The Complete Minion Method Charcoal Guide

charcoal briquettes on fire
To use the Minion Method, arrange your charcoal briquettes into a circle. Create a well in the center, and place a few lit charcoal briquettes in the well. To achieve the desired wood smoke, sprinkle split wood or wood chips on top of the briquettes during the cooking process.

What is the Minion Method for Charcoal?

The Minion Method was invented by Jim Minion. The Minion Method involves placing a small number of lit charcoal (ten to twelve briquettes) on top of the unlit charcoal. As you cook, the lit charcoal will self-ignite the unlit charcoal.

By adjusting the intake damper, the amount of oxygen entering the smoker can be controlled, and thus low and slow barbecue temperatures (225°F – 250°F) can be maintained.

What is the Purpose of Using the Minion Method?

Using the minion method allows for low and slow barbecue temperatures to be easily maintained using a charcoal grill. Using the Minion Method, you can reduce the risk of your smoker running too hot. 

Traditionally, charcoal smokers are instructed to light their briquettes and wait until all of the coals have turned grey which uses more charcoal than the Minion Method, which goes against this tradition.

How to Start

There are two basic methods for starting your grill using the Minion method. You can arrange your briquettes in either a doughnut pattern or a top-down pattern, so they burn slowly and remain lit, igniting the other briquettes in contact with them.

Jim set up his grill using the donut method. Simply pour charcoal briquettes into your grill, create a hole in the middle, and place your lit charcoal briquettes in the center of the hole.

The top-down method involves making an even layer of briquettes at the bottom of the grill and then adding lit briquettes on top. As a result, they burn down slowly and cook evenly.

Step-by-Step Instructions for the Minion Method

Compared to traditional starting methods, the Minion Method is quick and straightforward. In as little as 15 minutes, you can have your smoker up and running.

1. Make sure your smoker’s charcoal chamber is full. 

Fill your charcoal chamber with unlit briquettes. Once you have a deep, even layer, dig a well in the center for the starter coals.

Place your wood chunks on top of your unlit briquettes and ensure that the top and bottom air vents are open.

2. Light your coal starters.

Jim’s original method involved lighting his starter coals in a chimney starter, which you can do or choose to use a lighter. Add them to your smoker as soon as all the starter coals are about 70% covered with gray ash.

3. Place the lit coals into the well.

Fill the well with the burning starter coals. The starter coals will burn out and light the briquettes around them as they burn out. Your smoker will remain at a constant temperature as a result.

4. Adjust your top vents as needed.

Your smoker’s top and bottom vents should be closed when the temperature reaches 200°F. Ensure that the temperature remains between 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Until the temperature settles, adjust your vents as necessary.

Many factors will determine the location of your vents, including the weather conditions and the amount of lit charcoal you started with.

Can you Ignite the Minion Method with a Lighter?

The key to the Minion Method is to prevent all the coals from being ignited at once, so if you use a lighter, it is best to light just a few coals in the center. Be surgical about which you choose to light. Use a weed burner or propane torch-type lighter rather than a traditional one.

Does the Minion Method Work with Lump Charcoal?

Yes, the Minion Method works with lump charcoal, though lump charcoal burns hotter, reducing the effectiveness of this method.

Lump charcoal is a natural product that is produced in a kiln. Briquettes are composed of several materials (wood particles, sawdust, mineral char, and additives) and compressed into a single unit. Briquettes are primarily used because they are uniform.

How Many Coals Does it Take to Light the Minion Method?

It should only take 10 to 12 coals to use the Minion Method. The rest of the briquettes will ignite over time, which is the magic of this method. I call it the best low n slow method because it’s perfect for bbq, brisket, and other meats you would consider smoking.

How Long Does the Minion Method Last?

In Jim’s lighting technique, the temperature remains within the magic range of 225°F – 250°F and has an 18-hour burn time.

You can almost “set and forget” your charcoal smoker when you use this simple technique. There is no need for constant adjustments or messy refueling unless you cook for an extended period of time.

Cooking time under 18 hours is typically enough for most slow-cooking recipes. I use charcoal briquettes to create even heat and a slow burn because this consistent burn delivers the best results.

Is the Minion Method Compatible With Any Grill or Smoker?

Jim pioneered the Minion Method using a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, but is suitable for any cooker or smoker with a charcoal basket.

You will need to experiment with your own grill or smoker. Adjust the method according to the device’s size, airflow, and leakage.

What is the Difference Between the Minion Method and a Chimney Starter?

In the Minion Method, hot coals will ignite unlit coals over time, resulting in a long and stable fire.

A chimney starter can also be called a charcoal chimney. This device is used for igniting charcoal. It is a metal tube with a grate for storing charcoal. A lighting cone is a similar device placed over an existing grate in a conical shape.

Pros of Using the Minion Method

  • Designed for cooking sessions lasting between six and eight hours.
  • Ideal for overnight cooking.
  • In just 15-30 minutes, you can begin cooking.
  • There is no need to add fuel during the cooking process.
  • Burn times that are long and consistent over a long period of time.
  • It is less likely that the cooker will run hotter than desired.

Cons of Using the Minion Method

  • Those who prefer that all briquettes be fully lit during cooking will not find this acceptable.
  • It should not be used for cooking at temperatures above 325°F.
  • Without a deep enough firebox, there can be excess heat created that is too close to the grill

Low and Slow Barbecue Recipes

Check out these low and slow barbecue recipes if you want to use the Minion Method!

Smoked Beef Chuck Ribs

Ultimate Smoked Sausage

Easy Smoked Pulled Pork

Smoked Prime Rib Roast


Florida native, home to the Sunday all-day poolside grilling party. When I’m not working, I’m either on the water, minding the grill, or trying to devote some time to help keep our oceans clean.

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