Charcoal is a preferable fuel because it produces a hot and long-lasting, virtually smokeless fire. Formed into uniform chunks called briquettes after combining with other materials, it is popularly used for outdoor BBQ cooking in America.
Basic charcoal is produced by burning a carbon-rich material such as wood in a low-oxygen atmosphere.In general, wood charcoal is a substance prepared by heating wood in the absence of oxygen. In this process volatile compounds in the wood (e.g., water, hydrogen, methane and tars) are driven off, and the carbon is converted into charcoal.
The wood charcoal that is leftover is about 20 to 25 percent of the original volume of the wood, with traces of volatile chemicals and ash. When it burns, it will not produce as much smoke as burning wood and it will burn long, hot and steady. Charcoal, being almost pure carbon, has a larger amount of heat in proportion to its volume than is obtained from a corresponding quantity of wood.
Charcoal briquettes are made of two primary ingredients and several minor ones. One of the primary ingredients, wood as mentioned above, is the traditional charcoal. It is responsible for the briquettes to be lit easily and to produce the desired wood-smoke flavor. The most desirable raw material for this component is hardwoods such as beech, birch, hard maple, hickory, and oak. Some manufacturers also use softwoods like pine, or other organic materials like coconut shells.
The other primary ingredient used to produce a high-temperature and long-lasting fire is coal.
Minor ingredients include a binding agent (typically starch), an accelerant (such as nitrate), and an ash-whitening agent (such as lime) to let the barbecuers know when the briquettes are ready to cook over.
Thus, charcoal briquettes are not actual charcoal, but a combination of charcoal and other ingredients formed into easy-to-light lumps.
Perhaps the most common barbecue question asked is “How to light a charcoal BBQ?”
How to light a charcoal barbecue
With the barbecue clean you can set up the charcoal retainers if you have them. As an approximate guide place them somewhere between a 1/4 and 1/3 from the edge of the barbecue on the charcoal grate. Place two to three firelighters on the grate and place charcoal around them. Make sure there is still access to the firelighter so they can be lit. If the grilling is going to be in the centre of the barbecue, placing firelighters slightly offset from the centre makes it a little easier to give each the firelighter an extra long match.If the cook is going to be on one side of the barbecue, offset the firelighters still so they can easily be lit. The charcoal can catch even if it is not all piled over the top of the firelighters.
The charcoal will begin to catch and it can be smoky at first as the moisture in the charcoal is driven off. Soon the smoke will be clear and the charcoal will appear grey with a light ash covering. Then, place the cooking grill on to the barbecue and the barbecue is ready to start.
What BBQ Charcoal Should You Use?
Grilling with charcoal is definitely a challenge for all experienced grillers – from lighting to controlling airflow. But before starting a charcoal grilling, it is very important to know what type of BBQ charcoal is suitable to use.
As far as cooking is concerned, there are two main forms, lump charcoal and briquettes. Lump charcoal is charcoal which has not been formed into briquettes. Briquettes are the pillow shaped pieces of compressed ground charcoal.There are always concerns regarding which one is a better fuel source, or if briquettes are more efficient at keeping even temperatures.
Today, the process of making lump charcoal begins by piling wood logs in underground pits. The logs are lit at one end of the pile and the wood will smolder for several days. During this time, the fire will drive off water and other volatile substances in the wood so that what is left is almost pure carbon, which is also known as lump charcoal or char.
Lump charcoal gets broiling quickly, generally in 10 or 15 minutes. Its heat is intense that can sear food in seconds. The food is also accompanied with wood smoke scents. Quite often, a bag of lump charcoal has a mix of hardwoods, such as oak, maple, and some other tropical woods from South America or Asia.
The drawback of lump charcoal is its fire begins to lose heat quite quickly once it reaches ots hottest point. In many cases the temperature will fall from high heat to medium heat in less than 30 minutes. So replenishing fuel is necessary if the cooking needs to maintain a certain temperature.
For the sake of convenience, some charcoal briquette companies crush their charcoal with a binder, usually a natural starch (e.g., tapioca, corn), so the compact little pillows will hold their shape. Briquettes with no chemical additives are usually labelled “natural”. They burn almost as hot as lump charcoal. Their major benefit is their even size and shape. With these briquettes, it is relatively easy to create a smooth bed of coals, while the irregular shapes and sizes of lump charcoal can leave spaces in the fire.
Visually, lump charcoal does not have a uniform shape like a charcoal briquette. The different shapes and sizes can lead to issues especially with holding temperatures for a longer period of time. Second, most recipes have specific instructions using charcoal briquettes, so if using lump charcoal may need to estimate the appropriate amount.
Coconut charcoal is a unique alternative to wood and regular charcoal that is made with CO2 neutral coconut shells and some dried coconut to hold it together. It is an eco-friendly product that is naturally sustainable. No trees are cut down or coals dug out to make this fuel. Coconut shell charcoal is considered a biomass fuel, which would otherwise become biomass waste if not transformed into clean fuel.
There are no other additives so it is all natural. Fillers or petroleum products are absent so it will not emit harmful chemicals and the clean burn is guaranteed. When grilling, there is basically no coconut flavour. The smell of the charcoal is rather neutral so the taste of food will not be changed.
Since the coconut charcoal is even in terms of size and shape, it does not throw sparks out. It also burns consistently, evenly and predictably over time.Because of the special structure and nature of coconuts, the coconut shell-based charcoal burns hotter and longer compared to wood charcoal.
Due to its exclusive benefits and the increasing trend of natural barbecuing, coconut charcoal is getting popular and widely used in the outdoor cooking market.
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