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

Low and slow cooking is an excellent way to prepare your food and is similar to smoking. Technically, you need a smoker to cook your food in this way. If you do not have a smoker, you can use the charcoal snake method.

What is the Snake Method?

You can turn your kettle grill into a smoker using the charcoal snake technique. In this instance, you position the charcoal briquettes in the grill in the shape of a C. Depending on the desired cooking time, you then add more fuel in the same manner.

This approach has a number of benefits. For instance, it uses less fuel because cooking with charcoal only needs a few pieces. Additionally, it is simple to pull and takes only a few simple steps to complete.

The snake approach has a long lifespan of up to 16 hours. Additionally, you have complete temperature control, which is important in cooking.

What Gear You Will Need


To convert your kettle grill to a slow cooker or smoker, you will need the following gear.

  • A kettle grill.
  • A bag of briquettes.
  • A drip pan.
  • Your preferred smoking wood.
  • A thermometer.

If you tick all the items in the above list, you can now set up the grill. Stick on as we take you through the steps of using the charcoal snake.

Step By Step Guide For the Snake Method

Step 1: Build Your Charcoal Snake

You start by creating the charcoal snake. Before setting up the briquettes, ensure that you have a clean grill. It prevents your food from having an off-taste due to soot and grease buildup.

Once clean, you have to arrange two rows of briquettes. Optionally, you may use charcoal lumps. However, briquettes are the perfect choice due to their uniform shape.

First, place the charcoal pieces against the kettle’s edge. Follow up with the edge until you form a C-shape. The fuel can cover up to three-quarters of the grill’s perimeter. The briquettes should be slightly touching each other for efficiency.

Next, place the second row of fuel. Let it follow the outline of the first row. Add a top row of the briquettes, following the same pattern. You can add an extra top row, depending on the length of the cook. For the top row, let it end two pieces behind that of the underlying one. It gives space for lighting the snake.

Along the circumference of the charcoal, add some smoking wood chunks. A few pieces will work fine. However, if you want a stronger taste, place more pieces on different areas of the briquette line. If you have wood chips, evenly spread them on the charcoal.

Place a water pan in the middle of the grill rack. Its main purpose is to moisturize your food and regulate the cooking temperature. If you do not have a pan, you can modify aluminum foil, making a reservoir out of it.

Step 2: Lighting Your Charcoal Snake

With everything set in the grill, it is time to light it up. Place some briquettes in a chimney starter. An easy way to light charcoal is by using fire starter cubes. You can place two of them for the fuel to light well.

Another option is to use old newspapers, with a little bit of oil. When lit, pick some pieces using a pair of tongs and place them at one end of the snake. Once the charcoal snake’s head starts to light, place a wood chunk atop of it.

Set the grate in place and introduce your food. Seal the grill lid, with the chimney being opposite of the lit charcoal. It helps draw sufficient smoke over your dish.

Try to check on the cooking progress occasionally. Bring in the thermometer to check the food’s internal temperature to see if it is ready.

Tips on Controlling the Temperature


When using your kettle grill to slow cook or smoke your food, be keen on the heat levels. The charcoal configuration contributes to temperature control, which is due to the slow-burning process, that releases uniform heat.

However, do not get the temptation to leave the grill unmanned. You may end up with dried-up food.

The following are some of the moves to pull to have the grill temperature in check.

Tuning the Vents

A grill has two vents, the inlet and exhaust dampers. They are the main components of temperature regulation. When prepping the grill, both vents should be open. This will encourage the charcoal pieces to start lighting.

Give it time to fire up and if you notice high heat levels, you may tune the intake vent to bring in less oxygen. While you can also adjust the chimney, it is better to avoid tuning it, especially if you are a beginner. Smoking does not require high thermal levels; thus, keep the inlet slightly open most of the time.

Use a Thermometer

You should know the temperature values when preparing your meals. Some cookers come with an in-built dome thermometer. This add-on will show you the heat levels in the cooking chamber.

A significant downside of the in-built heat gauge is that it is prone to errors, as it does not give you the true values of the food. To deal with this situation, you can get a Bluetooth meat thermometer. This accessory will provide you with accurate thermal levels of your food.

You can go up a notch and get an automatic temperature controller. These devices are very accurate and can give you both food and cooking chamber heat readings. Some are very advanced, allowing for remote control. This is possible courtesy of Wi-Fi connectivity.

The thermometer gives you an idea of your next move; lowering or increasing the thermal levels. Additionally, know about the temperature limits of slow cooking. Below 150-degrees Fahrenheit is the danger zone where bacteria can thrive, whereas, above 300 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to food burning.

An internal limit of 200-225 degrees Fahrenheit is perfect.

Fuel Levels

Fuel levels will affect your cooker’s heat production. If you have many charcoal pieces, expect a higher temperature, more so with the intake vent open. If you want low thermal levels, reduce the charcoal snake’s length. It is a good move if you cook meals that do not require long preparation hours, like vegetables.

Use the Drip Pan

The drip pan holds water or any liquid in the cooking chamber. The fluid plays several roles, including heat regulation. When temperatures rise, the water will evaporate, making the chamber humid. This helps keep temperatures moderate.

Water is the common substance to go in the drip pan. You may also use other liquids like marinade juices or wine to flavor your dish.

As earlier mentioned, if you do not have the drip pan, fashion one from aluminum foil.

Related: How to Use a Charcoal Grill

In Conclusion

Did you know you can convert your grill to a slow and low cooker? It is possible courtesy of the charcoal snake method. Here, you arrange charcoal lumps or briquettes in the grill like a snake. The fuel forms a C-shape.

This technique is economical, and the charcoal can light the cooker for roughly 16 hours. Moreover, it gives you an upper edge in temperature control. If you want to try out the charcoal snake method, this article is your ultimate companion.

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