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Unread 05-19-2013, 12:21 PM   #1
Pailong
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Default Uusing minion method with kettle BBQ

Hi all, I'm new here and looking for some advice.

I recently slow smoked some ribs - this is not the first time I've slow smoked food but I haven't done it in 3 years so thought I'd get back into it. I thought I'd start with some simple ribs to get my technique right before doing anything bigger, so I started researching into slow smoking again. When I first slow smoked 3 years ago, while I did succeed in making ribs and pulled pork, I felt that my technique wasn't strong yet and that I wasn't consistent at maintaining temperature, so this time round I want to try and get my technique perfect and finally decide on what I feel is best for slow smoking on a kettle.

I use a Weber one-touch original which I bought 3 years ago, so kettle style smoking. This time I wanted to try out the Minion Method to get long hours of smoking, so I decided to stack up charcoal (I used Weber lumpwood charchoal, as I heard briquettes might contain chemicals etc... so I wanted to use lumpwood for cleaner burn). I stacked up the charcoal on one side of the kettle and put some hickory wood chunks on top (this time, I didn't soak any of the wood chunks unlike I did 3 years ago, as now I've read that soaking them is not the correct way to get the blue-ish stream of smoke that is ideal for smoking, which I didn't know 3 years ago!). I used the chimney to start some charcoal and poured the lit charcoal on one side of the unlit charcoal in the kettle. I then placed a drip pan with some cider in the kettle and the ribs on top with an oven thermometer, closed the lid and adjusted the vents to get temperatures between 225F-275F.

Now, while I did succeed in making these ribs and they came out fine (apart from the fact that they were a bit dry because these were really cheap ribs with barely any meat/fat on them, next time I'll buy fattier cuts of ribs!) I felt that during the 4 hour cooking process, there were too many problems:

1) The Minion Method burned really quickly - I had to light up some coals and pour into the kettle again around the 3 hour mark. The burning had made it's way round really quickly. I think it's either due to my stacking of the charcoal (maybe it wasn't enough?) or/and the fact that lumpwood burns quicker than briquettes - perhaps briquettes would have given a longer and more consistent burning? I expected the minion method to last longer than this. Also felt that the wood chunks burned out really quick too but perhaps that's me being picky and they actually burned as they were supposed to...

2) The temperature was difficult to control, especially using an oven thermometer (I realised this 3 years ago too) - I was having trouble getting it above 225F (I wanted 250F) without having to pop open the lid all the time to check the temperature - also at one point, I walked away and when I came back, there was nothing coming out the kettle so I popped the lid to find that the temperature had dropped and the charcoal wasn't burning properly (maybe closed the vents too much) - I think this is the last time I'm using an oven thermometer.

For problem number 2 - I'm finally going to buy the Maverick ET-732 wireless BBQ thermometer. I think this will help solve my problems with temperature control (and I can adjust vents without having to pop open the lid to check the temperature).

For problem number 1 - can anyone give advice on the minion method/burning charcoal? Should I switch to briquettes?

Also, if you think I've done something wrong please let me know, any help and advice is welcome! I've got some pictures of my set up and smoking of the ribs.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/zxmqio2vzy...518_103349.jpg

https://www.dropbox.com/s/5buieyu9gc...518_111205.jpg

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ddw9farcp1...518_114321.jpg

https://www.dropbox.com/s/k29czootha...518_125025.jpg

https://www.dropbox.com/s/1cj9fyoqro...518_161954.jpg
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Unread 05-19-2013, 12:33 PM   #2
Mark Warren
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For the longer burn time use a basket or something to coral the coal so it is stacked deeper no spread out, open the bottom vents wide open and use the top vents to control temp. Third pic down shows the ribs were directly over coals and that is not so good, big ribs like that should maybe have been cut in half on your cooking surface. I know it's only half as much cooked but you need to keep them away from the coals.
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Unread 05-19-2013, 12:35 PM   #3
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My impressions are these,
Start with more lump, perhaps packed a little tighter.
keep your top vent all the way open, use the bottom vent(s) for control.
Keep the lid closed as much as possible, yes the Maverick will help with that.

KC
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Unread 05-19-2013, 12:56 PM   #4
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I find the minion method more difficult to control in a kettle. burns too quickly for my tastes. I find that the ring of fire has given me the best results so far.
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Unread 05-19-2013, 12:58 PM   #5
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I agree with code, control oxygen to the fire via bottom intakes, and leave exhaust open. I've been using this method on my kettle for the last month about 3 times a week, and can keep it at 250, or cruise at 350 for chicken parts. Or start off low, then open up the intake a bit to let the heat climb up to power through to the finish. The food I've been making has been stellar, with perfect smoke flavour, and no creosote build up on the food.

