In this topic:
The concept behind the "Minion Method" is simple:
One of the advantages this method has over the Standard Method is that there's less of a chance that the cooker will run hotter than you want. This is because it's easier to start with just a few hot coals and bring the cooker up to 225-250°F than it is to start with a red-hot cooker and fight to bring it down to 225-250°F.
If there's a controversial aspect of the Minion Method, it's that it contradicts the conventional wisdom that says all charcoal briquettes must be fully lit and covered with gray ash before cooking begins. Everyone knows how bad charcoal briquettes smell while lighting, so some people assume that this smell permeates the meat during cooking, since fuel is lighting continuously over many hours. Interestingly, the Minion Method does not seem to affect the appearance, aroma, or taste of food, and it is used with great success by many winning teams on the barbecue competition circuit.
There are some individuals with sensitive palates who claim they taste an off-flavor in food cooked using the Minion Method. If you find yourself in this group, or if you have health concerns about cooking food over charcoal that is not fully lit, use the Standard Method instead, replenishing the cooker with pre-lit coals every 4-6 hours.
I use the Minion Method whenever cooking at 225-250°F, regardless of the length of cooking time. When finished, close all vents to extinguish the fire. When the charcoal is cold, sift out the ashes and save the remaining unburned fuel for next time.
Fill The Charcoal Chamber
Start by filling the charcoal chamber to the top with unlit charcoal briquettes. You can use any charcoal product, but experience shows that Kingsford gives the longest, most consistent burn.
Light A Few Briquettes
Using a chimney starter, light a small number of briquettes:
These pictures show 30 briquettes being lit in an upside-down Weber chimney starter. Tips on lighting small amounts of charcoal can be found in the How To Use A Chimney Starter article.
Spread The Lit Coals
When the coals are covered with gray ash, spread them evenly over the unlit briquettes in the charcoal chamber.
Assemble The Cooker
Fill the water pan:
Add the meat and smoke wood to the cooker immediately. The cool meat helps to control the ascent of the cooker temperature.
The cooker temperature will begin to rise gradually. When it reaches 200°F, adjust all three bottom vents to 25% open and monitor the temp carefully until it reaches 225-250°F. Adjust the vents as necessary to maintain this temp.
It Keeps Going, And Going, And Going...
Using the Minion Method, you can start cooking in about the time it takes to light a few briquettes in a chimney starter—15-20 minutes tops.
If the cooker temperature begins to drop after 10 hours, gently tap on the charcoal bowl legs to dislodge accumulated ashes and refresh the coals without getting ashes on your food. If you're daring, or have installed handles on the middle cooking section, you can remove the lid and middle cooking section as a unit and stir the coals vigorously with tongs.
Check the water pan every 2-4 hours and add hot water, as needed.
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.
There are countless variations on both the Standard Method and the Minion Method. Here are some of the most popular ones. Use these as-is, or as a starting point for developing your own variation.Water Pan Variations: Empty, Filled With Sand, No Pan At All
Besides using water, the water pan can be used empty, filled with sand, or removed from the cooker entirely. In many cases, the pan is lined with foil for easier cleanup.
See Using A Water Pan In The WSM for detailed descriptions of these methods.
Minion Method - Old School
Over the years, Jim Minion made adjustments to "The
Method" as he learned more about barbecue and the Weber
Bullet. The version described above reflects his most current
thinking about the process. In the beginning, though, he did a few
Minion Method - Hot Coals In A Pile
Fill the charcoal chamber with unlit briquettes, but move some briquettes from the center toward the edges, creating a hole into which you place the hot coals. Thanks to Tom Kitslaar for suggesting this method on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board.
Minion Method - Hot Coals In A Coffee Can
Place a small, bottomless coffee can in the center of the charcoal chamber. Fill around the can with unlit fuel. Put hot coals inside the can, then carefully remove using a pair of channel locks and heat resistant gloves. A photo of this approach is shown here. Thanks to Bruce Kennedy for suggesting this method on The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board.
"Mini" Minion Method
For shorter cooking sessions, follow the steps described in the previous section for the Minion Method, but only partially fill the charcoal chamber with unlit charcoal, then add 20 lit coals on top. This works well for 6-8 hour cooks.
Waterless Cooking Tips
Variations using no water in the water pan result in even longer burn times, since no energy is spent heating water. However, no water means potentially higher cooker temperatures, so the amount of fuel you start with and the vent settings become critical. Even small changes in settings can result in large temperature swings, so be careful.
Here are some of the ways that people add smoke wood to the fire.
By the way, don't bother soaking wood chunks before use. It's not necessary as long as you're using decent-sized chunks, and the water doesn't penetrate seasoned wood very much, anyway.
All of the fire-up methods described in this topic will work using lump hardwood charcoal instead of briquettes. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when using lump.
Lump charcoal is a natural product that is inconsistent by nature. It tends to burn very hot for a while, then drop off in temperature. It does not burn as long as briquettes, and performance may vary from one batch or variety of wood to another. As a result, you must pay careful attention to vent settings to make sure the fire does not get too hot. Otherwise, you'll be fighting to bring the cooker down to your target temp. Also, you may have to add more fuel to the cooker sooner than if you use briquettes.
For longer burn times, make sure that lump charcoal is packed tightly into the charcoal chamber. Break very large pieces into more manageable chunks, and give the charcoal chamber a shake to help the lump settle and eliminate voids.
For methods to prevent small pieces of lump charcoal from falling through the charcoal grate, visit the Charcoal Grate Modifications page.
The Weber Bullet is designed to use charcoal as its fuel source. Occasionally, someone notices that other types of cookers are fired using wood and attempts this in the WSM. Wood chunks or logs can be used, but with considerable effort, inconvenience, and expense. Wood must be burned down to hot coals in a separate container, then shoveled into the WSM, and this process must be repeated several times during the course of cooking. Also, wood is expensive, charcoal is cheap. Most people who try this once don't try it again.