ECB and the Minon method

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by bill r, Aug 18, 2012.

  1. bill r

    bill r Newbie

    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.   
    bluenoser likes this.
  2. bomftdrum

    bomftdrum Smoke Blower

    Thanks for this post. I have an ecb and I have wondered if you could do the minion method on it. I usually stick to 6 to 7 hour smokes due to all the babysitting. I haven't done any Morse except the temp gauge as I am having problems finding a grate. I am going to try my local ace hardware store, but I will be surprised if they have it as I live in such a small town.
  3. bill r

    bill r Newbie

    Thanks for the feedback!  I found a used tabletop charcoal grill at a moving sale and used the charcoal grate from that in my ECB charcoal pan.  I saw the same tabletop grills new at Home Depot for $20.  I can't remember the brand name of them, but the Weber version is called the Smokey Joe and it runs about $30 at Home Depot.  I actually pulled the charcoal pan from the ECB floor display and pulled the charcoal grate from the Smokey Joe knockoff to make sure that they will work together.  They fit really well. 

    For my ECB mods I took the lid vent from the used Smokey Joe knockoff and installed it on my ECB lid after drilling 1/2 inch holes.  I used the vent as a template to mark with Sharpie where the holes should be.  From my limited experience I think the most important mods to make on the ECB are the temp guage and moving the legs to the outside so you lift the smoker body off of the charcoal pan.  I did all of the mods to mine before using it for first time, so I can't speak to how well the charcoal burns with vs. without air holes in the pan.  However, I can say that it burns better with the grate in the pan to keep the coals out of the ashes.   

    One other bonus of having the Smokey Joe knockoff is that after using it for parts for the ECB mods you can use the body of the little grill to dump your charcoal pan's hot ashes into when you need to add more charcoal to the ECB.  With all mods + the initial investment in the smoker I have spent well less than $100.  Not too bad.  No, the ECB--even with mods--is not a Weber Smokey Mountain, but it works decent enough and seems to be a good unit to learn the ropes on. 
  4. flash

    flash Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Minion method is the way to go. I finally retired my original ECB this year, it was 30+ years old.  After mods it was capable of around 450º. I tried lump but it burned to hot and too fast, so stuck with briquettes. Usually had to add new coal after every 4 hours, so would start up the chimney starter every 3 1/2 hours.  I had a spare charcoal pan and had the legs reversed so easy to swap out the pan or add too it when needed.

  5. bill r

    bill r Newbie

    Great pics! In the shot of your ECB I can see smoke coming out of the unit, but I can't see how you are getting air to the charcoal pan. Meat looks great!
    Also, sounds like you've been doing this for a while--I like the consistent temps that briquettes provide, but as I said in an earlier post, even with a charcoal grate in place my briquettes generate so much ash that they smother the fire. How have you dealt with this issue?
  6. deanoaz

    deanoaz Meat Mopper

    Thanks, Bill R for that comprehensive coverage of your ECB experience.  I just did some chicken breasts this weekend, after all the "Jeff Mod's" to the ECB and was satisfied with the results.  Your suggestion of lump charcoal and sealing off the space around the lid talks to a few of the problems I ran into.  I will be trying them for my next project.
  7. flash

    flash Smoking Guru OTBS Member

     Well I did drill extra holes in the fire pan. This did funnel out some of the ashe, but removing the pan and replacing it with the secondary one was the real savior. As to air. In the older versions of the ECB, the lid fit OVER the barrel of the smoker, where as the new ones, the lid fit IN the barrel of the smoker. This allowed for some air, but the biggest change came when removing the feet, I placed the unit on three standard concrete block, placed in a triangle layout. The firepan rested in the center opening and the barrel of the smoker on top of the 3 blocks. In the first photo you can see the two openings of the concrete block. This allowed air flow to the pan. If I needed more, I would place another block with the openings facing out. If I needed less air, moved the block so there were no openings facing out. I found I used much less charcoal this way too. I actually had to cut back on the normal amounts I had used in the past or the heat would really climb on me.
  8. bill r

    bill r Newbie

    Thanks for the tip on using cinder blocks, sounds like it works really well!.  I've been using a platform made from red bricks to rest the charcoal pan on, I have the legs reversed with the smoker body standing on the bricks as well. 