I also bury 4ish half fist sized wood chunks in the pile of unlit charcoal (I mix briqs and lump), so they pre-warm a bit before igniting. Another trick I use is two slim brick pavers turned on their side to form a wall between charcoal and rest of kettle bottom. They heat up and keep a more even cook going.
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Unread 05-19-2013, 12:59 PM   #6
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To add just a little to what code3rrt said, In my kettle to get 250 I find that the bottom vents need to be open 1/8 inch and the top either full or 3/4 open. Cover the unused portion of the coal grate with foil this will allow for a more precise temp control because all the intake air must pass up & through the fire. Bury some of those wood chunks in the pile and let the coals warm the wood as it ignites this will keep the "Sweet Blue" rolling through the cook. By the way your ribs look marvelous.
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Unread 05-19-2013, 01:22 PM   #7
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Hi Pailong,
Welcome to the Brethren.

I did some ribs on my son's Performer which also has a 22" kettle. I used one basket with charcoal and had the bottom vent barely cracked open. It is difficult to get precise air flow control with the One-Touch so I controlled with fuel, adding a few briquettes every hour or so. I was using briquettes but I think it would work with lump as well.
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Unread 05-19-2013, 01:45 PM   #8
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Hi everyone, thanks for all your replies!

Next time I'm definitely going to a proper butcher's to get the right cut of ribs (still have to experiment with whether spare or baby back are best, as I've seen spare ribs with barely any fat/meat and these are supposed to be fattier!). I think, in my experience, that the ribs should have some meat and fat on top of the bones so they don't wither and dry out in the long and slow smoking process.

I realised my ribs were too big on the rib rack, so the ends were directly over the charcoal! Lesson learnt (first time using the rib rack, didn't have it 3 years ago) - next time I will trim my ribs down.

I think I'll experiment with both bottom and top vents, the main problem I had was I couldn't see the temperature without opening the lid to look at the oven thermometer, as my lid doesn't have a temperature gauge. I'll be buying the Maverick ET732 in a few weeks, as I've heard good things about it and that it's quite accurate, so with that I shouldn't have to open the lid when messing around with the vents, thus I'll be able to control my temperature much better (right now, every time I open the lid and adjust the vents, I have to close the lid and wait for the temperature to stablise again with the new vent positions, which means I have to open the lid quickly to check the temperature again!). Talk about doing things the hard way!

Regarding the minion method, I think next time I'll try to stack them tighter together rather than spreading out. I think I was already hitting the food grate with some of the lumpwood but it wasn't packed tight. I'll try stacking them tight and also bury wood chunks inside the pile. The only thing with these lumpwood is that obviously they are all different sizes - I bought a 5kg bag and it had mostly small pieces! I felt ripped-off, there were more small pieces and only a handful of big pieces. Perhaps briquettes provide a more even spread and better for stacking because of perfect shape/size of each one? What do you guys reckon, lumpwood vs briquettes?
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Unread 05-19-2013, 02:10 PM   #9
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How did they taste looks good from here
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Unread 05-19-2013, 02:21 PM   #10
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Lump is the way to go. Get a welders Chipping hammer and break the huge pieces up to get them more uniform
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Unread 05-19-2013, 04:34 PM   #11
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Get a couple of fire bricks, and use them to keep the charcoal piled up against the side.

Your ribs look really good!
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Unread 05-19-2013, 05:34 PM   #12
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Leave the top vent open and position it over the food, that way the smoke and heat will travel over the food before it goes out the top and control the temps with the bottom vents. The more fuel you light the hotter your starting temps will be, i start about 8-10 briqs (or equivilent amount of lump) and catch my temps as it comes up, it is hard to bring it back down after it shoots up.

There are many good threads here and at the Weber Kettle Club site that explain how to smoke on a kettle, i have done a spatchcocked chicken using two half circles of charcoal (two rows (( )) and a third row on top of each) and lite the bottom of one row and the top of the other row, along with a aluminum foil pan with some water in it and chunks spaced out on each row, with top and bottom vents open will cook the chicken just right and no fuss and no muss

Oh btw the kettle in my avatar is cooking the chicken i spoke of!
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Unread 05-19-2013, 06:36 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BobM View Post
Get a couple of fire bricks, and use them to keep the charcoal piled up against the side.

Your ribs look really good!

This is what I do also. The fire bricks give you more depth of your coals so that the Minion method works. I also orient the vent on the opposite side from the fire to draw the smoke across the meat.
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Unread 05-20-2013, 02:31 PM   #14
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Hey guys, thanks for the comments!

They tasted spot on (just like they did 3 years ago) but like I mentioned before, think I need fattier ribs as they dried out slightly!

This fire brick idea seems quite good and it looks quite cheap for a few bricks. How many bricks can I fit in the Weber one touch original? (can't remember which size I have!).

Does anyone have pictures of a Weber kettle with the fire bricks inside, along with charcoal/briquettes piled up?
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Unread 05-20-2013, 03:30 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pailong View Post
Hey guys, thanks for the comments!

This fire brick idea seems quite good and it looks quite cheap for a few bricks. How many bricks can I fit in the Weber one touch original? (can't remember which size I have!).

Does anyone have pictures of a Weber kettle with the fire bricks inside, along with charcoal/briquettes piled up?

Here is a picture of one way to do it. This uses two fire bricks standing on their edge.

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