BBQ Tip #22: The Minion Method – Easy “Low and Slow” BBQ

Grail Note: I cranked up the WSM (see below) the other day using what is referred to the Minion Method.  The little light bulb went off in my head and I got the thought that a blog post about the Minion Method would be a great how-to addition to the BBQ Grail.  I sat down at the computer to do a little research and I came across a great blog post by Perry Perkins on The Minion Method. 

Perry is the writer of Burnin’ Love BBQ which is the companion blog to his catering business and competition BBQ team. (You can find Perry’s complete bio along with a list of his published books here.)  Perry is one of the foremost authorities on the La Caja China roasting box.

Perry describes how the Minion Method works with the Weber Smokey Mountain bullet smoker but the technique will work with just about any charcoal fired smoker.

The Minion Method – Easy “Low and Slow” BBQ by Perry Perkins

Sometimes we forget that just because WE study, with laser-like (ocd?) focus the minutia of barbecue and grilling methods, that not everyone who owns a grill does the same.

I mentioned the “Minion Method” to a friend the other day, and got a blank stare in return. Here then, is some info that I’ve gathered from several articles and websites.

Note: There are a bunch of variations to the Minion Method, and I’ve used my favorites from each.

Traditionally, you just add hot coals to the top of the pile of unlit ones, but I prefer the coffee-can method, as it burns from “the middle out” instead of from “the top down” and seems to cut down on the risk of losing heat to a smothering layer of ash.

Reader’s Digest version: Long, consistent cooking temps, without having to regularly add coals, or otherwise babysit your cooker. Ideal for cooking at 225-250°F for more than 6 hours.

Here’s the back-story:
“I was cooking in a competition, and on the morning of the turn-ins I had my wife go to a shop and pick up my first WSM*. I put it together, filled the ring with charcoal, and needed a way to light if off. I never did read the directions. I decided to do what is today called ‘The Method’. We took a 1st in chicken and 2nd in ribs that day. 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.”- The history of the Minion Method, as told by Jim Minion

(*WSM = Weber Smokey Mountain. BTW – I’ve used this method with my horizontal pit smoker, which has a vent at each end, and it seems to work just as well. )

  • So, the “Minion Method” in a nutshell…Place a coffee can (no ends) in the firebox,  and fill the rest of the firebox with unlit briquettes. Add a couple of dozen of so hot briquettes, burned evenly grey, to the can, then carefully remove the coffee can, so the lit coals are “nested” among the unlit.
  • Adjust your vents carefully, to control the amount of air entering the cooker to keep the fire burning low and steady.
  • The unlit briquettes catch gradually throughout the cooking session, resulting in long burn times of up to 18 hours, depending on the weather. You can start cooking right away,  15-30 minutes from lighting.

This is a GREAT method for slow-smoking brisket or shoulders overnight. No more setting the alarm every 2-3 hours!

Cooking over half-lit coals…are you kidding???

So, the universal wisdom is that the harsh “just lit” briquette smell permeates the meat during cooking, hence the admonition to never put food over the fire until the coals are totally gray. But, for whatever reason, The Minion Method doesn’t seem to affect the appearance, aroma, or taste of food.

It’s used (with great success) by many winning teams on the barbecue competition circuit, so I figure it’s probably okay for my backyard, as well.

Here’s the step-by-step:

1.     Place a small, bottomless coffee can in the center of the charcoal chamber. Fill around the can with 12-15 pounds of unlit briquettes. (Personally, I think Kingsford gives the longest, most consistent burn.) Using a chimney starter, light a small number of briquettes. Warm, calm days = 20 briquettes, Cold, rainy, or windy days = 30-40 briquettes, Really cold days (you freakin’ junkie) = 50-60 briquettes. Burn until evenly grey.

2.     Bury smoke-wood chunks throughout the unlit fuel, followed by a few chunks on top.

3.     Put hot coals inside the can, then carefully remove using a long pair of tongs and heat resistant gloves. Put a couple of chunks of wood on top of the hot coals to start generating smoke right away.

4.     If your cooker is equipped with a water pan, fill it. Tip: Use cool tap water on warm days, and hot tap water on cold days. If not, place a pan of water in the pit’s cook chamber, or on the “cool side” of your kettle.

5.     Open all vents fully. (You’ll leave the top vent, or your smoke pipe, fully open throughout the entire cooking process.)

6.     Add the un-rested meat and smoke wood to the cooker immediately.

7.     The temp will start rising slowly. At 200°F, close up the bottom vents to about ¼ open. Watch carefully until it reaches 225-250°F, and adjust the vents as needed to maintain this temp.

8.     Check the water pan every 2-4 hours and add hot water, as needed.

9.     Depending on the weather and the amount of food being cooked, it may be necessary to add fuel after 12 hours of cooking. Light a full or partial chimney of charcoal and add the hot coals to the cooker.

For shorter cook times, follow the steps above, but fill the firebox with half as many unlit charcoal. This works well for 6-8 hour cooks.

PS – Here’s a money-saving tip: Once you’ve finished cooking, close up all vents tight to kill your fire. When the charcoal is cold, sift out the ashes (this can usually be ne by just lifting the “coal rack” and giving it a shake) and save the remaining unburned fuel for next time.

2 Comments on BBQ Tip #22: The Minion Method – Easy “Low and Slow” BBQ

  1. I’ve tried the minion (top down) method twice and screwed it up somehow both times because of venting I think. I haven’t heard of this coffee can method. I’ll try this with the venting technique. Great post, love the detailed steps!

  2. I’ve never bothered with the coffee can, but always get great results using the Minion Method on my WSM. I highly recommend it for those long cooks on a vertical smoker.

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