Getting a long cook time from your BBQ can be difficult to manage if you are relying on simply adding lit coals each time your temperature starts to drop. For most long cooks, you want to keep your temperature quite low and steady. This means you only need a few briquettes to be lit at any one time to achieve that temperature.
Today we’re going to look at two different charcoal setups for low and slow cooking that mix lit briquettes with unlit briquettes to extend your cook time and avoid the need to sit by the BBQ watching your temperatures.
The Minion Method
This charcoal setup was thought up by Jim Minion as a way to get his WSM up to temperature but maintain a long, consistant cook time. It has changed a little over the years but the principles still remain the same. The minion method works by filling the charcoal basket of your BBQ with unlit briquettes then adding a few lit briquettes on top. As the BBQ slowly comes up to temperature, you will adjust your bottom vents to slow the ignition process and control how quickly the briquettes burn.
The number of unlit and lit briquettes you add will ultimately be determined by what your target temperature is and how long you are cooking for. To hit a temperature of around 225-250F for 7-8 hours, I will usually add a heaped chimney starter of unlit briquettes to the charcoal basket then add around 15 lit briquettes to the centre. Adjusting the vents to around ⅓ open when the smoker is close to my target temp will help it hold steady for the entire cook.
The minion method is my preferred smoker setup but you can also replicated a ‘Mini Minion’ in your charcoal BBQ. As the food is much closer to the fire, it will generally require less fuel to maintain the temperature but set it up in the same way. Using a charcoal rail to hold the coals to one side, add your unlit briquettes to one side of your Charcoal BBQ then add a few lit briquettes on top. By adjusting the vents, you will control how quickly the unlit briquettes catch and therefore control the burn time.
The Snake Method
Another common ‘low and slow’ charcoal setup is the snake method. This involves carefully building a line of unlit briquettes around the outer edge of your charcoal grate then adding the lit briquettes to one end of that line. Think of it like a fuse – you light one end of the snake and it will slowly burn it’s way to the other end.
A common setup for the snake is a 2 x 1 snake which simply means 2 x briquettes laid side by side on the bottom row, then a second row of 1 x briquette built on top.
The length of your snake will depend on the cook time you require but it is very important that you take care when placing the briquettes as they rely on contact with each other to ignite and keep the snake going.
You can add a chunk or two of wood at the beginning of the snake to provide smoke in the early stages of the cook.
Whilst my preferred method for low and slow cooking is the minion method, these are both great ways to control your burn time and will ultimately give you more control over your temperature during long cooks. Both methods will slowly bring up the temperature inside your BBQ and allow you to control it with your vents. Trying to tame a high temperature can be difficult so these two methods should help you get your temperature management under control.