Smoking or low and slow cooking is considered one of the best ways to achieve flavorful and tender meat. But since it needs long hours and a stable temperature to get the best results, smoking is usually done using electric or pellet smokers.

However, what if you only have a charcoal grill? Is it still possible to smoke?

To answer it simply, yes, it is.

With the proper arrangement of your briquettes, smoking in a charcoal grill is possible. And one of the most popular methods you can use is the snake method.

If you haven’t heard about this method yet, this article will tell you everything about it, from the concept behind it, what you’ll need, and its benefits. So, if you’re interested in starting using your charcoal grill for smoking, read on.

The Concept behind the “Snake Method”

The concept behind the snake method is quite simple; you just need to place a few burnt coals near unburnt ones. At the same time, there’s a need to make sure that you arrange them in a way where the lit coals would slowly light up the unlit ones. Therefore maintaining a low and stable temperature.

As the name implies, you’re arranging the charcoals in a semi-circle instead of filling the whole charcoal grill with unlit briquettes as the standard method. Thus, calling it a “snake”.

After that, you place the lit charcoals on one end of that semi-circle instead of lighting up all the briquettes, as you would in the standard method.

Gear You Will Need

Before we proceed to the actual instructions on how to use this method, let us first go through the things you’d need:

  • Charcoal Grill: The snake method is best used for any round and spherical grill, usually the kettle type. It’s also best if the base is flat to line up the charcoal briquettes well.
  • Charcoal Briquettes: We highly recommend using briquettes than lump charcoals as they’re of better quality. It’s easier to burn consistent and steady temperatures with good-quality briquettes.
  • Wood chips: If you want to bring extra flavor to your meat, having wood chips would be great.
  • Charcoal Chimney: We highly recommend using a charcoal chimney to lit up the first charcoal briquettes for clean-burning fire.
  • Aluminum Foil: Used mainly to deflect heat for when you’re smoking meat.
  • Water pan: This is very important to ensure that meat remains tender even after hours of cooking.
  • Thermometer: Essential to regularly monitor the grill’s temperature.

The Charcoal Snake Method Step-by-Step Guide

Now, once you have your materials ready, here’s how you do the snake method:

1. Line your charcoal briquettes on your grill.

In a snake method, we need to form a semi-circle. So, following the wall of your grill, line two rows of charcoal briquettes in a semi-circle. After that, start another row of charcoal briquettes on top of the first layer you’ve made:

Note: It’s best if you ensure that each briquette is of equal size for even heating. Also, all charcoal briquettes must lean towards the same direction to ensure stable cooking too.

With this formation, you can already smoke meat for 12-15 hours. However, if you’re planning to do a longer or shorter cook, you can form a bigger or a smaller snake.

But we recommend sticking to making the snake longer. This will ensure that you have more time than not whilst smoking. After all, the purpose of this arrangement is to lit up briquettes gradually. In some cases not all of the briquettes with lit up so you can always reuse them.

Aside from the hours, you should also consider the temperature. For example, the standard placement above can give you a temperature of around 250 °F. However, if you add two more rows on the second layer instead of one, the temperature will increase.

So take this into consideration this when lining up your charcoal briquettes.

snake methodImage credit – Perthbbqschool.com

2. Add the smoking wood.

Next, if you’re planning to use hardwood for extra flavor, place that on top of your second layer. Remember to place only a few wood chunks; you don’t want to oversmoke the meat. Also, make sure that there’s a space between wood chunks, so you don’t light them up altogether.

3. Light your starter charcoal.

Now that you’ve set up your charcoal and smoke wood well, it’s time to lit up your starter charcoals.

It’s highly recommended to use a charcoal chimney for this task. This helps ensure that you burn the wood cleanly.

To start, place around 8-10 charcoal briquettes in your charcoal chimney and light them up. Wait until the top briquettes are ashed before putting them on one end of the snake.

Which end?

We recommend that you place lit coals in the direction opposite the top vent. This will help the smoke and heat spread across your meat evenly.

4. Place a water pan.

Once that’s done, grab your water pan and fill it with hot water.

Place the pan at the center of the grill. This is important to ensure that your meat stays tender after long hours of cooking. This will also help catch any grease from your meat, making your grill easier to clean after using.

charcoal snake methodImage credit – Perthbbqschool.com

5. Wait for the temperature to rise.

Place the oiled cooking grate back to the charcoal grill, close the lid, and wait for the temperature to rise. Preferably higher than the desired temperature.

