The Minion Method-Part II
07/28/06 - 21:07 Filed in: Smoking | Smoking Tips | Charcoal
In MINION METHOD - PART 1 I described the process for setting up a long slow burn in the Side Firebox (SFB) of my smoker to get a long, slow controlled burn using a technique called the Minion method. This entry will continue from that point and described the rest of the cook. This will include the method that I use to swap out the charcoal baskets without losing a lot of heat. As I mentioned in Part I: This entry is specific to my CharGriller Smokin’ Pro, but the general principles apply to other smokers with Side Fireboxes. Some of the ideas may also be adaptable to other types of grills too.
Now We’re Cookin’: When we last left off the 30 or so hot coals had been poured into the SFB. I use an old set of tongs to distribute compress the lit coals into a small compact pile near the opening to the main grill chamber. At this point I open the air vent to the SFB fully. Using Classic Kingsford it used to take about 45 minutes to get the temperature in the main chamber up to 225.
Depending on the meat sometimes I will put the meat on when I add the lit coals to the SFB. This gets you an extra 45 minutes of smoke. I typically do this for items whose internal temps rise quickly so I’m not worried about unsafe food handling issues. Others I’ll add when the temps hit around 200 degrees (93 C). When you open the lid at 200 degrees (93 C) it will take between 5-15 minutes to recover the temperature loss depending on the air temperature. At about 210 (99 C) I close the SFB vent down almost completely completely and let the SFB temps coast up to 225 (110C). If possible, I try to hit 225 (110 C) with the vent open a little. That way if the temps start to rise later I can close the vent some more and not have to lift the lid to lose heat.
Know Your Grill & Watch Out For Spikes: At this point you may need to fine tune the vents if the temps stop rising before they hit 225 (110 C). I find it is easier to open the vents up to raise the temps, than it is to keep lifting the lid to try to drive high temps back down. I used to get fairly steady temps with “classic” Kingsford and after my third outing with Duraflame I’m starting to get equally good if not better results. They both seem to get a temperature spike at around the one hour mark which you must watch out for. If I see the temps start to rise at this time frame I’ll close down the SFB vent and burp the lid to let out heat. If you have to mop or spray at this point I might hold the lid open a bit longer than needed to drive the temps lower so they don’t rise as high. Do keep an eye out for this temperature spike because it is harder to lower temps than raise them-not to mention all the heat you give up opening the lid for no reason.
After dealing with the typical one hour spike the temps are usually quite stable and require only minor tweaking. I usually set the alarms on my remote thermometer to go off at 200 (93 C) for a low temp and 240 or 250 (116 to 120 C) for a high. I’ll wander off and do other things and check up on the temps for my logs every half hour. Somewhere after the 4.5 hour marks the temps will start dropping. I will attempt to open the vent to control this, but failing that it is usually time to open the SFB lid and take a look. If the coals are mostly all gray and there is a lot of trapped ash, I’ll grab the baskets with my old tongs and give them a shake. Once the trapped ash shakes out the temps usually go right back up.
In-flight Refueling: Depending on the air temps and the amount of times I’ve had to lift the lid for mopping or spraying: the temps will start to drop after 5 to 8 hours. I will attempt to open up the SFB vent to compensate but I don’t let it go too long. I’ll peek to see ho much lit coals are left. If you are going to add another round of coals you want to have enough lit coals left to get them going. Now if there is not much time left in the cook, I may just elect to add some fresh coals to the top to finish. If I have longer to go it is time for a charcoal swap. After doing this you will know the reason I said you should practice removing the baskets with a cold grill.
The typical method involves removing the front basket, and quickly closing the SFB lid. You dump the front basket into a foil or metal container. You repeat for the rear basket. Most people then scramble to refill the empty baskets and put them back in the SFB. Next they pour the hot coals back into the front of the baskets. My adaptation on this is to have a second pair of baskets pre-stocked with more charcoal and wood chunks. These I can fill ahead of time indoors in the light and out of the rain. I’m not rushing to refill the same baskets in the dark or rain or both. I add the second pair of baskets and then carefully pour the lit coals back in near the opening to the main chamber. I will then top off the charcoal by pouring out some more from the bag. I usually try to do this when the temps fall to around 210 (99 C) or so. Using one set of baskets and refilling on the fly it takes me 5 to 6 minutes to do the charcoal swap. With a pre-stocked second pair of baskets the time is around 2 minutes. This can make a BIG difference in the Winter.
Taking Your Lumps: Try not to wait too long to do the charcoal swap. If you wait too long , there will not be enough spent coals to ignite the other coals and get your temps back up. I keep a bag of lump around to help out in this situation. Lump ignites fast and burns hotter, but for a short period of time. IMHO lump is not suited for long cooks with the Minion Method, but is great to jump start a dying fire. The other thing I’ll do is add some lump on to extend my cooking time an hour or so.
Lastly: Safety First: A final note about safety: Make sure the area around your grill is free of leaves twigs and other combustibles. Inevitably you will have a coal or two miss their mark and you don’t need to be fighting fires in the middle of the night. Also pour them out in such a way that they will not land on your feet if they do miss. Be careful pouring topping off the baskets as the hot metal from the SFB could ignite the charcoal bag. Have a safe spot to put the baskets after you dump the coals out, they will be quite hot. I find the best way to remove the baskets is with a good thick pair of BBQ gloves. You must work fast and avoid contacting the same spot on the gloves for very long or the gloves will burn and burn through. Ouch. Don’t ask how I know this. In fact getting the baskets out is quick. Where I usually run into trouble is trying to hold them long enough to dump them out. While writing this, it occurred to me I should get a very large foil pan to use. That way I can lift the hot basket out quickly and put it straight into the foil pan. Once there I can let go and use tongs to tip it over a spill out the coals.
So I even learned something writing this blog entry, hopefully some of you reading it did too. The Minion Method in the CharGriller works and works well. Give it a try.
In 2007 I discovered a MUCH SAFER way to do In-Flight Refueling. I no longer use the method described here and you shouldn’t try it either. See this blog entry of more information: IN-FLIGHT REFUELING
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