An Easy Guide to Mastering the Charcoal Snake Method With Lump Charcoal [October 2021]

So you want to cook low and slow with charcoal?

But don’t want to fork out big bucks for a smoker?

Then turn your grill into a charcoal smoker using the charcoal snake method!

The snake method use indirect heat (perfect for cuts like brisket, which need low and slow)

Using this method, I have smoked like a pro pitmaster in my small Weber Kettle 22 grill.

My method gives your food a delicious smokey flavor without a lot of effort (or the need to buy an expensive smoker).

So do you want to master the snake method? Follow my 7 simple steps below

What is The Charcoal Snake Method?

The charcoal snake works by building 2 – 3 rows of charcoal briquettes stacked in a semi-circle in your grill.

You put a few lit coals at one end of the snake. Then it will slowly ignite the next coal in line in the snake throughout the day.

The slow but continuous lighting of each coal one at a time provides a low and steady temperature for your food to cook in.

See the image below, if you want to see the charcoal snake in action.

How I set my Weber kettle for the charcoal snake method.

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

The charcoal snake method is perfect for cooking food like brisket.

Brisket requires low temperature over a long period, to ensure all the connective tissue breakdown into gelatin, leaving a juicy piece of meat.

I use this method in my Weber Kettle. If you set up the charcoal snake correctly, as you will see in my steps below. it can easily burn for up to 16 hours.

Just two things to note: It works better in cyclical grills I have also seen my neighbor use this method in his Big Green Egg.

Author & Weber’s personal chef Jamie Purviance famously said
“You don’t need to spend big money to buy a smoker, nor destroy your existing grill to get those mouthwatering smoke flavor, all you need is the charcoal snake method” 

And he is bloody right!

Which Coal Type Works Best?

There are a few different types of coal you could use.

However, I think that charcoal briquettes are the best option, this is why;

  1. They burn low and slow, whereas lump charcoal burns fast and hot, defeating this method’s whole purpose.
  2. Unlike lump, charcoal briquettes are uniform. This makes stacking the briquettes easier to stack.
  3. They burn evenly, because they are a uniform size, they also burn evenly, unlike lump charcoal. 

You can use the snake method with lump charcoal, but do keep these points in mind.

In my opinion, the best charcoal for smoking low and slow-smoked food is charcoal briquettes.

Unlike lump charcoal, briquettes are made with additives to help hold the materials together, giving them a better burn time and more reliable, so they are easier to stack. 

Charlie Reeves – Owner here at Simply Meat Smoking
Charlie-Reeves head shot

Will It Alter The Flavor of Your Cook?

The guys over at Vitual Weber Bullential Board, all concluded that unless you have an extremely sensitive palate. The uncooked charcoal won’t affect your food.

One gentleman suggested Ietting the charcoal snake burn for at least an hour before adding any food, this can help reduce any unpleasant taste or odors of the charcoal

How To Use The Charcoal Snake Method for Smoking (7 Easy Steps)

Below are my 7 steps to creating a charcoal snake. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

1. What You Will Need to Build A Charcoal Snake

Building your charcoal snake does not require much equipment, however, what you will need is:

  • Weber Kettle grill with a lid (or a similar a type of grill).
  • Charcoal Briquettes.
  • Aluminum pan/water pan.
  • Charcoal chimney starter.
  • Your favorite smoking wood chunks (your preference).

2. How to Setup the Weber Smoking Method

Follow these easy steps below to ensure you set up your charcoal snake correctly. If you get confused just have a look at my pictures below or check out the videos

  1. Create a half circle using two rows of unlit briquettes inside the grill—one-half ring around the outside of the grates against the wall. The second row is lining the first row on the inside. Try to pack the bricks tight and neat for the best results.
  2. Then repeat the process by putting a second layer of briquettes on top of the first half of the snake. You need to end up with a half-circle two bricks wide and two bricks high. 

  3. Pick 4 to 5 pieces of your favorite wood chunks (to flavor your meat) and place them along the top of the snake around 1 – 2 inches apart.
  4. You want to leave about 5 inches of space at the start of the snake before placing your first chunk. If you don’t have wood chunks, wood chips will work. 
  5. Then place your water pan in the middle of the charocal snake. The water pan helps to add moistureto our cooking enviroemtnas well control the temperature. Fill the water pan no more than 3/4 full
Charcoal Snake method on a Weber Kettle grill

The longer the length of the snake, the longer it will burn. So for longer cooks, make your snake bigger

Steve Raichlen
Steven Raichlen

3. How To Light Your Charcoal Snake

Lighting the snake is the fun part!

