So you’ve got your new smoker, you’ve chosen your wood, and you’ve seasoned your meat. All you need to do now is fire up your smoker and light the fire. But how much charcoal should you use? I did some research to find out exactly how much charcoal is needed in different charcoal smokers, different cooking temperatures and different cooking times.
On average, a charcoal smoker will use approximately 80-100 briquettes when using the Snake Method, 3/4 of a 7.7 lbs bag of briquettes if using the Minion Method, and a full 15.4 lbs bag of briquettes in a large Weber Smokey Mountain. A drum smoker and a kamado can maintain a 250°F to 275°F range if the coal basket 3/4 full of lump charcoal. However, there are so many variables at play when trying to figure out the right amount of charcoal you use in your smoker. You need to consider the weather, the type of smoker, the insulation, the vent adjustments and the cooking temperature when trying to determine the amount of coal needed.
Charcoal Amounts For A Kettle Grill
|225-250°F||6-7||90||6 hours||1/8 to 1/4 open||1/8 to 1/4 open|
|225-250°F||6-7||120||12 hours||1/8 to 1/4 open||1/8 to 1/4 open|
|275°F||35||70||2-3 hours||1/2 open||1/2 open|
|325°F||45||70||2-3 hours||1/2 open||1/2 open|
|350°F||65||95||2-3 hours||1/2 open||1/2-3/4 open|
|400°F||75||115||2 hours||1/2 to 3/4 open||Completely |
- The amount of charcoal needed can vary based on the type of smoker, the cooking temperature and time, the weather, and the ventilation adjustments.
- In general, a charcoal smoker will use approximately 80-100 briquettes when using the Snake Method, 3/4 of a 7.7 lbs bag of briquettes if using the Minion Method, and a full 15.4 lbs bag of briquettes in a large Weber Smokey Mountain.
- The type of smoker can impact the amount of charcoal needed. Cheaper smokers with thin metal and poor insulation may require more charcoal due to their inability to retain heat. Well-insulated smokers like the Weber Smokey Mountain, a kamado, or a drum smoker can use less coal.
- The cooking temperature and time can also affect the amount of charcoal needed. Higher temperatures and faster cooking times will require more charcoal, while lower temperatures and slower cooking times will require less.
- Vent adjustments play a role in the amount of charcoal needed. Opening the vents wider allows more oxygen to flow through the fire and burns the charcoal faster, while closing the vents will slow the burn rate.
- The type of charcoal used can also affect the amount needed. Briquettes burn more evenly and consistently than lump charcoal.
- The Snake Method involves building a “C” shaped arrangement of briquettes around the outer layer of the smoker and lighting one end, allowing the lit coals to slowly burn through and provide consistent heat. The Minion Method involves placing unlit briquettes around a small amount of lit briquettes in the center of the smoker, allowing the lit coals to slowly light the others. The modified Minion Method involves adding lit briquettes to the center of the smoker as needed to maintain temperature.
What Type of Smoker Do You Have?
The type of smoker that you are using will also determine how much charcoal you need. Inexpensive smokers are made with thin metal, so they struggle to retain heat and will burn through more charcoal as a result. A well-insulated smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain, a kamado or a drum smoker can keep the heat locked inside, and therefore use less coal. The other problem with cheaper smokers is they aren’t sealed very well, so more air will flow through the fire and burn excess coal.
Are You Cooking Fast or Slow?
The amount of charcoal you use will also depend on the cooking temperature and the length of time you are cooking. If you are smoking some meat fast (over 300°F), the way you set your coals will be different to what you would if you were cooking low-and-slow in the 220°F – 250°F range. Keep in mind, if you are cooking at high temperatures, you will burn through the charcoal at a faster rate.
Vent adjustments play a large role in the amount of charcoal that you use. If you open the vents all the way, more oxygen will flow through the fire and burn the charcoal much faster. When you are cooking hot-and-fast, open the vents wider. If you’re cooking low-and-slow, close off the vents to a crack.
Not all Charcoal is Equal
The amount of charcoal also depends on the type of charcoal you are using because not all charcoal burns equally. A bag of lump charcoal comes in all different shapes and sizes, so you will get an irregular burn. Charcoal briquettes give you consistent temperatures because they are the same size and burn evenly. If you are using lump, it pays to chop the larger pieces with an axe for a more even burn. If you want to know what brand lump charcoal burns the hottest and fastest, check out my article: Which Lump Charcoal Burns The Best?
How Many Briquettes for the Snake Method?
