Let's be honest - not everyone has hundreds of dollars to splurge on a top-notch smoker. If you’re looking to step up your smoking game, you’ll be happy to know you can do so without hacking apart your charcoal grill.
With the snake method, you can add all that delectable flavor to your BBQ. Cooking up your classic pork ribs, pulled pork, and burgers will never be the same again. Through my own trial and error, testing thousands of BBQ products over the years, I can proudly present to you the ultimate snake method guide.
The Snake Method Theory
The snake method, also known as the fuse method, minion method, C or U method, is a way of setting up your charcoal briquettes.
The charcoal snake method works to utilize low indirect temperatures and achieve a long cook. Indirect temperature essentially means placing your meat away from the charcoal, cooking your food with radiant heat instead .
The secret to being a master griller is to cook low and slow. No one likes a burnt outside and a raw inside.
To avoid this amateur mistake, use the snake method to grill up large cuts of meats at a low temperature over a longer period.
People also like to use their snakes to turn their charcoal grill into a smoker. It’s a pretty straightforward process. All you have to do is add some smoking wood on top of your charcoal to achieve that deep smoke flavor. Apple, cherry oak, or pecan - any wood chips or wood chunks you choose can add that distinctive taste to your food.
A common misperception about the snake method is the worry that a briquette will taint the taste of the meat. While it’s an understandable concern, you have nothing to worry about.
Ensuring you have enough oxygen reaching your pit, you won’t notice any unwanted flavors. Avoid overfilling your kettle grill with too many briquettes and follow the snake method guide to a T.
What You’ll Need
Before we begin building our snake, there are a few items we have to grab first:
- Your chosen meat - preferably marinated and prepared ahead of grilling time.
- A clean grill - not only will this avoid your food being tainted by old grilling residue, left-over grease, and spent fuel with block vents and trigger flare-ups, which aren’t great for maintaining a steady temperature.
- Drip plate - aluminum or a baking pan.
- Hot water in your drip pan - if your water is already heated, your grill won't waste energy to heat it.
- Oil - for the charcoal grate.
- Cooking tongs - preferable long-handled.
- Matches or lighter.
- A charcoal starter, chimney starter, or charcoal briquettes.
- Wood chunks or smoking wood if you choose to smoke.
- Digital thermometer - to check the barbecue temperature.
3 Steps To Using The Snake Method
Now we have everything we need for a successful snake, let the building and burning commence.
Step 1 - Building The Snake
What we’re aiming for here is a long fuse made from the best charcoal. While there are many ways to build a charcoal snake, we’re going to use this method:
- Using briquettes, arrange two overlapping rows a third of the way around the perimeter of your grill.
- Ensuring the briquette overlaps, place your second layer of briquettes along the length of the snake, on top of the first. It may begin to resemble a woven basket, but you’ll soon begin to see a black snake once you’re done. The aim of the game is to provide the fire a steady supply of coals to burn. The longer the snake length the longer the burn.
- Grab your smoker wood and lay them on top of your briquettes. The wood chunks should be placed at the end of the snake where you light your fire, along half of the snake. (At the start a cook, the cold meat begins to absorb the smoking taste)
Step 2 - Lighting The Snake
- Light around 8 briquettes by placing them away from the snake coals, in a pile on the grill. Place a starter cube or lighter fluid inside your grill wall. Alternatively, you can use your charcoal chimney starter or other lighter fluid substitutes to light your bbq.
- While you wait for your briquettes to heat up, grab your water. To create a water pan, simply fill it up three-quarters full of water and place the pan in the middle of your grills. This will help keep the temperature steady to allow you to burn low and slow.
- Once your briquettes are glowing red and ashed over, grab your tongs and stack the lit coals on top of the wood chunks. Ensure they’re overlapping the unlit briquettes.
Step 3 - Cooking With The Snake
- Oil up your cooking grate and place it on your bbq.
- The optimal temperature for your barbecue is 225 to 250 F, so sit back and wait for it to build up heat.
- Position your food over the water pan and place it onto the grate.
- With the vents opposite the coals, put the grills lid on. This will ensure optimal smoking and draw the smoke for the end of the snake and across the food.
- If your food begins cooking too fast, you can use aluminum foil to create a heat shield. Simply fold the foil and place it under the food to block the heat from the coals.
The great thing about the snake method is it doesn’t need babysitting. In fact, constant checking only disrupts the grill temperature. A charcoal grill isn't like a gas grill, so making sure you use the charcoal to maintain constant heat is incredibly important .
Keep the BBQ between 250 to 300 degrees. Use the vents to adjust the temperature (close to lower, open to higher) but never close them completely. If you need to extend the fire's burning time, simply add a few unlit briquettes to the tail end of the snake, making sure they overlap each other.
“Don’t overcrowd the grill. Leave plenty of space between each piece of meat, so oxygen can reach the charcoal.”
- Richard H Turner, Chef
You’ll know your pork is done depending on the tenderness vs the temperature. This goes for slow-cooker items such as pork ribs or pork butt. You can also use the bend method to check your pork butt. Grab your meat and test its tenderness by bending it in the air. If the pork butt in the middle tears open, then it’s finished.
After enjoying your perfectly smoked barbeque menu, clean up the grate, gather lump charcoal, and get rid of the water pan. The snake method is one of the easiest ways to turn your charcoal grill into a fully working smoker.
The Benefits of The Snake Method
- Low maintenance - The only thing you’ll need to keep your eye on is whether the lit coals are burning too fast on your barbecue. If the windy is steady then it’s highly likely you’ll rarely need to check the grill.
- Economical - Since a minimal amount of coal is used to cook up your menu, you won't go through as many coals.
- 2 in 1 - Now you can use your grill for smoking, there’s no need to buy one. No need to spend extra money, clean, store or maintain extra equipment.
There are quite a few slow fire methods out there and many coal-type works. The difference is usually how the charcoal and wood are arranged, but generally the cook and smoke almost the same.
If you’re unsure how your grill grate will smoke and how to control the temp, you can always do a little test beforehand, that way you don’t waste any expensive cuts of meat.
Charcoal Snake Method Recap
Next time you’re looking to do a low and slow cook, grab your coal, your grill and begin assembling that snake. Maintaining your snake is super easy - and not to mention economical.
Always remember to keep your BBQ’s temperatures steady and avoid opening the grill lid to check the process, doing so may disrupt the flow of your cooking. You’ll have wonderful tasting food before you know it - be sure to let us know how it worked for you in the comments below.