From time to time we get asked how can some one get into smoking meat with out the price tag and hassle of a fancy smoker. Well, if you have a humble Weber kettle grill, you can do it just fine. Here’s how.
The Snake Method
Here we have our beloved 22 inch kettle grill set up with what is affectionately referred to in the BBQ circles as “The Fuse Method” or “The Snake Method“. And it really works. You old timers already know all about this, but the basics of it is this – light one end of the “snake”, and gradually the lit coals will light up the unlit coals, and work its way along, like a fuse. Very similar to the Minion Method, of which we go into great depth and detail in our write up from many years ago now, called, The Long Burn: The Method of Jim Minion.
The Snake Method, if you’ve not tried it before, is the common sense answer to the age old question of whether you need to buy a smoker or not. Well, from one pit jockey to another, of course you should buy yourself a new toy if you can have one, that’s half the fun. But if you can’t justify the money or the space for another pit, or just don’t want to deal with it altogether, this technique will hold you over with a degree of class and poetry representative of the big named smokers, with an end game every bit as succulent. All you need is that old Weber kettle sitting out back. It’ll work with other grills too, but here’s how to do it with a 22 inch kettle.
How To Set It Up
In your charcoal chimney plop in 12 briquettes and light them up accordingly. Whilst the dirty dozen are coming of age, line yourself up a snake of unlit briquettes along the inside edge of your grill, as seen in the photo above. We made the snake 2 briquettes wide, by 2 briquettes tall. We wrapped it about half way around the grill. Once the other 12 coals are grayed over, just place them in similar fashion at one end of the snake. Lastly, place your favorite flavor of smoke wood periodically along the snake. And viola, your done! You now have a smoker.
How It Works
As the unlit coals gradually light up, so too do the old coals gradually die off. The cycle of life in your pit. The magic of the snake method resides in this balance. At any given time, you see, the number of coals lit in your grill will produce enough just heat to keep it near to 250 degrees. The perfect temperature for smoking meat. And as the fuse burns it’s course, it will also ignite the smoke wood positioned along the way, providing a nice, continuous source of care free curls. It’s just plain lovely!
Your meat bounty should obviously be placed opposite the hot coals for proper indirect cooking, but in addition to that, with this particular method, you would do well to periodically relocate your meat as well, because the business end of the fuse does indeed, move. How long does it take to burn the snake out, you ask? We find it seems to average around 5 hours for a snake going half way around a 22 inch kettle. Results have of course varied with the weather, but that seems to be the average of things. Plenty long enough for a rack of BlackBerry Baby Backs to come to edible maturity, as you can see, patron to the pit. Let’s plate these babies up!
BlackBerry Glazed Baby Backs courtesy of the snake method. It works people! Give it a try!
Tips for Snake Method Cooking
- Open top and bottom vents wide open to start with, then adjust the bottom one as necessary. The more you close a vent the less air gets in, thus the cooler the grill will run
- Use of a water pan can also help lower pit temperatures if need be, and provide a humid environment within the pit.
- Move your meat once in a while as the fuse moves to keep your spoils indirect
- Patience. It takes the kettle grill a while to get up to 250, but it will get there, and when it does, it will stay there for many hours.
- You can skip the charcoal chimney part if you want, and just light one end of the snake with a weed burner or a mapp gas torch or some other manly lighting device you come up with
- That thermometer you have on your grill lid is probably not accurate. To really monitor your temps right most pit jockeys use a portable digital thermometer doodad, like this one
It was 5:00 in the blessed morning as I stumbled out onto the patio, bag of charcoal in hand, whilst sporting my designer pajamas beneath the twinkling stars above. I put a match to the old charcoal chimney, sending the initial rush of smoke aloft, for to honor the day and to get a batch of coals going. Obsessive compulsive, the neighbor was probably thinking, whilst gazing out the window during his early bird pee. I wouldn’t argue that I guess. But it was Boston Butt time at the pit, and as any one who smokes the big meats are well aware of, them butts take some considerable clock. So early starts like this are what you do some times. But I also had every intention of going back to bed, to those delicious, warm, blankets from whence I came. And after the smoker was under way, I did precisely that, thanks to a fellow called Jim Minion, and the good idea he had once.
