I only recently joined the meat smoking community within the last month or so with the purchase of my first smoker--the Brinkman Smoke-N-Grill, (aka the ECB--El Cheap-O Brinkman). I made the mods recommended on this and other sites and smoked a brisket and whole chicken. Meat turned out great, but I had to dump the charcoal pan every hour and start over with new briquettes. Did the same thing on the next couple of smokes. Finally got tired of having to babysit the darn thing every minute, to add coals every hour, open and close the door to regulate the temp, etc.
I decided to try out the Minion Method this weekend to see if it would work with the ECB and ease the babysitting issues I was having. For anyone not familiar with this method do a yahoo search on it or read Jeff's article on it from the Smoking-Meat Homepage. I cut the ends out of a #10 can and placed the can in the center of the ECB charcoal pan, filled the rest of the pan around the can with lump charcoal and then filled my Weber charcoal chimney about 1/2 full of lump charcoal. I placed 5 or six chunks of mesquite and hickory that had been soaking for 12+ hours around the perimeter of the charcoal pan. After getting the charcoal chimney going with the side burner of my gas grill I let it burn for about 10 minutes until everything was glowing a nice orange color and then dumped it into the #10 can in the middle of the ECB's charcoal pan. Once the hot charcoal was in the can I used a pair of pliers to lift the can off of the hot charcoal and set it aside. I placed the smoker body back over the charcoal pan and let the temperature guage reach 220 degrees and then put my brisket, that had been rubbed with Jeff's Naked Rib Rub the night before, on the grate and put the lid in place.
I saw a tip on another website that suggested using folded up aluminum foil to close the gaps between the ECB dome lid and smoker body. I did this and I feel it allowed the top vent that I added to be more useful in helping to control the temperature. I still used opening and closing the door to trap or allow heat to escape, but not nearly as often. (I can't say if this is because of the Minion Method or the foil between the lid and smoker body, or both.) The ECB reached my target temperature of 220--240 degrees and stayed there for over 5 hours with very little messing with doors and vents to control the temp. Mostly I just occasionally added chunks of wood from my water buckets to keep the smoke going. When there were spikes in temp it was usually from a flare-up. I opened the door and used to tongs to take the flaming wood out, dunked it in the water bucket and put it back on the coals.
After 5 1/2 hours most of my initial lump charcoal had been consumed and the temp began to drop towards 200 degrees. I forgot to buy more lump charcoal so I had to use briquettes for the second loading of the charcoal pan. When the temp began to dip I filled my charcoal chimney with briquettes and got them lit on the gas grill burner. I let them burn for about 10 minutes before lifting the smoker body off the charcoal pan. I dumped the ashes from the charcoal pan into the metal fire ring I have on my patio and re-filled the charcoal pan with briquettes the same way I did the first time, using the #10 can in the middle of the pan and filling charcoal around it and added a bit more smoking wood to the briquettes. Same as before--when the chimney was ready I dumped the briquettes into the can and then lifted the can out of the charcoal pan, replaced the smoker body and sat back to let it work its magic.
I got about 3 hours of burn time out of the briquettes before they began to smother in their own ashes. That is my biggest issue with briquettes--they produce so much more ash and mess than the lump charcoal. I have a raised grate in the bottom of the charcoal pan, but when the pan is mostly full of briquettes it produces a lot of ash! The ash filled the space under the grate and began to smother the few remaining coals. As when I used lump charcoal, I did not need to do much adjusting of the temp. It held steady for hours on end. I watched it closely because I had not ever used this method before, but it needed minimal intervention from me to burn just right.
After 8 hours over the coals it was 2:00 am, I was tired, my coals were smothering and my brisket was reading 172 degrees--well below my target temp of 200 degrees. By 2:30 am I threw in the towel--I heated the oven to 230 degrees, double wrapped the brisket in heavy duty foil and put it in the oven and fell asleep on the couch. At 5:00 am the alarm on my digital thermometer woke me up saying the brisket had reached 200 degrees. I pulled it out of the oven and placed it in a cooler and covered it with a fleece blanket. When I got up a few hours later the digital probe thermometer in the brisket was still reading 145 degrees. The meat pulled apart beautifully. It was smokey, tender and delicious.
This was a very long way to say, Yes, the Minion Method does work with the ECB smoker and works extremely well! I also had a good time doing a side by side evaluation of lump charcoal vs. briquettes. In my opinion the lump charcoal is the clear winner--burns cleaner and longer with less mess to clean up afterward.
I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to Jeff for the website and recipes (they are wonderful--well worth what I paid for them!) and to you fellow Meat Heads for your tips, tricks and advise that you share with novices like myself on this forum.