If you are planning to smoke a brisket or ribs for the Sunday backyard barbecue with friends and family, chances are you will have to keep your smoker up overnight.
It’s knowing the different methods and techniques that’ll get you keeping your smoker going overnight. We ‘re going to share these tips so you can be sure the brisket will be smoked just fine and your friends will love it.
We’ll talk about keeping the fire going for charcoal smokers and pellet smokers.
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What You Need to Know About Overnight Smoking
One thing every pit master knows when doing overnight smoking is they’re not going to get much sleep in. If you thought you were going to set the fire at 9 pm, toss in the meat and go to sleep for the night then you’ve got a surprise coming your way.
You simply can’t leave a smoker unattended and that includes for overnight cooking. So, the first piece of equipment you need is a good alarm clock. Because you’re going to be getting up every couple of hours to check on your fire.
For good measures, keep the smoker well away from your house. And check out the weather before you decide to do an overnight cook. If it’s going to be raining or windy weather is forecasted it would be good to postpone your barbecue.
Overnight smoking is called for when you’re planning to smoke a brisket or any other meat that needs more than 8 hours of cooking. You could plan to do a day of cooking but sometimes the only time available is night time.
Here are three tips you should know before even attempting to cook overnight:
- Plan ahead: By scheduling a night for overnight cooking you can plan ahead. You can ensure you get a good night’s sleep the day before. You could even call on some good friends to sit out the night with you or simply have your alarm clock set to wake you up every 2 hours or so.
- Be prepared: Make sure you have everything on hand to keep the fire going overnight before you start. You don’t want to be waking up at 1am to only find you’ve run out of fuel and your smoker dies on you.
- Be willing: This is very much a personal tip but if you’re willing and committed to producing a perfectly smoked meal then you won’t mind having a disturbed night.
Now that you know a bit more about what it entails to cook on your smoker overnight, let’s talk about how to keep the fire going.
Charcoal Smokers for a Successful Overnight Cook
Sustaining a successful burn throughout the night is possible when you use any of the methods about to be described here. Pit masters who work with charcoal fires have found these techniques useful in prolonging the fire.
The Minion Method
This method was devised by a fellow smoker by the name of Jim Minion. He fully understood the creed of low and slow cooking when using his Weber Smokey Mountain. So, he devised a technique of lighting charcoal quickly but keeping it burning for up to 18 hours at a consistent, low temperature.
Jim’s technique is simple and allows for you to set your fire with minimal fussing and adjustment throughout the cooking process. Which is why it’s a great method for overnight cooking. You’ll have your smoker smoking within 20 minutes. How’s that for speed?
To perfect this method, use the following steps:
1. Place charcoal in the charcoal chamber
Put enough unlit briquettes (8 pounds is normally sufficient) to fill the chamber. Make sure you have a deep and even layer. In the center, make a hole for your starter coals. Place wood chunks on top of the briquettes and open the air vents, both at the top and the bottom.
2. Light up the starter coals
You could use a chimney starter to get your starter coals burning well. Once lit and the coals are ¾ covered in gray ash, tip them into the hole of the unlit briquettes. If you decide to light the coals directly in the hole, then use a blow torch to get them started. While the starter coals are burning out into the surrounding briquettes, the temperature of the smoker will remain steady.
3. Manage the air vents
When the smoker temperature reaches around 200⁰F, you want to close both the top and bottom vents by 25%, leaving a slight gap for minimal air flow. You want to keep checking the temperature and adjusting the vents accordingly until you reach the ideal temperature of around 225⁰F.
This technique is simple and works every time. Various modifications have been added to the steps but if you follow these steps you won’t fail producing an all-night burn. The benefit of this method is no refuelling is required.
Check out this video fir quick reference
The Snake Method
This method of lighting charcoal will keep your smoker going for 12 – 15 hours with no problems at all. All you need are some briquettes and your favorite wood chips for smoke flavor. The snake method works really well in a kettle grill – like the 22-Inc Weber Kettle Grill
Make a C-shape arrangement with your coals by placing them around the outer sides of the charcoal grate. The coil shape should be about 3 coals thick with the coals leaning against each other similar to a domino stack. You want to leave a gap for your water pan. Start with two rows running alongside each other. The third row is stacked above the two rows along the middle line.
Add some wood chips or small chunks at the beginning of the snake and out to about half way along the coil. These are laid on the outer edge of the coil.
Light up 10 briquettes using the chimney starter (or whichever way you like to start coals). Once they’re covered in white ash, place them at the one end of the coil. Make sure you place them against the first set of unlit briquettes so they catch. A pair of tongs will be useful here when placing the lit coals into position.
Make sure you place at the right end – you don’t want the burn to fight against the wrong side of the leaning briquettes. Start with your air vents open and as the temperature rises, adjust the air vents. An optimal temperature of 225⁰F to 250⁰F can be maintained using this method.
Watch this video to get you started on the snake method.
The Top-Down Burn Method
Another great way to keep the burn going is to use the top-down burn method. This works well with both lump charcoal and briquettes. Fill up the charcoal chamber three-quarters of the way with lump charcoal. You can layer wood chips or chunks in between the charcoal. Do not used soaked wood chips as this will affect the burn.
Get your starter coal lit and burning nicely before adding to the top of the pile in the chamber. You can arrange a few more wood chips and chunks on top of the lit coals. But be careful of putting on too many or else you risk damping out the fire.
The lit coal will gradually ignite the unlit charcoal from the top, going on down to the bottom.
Pellet Grills: Sustaining the Fire for Overnight Smoking
Using a pellet grill overnight is often considered one of the safest ways of cooking for long hours into the night. Having said that, it’s still advisable you get up every couple of hours to check it’s still burning, the temperature is maintaining and you’re not burning anything else down!
I emphasize the important of using a clean smoker or grill and that includes keeping all the racks clean of grease. The reason for this is a greasy grill has more chances of catching alight than a clean one. Also, always clean out all the ash from previous smokes and give the drip tray a good soaking.
When you’re ready to light your pellet grill, ensure you have more than enough pellets to keep the smoking temperature constant throughout the night. An average pellet grill will use around a half pound of pellets every hour. So, you want to fill your hopper with enough pellets to keep it going for at least 8 hours.
Always make sure you’re using high-quality pellets that contain no moisture. Once you’ve reached the ideal temperature of between 225⁰F and 250⁰F, you can settle down for the night. But remember, you can’t leave your pellet grill without checking in on it every couple of hours. You don’t want to be waking up in the morning to a cold smoker and ruined meat.
Keeping your smoker up all night is possible once you master the techniques described above. Before ending off, here’s one more useful tip from the pit masters. Use a remote thermometer to give you an idea of what’s happening with the temperature in the chamber. You don’t want to be opening the lid every time you check in on your smoker.