As we all know, there’s no shortage of configurations and methodologies for setting up your grill or smoker. Ask ten different Pitmasters how to best set up for smoking, and it’s possible you’ll get ten different answers. If we keep in mind what exactly we are trying to achieve during the smoking process, and perhaps think outside the box, we can narrow down our options a bit. That’s why, for our money, the minion method of setting up a smoker is the absolute winner.
The ‘minion method’ (not those minions) is a sort of ‘hack’ to setting up your smoker. You won’t find it in the Weber manual, but this technique allows for a longer, slower, and more consistent burn of the charcoal you use. By using the minion method, you won’t need to keep adding fuel to your smoker, making this a perfect way to handle overnight smoking projects. If executed just right, the minion method will burn for up to 18 hours. In addition, it’s nearly impossible for the minion method to exceed 300 degrees.
So, what is the minion method?
The general idea behind the minion method is simple. You fill your chamber with unlit briquettes, and place a few hot, lit coals on top of those. You can then use the bottom vents to control the airflow getting into the chamber. This will keep the coals burning low and steady. As the unlit fuel slowly catches throughout the cooking session, the smoker can burn for up to 18 hours -- depending on the weather conditions, of course!
There are two slight variations on this method, we should point out. In the donut method, you create a round (donut-shaped) ring of unlit charcoal around the edge of your chamber. Then, you add the lit charcoal into the middle (the donut hole). The heat starts in the center, and will slowly work its way outwards.
In the top-down method, you create more of a pile of charcoal. The unlit charcoal goes on the bottom, and then a few hot briquettes are placed on top. As the name suggests, the heat works its way down.
Whichever method you choose, both are considered to be within the ‘minion’ technique, and both offer the perfect combination of low-and-slow.
There are a few tips and tricks for getting the most out of the minion method, though! Firstly, some people report that the minion method tends to create an excess amount of ash. When using lump charcoal, we’d agree with this. However, by opting instead for briquettes, you can significantly cut back on the amount of ash produced, as the smaller briquettes do not contain as many fillers. As well, keep an eye on your ash damper -- if it clogs up, the fire may die out completely. Where there’s no fire, there’s...well, no smoke.
And there you have it, guys and gals!
When setting up a smoker, it’s crucial to think about the application at hand. A quick smoke of some thinly sliced protein is not going to require the same preparation as smoking an entire pig, for example. That being said, we point towards the minion method as one of the most reliable and versatile ways to smoke just about anything.