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 one the best 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.
What is The Charcoal Snake Method? (Just Bloody Tell Me)
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
Charlies Hot Tip
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.
Bonus Hot Tip! 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!
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 found this is actually one of the best ways to cook ribs one of the best charcoal smokers.
We have created this simple guide below so you too, can experience this simple yet effective way of getting that mouthwatering smokey flavor.
Building Your Charcoal Snake
Follow the steps below to ensure you set up your charcoal snake correctly:
- Create a half circle using briquettes, one half circle around the outside of the grates of our Pit Barrel Cooker then 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.
- 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.
- You want to leave about 5 inches of space at the start of the snake before placing your first chunk.
Charlies Hot Tip
Hot Tip:Try to pack the bricks really tight and neat.
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.
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!
Charlies Hot Tip
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.
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 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.
Charlies Hot Tip
Hot Tip: If your wondering how to tenderize steak. you have to create a moist environment for your meat to cook. Want juicy and succulent steak? Don’t forget the water!
Adding Your Meat to The Grill
Place your selected meat in the center 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.
Charlies Hot Tip
Hot Tip: Make sure you give your meat a good season before you throw it on the grill! See some of my the best BBQ rubs, I have discovered along my cooking adventures.
Bonus Hot Tip: Want to really impress the kids? Why not try a BBQ branding iron. You could put everyones names on their piece of steak! How bloody cool is that!
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 (Something Bloody Delicious)
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:
- 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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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 On The Charcoal Snake Method
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!
Are you a master of the charcoal snake method? Or are you a first timer who has a story to tell? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Happy smoking everyone,
Still Hungry For More?