If you’re aiming for a temperature of 225 °F250 °F, you should wait for the temperature to increase to 275 °F300 °F. This is because the temperature inside can go down once the lid is opened and you place your cold meat.

6. Place the meat on the cooking grate.

Once the desired temperature is reached, it’s time to get your meat and start smoking.

It’s best to always prepare your meat beforehand. It should have been marinated overnight, so you’d only have to put it on your cooking grate.

Don’t put the meat directly on the cooking grate. Instead, grab a foil and line the grate with it. This will prevent your meat from getting in contact with direct heat, causing it to cook unevenly. It also helps prevent any residue from sticking on the grate.

Also, place the meat just above the water or drip pan and not above your snake.

7. Insert the thermometer.

After you’ve placed the meat, it’s time to insert your temperature probe so you can monitor the inside temperature of the meat.

You should also have another thermometer that will measure the inside temperature of your grill. Don’t depend on the thermometer of the lid (if there is one), as this can sometimes be inaccurate.

8. Wait for the meat to cook.

And that’s it!

You now have to sit and wait.

Well, not totally. Because there are still a few things you need to do, such as making sure that the temperature stays steady.

Controlling Temperature

To smoke meat perfectly, it’s crucial that the temperature stays stable. This is the reason why most people prefer using electric smokers as temperature control is easier.

For a charcoal grill, knowing how to use your exhaust (on the lid) and intake (on the grill) vents will be helpful.

As you start preparing the snake method, both vents should stay open.  Wait for the temperature to rise, and once it hits the 200 °F, you can now slightly close the intake vent. This will help slow down the rise of temperature, making it easily controlled.

Throughout the cooking, it’s recommended that you only move the intake vent to adjust the temperature to go higher or lower.

  • Remember: Closing the vent will prevent oxygen from coming in, which means lower temperature, too; opening it will allow more oxygen to come in, which means higher temperature.

Never close vents all the way, as this will cause you more problems. If you need to make temperature adjustments, do it little by little and wait for at least 20 minutes for the temperature to adjust.

Also, don’t focus on sticking in the 225 °F temperature. Anywhere temperature between 225 °F and 275 °F is acceptable and will cook your meat.

Benefits of Using The Charcoal Snake Method

So, why should you use this charcoal method?

First of all, it allows you to cook for long hours using very few charcoal briquettes. When you buy one bag, you can use it already for several cooking sessions.

Second, it’s low maintenance and would require you to check the charcoal very few times. If the weather conditions are good, like there are no strong winds, you might not even need to check how your charcoals are burning.

Lastly, it helps you save money and space in your home. We know that charcoal grills are the least expensive grills on the market. And now that you know that you can use it as a smoker, you no longer have to buy a smoker.

On top of that, it helps you save some space in your home as you don’t need to have both a smoker and a grill. Of course, this is only a good idea if you’re not regularly smoking your meat.

What Other Type of Grills Can You Use

The snake method is highly recommended to use in kettle-type grills. However, this doesn’t mean that you can no longer use other grill types.

You can actually use any type of grill, as long as you can fit a semi-circle snake well. Preferably, go for grills that have wider bases.

It might also be possible to do it in a rectangular grill by following the same concept. However, we haven’t done it, so not sure how that would work out. Instead of following the wall line, you can probably skip the corners and form a curve to stick to the snake shape.

You should also make sure that the grill you’re using is of good quality and can sustain heat for long hours. Also, don’t pick grills with thin walls as wind and other outside conditions might affect the quality of cook you produce.

Recap

The snake method is a low-cost and low maintenance technique that you can use for doing low and slow cooking on a grill. It’s very simple for even beginners to try.

Here are a few things to remember about it:

  • The longer the snake, the longer the hours you can cook. If you want stronger fire, you can create a 2×2 layer of charcoal briquettes.
  • Use a charcoal chimney to light around 8-10 charcoal briquettes as this helps the fire burn cleanly.
  • Don’t forget to place a water pan at the center to keep the meat tender. And place the meat directly above it and not above your snake.
  • Line your cooking grates with aluminum foil to prevent your meat from direct heat. This will help cook your meat evenly.
  • Learn to control the temperature using the air vents and don’t overthink. As long as you stay within the range, you’re good.

And that’s it! You’re now ready to try the snake method.