it’s functionally a worse Big Green Egg. First of all, that’s a horrible critique, because these things cost significantly less and can be bought virtually anywhere. But one piece of this criticism is fair: temperature stability.
While the Smokey Mountain excels when it’s not too cold out, its relatively light steel build fails it when the weather outside dips down. Point blank, you will have to burn significantly more fuel to hold your desired temperatures compared to a kamado cooker like the Big Green Egg, which is made out of heavy ceramic. Again, this is not a fair comparison by any means, but if you’re wondering if you can get by with a WSM instead of splurging on a Big Green Egg, consider the weather you’ll be using your cooker in.
The dome thermometer is not helpful
There is an epidemic of worthless thermometers built into the lids of almost all grills. Most don’t measure temperature well at all, while others place the thermometer so far away from the grates holding the food that it may as well be outside the grill entirely. In my testing, the reading of my ThermoWorks temperature probe was regularly 30 to 80 degrees off that of the one built into the dome. Just ignore that and get yourself a decent probe — they’ve literally put a slot on the side of the grill to use one.
Weber Smokey Mountain: The Verdict
You want to barbecue, but you’re afraid it’s too hard. You want to smoke, but you think pellet grills are cheating. You want a grill that can (almost) do it all, but you don’t want to drop $1,000+ on a Big Green Egg. If that describes you, buy the Weber Smokey Mountain. Its weaknesses are few and far between, and its strengths are patently obvious.