The Snake is probably the most popular charcoal method for low-and-slow cooking on a kettle grill, but it can also work with a bullet smoker or a WSM. The Snake takes the form of a letter C around the outer layer of the smoker. It takes about 100 briquettes to make a nice, long snake which will keep the temperature at a steady 225°F to 250°F over around 12 hours.
Charcoal briquettes work best for the Snake method because briquettes nestle into one another and burn evenly. To light the charcoal, ignite about 5 briquettes and place them at one end of the Snake and scatter some smoking wood along the top of the coal. The lit coal will slowly burn through the Snake and provide a consistent heat for several hours.
How To Light A Snake
- Build your snake
- Take about 5-10 briquettes and light them in a charcoal chimney
- Place the lit coals at one end of the snake
- Place your thermometer in the smoker
- Open all the vents
- When the temperature reaches about 150°F – 180°F, begin to close off the bottom vent until it’s open about 1/4.
- Adjust the bottom vent until the temperature stabilizes at 200°F.
The Minion Method
A popular way of lighting charcoal briquettes is the Minion Method, and a modified minion method. You can use the minion method with lump charcoal, but briquettes work much better because they burn slower and more evenly. The Minion Method is simply a pile of unlit charcoal with a hole in the middle. All you do is add a small amount of lit coals to the center of the pile and they will slowly catch onto the unlit charcoal. People commonly use the Minion Method with kettle grills, WSM’s and UDS charcoal pits.
How Much Charcoal for the Minion Method?
For a low-and-slow cook at 250°F over 10 hours, follow these steps:
- Pour in 3/4 of a 7.7 lbs bag of unlit briquettes into your smoker.
- Make a hole in the middle like a donut.
- Light about 10-15 coals in a charcoal chimney.
- Place the lit coal into middle of the donut hole.
- Add smoking wood by either placing wood chunks underneath or on top of the charcoal.
Minion Method With a Coffee Can
Another way of lighting a Minion is to take an old coffee can and cut off both lids. Place the coffee can in the middle and pour the unlit coal around the can. Light a small amount of coals in a charcoal chimney and then pour them into the coffee can. Then, remove the coffee can with heat proof gloves or tongs.
Test Your Smoker With a Dry Run
Knowing your smoker is the key to temperature control and the only way to understand your smoker is to do a few test runs. Once you have mastery over your smoker and know how to reach and maintain certain temperatures, you’re ready to tackle any of the ‘big meats’.
The amount of charcoal you use will depend on the type of smoker you are using, the wind, the vent adjustments, etc. Since there are so many variables, the only way to get an accurate answer is to perform a test run and take notes, or light up your smoker with a cheaper cut of meat. Write how much charcoal you used, the vent adjustments and the temperatures. Place a full charcoal chimney of lit coal in your smoker. Open all the vents and once your smoker has reached your target temperature, adjust the vents until the temperature has stabilized. If one full chimney isn’t enough to reach your target temperature, then add more.
How To Do a Dry Run
- When performing a test run, use a thermometer in your smoker (not an-built thermometer).
- Write everything in a notepad
- Count the amount of charcoal
- Light your charcoal.
- Open all the vents.
- Inset your thermometer and close the lid.
- Write the temperature changes every 5-minutes
- As the smoker is approaching your target temperature, close the vents to 1/4.
- Wait until the smoker responds.
How Much Charcoal for a Kettle Grill?
There are several ways to place your coals in a kettle grill, but it depends on what meat you are smoking and for how long. The most common ways are to use methods similar to the Snake or Minion. There are also a few Weber accessories like charcoal baskets or a Vortex.
Briquettes work best in a kettle grill because they can nestle into one another and produce a balanced burn. Lump varies in size so it’s difficult to set up a minion or snake. However, you could take an axe and chop lump charcoal into smaller chunks so you can set up a Minion or Snake.
Coal Baskets in a Kettle Grill
A Weber Kettle should have two char-baskets that sit either side of the grill. According to the Weber website, you can place 24 briquettes per basket for high temperature cooking, 18-20 briquettes for a medium heat and 8-14 for low-and-slow cooking.
For hot and fast cooks in the 300°F range, all you need to do is pre-light charcoal in a chimney starter and dump the hot coals into the baskets. If you want to use the baskets for low-and-slow cooking, follow the same principles of the Minion and fill the baskets with unlit coal. Leave a gap at the end for about five hot coals and the rest will slowly catch fire.
The Snake Method in a Weber Kettle – How Many Briquettes?