    I had a couple more questions on how you set up your cinder blocks and charcoal pan; I have air holes drilled in the lower sides of my charcoal pan, I have about 16, 1/4 inch holes (8 on opposite sides).  It sounds like you have holes in bottom of your pans--is that correct?  In you experience is there such a thing as too many air holes in the charcoal pan?  As in if I drill more holes in the bottom of my pan will I need to cover some of the side holes up to prevent excessive air getting to the charcoal (if I remove the legs so the smoker sits flush on the blocks)? 

    Thanks again for the feedback and advise!  I look forward to trying this on my next smoke. 
  9. flash

    flash Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I went with larger holes, more like 1/2 inch to allow the ash to fall thru better. So if I remember, I had the existing center hole then added around 6 more around the sides.  More air will get the coals going hotter and burning faster, that is why you would then turn the cinder blocks to block excessive air flow. As stated, if I used a 3/4 to full pan of charcoal, I could achieve 450º. I was able to cut back quite a bit on the amount of charcoal I used.

  10. deanoaz

    deanoaz Meat Mopper

    Well, I am updating my ECB setup with some more changes besides Jeff's Mod's. 

    In Jeff's Mod's, he put some holes towards the bottom of the charcoal pan, on either side.  Probably because of using briquets, they plugged towards the end and I lost heat.  I added some more holes further up, so that ash won't plug them as much.  Although that may be "belt and suspenders" if I use charcoal chunks.  My pan is sitting on three of those round patio stepping stones (which is what it looked like in his mods.

    I also read a recommendation somewhere to use wood stove door gasket around the lid of the ECB.  Got some and will be trying that this weekend to cook a brisket.  I'm also going to do some searching to get opinions on which wood to use for smoke on a brisket......any ideas?????  I know there are about as many opinion on that as there are members on this forum.

    I'm also following your recommendation to use charcoal chunks instead of briquets, for more constant, long lasting heat and less ash.

  11. bill r

    bill r Newbie

    Thanks again for the tips!  Started setting up my blocks and drilling larger holes in the bottom of the pan tonight.  We'll see how she burns next time I smoke something.  Thank you!
  12. bill r

    bill r Newbie

    You'll have to post how the stove door gasket works out!  Sounds like a better solution than the folded sheets of foil I've used the last couple of times.  Good luck with the lump charcoal, I've used it several times now and have been pleased with the results.  I've seen some other posts saying that the lump burns too hot and fast, but it has worked well for me.  As far as wood goes for the brisket I did one this past weekend with hickory that turned out really well.  I've also used mesquite and apple.  I probably don't have the most discerning palate, but I thought the apple was a bit on the mild side for me--if I'm going to the trouble of smoking something I want a strong smoke flavor.  I think mesquite may be my favorite right now.  I would like to pick a weekend and smoke two chickens (or something similar that doesn't take 12+ hours to cook), doing each one over a different type of wood in order to see how significant the difference in flavor is.  Good luck with the brisket!  I'll have to figure out how to post some pics-- the ones that "Flash" posted with his responses were really helpful! 
  13. deanoaz

    deanoaz Meat Mopper

    Thanks, Bill for the feedback.  I'm really looking forward to doing the brisket (1/2 cut) this Saturday.  I think the wood stove seal-rope will work just great.

    I have a recipe that calls for a marinade first (overnight) then a rub for 45 minutes, then hit the grill for 3 hours.  I am modifying the recipe to include spraying apple juice on the brisket when turning it over every hour or so.  At the end of the 3 hours, it will be wrapped in aluminum foil and back on the grill for 1-2 hours.  Depending on the temp., I will pull it out of  the foil and back on the grill for an hour or so for an outer crust.  I am using a mixture of apple and hickory wood for smoking.  I will then probably hit the styrafoam cooler to let it rest before serving it sliced thin for sandwiches.

