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An important part of smoking meat is to fill the charcoal chamber with coal. If you are a barbecue enthusiast, it is possible that you must have heard of the Minion Method. This standard method is basically a technique to set up charcoal or briquettes in a certain manner that the fire cooks low and slow.
It is a simple method to create even heat across tough meat, and a good pitmaster knows how good slow cooking can affect the taste of meat. So if you have never heard of it before, this article would be the right place to start.
All you need is a charcoal smoker, coal lump or briquettes, and a source of fire and you are ready to go. Read on to know more!
What is the Minion Method?
According to Virtual Weber Bullet, the Minion Method also called the Modified Minion Method, is a smoking technique of cooking ‘low n slow’ as termed by professionals.
It works great on a Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker wherein you use the same charcoal instead of adding more or changing the portion of the original hot coals.
The name of the technique comes from Jim Minion – the man who invented the Minion Method. It is also called the snake method and is great for smoking meat that is larger or fattier like pork brisket, ribs, or shoulders. The low and slow cooking method can really result in tender and juicy meat.
You basically start by making a circle of unlit briquettes (2kg) around the charcoal grate and then adding 1 – 2 kg of lit briquettes in the middle. In this cooking process, the lit coals in the middle will slowly burn and reach the unlit briquettes on the outer ring.
You can also use the Minion Method with lump charcoal instead of briquettes. To get flavored smoke, professionals also often use soaked wood chunks like dense wood. The Weber Smokey Mountain can really reduce cooking time for this method and get the job done in about 9 – 12 hours.
History Behind The Minion Method
This famous Minion Method was actually discovered by accident, when the founder, Jim Minion, needed a way to light up a fire for cooking immediately. He was participating in a barbecue competition and had his wife go to a shop and pick up ‘my first WSM’ as stated by Minion, who could not be bothered to read instructions.
Knowing a little about Jedmasters and the way they set up a WSM, he decided to just throw a bunch of unlit and lit hot coals together. Though he knew this was not really how you are supposed to set a cooker, he did not have much of a choice. Surprisingly, he came 1st place in the category of chicken and 2nd in ribs that day.
Thus, the method was born, and while everyone had their doubts, Jim Minion had the following thing to say about his technique when asked how to control the temps on a WSM:
“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.”
The Minion Method Explained Step By Step
Read the directions below on how to use the Minion Method in a Weber Smokey. The same method can be done using an offset smoker as well, but I am trying to describe the original method.
Step 1: First, you would have to fill the charcoal chamber with unlit charcoal or briquettes. Though it was originally done with briquettes, In my experience, it is better to use lump charcoal instead as it is generally completely hardwood. Charcoal briquettes are usually mixed with other wood and unknown ingredients.
Personally, I think lump charcoal is a natural source and the flavor comes out cleaner.
Step 2: Make sure you fill the chamber with unlit charcoal (about 2⁄3 full) and the charcoal chimney with the rest. Leave some space in the center of the unburned charcoal in the ring. You can put wood chunks on top as well to flavor the smoke.
Step 3: Ignite a fire in the charcoal chamber using newspaper or the side burner if your grill or cooker comes with it.
Step 3: Let the charcoal on the top burn for about 8 – 10 minutes until it is burning orange. You are now ready to put this lit charcoal on top of the unlit one. Spread it out properly starting with the charcoal in the middle.
Step 4: Once you have filled the ring with charcoal, the hot briquettes in the center of the charcoal chamber will start by heating slowly and go towards the ring. Do not shut the vent door as it helps the bottom vents control and maintain the temperature inside.
Step 5: Once the internal temperature is around 200 Degrees Fahrenheit, you can shut the vent about 25 percent. When the temperature reaches 225 – 250 Degrees Fahrenheit, it shall be ready to put your meat on the grill.
If you are having trouble reaching the temperature, you can adjust by closing the top or bottom vent accordingly.
Step 6: After about 7 – 8 hours, your ribs or meat shall be tenderized enough to bend about 90 Degrees.
That is how you use charcoal or briquettes to set up the cooker using the Minion Method. Remember to always smother the fire after you are done in order to avoid any accidents.
Problems With The Minion Method
Despite how convenient the Minion Method is, there are still limitations to putting unburnt charcoal first in the cooker.
- Temperature Gets Dangerously Hot
The most common issue faced by people using this method is that the Weber Smokey Mountain Smoker gets too hot and it is difficult to get the temperature down. The solution to this problem is that oftentimes the temps on a WSM need to be adjusted, especially when the product is new.
New WSMs need to be “seasoned” before actually doing some serious cooking on them. However, if you are using an already seasoned WSM and it’s still having this problem, then the best thing to do is adjust the vents system; firstly, close all of the bottom vents and partially seal down the top vent.
Another way to tackle this issue, if the two previous ones did not work, is to fill the water pan with ice or cold water, you might also need to remove some of the burnt charcoal.
If all else fails, your WSM may have a leak or leaks. The access door and the seam where the middle and the charcoal bowl meet are frequent locations. More air entering the cooker due to leaks raises the internal temperature. For a better airtight seal, you could put some gaskets around those places.
However, lighting only a limited number of beginning coals can prevent your Weber Smokey Mountain Smokers from exceeding its temperature utilizing the Minion approach (6 – 8 briquettes). In fact, it takes less effort and time to heat the food up than it does to consume it.
- The Flavour
The taste of burning unlit briquettes within the WSM is another typical problem with the Minion approach. We can all agree that briquettes have a horrible scent when they are initially lit. But given that the burned coals continuously fire the unlit ones for several hours, can that smell actually be incorporated into your foods?
As the top layer of coals fires the lower layer, according to Jim Minion himself, it also serves as a catalytic burner, burning off any unsavory smoke or gasses coming from the bottom layer of coals.
Now, some people might advise against using the Minion Method and wait to cook till the briquettes have completely burned through. Briquettes burn from the outside in, thus the center of those coals isn’t lit.
Therefore, there will always remain unlit briquettes that need to be lighted. One of those things that each of us must determine for ourselves.
Simply, use lump charcoal or briquettes that are natural if the scent bothers you, since charcoal is a natural product, it would create a more natural scent. Continue to appreciate what you’re making if it doesn’t. In the end, there are no right or wrong ways to barbecue.
Now that you know how to use the Minion Method, you can use the technique to get your fire going and smoke your meat. Since meat is best cooked when done low and slow, what better method than this one that is both beginner-friendly and feasible?
You can also save up a lot of time by not having to keep adjusting the lit coals or adding more to keep the fire going.