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Charcoal for the soul – a quick guide

A close up picture of unlit black charcoal will illustrated white flames overlay

Our obsession with charcoal runs deep. We’re talking Mariana Trench levels. But why is this the case? There are many charcoal companies out there. Yes they found a potentially profitable niche – but that’s where the story ends. Commercial interest the main motivator. Not Big K. Charcoal is the very reason we exist at all. It is forever engrained in our history, spirit and DNA. Without charcoal we would be nothing. So naturally we know a thing or two about this wonderful and wonderous fuel. We love sharing charcoal knowledge with all of you; so, sit back, relax and read on.

A pile of black charcoal lies unlit

A brief history of Big K Charcoal

Rewind back to 1964, when our founder, Theodoros Kleanthous, immigrated from Cyprus to the UK. He left the sunny climate of his homeland but he caried the island’s passion for food with him, eventually setting up his own Cypriot restaurant in Euston.
But soon a problem cropped up. Charcoal is the key element in Greek Cypriot cooking and Theodoros simply couldn’t find the right kind locally. So, to keep an authentic flavour to his food, he imported 10 tonnes of quality charcoal from Cyprus. Soon the word spread throughout the local restaurant community and his friends came knocking for real charcoal. Theodoros was happy to help, taking from his personal stock. Over time, more requests lead to more orders from Cyprus and soon the first seeds of Big K began to grow. In 1965, Theodoros made things official, forming the company Kleanthous & Son. Check out the full story here . So now you know how charcoal birthed our company. It’s no surprise that we respect and admire charcoal so much. Let’s dive into some more detail.

A hand adjusting some freshly lit charcoal with small yellow flames

How is charcoal made?

It’s not as if these amazing black lumps of awesomeness fall off of trees. So where does charcoal from? Sure we could go into Homer’s Odyssey territory here and give you all the deets down to the microscopic – but we only have so long so we will keep things topline for now. For a deeper dive peep this.

High quality charcoal is composed of mostly pure carbon, AKA char. Charcoal is made by burning wood (usually hardwood) in a low oxygen environment at varying temperatures. The process can take several days to complete. As the wood burns, the combustion process removes volatile compounds such as water, methane, hydrogen, and tar. When all is said and done, we’re left with black lumps and powder, clocking in at about 25% of the original weight of the wood. Say hello to lumpwood charcoal. When ignited, the charcoal produces large amounts of energy and heat. In fact charcoal has more potential energy per ounce than raw wood. Charcoal also burns steady, hot, and produces less smoke than traditional wood.

A man stirs up some burning hot charcoal in a grill base causing orange sparks

What types of charcoal are there?

Again,, we are going to streamline here, so we will talking about lumpwood charcoal only. Basically you need to know about classic lumpwood charcoal and lumpwood charcoal briquettes. We think this is a solid foundation of knowledge for you to stand on.  

Classic lumpwood charcoal

As mentioned above, traditional lumpwood production is more of a natural process – meaning less overall human intervention. So after the lumpwood charcoal is carbonised, we obtain a mix of irregular shaped pieces. Each irregular shaped piece has slightly different mass – so there will be a little more or less fuel to burn. This is why Big K grades the pieces by size, only using the larger graded pieces in our restaurant grade lumpwood charcoal. Why? We want you to have the longest and hottest burns possible.  

Lumpwood charcoal briquettes

Think of briquettes as a slightly more ‘manufactured’ form of charcoal. To put it differently, the production process is more explicit. In a nutshell of succinctness, we take a mixture of carbonised biomass materials – such as wood waste or sawdust – and add it to a mould. Next we burn the mixture at various temperatures to create carbonisation. Finally, we compress the carbon

fines at super high pressures in a machine. And Robert is your father’s brother, we produce a uniformly shaped charcoal briquette. 

Thanks to the moulds, every briquette has the same shape, mass and carbon density. So you can enjoy  more consistent and therefore controllable burn.  Briquettes can be ‘pillow’ shaped or ‘tubular’ meaning the briquettes take on a hexagonal tube form. 

a close up of unlit charcoal ready to burn

Big K Lumpwood charcoal 

Armed with all this info and data, we’re sure that you’re chomping at the bit to pick up some lumpwood charcoal. We’ve got you covered: Just head to bigkproducts.co.uk and feast your eyes on all our incredible lumpwood charcoal products. We have the classic, the exotic and everything in between. Big into briquettes? Look no further. More of the instant light type? We’ve got just what you need. Explore both our Pro Range and Home Range  to find the best charcoal for you.

Take care and talk again soon.