Step by Step Guide to Mastering the Charcoal Snake Method

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There is a great debate going on right now in the BBQ community, should you fork out big bucks for a smoker or if you can turn your grill into the charcoal smoker of your dreams. Food blogger, author & Weber’s all in one 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 flavours, “all you need is the charcoal snake method” Using this method I have even managed to smoke like a pro in a small Weber. 


In the world of barbeque, there is constantly new innovations and ideas being created, The charcoal snake method is one of the more recent innovations and it has just started to make its way into mainstream barbecuing. But what the flipping heck is the snake method you ask!

What is The Snake Method?

Put simply, the charcoal snake is created by building a wall of briquettes leaning against each other in a semi-circle – a little like dominoes. You then light the charcoal on only one end and slowly let it burn down ‘the snake’ throughout the day. 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.


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. You have found this is actually one of the best ways to cooks ribs on our charcoal smoker. 


We have created this simple guide below so you too, can experience this simple yet effective way of getting that mouthwatering smoke flavour.


Building Your Charcoal Snake

Create a half circle using briquettes, one half circle around the outside of the grates and another half circle on the inside of the first circle. 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.
Hot Tip: Remember to pack the bricks neat & tight

You want to select 4 or so chunks of your favourite wood (to flavour your meat) and place them along the top of the snake around 1 – 2 inches apart. You want to leave about 5 inches of space at the start of the snake before placing your first chunk.

Hot Tip: 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.
Hot Tip: 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.

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!
Hot Tip: 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 water and place inside the semicircle of your snake and close the lid.
Hot Tip: Don’t forget the water! This will create a moist environment for your meat to cook and will provide a juicier piece of meat!

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 and 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 center of the cooking grate making sure you are not placing your meat over the snake. Placing your meat over the snake will cook the outside of the meat to fast and you will end up with a piece of meat with a burnt outside and an inside that is raw.


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.

Hot Tip: Try not to open the lid if possible, you want to keep the cooking conditions inside the grill as perfect as possible. You also don’t want to lose any precious heat.

The Finished Product

When it comes to the meat being ready its not so much about what temperature it is at. With the low and slow charcoal snake method is all about how tender the meat is. You want all meat to be so tender it just falls right off the bone.

Hot Tip: To tell if 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.



Final Thoughts

This method helped me before we had the money to purchase both a grill and a smoker. So if you are looking to get those delicious smoky flavours into your meat and only have a grill this should be your go to technique.

Have you tried the snake method before?


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