Great Backyard Barbecue and Grilling

The Long Burn Method of Jim Minion

minion method of slow cooking

"I was cooking in a competition, and on the morning of the turn-ins I had my wife go to a shop and pick up my first WSM*. I put it together, filled the ring with charcoal, and needed a way to light if off. I never did read the directions. I decided to do what is today call 'The Method'. We took a 1st in chicken and 2nd in ribs that day. The only real debate was the fact that you were putting unburnt charcoal in the ring and it was lighting off as you go. Knowing a little about Jedmasters, I knew this was not really a problem and the results answered that."
- The history of the Minion Method, as told by Jim Minion

There are times that those of us who study with laser-like focus the science of all the various barbecue and grilling methods that not everyone who owns a grill and not everyone is so OCD about it.

For many a backyard chef, getting started for a day of smoking or grilling involves pouring a pile of charcoal into our starter chimney and light it up. We wait for the briquettes to turn white before tossing them into the grill or smoker. This starts the process whenin we end up repeating a few times during the mooking process. And that is where the Minion Method of low and slow cooking comes into play.

The Minion Method involves a different way of maintaining your heat source for a longer period of time and is really quite simple to adapt.

Basically, you only need to add an empty coffee can to your arsenal of smoking/grilling tools.

In a nut shell, you start things off as usual. You figure out how much charcoal you might need initally and get it heating up in your trusty starter chimney. While the chimney is doing its thing, you can then place your empty coffee can in the middle of where you usually dump your pile of briquettes. Next you pour out unlit briquettes and arrange them so that they surround the coffee can.


When the briquettes in the chimney are hot and have turned white, carefully dump them into the coffee can. You might want to have a heavy pair of bbq gloves and a set of tongs for this part because not only is the chimney going to be hot, but after a few minutes of having the lit briquettes in it, the coffee can is going to be too hot to handle bare-handed.

After filling the coffee can with hot coals, remove the can and adjust your vents carefully, to control the amount of air entering the cooker to keep the fire burning low and steady. You may find that this particular method could be perfect for those long, overnight cooks. It has been reported that this style can be good for up to about 18 hours at a time.

The coffee can creates a void in the pile of unlit briquettes. When this void is filled with hot briquettes, the unlit briquettes will catch gradually throughout the cooking session. This results in long burn times of up to 18 hours, depending on the weather. The nice thing is that you can start cooking right away, 15-30 minutes from lighting. I bet this method of low and slow cooking will allow more backyard chef's the opportunity to enjoy longer periods of peace and quite while they kick back with an extra cold brew or two.

Give this method a try and chances are you will discover that this is an excellent method for slow-smoking brisket or shoulders overnight and without having to set the alarm every 2-3 hours!

Now the universal wisdom is or has been that the harsh "just lit" briquette smell permeates the meat during cooking, hence the admonition to never put food over the fire until the coals are totally gray. But, for whatever reason, the Minion Method doesn't seem to affect the appearance, aroma, or taste of food.

This method is used with a good deal of success by many winning teams on the barbecue competition circuit, so chances are it's probably okay for your backyard as well.


  1. Place a small, bottomless coffee can in the center of the charcoal chamber. Fill around the can with unlit briquettes. Using a chimney starter, light a small number of briquettes. For warm, calm days = 20 briquettes. On cold, rainy, or windy days = 30-40 briquettes, Really cold days = 50-60 briquettes. Burn until evenly grey.
  2. Bury smoke-wood chunks throughout the unlit fuel, followed by a few chunks on top.
  3. Put hot coals inside the can, then carefully remove using a long pair of tongs and heat resistant gloves. Put a couple of chunks of wood on top of the hot coals to start generating smoke right away.
  4. If your cooker is equipped with a water pan, fill it. Tip: Use cool tap water on warm days, and hot tap water on cold days. If not, place a pan of water in the pit's cook chamber, or on the "cool side" of your kettle.
  5. Open all vents fully. You'll want to leave the top vent, or your smoke pipe, fully open throughout the entire cooking process.
  6. Get whatever you are going to cook as well as your smoke wood to the cooker immediately.
  7. The temperature will start off by rising slowly. At about 200°F, close up the bottom vents to about 1/4 open. Watch carefully until it reaches 225°F - 250°F, and adjust the vents as needed to maintain this temp.
  8. Check the water pan every 2-4 hours and add hot water as needed.
  9. Depending on the weather and the amount of food being cooked, it may be necessary to add fuel after about 12 hours of cooking. Light a full or partial chimney of charcoal and add the hot coals to the cooker.

NOTE: For shorter cook times, follow the steps above, but fill the firebox with half as many unlit charcoal. This works well for 6-8 hour cooks.