When Summer swings around you will find many people uncovering their BBQ grills and getting them ready for those outdoor grilling sessions. Outdoor cooking is a passion for many in countries like the US and Australia, where the pleasant weather makes large outdoor gatherings easier and more enjoyable.
When it comes to the BBQ grill itself, there are a plethora of types available depending on the needs of the customer. There are also a number of fuel types that can be used including gas, lump wood charcoal, and briquettes.
In many cases, customers will have a favorite fuel that they use, because it burns better or gives more consistent cooking. However, there are other considerations that need to be taken into account. For example, the way the fuel is produced can influence a customer’s decision.
In this article, we will look at natural charcoal briquettes and why some people prefer them to the more traditional types.
How is Charcoal Made?
The process of making charcoal is nothing new, in fact, there is evidence of charcoal being made as far back as 30,000 years.
Charcoal is essentially pure carbon called ‘char’ and is made by heating wood in a low oxygen environment for several days. This process burns off some of the compounds in the wood such as water, methane, hydrogen, and tar. The end result is powder and black lumps of burnt wood. The amount left is about 25% of the original weight of the wood.
Today, this process is done in huge concrete or steel chambers, but in the past, people would have used pits covered with earth.
Charcoal briquettes were first patented in 1897 by Ellsworth Zwoyer who developed the now-classic briquette shape. The process for making them is long but fairly simple.
- Briquettes are made from sawdust which is then burned and dried until it becomes char.
- They are then mixed with other ingredients such as anthracite coal, mineral charcoal, starch, limestone, sodium nitrate, borax, and sawdust.
- This mixture is then pressed into molds shaped like the briquettes.
- They are then dried and packaged ready for sale.
While this process has been the same for many years, there has been an increasing concern about the additives used in the charcoal briquettes. This has led to some manufacturers deciding to develop a more natural form of briquette.
Natural Charcoal Briquettes
Although the process of making natural briquettes is similar to the traditional type, there is one significant difference. In most cases, the only additive used is corn starch which helps to bind the briquettes together.
Other natural types of grill fuel such as lump wood are also popular, but there can be differences in the burning and reliability of lump wood, plus is often doesn’t burn as long as the charcoal briquettes.
Natural briquettes are also thought to produce fewer ashes than traditional types. This is because the ash is composed of all the non-combustible ingredients that are left behind. Because natural briquettes contain fewer additives, there will be less ash left behind.
Natural Charcoal Briquettes versus Lumpwood Charcoal
As mentioned earlier, some people who are looking for a more natural fuel that uses fewer additives may decide to use lump wood charcoal. This is wood that has been cooked in a similar way to the briquettes but retains its wood-like shape.
Although both of these are natural alternatives, lump wood can be less effective. For example, lump wood tends to have a shorter burn time and less heat than briquettes. This means that if you want to cook for a few hours, you will need to add more lump wood at regular intervals to maintain the heat.
However, briquettes have a longer burn time and produce a more uniform amount of heat, so they are often preferred by many consumers.
Sometimes you may find that some of the natural charcoal briquettes contain pieces of wood from other trees. These pieces are designed to add a smoke flavor to the food you are cooking because the briquettes themselves don’t add any flavor.
Charcoal Briquettes and Additives
One of the reasons that natural charcoal briquettes are becoming more popular, is a fear that the additives in traditional products might cause harm. There are also some people that claim the additives can leave a taste on the food and that there is a ‘chemical’ smell when the briquettes are burnt.
As with most of the different fuel types, there are pros and cons to briquettes and this includes the traditional types. There has also been some concern regarding the wood used to create the char. In many countries, the process of making charcoal is not regulated, and there is a concern that chemically treated wood may be used in the process.
For this reason, it is always important to be as sure as possible that the charcoal used is from a reputable source.
Using charcoal briquettes does seem to have a number of advantages over lump wood, and many say it cooks better and more evenly than gas. By using a natural type of briquette you are also eliminating any potential issues from the additives used in the more traditional products.
However, to obtain the best results from your BBQ grill, you should also consider other factors such as how much fuel you use, the type of grill, the food you are cooking, and the seasoning. All of these factors together will make your BBQ not only more successful but also healthier.