BBQ FAQ Section 7.10

 

7.10 Briquettes vs. lump charcoal

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[What is the difference between charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal?]

Editor--A summary of several posts--

Many List members have a strong preference for lump charcoal over conventional charcoal briquettes. Briquettes are produced by crushing charcoal and mixing in additives, such as nitrates (to make them burn better), and clays and starches (as binders to allow pressing into the traditional shape). Some List members say the additives tend to impart their own undesirable flavors to meats smoked for long periods of time, as all good barbecue must be prepared. A Kingsford Company spokeswoman recently stated: "Briquettes are preferred by Americans for their uniform size and stable heat." She pooh-poohs concerns about their ingredients, which include: powdered charcoal, anthracite coal for long burning, limestone to create white ash, starch as binders, and sawdust and sodium nitrate for quick lighting. "The starch is perfectly natural and the coal is high-quality coal".

Pure charcoal (lump) can usually be found with diligent searching (some supermarkets, WalMart, HQ and Home Depot, etc.). It is sold in bags similar to briquettes. Pure charcoal is carbonized wood with no additives which might impart unwanted flavors in the meat. It usually comes in the naturally irregular shapes of the real wood from which it is made. Bags of lump charcoal are usually marked with the name of the wood it was made from, i.e. hickory, mesquite, oak, etc.

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[Can someone tell me which brand of charcoal the 'pros' use in barbecue contests?]

Frank Boyer--

Many of the teams at MIM use "Holland" brand charcoal.

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Patty Burke-Shelby--

Hickory Specialties, in Tennessee, makes "Nature Glo", "Wildfire", "Holland", and "Kroger" brands of charcoal briquettes. They are pure hickory charcoal briquettes with corn starch being the only additive. I would not compare it to "Royal Oak". To me Royal Oak falls in the category of Kingsford, it also leaves a bad after-smell when burning.

We (Tower Rock BBQ Team) use the Nature Glo and the Kroger brands. We used to use the Holland brand until we called the company and found out that Kroger and Nature Glo were the same.

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[I use charcoal briquettes in my Weber kettle. I've read about guys here using lump charcoal for grilling and smoking. Is there a big difference?]

Harry Jiles--

Yep! I have 200 lbs. of lump left from 1600 lbs. that I picked up in June of last year. I have probably used about 240 lbs. of that myself, for grilling and starting the fire and preheating my Klose. The rest of it has been used by friends that are all hooked on it now. I could probably get orders together now for 7-8 tons of it, maybe more. Once someone uses it, that's all they want to use. I even have two buddies that have retired their gas grills and bought Webers, so they can cook using the lump charcoal.

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[I'm having a lot of trouble keeping lump charcoal going in my firebox. Is lump charcoal hard to keep going?]

Rodney Leist--

Lump charcoal is like regular wood. It likes company when it burns. You didn't say how much you were using but you have to have enough burning to keep each other company. Just like trying to burn a single stick of stove wood, it's almost impossible unless you have a gas heat source to keep the single piece going. Make sure you have enough chunks together, touching or overlapping, or else they will go out.

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[Has anyone tried using coal for fuel in a smoker?]

Editor--Summary of several posts--

Burning coal, either soft or hard, in your barbecue will give your product a taste that will not be enjoyable (described somewhere close to the smell of burning old motor oil). When coal is used in ovens for cooking food, the combustion fumes are separated from the cooking chamber. In a word, DON'T.

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BBQ FAQ Ver 1.0, 2.0 1997, 1998 William W. Wight. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 25, 1999
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