It takes about 80 briquettes to build a snake or fuse three-quarters around a large 22 inch Weber Kettle. This is a 2×2 snake (2 briquettes on the bottom and 2 on top). A snake this size should give you a over 8-10 hours of burn time. For a large brisket, build a longer snake with about 100 briquettes for a 12-hour burn. These numbers and times are an estimate only, because there are so many variables at play such as wind, vent adjustments and the quality of the kettle grill.
Minion Method in a Kettle Grill
The Minnion method is perfect for brisket, ribs, pork butts or any low-and-slow cooks. The unlit coal will slowly ignite and provide a low heat (225°F-250°F) over many hours. Most people place the wood on top of the coals but others believe the wood smolders better when it’s at the bottom. Here are the steps:
- Pour a full 7.7 pound bag of briquettes into the kettle grill
- Spread the coals out to the sides.
- Create a crater in the middle of the charcoal pile.
- Take about 15 coals and light them in a charcoal starter.
- Place the lit coals into the middle of the crater of unlit briquettes.
- Spread the smoking wood in and around the coals to provide a consistent smoke over the long cook.
How Much Charcoal for a Weber Smokey Mountain?
A Weber Smokey Mountain is extremely fuel efficient and can run at 250°F for 18-20 hours with lump charcoal. Weber makes quality cookers, and the WSM is well sealed which makes it very fuel efficient. A full 15.4 pound bag of briquettes should give a 12-15 hour burn in a 22 inch WSM by using a Minion Method or Soo’s Donut. These methods involve pouring a small amount of lit charcoal into the middle crater of a pile of unlit charcoal. If you want to know more about the Weber Smokey Mountain, I’ve written a full review of this amazing smoker here: Weber Smokey Mountain Review – The Complete WSM Buying Guide.
How Much Charcoal Does Harry Soo Use in a WSM?
Whenever you think of the Weber Smokey Mountain, it’s hard not to think about Harry Soo, the world champion pitmaster who dominated competitions using his trusty WSM. Harry Soo uses a modified Minon Method in his WSM, which is known as ‘Soo’s Donut’. I’ve watched dozens of Harry’s cooks, and he has several methods and recipes, but he always uses his donut method when laying out coal. For a brisket slow smoked in a Weber Smokey Mountain, Harry fills the fire basket to the top of the fire ring. Then he makes a crater in the middle and pours hot coals into the crater. This method should give you an 8-12 hour burn.
How Much Charcoal For a Drum Smoker?
Most drum smokers will have a charcoal basket. In general, a UDS with a charcoal basket that is three-quarters full of briquettes or lump will cook at 250°F to 275°F. When lighting the drum, open all the vents to get the fire going. Once you hit the target temperature, adjust the top vent and close off the bottom intake vent until it’s open 1/4. Drum smokers are extremely fuel efficient, so they don’t burn through excess coal.
How Much Charcoal For a Kamado?
For slow smoking on a Big Green Egg or kamado, fill the basket to the halfway point of the first ring. A trick I learned from Malcolm Reed is to build a teepee with the bigger pieces of lump and put them at the top of the coal. Light the bigger pieces or light quarter of a chimney and place it on top. Open all the vents until the fire is going, then close off the top vent to 1/4 and the bottom vent to half an inch.
How Much Charcoal for a Brinkman Bullet Smoker?
Cheap smokers can burn through a lot of coal because they have thin metal and a lot of leaks. Brinkman charcoal smokers and similar bullet-shaped smokers usually have a charcoal bowl. The best approach with these smokers is to fill the charcoal bowl and similar to a Minion method or Soo’s Donut. You can use a minion in the charcoal bowl and you should get a steady temperature if you have sealed any leaks.
If you are using one of these smokers, consider making some modifications. Search “Brinkman Mods” on forums, Reddit and YouTube and you will find dozens of ideas. One popular Brinkman modification is drilling holes in the fire bowl to increase airflow. Also, try to raise the bowl so it’s not sitting on the ground.
How Much Charcoal for an Offset Smoker?
Wood is the primary fuel source for offset smokers, but use charcoal to get the fire going before adding wood. Once you have a good foundation for your cook, you shouldn’t need to add any more charcoals. For the rest of the cook, you will only need to add wood every hour to maintain temperature.
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.
Meat Thermometers – Your Most Important Tool
The Beginner’s Guide To Meat Thermometers
The Best Meat Thermometers Under $50 (We List the Top 8 Choices)
The Best Thermometers for Smoking Meat
Best Wi-Fi Meat Thermometers (We Review the 5 Top Models)
Best Instant-Read Thermometers for Smoking (Top 6 Picks)
What Are Automatic Barbeque Temperature Controllers? The Complete Buyers Guide