Understanding the Minion and Snake Methods for Smoking

Smoking is a delicious way to prepare many cuts of meat and poultry. Whether you’re using a smoker or a grill, maintaining consistent heat throughout the full process is important to your success.

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The ideal temperature for most low and slow cooking is between 220 and 250℉ (and for poultry, it’s between 275 and 350℉).  Let’s talk about two methods that will give you just that!

When I smoke foods, there are two things I consider important in my setup. First, how can I arrange my charcoal to keep temperatures steady over a long period of time with as little maintenance as possible.  Second, how can I use the least amount of charcoal possible and maximize the amount of cooking I get from it -- burn less and cook more?  That’s why the snake method and the Minion method are two great things to know.

Snake Method (Charcoal Grill)

“I love smoked foods, but I don’t have a smoker. Is there anyway to use my charcoal grill to get the same effect?”  People email all the time asking me this question, and the definitive answer is, “Absolutely!” The important thing is knowing how to arrange your charcoal to control the heat.

The snake method is a perfect option for turning your charcoal grill into the occasional smoker.  It provides indirect heat for a long period of time, and the temperature stays low and consistent. Smoke from wood chunks permeates your food to provide fabulous flavor, and there’s virtually no waste.  Here’s what you do:

Charcoal Snake Method

1. Place 20 charcoal briquettes around the outside edge of the charcoal grate. Line them up so they are touching, but not overlapping. You’ll have one long line of briquettes that resembles a black snake!  Make another “snake” right beside the one you just did, and be sure both snakes’ sides are touching each other.  

Charcoal Snake Method

2.Now place a line of briquettes on top of each “snake” you’ve made -- the end result will be two lines of charcoal that are each two coals high.

Charcoal Snake Method

3. Place two or three wood chunks on top of the charcoal starting about 5 inches from the end of the snake you plan to light first.  The wood chunks should be several inches apart, depending on when you want the smoke to kick in during cooking.  I like to use wood early in the smoking process because the flavor penetrates best at that stage.  The amount and type of wood you use will depend on what you’re cooking.  For information on choosing wood flavors for smoking, click here.

Charcoal Snake Method

4. Place a disposable aluminum pan the middle of the grill.  Fill the pan halfway up with tap water, being careful not to splash it on the coals. This will provide moisture and heat regulation during cooking.  

Charcoal Snake Method

5. Light 8 to 10 charcoals in a charcoal chimney.  If you don’t have one, use the part of the charcoal grate that is opposite the snake.  (If you use the charcoal grate, you’ll have to add the water pan after the snake has been lit.) Let the coals heat until they’re covered with light gray ash and glowing red inside.  Using long tongs and grilling gloves, place the lit coals at one end of the snake, making sure to cover the first few unlit coals with the hot ones.  

Charcoal Snake Method

6. Put the cooking grate on the grill, and you’re in business!

7. Place the meat on the cooking grate, but don’t put it over the snake. We are going for indirect heat here.  Keep the lid closed as much as possible, and check the heat periodically to make sure it stays between 225 and 250℉.  (If you’re cooking poultry, the heat should be between 275 and 350℉.) Make adjustments to vents as needed.

8. The lit coals will slowly ignite the unlit coals like a long fuse. The wood chunks will also light, burn, and give you that delicious smoky flavor.  Remember, longer snakes equal longer cook times, and visa versa.

In my opinion, using all natural briquettes is the best choice for the snake method.  Lump charcoal burns hotter, so keeping the temperature low may be more difficult.

Minion Method (Smoker)

Just to be clear, this method has nothing to do with the Minion movie! Jim Minion, a BBQ competitor, originally invented this method. It’s basically putting unlit charcoal and a few wood chunks in the fire box and adding hot charcoals on top.  The lit charcoal lights the unlit charcoal and wood underneath, and this gives you a long cook time with steady temperatures and delicious smoke.  There are two configurations that are most often used.

