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Charcoal Tricks

How to lay your coals for consistent temperatures.

Keeping your temperature steady when cooking low and slow on a Kettle or Ceramic Egg can be tricky. Every time you lift the lid or add new hot coals, the temperature spikes or dips. So how do you get the maximum control over your temp? How about trying the minion or snake methods of laying out your briquettes?

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  • Minion method.

    Minion method.

  • Snake method.

    Snake method.

There are several ways to set charcoal up for a cook, and depending on what you are using you could adopt either one of the more popular methods.

Minion Method: The minion method is great for Kamados or Eggs. These are either of ceramic construction or metal. They allow for large amounts of charcoal to be put into the pit below the cooking surface and generally have ceramic-type pizza stones that act as a deflector, offering an indirect cooking method. They work like a convection oven, and they’re great at locking in moisture during the cook.

The minion method is basically a pyramid type construction, where the charcoal or briquettes are dumped in the middle and then formed by hand to a small peak. Your smoking wood is then placed around the perimeter of the peak and also at the very edge. This offers a slow consistent burn that will light pieces of smoking wood over several hours, rather than one smoky hit at the start.

Snake method: Most commonly used in Kettle-style barbecues. The snake is just as the name suggests, one long thin line of briquettes. It’s hard to use lump charcoal with this method because of the random shape and size of lump. First, remove the Kettle cooking grate and start laying the briquettes in a row of two, side by side each other.
Continue around the perimeter of the kettle, make sure they rest nicely against the side and that they’re touching the coals in from and behind nicely, by overlapping them. They should look similar to fallen dominoes. For cooks of 8hrs+ you would want to go at least two-thirds of the way around the perimeter of the kettle.

Once the row at the bottom is completed, go back along the top in between the two rows and lay a third row. Lay them on a tilt just like fallen dominoes. Once completed add smoking wood chunks to the top of the snake. These chunks ideally would be similar size as the briquettes. You will only need to lay wood chunks for just over halfway around the snake. Once the meat reaches an internal temp of 140ºF (60ºC), the meat will no longer take on any smoke.

In the warmer months, you will need to light about 12-15 briquettes and add them to the start of the snake. In the winter months, you may need as many as 20-25 lit briquettes.
Put a foil or oven tray in the middle of the snake and add some hot water to fill, then place your meat on top and you’re away!

To see a quick video on the layup of the snake method, check out our friends at Heatbeads.

Thanks to Matt Melville for his article advice and Moonshine BBQ for photo.