Big K Charcoal: a brand, product and organisation that carries weight in the BBQ industry. This isn’t some fluke or the result of a Godzilla-sized ad spend. We earned our place. For over 50 years, we’ve put our blood, sweat, tears and passion into bringing you the highest quality charcoal possible. The journey has been filled with ups and downs, highs and lows – and yet our love for what we do has been a constant. Quality guides us. Family binds us. And improvement drives us. These principals are the reasons behind our longevity. We’re not being big headed here. What we’re trying to say is that we really do this. And we’re confident that we can give you all the info you need to be better on the barbecue! Toady we’re breaking down some charcoal fundamentals. Let’s get into it!
Why is charcoal so important?
Some people believe the success of your BBQ is down to the food. While quality meat and veg is important, the most important ingredient in any BBQ is in fact charcoal. These lovely little lumps affect everything from the taste and texture of your food, to the flavour and look on the plate. Basically charcoal is the BBQ catalyst – the root of all grill based pleasure and experience. So you should always have that idea front and centre in your mind.
What is charcoal? How is charcoal made?
It seems like an obvious question to ask: but you’d be surprised how many people just want to get to the grilling. If you’re one of these trigger happy grillers, that’s totally cool. You do you. We love you for that! We would say that a little knowledge can carry you a very long way. Basically, the better your charcoal knowledge, the better your BBQ choices. And the better your BBQ choices, the better the BBQ outcome. So what are these quiet lumps all about and how are they made?
To understand charcoal production you need to wrap your head around the carbonisation process. Now carbonisation is basically just the breakdown of complex substances into simpler and more basic substances using heat. Looking at charcoal specifically, wood (usually hardwoods such as birch, beech, hard maple, oak, and hickory) is burned in a low oxygen environment for a fixed duration of time. Combustion removes the more volatile compounds, like methane, water, hydrogen and tar, to leave behind pretty much pure carbon – known as char or charcoal. To summarise, the more volatile compounds removed, the purer and better performing charcoal. If you want the technical term, charcoal is a porous black solid made up of an amorphous form of carbon. You never know when that tidbit of info might come in handy.
Types of charcoal: what’s the difference between lumpwood and briquettes?
When it comes to your charcoal selection, there are so many different ways to skin the metaphorical cat. While the charcoal well runs deep, we can broadly place most charcoal into two distinct categories: lumpwood charcoal and charcoal briquettes. The main differences between the two boils down to the production process. Let’s get into the mechanics.
Lumpwood charcoal is produced by following the basic carbonisation process outlined above. There is minimal intervention, meaning pieces of wood are burned at high temperatures to create irregular shaped pieces of charcoal – no moulds, no mixtures, no compression. Lumpwood and restaurant grade lumpwood charcoal are usually produced from denser and more specific hardwoods – think White Quebracho, Applewood, Kaachi Stick and Marabu for example. These hardwoods have a greater density so they produce higher carbon dense pieces of charcoal. What’s more, each hardwood has specific characteristics affecting cooking performance including burn consistency and temperature, burn duration and flavour infusion.
What are normal household briquettes?
First up let’s meet the more tried and tested traditional household briquette. These briquettes are made from charcoal fines – picture minute flakes of charcoal. The mixture is crushed and blended with water or vegetable starch. This mixture then goes into a mould and through a press, forming the famous ‘oval’ briquette shape. Finally, once the mixture is dry, we end up with our ready to go standard briquette. Casual grillers can’t get enough of these conventional briquettes, as they are easy to cook with you due to their uniform shape and size. This gives a predictable and easy-to-control burn – perfect for the part timers! What’s more they are great for the popular closed lid barbecues. The potential issue with traditional briquettes relates to the binders used in the manufacturing process. Once the briquettes are lit, the internal binders burn, and a particular odour is released. This can definitely affect the flavour of your grill-based creations.
What are compressed Charcoal Briquettes?
Meet the progressive evolution of the conventional briquette – the compressed charcoal briquette. We say evolution because these briquettes have raised the performance bar. How? A tweak to the manufacturing process holds the key to progress. We start by gathering a mixture of extremely fine waste wood sawdust. Next we put the mix in a mould. Then we compress the sawdust using intensely high pressures. Compression essentially removes internal moisture from the sawdust mixture, and it also releases the natural resin from the wood too. The basic ‘briquette’ is then carbonised, forming a charcoal briquette. The best thing about compression is that we no longer need any starch or artificial binders to maintain the structural integrity of the briquette. And this means we need up with a totally odourless and 100% natural briquette. As if things couldn’t get any better, these compressed briquettes have an increased density. This increased density delivers longer cooking times and even more consistent heat. Finally, due to a central air hole running through the middle of the briquette, compressed briquettes are easier to light – producing an improved and even heat distribution.
Lumpwood charcoal versus charcoal briquettes. Key characteristics.
- Better quality Lumpwood is made from 100% natural hardwoods such as oak, maple, birch, or more exotic woods such as White Quebracho, Kachi stick or Marabu.
- More ‘natural’ look – meaning irregular sized and shaped pieces.
- Lights a little quicker than conventional charcoal briquettes.
- Burns hotter than BBQ briquettes at approx 538°C (1,000°F).
- Often creates a smaller amount of ash.
- Burn time of 1-3 hours depending on the type of lumpwood charcoal
- Produces a stronger and slightly more smoky wood fire flavour than briquettes.
BBQ briquettes – key information
- Manufactured from charcoal fines or other materials such as sawdust and waste wood.
- Compressed briquettes are created at high pressures by compressing a mixture into uniform shapes .
- Conventional briquettes are made from drying a mixture of binders and charcoal fine
- Briquette burn time? This is determined by the type of briquette – expect 1-3 hours. The lower quality briquettes usually burn out quicker than lumpwood.
- Usually burns cooler than lumpwood at 371-425°C
- There are briquettes with binding agents and accelerants. But you can also find many 100% natural compressed briquettes out there.
Big K is home of lumpwood charcoal and charcoal briquettes
As you gathered in our intro, we know a thing or two when it comes to food, fire and charcoal. This knowledge is reflected in our dynamic and diverse range of charcoal. Let’s take a quick trip into the ranges on our website.
Professional charcoal Range
Yes our pro range is designed with grill pros in mind. However the reality is that anyone can light up these incredible charcoals no problems at all.
Home Charcoal Range
We’ve taken the time to make super easy and super convenient charcoal for the casual grillers and part time sizzlers – all the with the same Big K quality of course.
What are you waiting for?
As we have said countless times on here – knowledge is power. And now you have the power to go out and get your grill on big style! Pick up your Big K Charcoal today and get grilling! Good luck and may be the Grill Gods be smiling on you! Oh and if you need any more charcoal info, take a look at this article, or this blog. You’re welcome.