How to Turn Your Grill Into a Smoker Using the Charcoal Snake Method

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If you want to start cooking barbeque but don’t have a fancy specialized smoker, consider the snake approach.

We’ll teach you how to utilize this easy method to smoke meat in a Kettle type grill at a consistent low temperature for up to 12 hours in this lesson.

Lets shed some light on the snake method!

How the Snake Method works

To use the snake technique, create a half-circle ring of charcoal around the inner edge of your circular charcoal barbecue.

Then, at one end of the ring or snake, add a few lighted briquettes, which will constantly fire the nearby charcoal briquettes.

The progressive lighting of the charcoal results in continuously low and regulated temperatures throughout time.

You might also hear this method called the fuse.

This is great for smoking meat for many hours without needing to add new charcoal in the midst of the cooking process. It enables you to swiftly heat up your smoker while maintaining a consistent, long-term heat.

The snake approach, when correctly set-up, practically eliminates the need for dirty recharging since it may operate continuously for 12 to 15 hours. This is particularly useful in grills and non-dedicated smokers, which lack the insulated walls that normal smokers have for heat retention and stability.

That is why the snake approach works so well in barbecues like the Weber Kettle. Your heat is maintained by the charcoal snake and water pan, not by thick rolled steel insulated walls like a specialist smoker.

Though the snake approach works very well in Weber Kettles and other circular grills in general, after you’ve mastered it, you can apply it to other BBQ pits and grills, such as kamado type smokers.

Won’t unlit briquettes affect the taste of the food?

Short answer: no.

An urban tale in the barbecue industry holds that since briquettes include binders to keep their uniform shape, they will impact the flavor of the meal when they burn.

According to Gus from Perth BBQ School, You should not notice any unusual tastes as long as there is adequate oxygen and ventilation in your pit.

Just don’t suffocate your charcoal by restricting ventilation, and you should be OK.

Also, avoid using briquettes that include lighter fluid, such as match light Kingsford.

Gear you need

The snake technique doesn’t need any equipment apart from something to smoke.

  • Weber Kettle (or other charcoal grill)
  • 1 medium bag Charcoal Briquettes (you may also use lump, however the consistency of the briquettes allows for a more steady, consistent burn)
  • Chimney Starter
  • Smoking wood chunks (your preference)
  • Water pan

You may also want to use a dual probe thermometer to monitor both the grill temperature (the dome thermometer is seldom particularly precise) and the temperature of the meat.

Snake Method step by step guide

The simplicity of the snake approach is its charm. The video below demonstrates how to do so, or you may follow our step-by-step instructions below.

The only difference we would make is to place a piece of wood on the first ignited coals so your meat gets some smoke straight away.

Build Your Charcoal Snake

  1. Begin by arranging two rows of briquettes in a half-circle, one against the edge and the other within the first.
  2. Rep the procedure on top of the initial layer of briquettes. You should now have a half circle of charcoal two briquettes wide and two briquettes tall. (Depending on the duration of your cook, you could do just one row of briquettes on top, or you may shorten the snake by eliminating a few briquettes in each row. The length of the snake will be determined by the chef, but the longer the charcoal snake, the less room will be available for indirect food placement).
  3. Stop your top rows three or four briquettes from the snake’s end. This is where you’ll place your lighted charcoal to function as a fuse for the remainder of the row.
  4. Place your preferred smoking wood on top of the snake. Place two or three pieces approximately two inches apart on the snake’s first half. If you like a stronger smoke taste, add extra wood throughout the snake’s length. In a pinch, wood chips might suffice.
  5. Place the water pan and charcoal snake in the center of the grill. The water pan not only provides moisture during the meal, but it also functions as a temperature regulator.
  6. Fill your water pan approximately three-quarters full.

How to Light your Charcoal Snake

  1. Ten briquettes should be placed in the bottom of a chimney starter.
  2. To ignite the coals, use some fire starter cubes or a rolled-up paper towel doused in oil.
  3. Dump the charcoal around the snake’s beginning, then use tongs to set your lighted charcoal on the position you designated for them before. Lean half against the unlit briquettes, half on top of the lower rows.
  4. Place one piece of smoking wood on top of the burning charcoal.
  5. Replace the grill grate, and you’re ready to cook using the snake technique!
  6. Place the grill cover on the other side of the grill from the ignited charcoal. This will assist in drawing the smoke over your meat.

How to Control Temperature

You’ll need to be able to adjust the interior temperature of your snake now that it’s up and running.

The top and bottom vents come into play here.

  • Start with both vents wide open.
  • Depending on the weather, you may be able to maintain a healthy smoke temperature of 225-250F without making any modifications.
  • When your temperature gauge reaches 200 degrees Fahrenheit, begin adjusting the temperature at the bottom vent. Close it slightly to slow the pull of oxygen through the cooker and reach the desired temperature.
  • Continue to manage the fire as required by opening and shutting vents to increase and reduce the temperature.
  • Make small adjustments, and give it time!
  • Consider a dual probe barbecue thermometer with one probe at grate level and one probe in your meat for optimal temperature control. This will provide you with an extremely precise representation of how your setup is operating and what, if anything, needs to be adjusted.

To keep track of the temperature, I use my Smoke from ThermoWorks.

See our guide on managing temperature on a charcoal smoker for more information.

Snake Method Takeaways 

The snake technique is a low-cost, low-maintenance approach for producing excellent results with any low and slow cook.

Simple enough for inexperienced pitmasters to understand, but trustworthy enough for seasoned veterans to use.

With only a few rows of stacked briquettes and smoking wood, you can make anything from Carolina pulled pork to Texas Brisket and everything in between.

Experiment with the snake approach to determine what works best for you and your cooker, and be sure to share your findings in the comments!


How to Use the Charcoal Snake Method to Turn Your Grill Into a Smoker

Does the charcoal snake method work?

Is the Charcoal Snake Method Effective With Lump Charcoal? Absolutely. However, there are a few things to keep in mind concerning lump charcoal. Briquettes are often used for charcoal arrangements such as the minion technique or the charcoal snake because they are consistent and predictable.

What temperature is the snake method charcoal grill?

Place your meat on the other side of the main grill and the charcoal snake. Close the vents completely. Aim for a constant temperature of 225-250°F. If the temperature dips, close the vents slightly and reopen them to maintain the intended temperature.

How much charcoal do you use in the snake method?

The’snake’ approach consists of a sequence of unlit briquettes set at a 45-degree angle around half the diameter of your grill. For a 57cm barbeque, 10-12 briquettes are lighted to one side, then stacked over the front of the’snake’ to begin the process.

Can you turn an old grill into a smoker?

If you’re using a charcoal barbecue, toss the moist chips right on top of the hot embers. Wrap the coals in foil and punch small holes in it to enable steam to escape if you’re using a gas grill. Place the wood chip packet immediately on the unlit cooking grate, then relight it. When you see smoke, you’re ready to go!

Can you smoke meat with only charcoal?

Did you know that you don’t need a sophisticated smoker to enjoy the taste of smoked meat at home? If you have a charcoal grill, you may make a smoker that produces fantastic results.

How long will snake method burn?

The snake approach, when correctly set-up, practically removes the need for dirty refilling since it may operate continuously for 12 – 15 hours. This is particularly useful in grills and non-dedicated smokers, which lack the insulated walls that normal smokers have for heat retention and stability.


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