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Firing Up Your Weber Bullet

Originally posted: 09/12/1999
Last updated: 02/21/2014

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The Minion Method

Pros

  • Designed for cooking sessions lasting 6-18 hours.
  • Perfect for overnight cooking.
  • Start cooking in just 15-30 minutes.
  • No need to add fuel during the cooking process.
  • Long, consistent burn times over many hours.
  • Less chance of the cooker running hotter than desired.

Cons

  • Not acceptable to those who prefer all briquettes to be fully lit during cooking.
  • Not for cooking in the 325-350°F range.

Jim Minion

"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. I got home and was reading Ray's forum and the question was asked on how to control the temps on a WSM. I answered, and the rest is history.

"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 to The Virtual Weber Bulletin Board


The concept behind the "Minion Method" is simple:

  • Place a small number of hot coals on top of a full charcoal chamber of unlit briquettes.

  • Use the bottom vents to control the amount of air entering the cooker, to keep the fire burning low and steady.

  • The unlit fuel catches fire gradually throughout the cooking session, resulting in long burn times of up to 18 hours, depending on weather conditions.

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

Charcoal chamber filled with briquettes
Photo 1
       

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

Upside down chimney starter
Photo 2
Close-up of upside down chimney starter
Photo 3
     

Using a chimney starter, light a small number of briquettes:

  • On warm, calm days, light 20 briquettes.
  • On cold, rainy, or windy days, light 20-40 briquettes.
  • On extremely cold days, light 40-60 briquettes or more.

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

Hot coals spread over unlit briquettes
Photo 4
       

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:

  • Use cool tap water on warm days.
  • Use hot tap water on cold days. Some folks use boiling water on extremely cold days.
Fully open all three bottom vents. Leave the top vent fully open for ventilation throughout the entire cooking process.

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.

Fire-Up Variations

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 things differently.

Use hot water in the pan and allow the cooker to come up to 240-250°F before adding the meat. The cooker temperature will drop after the meat goes in, so leave the bottom vents fully open until the temp comes back up to about 200°F, then adjust the bottom vents to maintain 225-250°F.

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

Lighting briquettes using a coffee can
Photo 5
       

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.

  • If using the Minion Method for 225-250°F cooking, fire-up less fuel than you would normally, but otherwise follow the method as described. Once the cooker is assembled, the temperature will hover at 350-450°F. Keep the bottom vents closed and add lots of cold meat straight from the refrigerator to drive the cooker temperature down to your target temp.
  • If using the Minion Method, start with the bottom vents set to 50% open and monitor the temperature carefully throughout the cook.

Adding Smoke Wood To The Fire

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.

  • Place Smoke Wood On Top Of Hot Coals
    Most commonly used when firing the cooker using the Minion Method. Distribute the chunks evenly over the fully lit charcoal after putting the meat in the cooker. This keeps you from getting blasted with smoke while adding the meat, getting the Polder thermometer setup, etc. If using the Minion Method, make sure some wood touches the hot coals to start generating smoke right away.
     
  • Bury Smoke Wood In Unlit Charcoal
    Only possible when firing the cooker using the Minion Method. Bury wood chunks throughout the unlit fuel, followed by a few chunks on top. Distribute the hot coals evenly over the unlit fuel, making sure some wood touches the hot coals to start generating smoke right away.
     
  • Layering Charcoal And Wood Chips
    I don't advocate the use of wood chips, because I think chunks burn longer and more evenly. However, some people put down a layer of charcoal in the bottom of the chamber, then a layer of wood chips, a layer of charcoal, and so on, until the chamber is filled to the top. Light using the Minion Method.

Using Lump Charcoal

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.

Using Wood Chunks Or Logs Instead of Charcoal

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.

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