The Easy and Simple Charcoal Snake Method

The Easy and Simple Charcoal Snake Method

Nov 01, 2021Staffan Ulmert

One of the most attractive methods of cooking food low and slow is the charcoal snake method, and yes, it’s as cool as it sounds.



  1. Charcoal Snake Method: Grill to Smoker Guide
  2. Things You Need for Charcoal Snake Method
  3. Easy to Follow Steps for Charcoal Snake Method
  4. How to Control the Grill Temperature?
  5. Smoked Meat Ideas to Try
  6. FAQ
  7. The Bottom Line

Here’s all you need to know about the famous snake method BBQ, how to set it up, its uses and benefits. If you haven’t tried grilling with the charcoal snake method, you’ve been missing out big time! Some of the most tender, juicy and beautifully pink chunks of meat are made with this unique technique.

Let’s just say the snake method has been a secret well kept by grill experts for too long, and now the secret is out. And with the extraordinary Looft Charcoal lighter that lights briquettes and charcoal in sixty seconds, lighting up a charcoal snake is easier than ever. Let’s get started!


Charcoal Snake Method: Grill to Smoker Guide

What is the charcoal snake method? Let’s just say you want to smoke a large piece of meat but don’t have or want to use a traditional smoker. Perhaps you’re okay with your versatile round grill right now, but want to take your grilling game to the next level.

Yes, you can smoke and cook meat low and slow on a standard grill, but you must do it in the most unusual way. That’s the charcoal snake method. The theory here is that by aligning a series of briquettes, effectively forming a charcoal ‘snake,’ you can light one end of the snake, and it will ignite the next row and so on in a very long process.

The result is a low, steady temperature, perfect for low-temp barbecuing. And if you strategically place smoking wood throughout the charcoal snake, the briquettes will light up the wood and bless your meat with those beautiful smoke scents. In a nutshell, that’s the charcoal snake method, and snake method BBQ is seriously good!

When done right, with adequate ventilation and briquettes, a charcoal snake can give anywhere from 12 to 15 hours of steady slow roasting. The set-and-forget method is extraordinary, and it allows you to spend more time with your grilling buddies without having to add any more charcoal to the grill.

Things You Need for Charcoal Snake Method

To use the charcoal snake method, you’ll need:

1. A Weber Kettle or any other circular grill. Most grilling enthusiasts don’t have a dedicated smoker, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy a slow-cooked, low-temperature piece of meat. Any circular grill has enough space to assemble a charcoal snake and has enough room for a water pan. On the colder side, we’ll place the meat.

2. Briquettes with no lighter fluid. Briquettes are better than lump coal to form a charcoal snake, not because they’re better but because they have a uniform shape and are easier to pile up. They burn slower as well. A classic charcoal snake comprises two rows of briquettes placed against the grill’s inner wall, two briquettes high, with a length of about ten briquettes. That’s forty briquettes in total. It should cover half the grill’s diameter. Adjust the snake’s size and length to your needs.

3. Smoking wood in chunks. Smoking meat with the charcoal snake method is easy. Place smoked wood in chunks or wood chips in the first half of the snake for a mild smoke flavour and some more wood over the few final briquettes for a smokier finish.

4. A water pan. An oven-safe, aluminium water pan. It will hold the water that will provide moisture to the meat and regulate the temperature.

5. A Chimney Starter or a Looft Lighter. To light a charcoal snake, you only need to light the first 2-4 briquettes. The hard way is using a chimney starter and using tongs to place the lit briquettes in place. The easier method is using a Looft lighter pointing straight into the snake’s ‘tail.’ The briquettes will be red hot in less than a minute.

6. A probe thermometer. Place a thermometer inside the grill to monitor the temperature through the lengthy cooking process. If you can check the temperature without having to open the grill, much better.

Easy to Follow Steps for Charcoal Snake Method

This is the step-by-step method in detail.

  1. In your clean round grill, place a first briquette layer over the grate against the side of the grill. Stop halfway through. It should take anywhere between 10-12 briquettes.
  2. Place a second layer of briquettes to create a half-circle with a two-briquette base. Now, pile up a double layer of briquettes to form a two-briquette-high snake. Place the wood smoke over the briquettes strategically, most of it on the snakes first half.
  3. Place a water pan on the side opposite to the charcoal snake and pour a few cups of water until filled three-quarters of the way.
  4. Use a Looft lighter to light one side of the charcoal snake. Place the main grill on top of the charcoal snake and place your meat on the opposite side.
  5. Open the vents entirely. Aim for a steady temperature between 225-250°F. Closing the vents slightly if the temperature drops and opening them again to maintain the target temperature.
  6. Monitor the temperature throughout the process with a probe thermometer and cook the meat until the desired doneness. Find barbecue ideas for this method below!

How to Control the Grill Temperature?

The secret behind controlling the temperature inside a smoker or closed grid is not the amount of charcoal used but the oxygen allowed to run through the smoker, or grill, in this case. Of course, opening the grill to check on the meat causes the heat to escape, so try to keep the lid closed as much as possible.