Donut: This method involves covering the bottom of the firebox grate with charcoal in the shape of a donut and burying several wood chunks in the charcoal.  After this, hot charcoal is added to the center of the donut.  The lit charcoal slowly lights the unlit charcoal and wood chunks, and the fire provides consistent heat and smoke over a long period of time.  You should aim for a two to one ratio of unlit coals to lit coals, so you’ll have twice as many unlit ones when you first start smoking.  

Top Down: Another configuration is to arrange charcoal and wood chunks on the bottom of the firebox grate, then pour hot coals on top of the unlit ones.  The same process occurs; the lit coals will light the unlit coals and wood, producing steady heat, smoke, and a long burn.

The Minion Method of Lighting a Charcoal Grill

The Minion Method of Lighting a Charcoal Grill

The Minion Method of Lighting a Charcoal Grill

The Minion Method of Lighting a Charcoal Grill

The Minion method can cause the formation of lots of ash, so keep an eye on your damper to make sure it doesn’t clog up and put out the fire.  I recommend natural briquettes for the Minion method. They don’t have many fillers, so ash is minimized.  They also burn cooler than lump charcoal, making it easier to keep the temperature low.

Now You Try It!

Below is a recipe for simple but delicious smoked pork loin. The smoke adds richness to the pork, the brine adds moisture and enhances the natural flavor of the meat, and the combination of spices in the rub adds a warm savoriness!

Smoked Pork Loin from the Grill Beast

What You’ll Need

1 whole pork loin roast - 8 to 10 pounds.
2 cups pork brine for injecting the roast (recipe follows)
1 ½ tablespoons dried thyme
1 ½ tablespoons sweet paprika
1 ½ tablespoon turbinado sugar (brown sugar can be substituted)
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
3 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 or 3 applewood chunks
1 cup barbeque sauce -- your favorite brand, and more for serving if you desire

Pork Brine:

2 cups chicken stock (homemade is obviously the best)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Mix well until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Let’s Do It!

Remove fat and silver skin from the roast and tie it with butcher twine to help keep a round shape during cooking. Using a high quality injector (LINK TO BEAST INJECTOR), inject the brine into the roast.  It will puff up slightly as the brine is added.  Let the roast sit in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours for the brine to infuse.

Mix the thyme, paprika, sugar, salt, pepper, onion powder, and cayenne together in a small bowl.  Remove the pork loin from the refrigerator and lightly coat it with melted butter.  Cover the roast with the rub and massage lightly so the rub sticks.  Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare your smoker using the minion method (or your charcoal grill using the snake method).  Preheat to 225℉.  Place the pork loin on the grill or smoker over indirect heat. Put the cover on the grill and cook for 90 minutes.  Flip the roast and, if desired, brush on a little barbecue sauce.  Continue cooking for approximately 90 more minutes, flip, and sauce if desired. Continue this process until the internal temperature of the roast is 140℉.  Check the temperature after 4 hour with a good quality instant-read thermometer. This size roast usually takes between 4 and 6 hours to cook at the recommended temperature.

Make sure to check the grill temperature often -- it shouldn’t rise above 250℉, and it’s best to keep it closer to 225℉.  This will keep the pork loin moist and delicious.  When the roast comes off the grill, let it rest for 20 minutes so the juices redistribute. Enjoy!!

A Few Final Words Before I Go…

If you saw our live feed from the Keys, you know that I’ve been on vacation with the family this week.  From the email and VIP comments we’ve received, lots of you were on vacation, too.  Our customers asked us to extend the BOGO sale for one more week, and of course, we said sure!  So, you can still cash in on this amazing offer.  When we say BOGO, we mean true BOGO  -- buy one for yourself, and we’ll send you a second one free to share with a friend.  

Don’t forget to register for the Grill Beast’s fantastic Big Green Egg give away -- a large BGE with an awesome accessories kit. We only have a few more weeks left until the drawing on August 19.  Yep, it’s hard to believe that today is August 1st!  Join the Grill Beast VIP, and you’ll automatically be entered to win!