An Easy Guide to Mastering the Charcoal Snake Method [October 2020]

Charcoal Snake

There is a great debate going on right now in the BBQ community.

Should you fork out big bucks for a smoker?? Or your grill into a charcoal smoker using the charcoal snake method?

Food blogger, author & Weber’s personal chef Jamie Purviance, says “you don’t need to spend big money to buy a smoker, nor destroy your existing grill to get those mouth-watering smokey flavors, all you need is the charcoal snake method”  And he is bloody right!

Using this method I have even managed to smoke like a pro in a small Weber. 

If your thinking what the flipping heck is the snake method? Let me show you my new skills.

The Charcoal Snake Method

What is The Charcoal Snake Method?

Put simply, the charcoal snake is briquettes stacked like  dominoes in a semi-circle on your grill.

You light the charcoal on one end, and let it slowly burn down ‘the snake’ throughout the day. 

This technique helps you avoid the initial surge of heat you would get from a fully lit pile of coals. It will also create a steady and consistence low temperature.

This method works best of any circular grill, however, can be adapted to almost any grill

In my opinion, the best charcoal for smoking is charcoal briquettes, unlike lump charcoal briquettes are made with additives to help hold the materials together, making them burn better and more solid so they are easier to stack. 

Why Use The Charcoal Snake Method?

The charcoal snake method is the perfect way to smoke meat low and slow without having to add more charcoal throughout the day.

Perfect for fish, pulled pork, brisket, whole chicken, whole turkey and ribs. 

We have created this simple charcoal snake guide below so you too, can experience this simple yet effective way of getting that mouthwatering smokey flavor.

Want to know the another easy way how to light your charcoal? I suggest using my guide on how to use a charcoal chimney. Rather than mess around for hours getting your grill or smoker up to heat this will have you red hot in no time!

Building Your Charcoal Snake

Follow the steps below to ensure you set up your charcoal snake correctly:

  1. Create a half circle using briquettes, one half circle around the outside of the grates then and another half circle on the inside of the first circle.
  2. Then repeat the process on top of the first layer. You should end up with a half circle 2 bricks wide and two bricks high. You want to select 4 or so chunks of your favorite wood (to flavour your meat) and place them along the top of the snake around 1 – 2 inches apart.
  3. You want to leave about 5 inches of space at the start of the snake before placing your first chunk.

Try to pack the bricks really tight and neat.

The longer you build your snake the longer it will burn, for a longer cook make your snake bigger.

How To Light Your Charcoal Snake

At the bottom of your grill add in a few paraffin wax lighter cubes. Place your rack on top and add around 8 – 10 briquettes on top.

Let the briquettes catch alight and burn down until they turn a light grey.

Once they have turned light grey place them on top of the section of the snake where you left a 5-inch gap. Congratulations you have the base of your fire!

Stay away from lighter fluid, this will taint the flavour of the meat and let’s face it no one likes the taste of lighter fluid.

Use tongs to move the briquettes to the snakes head! They might not look it but they will be super hot.

Setting Up Your Water Pan

Fill a disposable foil pan three-quarters with boiling water and place inside the semicircle of your snake and close the lid. it is important to use hot water as you want to keep the temperature on par with each other. 

Place your cooking grate on top of the charcoal grate, where the snake and water pan have been set.

Close the lid and open the lower vents of your grill. Half open to upper vents and stand by until you have a temperature of between 250 – 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Adding Your Meat to The Grill

Place your selected meat in the centre of the cooking grate. Make sure you do not placing your meat over the snake.

If you place your meat over the snake will cook the outside of the meat too fast. This will leave you with a piece of meat that is burnt outside and raw on the inside.

Want to know the another easy way how to light your charcoal? I suggest using my guide on how to use a charcoal chimney. Rather than mess around for hours getting your grill or smoker up to  heat this will have you red hot in no time!

My little charcoal snake setup on my Weber Kettle

Maintaining Your Grill Temperature

Once your meat is in you want to check the temperature every hour or so, making sure you are still between 250 – 300 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are to low adjust the vents to create more heat.

The Finished Product

When it comes to the meat being ready its not so much about what temperature it is at. It is about how tender the meat is. You want all meat to fall right off the bone.

To tell if your ribs are tender, push the tips of adjacent bones in opposite directions the meat should tear away from the bone without any effort.

Hot Tip: If you decide to let your meat rest, easily clean your grill by turning it to high for 5 – 10 minutes. After the suggested time give your grill grates scrub with a wire brush.

How Many Charcoal Briquettes to use for 250 Degrees?

When it comes to maintaining a specific temperature it is really hard to give a definitive answer. 

This is because many different variables come into play when maintaining a temperature with charcoal briquettes. To make things even more difficult these variables can change dramatically between different smoker, different weather conditions and even the quality of material your smoker is made out of. 

Lets have a look into each of these different variables:

  1. Smoker Material Quality: The quality of the metal used and the quality of construction in your smoker will also play a big role in how you will maintain a temperature in your smoker. If you have a smoker that is made from second grade materials and it is made with bad craftsmanship you will find that it will be harder for you to maintain a decent hot fire. The better the metal used the more heat will be absorbed rather than deflected thus creating a better, more hot environment. This will result in you using fewer briquettes for your desired temperature. 
  2. Altitude: Surprisingly your altitude plays a big part in how your smoker will act. This is because the higher up you are the less oxygen is in the air making it harder for a fire to maintain. 
  3. Ground Conditions: The condition of the ground also plays a big role in how much briquettes you will need, this is because for example if the ground is very moist or damp it will absorb more heat from your grill causing you to need to add more briquettes more often to your smoker. When you have tough, dry ground it will not absorb as much heat so you won’t need to tend to your smoker as often to maintain your heat. 
  4. Weather: There are many different ways that weather plays a part in how your briquettes burn. When it is winy your briquettes will burn much faster than when it is calm. This will result in using more briquettes throughout your cook to maintain any specific temperature. 
  5. Humidity: The more humid it is the harder it is for a fire to maintain. So, if you live somewhere where it is very humid you will need to use more briquettes more often to maintain the temperature you desire.

Video of The Charcoal Snake Method

Final Thoughts

This method of turning my grill into a smoker helped me get those beautiful smoked flavors before we had the money to purchase a dedicated smoker and dedicated grill.

So if you are looking to get those delicious smoky flavors we all lust for into your meat but only have a basic grill the charcoal snake method is the method for you! 

Happy smoking everyone,


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6 thoughts on “An Easy Guide to Mastering the Charcoal Snake Method [October 2020]”

  1. Good information. In addition to your advice, after building the snake I cover the uncovered part of the charcoal grate with foil, to direct airflow from the bottom vent through the burning coals. Also, start with the top vent fully open and control the temp with the bottom vent. This keeps fresh smoke flowing through the grill and prevents stale smoke from accumulating and lending a bitter taste to the meat.

    1. Hiya Bill,

      thanks for the heads up! I am going to add this neat little trick in. What did you use the snake for smoking, I love hearing about other peoples recipes!!

  2. Great job in explaining the snake method. I never understood how you put the ready white charcoals on the snake, and figuring out how to maintain the heat and smoke ratio.

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