To control the temperature, you must first know the precise temperature inside the grill, and that’s where a digital probe BBQ thermometer comes in. You must be able to monitor the temperature without opening the grill.

If the temperature decreases, and it will, open the lower vent entirely and the top vent halfway. That will cause a steady flow of fresh air that’ll fuel the fire. Closing the vents will lower the temperature inside the grill.

Keep in mind that you should never close the vents all the way. First, the lack of air might extinguish the fire. And if the wood smoke is still burning, you might taint the meat irreparably.

Every grill is different, but by experimenting with varying vent setups, you’ll surely get a hold of it in no time. The secret behind fork-tender barbecue, whether its ribs of Texas brisket, is a steady temperature.

Smoked Meat Ideas to Try

Now that you know how to set up a snake method BBQ smoker, it’s time to talk about a few smoked meat ideas to try.

  • Chicken Wings. Smoked wings are fall-off-the-bone tender, and they’re super attractive when smokey. Sweet woods like maple and cherry are best for chicken and other white meat.
  • Brisket. Cook a fork-tender brisket with this smoking method and glaze it with your favourite sauce. From Texas-style brisket to hot and spicy, there’s nothing like brisket. Try rubbing it with Southern spices for quite a feast!
  • Smoked Salmon. Smoked salmon is ready in about 90 minutes, so you can make it after smoking a large piece of meat, using that residual heat! You can extend your charcoal snake if needed.
  • Smoked Turkey. Turkey legs take around an hour to make in a smoker at a high 325°F with indirect heat. Pecan and apple smoking woods are lovely with roasted birds.
  • Smoked Whole Chicken. The same goes for a whole chicken. Cook for around 45 minutes per pound of chicken at around 350°F or up to four hours at low 225°F.
  • Meatloaf. Yes, you can smoke a meatloaf in a smoker, and it’s fantastic. Prepare the meatloaf beforehand and remove it from the heat when it reaches a core temperature of 160 °F. Mesquite is an excellent wood for meatloaves.
  • Pork Butt. A seven-pound pork butt will be ready in about 10 hours using the snake method. Roughly 80 minutes per pound at a low 250°F. Glaze the pork butt for the best results!
  • Pork Belly. Smoked pork belly? Count us in! It will take around 8 hours at 225°F. Glaze the pork belly with BBQ sauce for a sticky and meaty delight. The sauce caramelises nicely.
  • Glazed Ham. A golden glazed ham with brown sugar glaze is perfect for holiday dinner parties, and you can make it in the grill with the charcoal snake method. For a double-smoked (precooked) ham, it takes around three hours at 225°-250°F.
  • Skewers. Everything from meat and chicken skewers to vegetarian skewers. How to say no to food on a stick? Make these while you cook a more significant chunk of meat. Skewers make for fantastic appetisers!

Snake Method vs Minion Method: Which one is better?

The Minion Method, as perfected by award-winning grill master Jim Minion, shares similarities with the snake method, but it’s vastly different.

To cook slowly and slowly with the Minion method, you must place a large amount of coal on the grill, most commonly briquettes, and spread them. Then you top these unlit briquettes with a new layer of burning briquettes. When using the Minion method, the lit briquets on top eventually light up the ones below, making for long hours of steady cooking temperatures.

Is the Minion method better than the snake method? It depends. The Minion method is best for large grills, where a single charcoal ‘snake’ might not be enough. For smaller round grills, the snake is better — it’s also way cooler! That’s the main difference between the snake method vs minion method.

Both methods give you more than enough time to cook your favourite meat slowly, and they both allow you to add wood smoke. Talking about smoking, the snake method lets you ‘program’ when you want your wood to light up. Something you can’t do with the Minion method without opening the lid.

Snake Method BBQ FAQ

Can I use the grill method in an egg or kamado-style smoker?

In theory, you can, but some models have relatively small surfaces that might not allow you to have a hot and a cold zone. The meat must be placed as far away from the charcoal snake as possible to benefit from the indirect heat.

How to know when the meat is ready?

Timing is part of becoming a great grill master. Eventually, after several hours have passed, you’ll have to open the grill and check the meat, both by touch and with a meat thermometer. You’ll know it when you see it.

Can I build a charcoal snake with just two layers?

Of course. Two-layer snakes or even three-layer (pyramidal) charcoal snakes are not uncommon. The fatter the snake, the longer it will take to consume, and the higher the temperature inside the grill.

What’s the best way to light a charcoal snake?

They practically invented the Looft lighter to solve this kind of problem. Just point and shoot. The lighter uses a resistance and air to light charcoal in less than a minute without having to move the charcoal from its place.

The Bottom Line

The charcoal snake method is not only effective and basically free but also fun! Watching those briquettes fall one by one, guaranteeing a steady temperature, will make you fall back in love with outdoor grilling.

Long cooking hours feel like minutes when you’re having fun. Call some friends over, tell them all you know about the charcoal snake method and make yourselves a great smoky meal. There are few better ways of spending a weekend. Smoking is easier than ever, so what’s for dinner?

Try the charcoal snake method and let us know how it goes! There’s just nothing like it, and it’s a game-changer!

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