    One thing I didn' t mention that I was going to try are a couple of "aluminum fatties" of water-soaked smoking wood that will sort of sit to the outside rim of the burner pan and one or two made up ahead of time to replace the originals as they burn off.

    Looking forward to this next smoking project (2nd in a row).
  14. bill r

    bill r Newbie

    Sounds like a solid plan. I've seen the recommendation to spray the meat down with juice or marinade during the smoking process before, but have never tried it. It sounds good, especially with using apple juice with the apple wood. I also like the idea of using the soaked wood in foil. The first brisket I did smoked for about 6 hours to 167degrees and then rested it and sliced it thin--it is really good that way. I think the foil wrap is a good idea as well. I did a pork roast that took about 10 hours. I had rubbed it, but did not brine, marinade or mop it and it was good, but a bit on the dry side. I think a foil wrap half way through may have helped that.

    Is the stove seal rope adhesive? Does it attach to the lid or to the inside rim of the smoker body? Looking forward to hearing how that works out.
  15. deanoaz

    deanoaz Meat Mopper

    I could use an adhesive (one came with the rope) to attach the rope, but I think I would rather just poke it down into the space around the lid after setting it back down, since I'm not sure how it would seal after taking it off and on after being glued.  It doesn't take much to just put it on top of the gap.  I'll let you know how things work out.

    Lets keep up a running conversation on how our smoking goes, since we both appear to be newbies.

    Last edited: Aug 21, 2012
  16. deanoaz

    deanoaz Meat Mopper

    Okay, final preparations are done for this newbie to try a brisket smoke this weekend (2nd project after chicken).

    Have the Brinkmann ECB and did all the recommended "Jeff Mod's" (see setup below) of legs outside, firebox on pavers, controlled venting holes on lid, real thermometer.  I also set up some pavers around the round blocks supporting the firebox, for the legs to stand on evenly.  I had read about sealing off around the lid to stop losing smoke/heat from that way, so I have a piece of wood stove seal rope (see in the picture), which I can pull on and off whenever lid needs to be removed.

    I am going to use the Minion method for firebox wood starting, by having a new paint can (bottom removed) from Lowes in the center and charcoal chunks around that.  I will then fill that with hot coals and remove when ready.  I am going to try making two aluminum "fatties" to hold wood for smoke (holes punched in top).  I think I can make them long and narrow and curve them for locating opposite each other in the firebox.  Then if I start running out of smoke, I can have spares made up to just replace the others.  I have a theory that I can also make the two with different woods in them for a mixture of smoke.

    My brisket recipe will be an overnight brined piece of meat (half of a full brisket), rub applied 45 minutes before smoker time, 3 hours on the grill, removed and wrapped in aluminum foil, back on the grill for 1-2 hours, then an unwrapped period back on the grill for some crusting.  During this time I am also going to be spraying the meat periodically with apple juice.

    Ready for any and all critiques!


  17. flash

    flash Smoking Guru OTBS Member

     I prefer Oak and Cherry for my Brisket.
  18. bill r

    bill r Newbie

    Set up looks good to me!  I really like the wood stove door rope to seal the top of the smoker.  I'm also interested in how the foil wrapped wood works out.  I just set up my smoker in the manner described by Flash--withe legs off and the charcoal pan and smoker resting on cinder blocks.  
  19. deanoaz

    deanoaz Meat Mopper

    The setup of aluminum wrapped smoker chunks and outside legs (firebox resting on stones) worked for me last weekend.

  20. bill r

    bill r Newbie

    Do you feel that wrapping the smoking wood in foil gave you a longer smoke/smolder time from them before
    needing to add more wood or packets? That is something I've never tried.

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