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

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

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

The snake method use indirect heat, rather than wood in the grill producing direct heat.

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

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!

This cooking food method gives your cut of meat an a delicious smokey flavor without a lot of effort. So do you want to master the snake method? Follow my 7 simple steps below

What is The Charcoal Snake Method?

The charcoal snake method is a cooking method that utilizes indirect heat. This method of cooking is low and slow and can take anywhere between 4 and 24 hours.

The charcoal snake comprises 2 – 3 rows of charcoal briquettes stacked like dominoes in a semi-circle on your grill. See the image below, if you want to see the charcoal snake in action.

You light the starter coals on one end and let it slowly burn down the snake length throughout the day. The briquettes work like a slow-burning wick, which slow cooks your food.

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

This method works best in any circular Weber Kettle grill style but is transferable to almost all charcoal grill types. It’s all about adapting and testing the snake method out for yourself to suit what you have.

What is the charcoal snake method

Which Coal Type Works Best?

There are several different styles of coal you could use. However, charcoal briquettes are the best option. Why use charcoal briquettes?

  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. 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

Why Use The Charcoal Snake Method?

The charcoal snake method is the perfect way to smoke meat low and slow without checking on the fire or adding more charcoal throughout the day. 

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

Perfect for fish, pulled pork, brisket, whole chicken, wings, pork butt, a whole turkey, or pork ribs.

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

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, hover what you will need is:

  • Weber Kettle grill with a lid (or similar types 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 to slow cook:

  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.  
  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. You want to select four or so pieces of your favorite wood chunks (to flavor 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. If you don’t have woof chunks, wood chips will work. Try to pack the bricks tight and neat for the best results.
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.

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. 

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.

Food Network

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. 

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

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

To make adjustments to the temperature, open or close your grill’s lower vents to encourage airflow. Stand by until you have an internal grill temperature of between 250 – 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

Setting Up Your Water / Drip Pan

5. Add Your Meat to the Grill

Place your selected meat unwrapped 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. Always check the internal temperature of your meat before taking it off the grill.

6. Maintaining Your Grill Temperature

You want to check the temperature every hour or so, making sure you are still between 250 – 300 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are too low, adjust the vents to create more heat for a short period of time. I always use multiple probe thermometers, so ensure I am cooking at the right temperature. Cooking at the right temperature allows me to know my exact cooking time for each different meat.

7. The Finished Product

Your meat will be cooked when it is at temperature, and it is very tender and juicy. You want all meat to come apart with two forks easily.

If the meat is dry or tough, it has been in the smoker for too long. 

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.

Wrapping it Up

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.

Using the charcoal snake method over burning pieces of wood or wood chips, the snake burns for a longer time. The charcoal snake method also delivers the charcoal fires classic 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 nature with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork)

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 [July 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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