How to arrange charcoal in a smoker for a ‘low and slow’ cook

Whether you’re using a dedicated charcoal smoker such as a vertical bullet style smoker or converting a grill such as a kettle BBQ, there are a couple of ways in which you can arrange both the charcoal and the wood for flavouring to help ensure a low and slow smoke.

Firstly though, before you start setting your charcoal you need to ensure the following:

  • No accelerants are used as a way of starting the fire, both liquid or as a product within the lighters or charcoal
  • Use a quality lump wood charcoal or briquette. These will ensure that there is no tainting of flavour to your food and that the temperature of the smoker can be managed effectively.

Snake method

This is the ideal method if you’re using a kettle BBQ whereby you only want to have the coals lit on one side of the BBQ.

The snake method works by building a half circle ring of charcoal around the outside edge of your charcoal grill and individual wood chunks can be placed intermittently on top of the coals. (Briquettes are often favoured for this method due to their uniform shape and reduces the chance of temperature spikes).

You then place either a few of lit briquettes from a chimney at one end of the line of charcoal.  Due to the way that the briquettes are laid out they will provide a continual level of heat for quite a long period of time, ideal for you low and slow smoke.

Minion Method

The Minion Method works in a similar manner to the Snake Method where lit fuel slowly ignites unlit fuel via combustion allowing you to slowly control temps.

The difference with Minion is you use a large pile of unlit fuel rather than the long fuse of the snake.  There are a few slightly different Minion set ups that can be used, the donut being the most common.

Begin by pouring about 4kg of quality lump wood or briquettes in your charcoal basket, spreading them out to the side and forming a “donut”.   While doing this light the remainder of your charcoal or briquettes in a starter chimney or similar.  (You don’t need to fill the chimney, about a half to a third full would be fine).

Note: The amount of fuel that you need to add at the beginning is really governed by the size of your fuel basket.  You do need to have the basket pretty full to give a long cook without the need for refilling.

Place the lit fuel in the middle hole of the donut then add the smoking wood. About 2 or 3 chunks should be fine, one on the lit fuel and the others adjacent so that they will smoke once the fuel begins to light.

As with the snake method, this should provide a long, consistent temperature smoke.