The snake method is a great and simple way of getting longer cooks with better temperature control. And the best part is that you can use it in almost all grills.
The whole point is to let fewer coals/briquettes burn at once, which reduces the temperature. This will also make the fire last a lot longer, meaning you don’t have to refill briquettes once started.
The name comes from the way briquettes are placed in the grill. They are laid out like a snake that curls around the outer edges of the grill. It doesn’t have to be a circle, in some grills it is easier to lay out the briquettes like an ‘S’.
Below you can see I’m using a springform pan for support. This helps when using a smaller kettle grill.
The snake is started by firing up only 4-5 briquettes in a so called chimney starter (see picture below). When starting just a few briquettes, turn the chimney upside down. The reason for this is that the bottom of the chimney is slightly offset, so depending on how you turn the chimney (upside down or normal) there is room for more or less briquettes. Place some newspaper beneath the briquettes (stick it in the chimney starter from underneath) and set them on fire. Make sure you place the chimney on the grill for safety reasons.
It usually takes the starter briquettes 30 minutes to ash over. Once they are ashed over, add them at one end of the snake in the grill, close the lid and wait another 20-30 minutes to calibrate your temperature using the bottom and top vents.
So, how many coals should you use? Well, in the pictures above I am using an 18.5″ (47cm) kettle, and my experiments have shown that a quarter circle gives me roughly 3 hours, and half a circle gives me roughly 6 hours. Also, the snake is only 3-4 briquettes “thick”. Using this setup I can easily run it at 230° F for many hours.
What’s the big difference?
You can grill at a more consistent temperatur for a longer period of time with less charcoal.