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

Charcoal stacked into a snake in weber kettle grill

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If you want to start cooking barbecue but don’t have a fancy dedicated smoker, then you need to give the snake method a try.

In this guide, we’ll show you how to use this simple technique to smoke meat in a Kettle style grill at a constant low temperature for up to 12 hours.

Let’s shed some light on the snake method!

How the Snake Method works

The snake method works by building a half-circle ring of charcoal around the inside edge of your circular charcoal grill.

You then place a couple lit briquettes at one end of the ring – or snake – that will continuously ignite the adjacent charcoal briquettes. 

The gradual lighting of the charcoal gives you consistently low and controllable temperatures over an extended period of time. 

You might also hear this method called the fuse.

This is ideal for meat you want to smoke for several hours without having to add more charcoal in the middle of the cook. It allows you to fire up your smoker quickly while giving you a steady, long-term heat. 

When properly set-up, the snake method virtually eliminates the need for messy refueling as it can run constent for 12 – 15 hours. This is especially helpful in grills and non-dedicated smokers as they typically don’t have the insulated walls that regular smokers do for heat retention and stability. 

That is why the snake method is so beneficial in grills such as the Weber Kettle. Your heat is stabilized by the charcoal snake and water pan and not insulated walls of thick rolled steel like a dedicated smoker. 

Though the snake method works wonderfully in Weber Kettles and other circular grills in general, once you get the hang of it you can apply it to other BBQ pits and grills such as kamado style smokers. 

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

Short answer: no.

An urban legend of the bbq world, there is a misconception that because briquettes contain binders to hold their uniform shape, they will affect the taste of the food as they ignite.

Gus from Perth BBQ School states “As long as there is enough oxygen and airflow in your pit you shouldn’t notice any strange flavors.”

Just don’t smother your charcoal by choking down the airflow and you should be good. 

And make sure you don’t use briquettes which include lighter fluid like match light Kingsford.

Gear you need

Other than something to smoke, the snake method doesn’t require a lot of gear.

You might also want a dual probe thermometer to keep an eye on the grill temperature (the dome thermometer is never very accurate) and your meat temperature.

Snake Method step by step guide

The beauty of the snake method is its simplicity. The video below shows you how to set it up, or you can follow our step by step instructions below.

The only different suggestion we would make is to add a piece of wood on the initial lit coals so your meat can start getting some smoke right away.

Build Your Charcoal Snake

  1. Begin by creating two rows of briquettes in a half-circle: The first row against the edge, and the second row inside of the first row. 
  2. Repeat the process on top of your first layer of briquettes. Now, you should have a half circle of charcoal that is two briquettes wide and two briquettes tall. (Depending on the length of your cook, you could only do one row of briquettes on the top, or you can shorten the snake by removing a few briquettes in each row. The cook will dictate the length of the snake, but the longer charcoal snake you have, the less space will be left for indirect food placement). 
  3. Stop your top rows about three or four briquettes from the end of the snake. This is where your lit charcoal will sit, acting as a fuse for the rest of the row.
  4. Add smoking wood of your choice on top of the snake. Place two or three chunks on the first half of the snake about two inches apart. If you like a stronger smoke flavor, add more wood along the rest of the snake. Wood chips would work as well in a pinch.
  5. Place your water pan in the middle of the grill and charcoal snake. The water pan not only adds moisture throughout the cook, but also serves to regulate the temperature.
  6. Fill your water pan about three quarters of the way up.

How to Light your Charcoal Snake

  1. Place ten briquettes in the bottom of a chimney starter.
  2. Use some fire starter cubes or rolled-up paper towel soaked in oil to light the coals.
  3. Dump the charcoal around the start of the snake and use tongs to place your lit charcoal on the spot you left for them earlier. Lean half against the unlit briquettes, and the other half on top of the bottom rows.
  4. Put one chunk of smoking wood directly on the lit charcoal.
  5. Place the grill grate back and you’re now set up for the cook with the snake method!
  6. Position the grill lid so that the top vent is on the opposite side of the grill to the lit charcoal. This will help to draw the smoke over your meat.

How to Control Temperature

Now that your snake is set up and running, you will need to have control over the internal temperature.

This is where the top and bottom vents come into play. 

  • Start with both vents wide open.
  • Depending on the weather conditions, you might be able to hold a good smoke temperature between 225-250°F without any changes required
  • Once your temperature gauge hits the 200°F mark, start with your bottom vent to adjust the temperature. Close it slightly to slow the draw of oxygen through the cooker and settle on target temp.
  • Continue managing the fire as needed by opening vents to raise the temperature and closing them to lower it. 
  • Make small adjustments, and give it time!
  • For optimum temperature control, consider a dual probe bbq thermometer with one probe at grate level and one probe in your meat. This will give you a very accurate depiction of how your setup is running and what – if anything – needs adjustment.

I like to use my Smoke by ThermoWorks to keep an eye on the temperature.

For more detailed instructions see our guide to controlling temperature on a charcoal smoker.

Snake Method Takeaways 

The snake method is a low-cost, low-maintenance way to get great results with any low and slow cook.

Easy enough for novice pitmasters to learn, yet dependable enough for the seasoned veteran to utilize. 

With just a couple rows of stacked briquettes and smoking wood, you can do anything from Carolina pulled pork to Texas Brisket and most everything in between.

Experiment with the snake method to see what works for you and your cooker, and share your results in the comments!

Joe Clements

Joe Clements

As the son of a vegeterian, I grew up dreaming about meat. Now as the founder and editor in chief of Smoked Barbecue Source I get to grill, barbecue and write about meat for a living! I'm sharing everything I learn along the way on my journey from amateur to pitmaster.

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