Understanding Minion And Snake Method For Charcoal

Understanding Minion And Snake Method For Charcoal

To fully understand the Minion and Snake method for a charcoal grill I have to explain what they are and the basic difference between the two.

Both have as a goal to keep our charcoal grill going for a long time and are most of the time used for smoking at low temperatures between 225 and 250 degrees.

The way they both work is that they use unlit charcoal and then they add hot charcoal that will slowly spread to the unlit charcoal and in this way keep the fire going for a long time.

The difference between the two is just the way they are set up. In my opinion, the Minion method is better for larger grills and the Snake method is more suited for smaller grills like the Weber kettles you can find here.

The reason is that the minion method uses a load of unlit charcoal and then you add a load of hot charcoal in the middle. The snake method needs more time to set up and needs fewer hot coals to start the whole process.

Who Invented The Minion Method For Charcoal?

I found that it was used first by Jim Minion on one of his first competition BBQ days. Here is the story I found.

jim minion

I was cooking in a competition and on the morning of the turn-ins I had my wife go to a shop and pick up my first WSM. I put it together filled the ring with charcoal and needed a way to light it off (I never did read the directions).
I decided to do what is today called the Method.
We took a 1st in chicken and 2nd in ribs that day.
I got home and was reading Ray’s forum and the question was asked on how to control the temps on a WSM, I answered and the rest is history.
The only real debate was the fact that you were putting unburnt charcoal in the ring and it was lighting off as you go, knowing a little about Jedmasters I knew this was not really a problem and the results answered that question.

You can read it all here https://tvwbb.com/showthread.php?21136-History-Of-The-Minion-Method

Who invented the Snake method for charcoal?

I have been trying to find out who started this method and was not able to find an answer.

If you know more feel free to share it with us.

The Minion Method Explained

Everyone who ever tried to cook meat on low and slow knows how hard it is to keep the temperature steady. If you use a standard method you have to open the grill at regular intervals to add more charcoal.

This lets in more oxygen and will make the temperature go up for a while and that is what we try to avoid. The Minion method works like this:

  • Add a load of unlit charcoal to the grill
  • Fire up a load of charcoal in a chimney starter
  • Add the lit charcoal to the unlit charcoal

In this way, the lit charcoal slowly spreads to the unlit charcoal, and without having to open the grill and add more charcoal we can keep the temperature steady for a long time once we have adjusted the bottom and top vents.

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The Snake Method Explained

  • Build a ring of charcoal on the side of your grill
  • Lit a few charcoal briquettes
  • Add them to one side of the charcoal ring

The charcoal will slowly work its way through the ring of unlit charcoal and this will keep the temperature steady the way we wanted it.

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Can you use the minion or snake method on any grill, BBQ, or smoker?

Although basically they can be used on any grill with a little adjusting, it is my opinion that it will work better on a slightly larger grill where you have enough room to set up a 2-zone fire as I described here.

In this way, you can keep your coals on one side and away from the meat you are hot side.

A smaller grill will not hold enough coal and needs to be opened more to add charcoal.

There is also a problem with many smokers they are not air-tight enough. This causes air leaks and will cause the coals to burn a lot faster. An airtight smoker will be more efficient with the charcoal of course.

You can use the minion method fairly easily on an offset smoker and I found a video that explains it better than I can.

How to Minion Method (Off Set Smoker)

What Type Of Charcoal? Lump Or Briquettes?

Although you can use either briquette or lump charcoal you have to keep in mind that lump charcoal burns faster and hotter.

The reason is that the lump charcoal is a natural product and they have no uniform size. It is also not easy to pack them in a way that will make them easy to use as well as the snake as the minion method.

Briquettes are on the other hand uniform in shape and size and will also burn more evenly. This makes them in my opinion better suited for the methods of cooking low and slow without adding fuel all the time.

I have to warn that briquettes produce more ashes and if not placed in the right way can smother the fire.

Are Unlit Briquettes Affecting The Taste?

Lump charcoal is burned wood without oxygen and this is leaving more carbon. This is a natural and unprocessed material.

Briquettes, however, are mixed with other ingredients and pressed into a uniform shape as you can read in this article I wrote about how charcoal briquettes are made.

I have read people who mention that they can taste the difference between meat cooked with lump charcoal or briquettes.

The generally accepted opinion is that charcoal briquettes have to be lit all the way before we can use them to cook. The Minion and Snake methods both use unlit charcoal and this is against this “rule”.

It is just odd that the bad smell of charcoal that is being lit does not affect the taste of the meat at all. I most certainly can not taste the difference.

Best Temperature For Minion And Snake Method.

As I mentioned before these methods are great for cooking low and slow. The slow burning of the charcoal makes it perfect to maintain the temperature in your smoker around 225 to 250 Fahrenheit.

It is not the best way to cook steaks where you need higher temperatures of around 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

How To Add More Charcoal.

It is hard to cook a very long session of 10 to 12 hours with the snake of minion method and you will have to add charcoal at a certain point of the cooking process.

To add more charcoal to the grill it is best to use a Weber chimney starter to light a load of charcoal. But do not burn them all the way like you are used to doing.

Burn them until you have about 25% ashes or maybe a little more and then add them to the grill. In this way, you will not have too many temperature fluctuations.

An alternative to a chimney starter is one of the electric charcoal starters I reviewed here.

What About Other Types Of Grills

There is no one size fits all and every cooker has its pros and cons. Once you have figured out how much coal to fire up and how much unlit coal to use you can keep the grill going by adjusting the air vents.

My Way Of Using The Minion Method

Since I do not have an offset smoker I use my regular drum BBQ grill for this type of low and slow cooking.

I set it up in a way that my charcoal is on one side of the grill and I use my Weber char basket fuel holder for that.

I do it just in reversed order since I found out that this works better for me.

I add the lit charcoal first and then add the unlit charcoal. This will allow the airflow to go from the bottom to the top.

I also add my wood chunks to the lit charcoal before adding the unlit. This will start my smoke flavor to work from the get-go and by adding more in the unlit part I can keep it going.

Pros and cons of the Minion and snake method.


  • Great for long sessions
  • Ready to start cooking in 20 minutes
  • Fewer changes of cooking to hot


  • Not too good for lump charcoal
  • Not for grilling at high temperature

My Takeaway On Minion And Snake Method

What and how you light your grill or smoker all depends on what you are going to cook on it. Using one of these methods makes your grill come close to some of the pellet smokers I looked at.

Burgers, steaks, chicken, and meats that cook fast do need an indirect fire that will allow you to grill the meat at temperatures of 350 – 375°F (176 – 190°C).

For cooking on low and slow the Minion and Snake method is just one way of regulating the temperature to the desired 225 – 250°F(107 – 121°C).

For your cooker, all you can do is trial and error. But by using the tips in this article I think you will be able to set it up the right way from the start and cook some great meat.

Eddie van Aken

Eddie van Aken has years of experience in running his full-service restaurant and with this came working with using and dealing with all types of kitchen equipment. With his experience, he can find all the pros and cons of grills and add them to the grill reviews he is doing. You can read more on the about page for Eddie van Aken

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