Jim Minion was at a BBQ competition one day, and had his wife pick him up a WSM cooker from the store. He slapped it together on the spot, and needed to figure out a way to “light it off“, and not being one for reading instructions apparently, he just tossed a bunch of lit and unlit coals together, and called it good enough. Worked out pretty good for him too, go figure, as he took 1st place in chicken, and 2nd place in ribs. Henceforth, “The Method” had been discovered. And it works exceedingly well. This is no news for you old timers I know, ye keepers of the flame and brethren of the smoke, but our readers are a diverse lot, patron to all the rungs of the BBQ ladder. And like hot coals lighting other coals still new, so to should we pass the flame of knowledge, igniting others, like the Minion Method personified.
As you delve deeper into the BBQ arts, you will want to try this technique. It is worthy for such endeavors as brisket and pulled pork, and really anything you want a long, controlled, burn for. And it couldn’t be easier. I usually start with a doughnut of unlit coals in the fire bowl, and dump a chimney full of blazing lit ones right smack dab in the middle. What happens is the lit coals work sort of like a fuse, lighting any unlit coals that might be sitting next to it. And those coals in-turn light some other coals next to them. And so on. It’s a beautiful thing really, of which gives you the time for the all-important business of kicking up your feet in the sun, with a good narrative and lovely beverage. If your smoker is of good quality, and you put enough coal in, I’ve heard of guys routinely getting as much as 18 hours of steady burn time, averaging around 225 degrees. Now that’s one long burn.
If you have an offset smoker, or some other cooker where this method described above doesn’t seem right, there are gadgets like this to be found. Working off the minion method principle, or more precisely, the “snake method” many a pit master has had success with these sorts of charcoal baskets too.
Turns Your Kettle Grill into a Smoker!
Here is another alternative for you kettle owners. This thing has gotten outstanding reviews, and they say it will give you 8 hours of burn time in a single load. It also works on the minion principle, and has a nifty little vertical water pan, to help act as a heat sink.
It’s not all perfect tho. Within the Minion Method there are two camps. The debate you’ll find between these two are about things called binders. Binders are the chemicals and what-not which basically hold the charcoal briquette together, and it’s these chemicals that are released when a briquette is being lit. So naturally, there are some BBQ folk who say this is not good for you, as this stuff may leach into your food, while the rest of us sort of shrug our shoulders because we don’t really know. Luckily, if it’s something that’s going to bother you, there is a solution in products like, Stubbs All Natural Charcoal, as seen in this link, Stubb’s 9-Pound All-Natural Charcoal Briquets, or lump charcoal, such as Fogo FHWC35LB 35-Pound All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal Bag, neither of which are supposed to have binders in them. At any rate, it’s something to think about, and you’ll have to make up your own mind on that I guess. Or if you have some knowledge otherwise to enlighten us, do share, as the community of BBQ is only better for it.
Regardless, the method of Jim Minion is quite the effective strategy should you fancy the likes of a long burn with minimal maintenance. Something I can attest to is a glorious thing, should you find yourself one day, lighting up the smoker at 5:00 in the morning, groggy-faced, whilst still in your favorite pajamas.
Off-hand and by the way, if you’ve come here to learn about the minion method, then you’re also probably thinking brisket. Good thinking! The Minion Method is made for brisket. Here is a great read concerning how to smoke the proper brisket, as told by the best in the business. Aaron Franklin makes the best brisket in the country. How do we know? Just read the reviews of his book below, you’ll see!
*People who read this article also read: How To Melt Your Maverick:Wireless BBQ Thermometer Set – Maverick ET73
**Patrons of the Pit are affiliates with Amazon for Stubbs All-Natural Charcoal, among other things. We do receive a small commission if you buy through our link. We do appreciate it!