The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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In-Flight Refueling

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Sometimes you learn a better way to do things. In my 2006 blog entry THE MINION METHOD - PART II described how I handled my charcoal swaps on long smokes where I need to add more charcoal. I have since come around to a new, safer way of thinking I’ll pass along here.

To sum up the old method: I had a second set of charcoal baskets which I would have partly filled and at the ready. When the coals had almost burned down to nothing, I would pull the baskets of hot coals from the Side Fire Box (SFB) of the CG and dump the hot coals into a foil pan. I would add the new baskets to the SFB and arrange the coals so there was a spot close to the main chamber to receive the hot coals. Then I’d dump the hot coals back in and they would be the starters for a second Minion method fire. This method could take less than two minutes if I was good and often resulted in little to no temperature drop. However it was also not without certain risks too.

I would often be outside in the dark while trying to pull hot baskets from the SFB and then dumping them into the foil pan. This presented several problems: Tongs were too clunky to grab the baskets and make the necessary maneuvers to twist the baskets up and out. That left BBQ gloves. If you were quick about it and kept your hands moving so they didn’t stay in contact with any one spot very long, you could use BBQ gloves to pull the basket. But I burned through several pair of Weber BBQ gloves, literally. I was lucky that I stopped short of burning my fingers. But when would my luck run out? Plus heaven forbid I’d grab something hot with those gloves and have the hot item come in contact with one of the various holes. The next problem was dumping the coals into a foil pan sitting on the ground. Because I ‘d be rushing to pull the basket out and dump it before the hot baskets melted through the gloves (as mentioned above), this operation was rushed. Never a good idea to rush with hot coals. There was always the potential to miss and have a coal land on my foot or roll off onto the grass and perhaps start a fire. Finally this operation was happening 5-6 hours into a cook and then again 8-10 hours along. If it was an overnighter I might not be at the top of my game.


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Rake the lit coals forward towards the main chamber side of the basket. After this picture was taken I used tongs to move the coals seen in the middle of the basket left onto the rest of the pile.

So the solution I’ve arrived at for now, works well and solves several of the issues mentioned above. The solution is to keep the baskets right where they are and add the new coals in after doing some rearranging. When it is time, I don some BBQ gloves and use an old set of tongs to push all of the coals to the front side of the baskets near the main chamber of the smoker. After I have the coals pushed forward I pour on the new fresh charcoal, being sure to leave the tops of the old coals exposed to the air. Keeping the coals in the SFB at all times, lets them maintain the heat while acting as a catalyst to start a new Minion method burn.


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Add fresh coals to the rear. Please note this was a medium duration cook so I didn’t pile up as many new coals into the baskets as I normally would for long cook. Don’t ever cover the hot coals in front.

There are several things I should mention here: This method actually maintains the heat about where it was when you opened the SFB lid. Even though you are letting in colder air you are also moving more of the hot coals closer to the main chamber. This seems to offset opening the SFB for a longer period of time. Any temperature drop has been minimal. Because you are moving and jostling the nearly spent coals, they tend to break up. This is normal behavior, but I’ve found I need to not let the coals burn down quite so far. If they are too small moving them forward will cause them to break up into little pieces, then drop right though the openings in the baskets.

You want to make sure you move as many of the coals forward as you can into one location. Do not leave many coals along the bottom of the basket in the middle or rear. Otherwise you end up with these coals igniting the bottoms of the fresh coals all along the length of your baskets. Instead of a controlled Minion Method burn, you will end up with far too many coals burning at once and a temperature spike. Don’t ask how I know this.. The fix to that is you’ll just have to prop the CG’s lid open to moderate the heat. But this is wasteful, so do try to avoid it.

Lastly you want to make sure you don’t cover the tops of the lit coals. This will kill off your heat until the other coals ignite. PLus the other coals won’t ignite as fast because you have smothered the lit coals. The almost spent coals have a dual purpose. They are igniting the new adjacent coals and they are maintaining the heat while this happens. It took me a few tries to get the hang of this method. But now that I know exactly what to do and when to do it, this process has become a no brainer. Because it involves adding the coals a little sooner in the process, you may end up refueling slightly more often on a long cook. However the relative ease and safety far outweigh the need to refuel a bit more. This method has become the new standard around here. Below I’m going t list the plusses and minuses of each method.

OLD METHOD - Use 2 Sets of Baskets and Basket Swap
Quickly remove one set of baskets with spent coals from the SFB and pour coals into foil pan. Add in second set of pre-filled baskets and pour lit coals back onto fresh coals to ignite them.

Plusses:

  • You get the maximum life out of the coals in the baskets.
  • If you are quick about it, you do not get much of a temperature drop maybe 20 degrees (11 C).
  • You could get almost as much time out of the second set of baskets as the first.
  • Using a second set of partially pre-filled baskets could speed up this process so you didn’t have to refill the same baskets. Refilling the same baskets would mean keeping the lid open longer creating larger temperature drop.

Minusses

  • You had to pull hot baskets out of the grill and dump them into a foil pan
  • Risk of burning yourself since this is a hands on operation. Tongs didn’t work and the gloves were only temporary protection.
  • When dumping hot coals into the aluminum pan you were rushing to avoid getting burned. Rushing while handling hot coals NEVER a good idea.
  • Risk of dumping a hot coal on yourself or having one roll away and ignite the lawn.
  • You then had to dump the hot coals from the foil pan back into the SFB. Once again risk for injury or fire.
  • If you weren’t quick about this swap, LARGE temperature drops could occur.
  • You were rushing to perform a tricky operation, handling hot coals while you were tired-NOT a good idea.

NEW METHOD:
One set of baskets, rearrange coals
When it is time for more charcoal, move the coals to the front side of the basket and add fresh charcoal.

Plusses:

  • The hot coals NEVER leave the SFB. No fire or personal injury risk.
  • You use gloves holding tongs to rake the coals forward. No risk of getting burned holding hot baskets with BBQ gloves.
  • You also don’t burn (literally) through as mainly pairs of gloves this way. Your gloves hold the tongs the tongs touch the hot coals.
  • There is little to no temperature drop while the SFB lid is open and you are moving the coals.
  • You do not have to rush at a time when you are tired.
  • This method is much easier to do at a time when you are tired.

Minusses:

  • You cannot let the coals burn down as far. Raking them forward breaks them up. If they are too small they will simply break apart and the smaller pieces will drop through the baskets. This will leave you with no coals to ignite the fresh coals.
  • You can’t let the existing colas burn down quite as far. You may end up with one or two extra refueling sessions on a long cook.
  • If you do not rake all of the coals forward you may ignite more of the fresh coals than you want. This results in fire that is too hot. Once these extra coals are ignited there is no way to control it other than raising the lid of the smoker to let off heat.
  • If you pour the new coals so they cover the lit coals you will get a temperature drop. The lit coals can’t pass as much of their heat off to the grill.
  • Do not put the tongs you have been arranging the coals with, down on anything that can melt or burn.

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SOME RELATED LINKS:
  THE MINION METHOD - PART I Blog Entry
  THE MINION METHOD - PART II Blog Entry


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