100 Techniques

Technique #85: Smoke Texas-Style Barbecue in a Kettle Grill

Learn two inventive charcoal grill techniques that mimic a smoker to produce Texas-style barbecue.

Published Aug. 8, 2023.

This is Technique #85 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

Each technique is broken into three sections: why it works, key steps, and recipes that use it. Learn these recipe building blocks and you'll be set up for a lifetime of cooking success.

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Texas-style beef ribs are barbecue bliss—so big they look like they came off a T. rex.

Beneath the dark, peppery crust and pink smoke ring is succulently tender beef so flavorful that barbecue sauce is not needed (and, in some corners, verboten). You think brisket lovers are committed? Wait till you meet a smoked beef rib enthusiast.

We’re talking about beef plate ribs, the meatiest ribs on the steer. They are marbled with fat and collagen and when cooked over low, slow heat, they achieve a juicy texture and satisfyingly chewy crust.

Pit masters use commercial-size smokers with lots of controls to achieve these results. While you can cook low and slow at home using a charcoal grill, you can only get so far before your coals require replenishment.

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There's a Snake In My Grill!

To achieve authentic results at home, we turn to a technique called a charcoal snake. This setup involves arranging coals in a C shape in a kettle grill and lighting just one end. The coals slowly ignite each other as they burn along the length of the snake, producing hours of heat without requiring reloading.

And because the heat moves around the edges of the grill, you don’t have to reposition the ribs as they cook.

Topping the charcoal snake with evenly spaced wood chunks and letting them smolder lends authentic barbecue flavor. Placing a pan of water in the middle of the snake keeps the temperature stable and mimics the moist environment of a smoker.

Arranging the ribs directly over the hot coals would cause them to burn before they cook through, so place them slightly off-center, with the meat carefully positioned over the pan and the gap in the snake.

A slab of raw beef ribs being placed on a charcoal grill setup for smoking.
We position the ribs next to each other on the grill's cooking grate bone side down over the disposable pan and the gap in the snake.
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Master of the Grill

Whether you’re new to grilling or consider yourself a genuine pit master, Master of the Grill is perfect for you. We've divided this book into three sections (The Basics, The Easy Upgrades, and Serious Projects) to help you find recipes that suit your level of grilling.

Step by Step: How to Make a Charcoal Snake for Ribs

Learn how to prepare a charcoal snake on your grill to perfectly slow smoke beef ribs.

Step 1: Create Your Charcoal "C"

Arrange briquettes around grill perimeter, leaving 8-inch gap between ends of snake. Place second layer of briquettes on top of first. (Completed snake is 2 briquettes wide by 2 briquettes high.)

Step 2: Add Wood Chunks

Evenly space unsoaked wood chunks on top of snake. Place disposable pan in center of grill and add water.

Step 3: Add Lit Coals

Light chimney starter. When coals are partially covered with ash, pour over 1 end of snake. (Make sure lit coals touch only 1 end of snake.)


Don’t Burn Money: Reuse Your Charcoal

Thrifty cooks reignite coals for a second round of grilling.
Learn More

For Chicken, Use Indirect Heat and Chip Packets

Satisfying your cravings for authentic barbecued chicken is a little easier and faster, but just as rewarding.

Start by brining a whole chicken to keep it moist; the brining also eliminates the need to add water to the disposable roasting pan.

Then, light 6 quarts of briquettes and arrange them in two even piles on either side of the pan, placing the chicken over the pan for indirect cooking.

A wood chip packet on each pile of coals provides a gentler smoke for the more delicate poultry, resulting in tender, juicy, truly smoky barbecued chicken.

Step by Step: How to Set Up Your Grill For Smoked Chicken

Follow these steps to create an ideal environment for grill-smoked chicken at home.

Step 1: Create Chip Packets

Make 2 foil packets of soaked wood chips. (Make sure chips do not poke holes in sides or bottom of packet.) Cut 2 evenly spaced slits in top of each packet.

Step 2: Make Two Piles of Coals

Place disposable pan in center of grill. Light chimney starter. When coals are partially covered with ash, pour into even piles on either side of pan.

Step 3: Add Chips and Create Smoke

Place 1 wood chip packet on each pile of coals, set cooking grate in place, and heat grill until chips are smoking.

Equipment Review

Charcoal Grills

We’ve happily made do with Weber’s basic kettle for years. But would newer, more tricked-out charcoal cookers be worth the upgrade?
Read Our Review
Watch Bryan Roof cook through our Texas-Style Smoked Beef Ribs recipe in a segment from "Cook's Country" TV.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Now that you've learned two helpful charcoal set ups for your grill, it's time to get smoking!


Texas-Style Smoked Beef Ribs

Wanted: a foolproof method for gigantic beef ribs.
Get the Recipe

Charcoal Grill-Roasted Whole Chicken

Rub the bird with spices and flip it just once for crisp, bronzed skin and flavorful, moist meat. (And then try cooking it on a beer can.)
Get the Recipe

Fragrant Dry Spice Rub

Rub a chicken with this dry spice rub and flip it just once for crisp, bronzed skin and flavorful, moist meat. (And then try cooking it on a beer can.)
Get the Recipe

Smoked Citrus Chicken

It’s inspiring—and delicious—when citrus, smoke, and spice come together.
Get the Recipe

Best Charcoal Grill-Smoked Pork Chops

To achieve juicy glazed pork infused with deep smoky flavor without a smoker, we couldn't let the chops lie down on the job.
Get the Recipe

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