The Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) is an icon in the world of barbecue. These classic smokers have been used to win countless barbecue championships but are easy enough to use by complete novices.
If you are serious about barbecue then you owe it to yourself to own a WSM at some point in your life. I used a WSM for about five years and it was the turning point in me finally learning how to barbecue.
There are several different sizes of these cookers available which results in a lot of people getting confused about whether they should buy the 18 or 22 inch model.
Let’s do an in depth review of the pros and cons of these smokers so you can decide which Weber Smokey Mountain is right for you!
Weber Smokey Mountain Specifications
There are three sizes of the WSM: 14.5, 18.5 and 22.5 inches. All three cookers have an upper and lower cooking grate, water pan, charcoal grate and charcoal ring.
|14 inch WSM||18 inch WSM||22 inch WSM|
|Dimensions||31.4″H x 14.7″W x 14.7″D||41″H x 19″W x 21″D||48.5″H x 23″W x 24″D|
|Cooking Area||286 sq in||481 sq in||726 sq|
|Weight (approx)||30 lbs||40 lbs||70 lbs|
The smokers are made from porcelain enameled steel that is backed by a 10 year warranty.
Other nice details include dome thermometers that are pretty accurate, silicone grommets for meat probe insertion, and an access door for the water pan and addition of charcoal.
The air dampers are a critical feature on all of these cookers.
The WSM has a single air vent on the dome of the smoker to let air out and three air vents at the base of the smoker to let air in. Each vent consists of four individual holes and how much air that can flow through them is controlled by adjustable aluminum dampers.
Four holes on four vents gives the WSM sixteen points of possible air control.
It is the ability to precisely control the air flow in these tightly built smokers that enables the extreme high performance of the WSM.
The customer reviews for these smokers (data from Weber website as of 4/7/21) are informative.
When you combine the 5 and 4 star ratings, all three models have a 94% customer satisfaction rate. Owners love their WSMs because they are relatively easy to use, provide incredibly long and stable burn times, and create some of the best tasting barbecue you will ever eat.
The total number of reviews for each model indicates that the 18 inch model is the most popular.
- 14 inch = 211 reviews
- 18 inch = 751 reviews
- 22 inch = 474 reviews
While people love the 22 inch model, there are significantly more 4 star reviews for this size compared to the 14 and 18 inch models. Let’s look at what is going on with the lower ratings on the 22 inch model.
I have owned an 18 inch WSM for years but now mainly use it without the water pan as a dedicated chicken cooker. There were a number of minor issues that added up and made me start using other cookers for briskets and ribs.
The same problems I had with the 18 inch cooker are magnified when you are working with the larger 22 inch model. There is a great 4 star review from the Weber Grill website which sums up the issues with the 22 inch WSM perfectly and is given below:
“Possible WSM modifications
I love my WSM, however a few modifications could make it be even better, the modifications are:
* A better door, the existing door is too flimsy and it leaks a lot.
* The charcoal grate should have smaller holes to prevent the briquets from falling to the bottom too soon.
* The middle ring should have handles.
* The charcoal chamber could be better if it’s taller or wider for more capacity of briquets.
* The whole smoker should have wheels.
* The Lid should have a place to hold it when is open.
Once these modifications are done, I’ll rate this smoker a 5 stars.”
To put these comments another way, the WSM is an amazing but awkward cooker.
It is annoying to move the smoker around since it has so many sections which is why you want wheels and handles on the middle. You have to put the large lid on the ground when you want to tend to your meats. Etc.
Should You Buy the 18 or 22 Inch WSM?
The big question is not whether you should buy a WSM but rather, which size is right for you? The answer of course is going to depend upon your personal situation and needs but let me offer some things to consider.
When I had my 18 inch WSM my two biggest issues were how annoying it was to move the cooker around and that, at times, it was just a little too small.
The 22 inch model solves the size problem but is worse on the following fronts:
- Harder to Move
- Harder to Control Temperature
- Uses More Fuel
Differences in Size
There are hundreds of hacks you can use to get more capacity from an 18 inch WSM but the fundamental issue is that the 18 inch cooking grate is just a little small.
For example, the top grate will easily fit two slabs of spare ribs but a third one just doesn’t quite fit. If you want to cut the ribs in half, use a set of rib racks or even roll the ribs then you can get 4-6 racks of ribs up there.
The same goes with brisket. A 12 pound brisket will fit just fine but anything larger and you have to put something underneath the middle of the brisket to make it bend upwards to fit on the grate.
As a reference point, here is what two eight pound pork butts look like on the top grate of the 18 inch WSM. Yes, you can make this cook work but will need to rotate the butts often during the cook so the sides by the edge of the cooker, which isn’t protected by the water pan, do not get burned.
The 22 inch WSM offers significantly more cooking space and solves all of the size problems.
Seriously, this is why I stopped using my WSM for large brisket and rib cooks.
I stored the cooker in my garage and brought it out onto the driveway to cook. It took me four trips to move the cooker section by section and then go pick up a water pan or grate that dropped along the route.
Moving it back after a cook was even worse as there was a water pan full of grease that had to be managed.
Everything that was awkward about the 40 pound 18 inch cooker is magnified with the 70 pound 22 inch cooker.
Harder Temperature Control
It is harder to control the temperature inside the 22 inch cooker than in the 18 inch cooker.
The door on the 22 incher does not seal very well which means the air control is not as precise. You are also dealing with a larger charcoal bed which can get away from you easier.
You can fix these issues by using gaskets or getting an aftermarket door and using temperature controlled blower systems.
The temperature control issue is not a deal killer but is something to be aware of.
Increased Fuel Usage
The 22 inch cooker has more mass and surface area than the 18 inch cooker which means it must use more fuel to maintain the same temperature inside the cooker.
My “ballpark estimate” is that the 22 inch cooker is about 20% less efficient than the 18 inch model.
This means that it costs a little more to operate the 22 inch model and you will have to deal with a lot more ash during cleanup.
Which WSM Is Right for You?
When the 22 inch model first came out I was certain that it would be the cooker for me. However, the more I read about the different sizes and thought about my needs I decided to stick with my 18 incher.