There are two ways you can do this;

  1. The first and easiest way is to use a charcoal chimney starter.
    Once you have hot coals from the chimney starter, place them in the 5-inch gap you left in the snake. 

  2. The second method to lighting your snake is to make a pile of 8 – 10 briquettes at the bottom of your grill.
    Ensure they are as far away from the snake as possible. Then add in a few paraffin wax lighter cubes and light. 
    Let the briquettes catch alight and burn down until you have light grey hot coals.
    Once they have turned light grey, place them on top of the snake section where you left a 5-inch gap. 
    Congratulations, you have the base of your fire!
How To Light Your Charcoal Snake

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

Steve

4. Setting Up Your Water / Drip Pan

Fill a disposable foil pan or aluminum pan three-quarters with boiling water (or your choice of liquid).

Then place the water pan in the middle of the semicircle of your snake and close the lid. It is important to use hot water as you want to keep the temperature inside your grill even. 

Setting Up Your Water / Drip Pan

5. Getting Ready to Cook

Place your cooking grate on top of where the snake and disposable foil pan is set.

Set your meat thermometer and close the lid. To control the temperature of your ‘smoker,’ ensure you have an ambient temperature thermometer. 


5. Adjusting The Temperature of Your Charocal Snake

To make adjustments to the temperature, you open or close your grill’s lower vents to encourage airflow.

Below I have how I control the temperature at the start of a cook

  1. Start with your vents open.
  2. Then you want to monitor the thermometer and wait until it hit 210°F, you can start to close the bottom vent to reduce the amount of oxygen.
  3. Then slowly close the vents to reach your desired cooking temperature. I like to get an internal grill temperature of between 220°F – 260°F

5. Add Your Meat to the Grill

Place your meat in the center of the cooking grate. 

Make sure you do not place your meat over the snake. You want to be cooking with the indirect heat from the briquettes the snake is burning.

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.

6. Maintaining Your Grill Temperature

You want to check the temperature 20 minutes, making sure you are still between 220 – 260 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the temperature is too low, open the vents to increase the oxygen flow, this will help increase the temperature.

Note: I always use multiple probe thermometers, to ensure I am cooking at the right temperature and allows me to know my exact cooking time, no guessing games for me.

7. The Finished Product

Different cuts of meat have different optimal internal temperatures.

For example, I like to get my brisket to an internal temperature of 203°F whereas pork needs to be cooked 145°F to be safe to eat. Make sure you consult my meat temperature guide.

After smoking meat, it is essential to let your meat rest. If you are cooking a brisket or a pork butt, you want to rest wrapped in aluminum foil for at least 25 minutes. 

FAQ

How Many Charcoal Briquettes to use for 250 Degrees?

When it comes to temperature control, it is tough to give a definitive answer. Because many different variables come into play when maintaining a temperature with charcoal briquettes. The variables can change dramatically between different grills, different weather conditions, and even the quality of material your smoker is made from.

Let’s have a look into each of these different variables:

  1. Smoker Material Quality:
    The quality of the metal, your grill walls thickness, and the quality of construction in your grill will also play a significant role in how you will maintain a temperature in your grill. If you have a smoker made from second-grade materials and constructed with lousy craftsmanship, you will find that it will be harder for you to maintain a decent fire. The better the metal used, the more heat will be absorbed rather than deflected, thus creating a better, more hot environment. Resulting in using fewer briquettes for your desired temperature. 
  2. Altitude:
    Surprisingly, your attitude plays a big part in how your smoker will act. 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. For example, if the environment 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 hard, 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 weather can play a part in how your lit briquettes burn when outdoor cooking. When it is windy, your briquettes will burn much faster than when it is calm. Resulting in using more briquettes throughout your cook to maintain temperature. 
  5. Humidity:
    The more humid it is, the harder it is for a fire to sustain itself. 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.

Why Use The Charcoal Snake Method?

The charcoal snake method is the perfect way to smoke meat low and slow.

It is also a great way to use your Weber Kettle style charcoal grill to smoke your food, rather than an expensive smoker. 

I find it perfect for fish, pulled pork, brisket, whole chicken, wings, pork butt, a whole turkey, or pork ribs.

Wrapping it Up

The charcoal snake method helps me delivers those classic charcoal flavors. It is similar to the minion method of cooking.

So if you are looking to get those delicious smoky flavors we all lust for into your pulled pork, pork ribs, or pork butt but only have a basic grill. The charcoal snake method is the method for you! 

Charlie

Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

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6 thoughts on “An Easy Guide to Mastering the Charcoal Snake Method With Lump Charcoal [October 2021]”

  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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