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Your one stop charcoal shop guide is here

A bird’s eye view of gorgeous charcoal with smouldering embers

Ambling through the digi-capitalist complex one thing becomes clear: functionality rules. What does this product do for me? What can I get out of it? How will it make my life better? All valid questions for sure. However, in this first instinctive brain-product engagement we tend to ignore the nature of the product itself.  How is it made? What’s the product’s backstory? How has it evolved over time? The majority of people aren’t concerned with the answers because they are not directly relevant to the problem-solution or need-fulfilment mechanic at the heart of the purchasing process. Charcoal is no different.

Excluding the Grill Gods and Grill Goddesses out there, your average Joe and Josephine Schmoe aren’t so concerned about the nature of charcoal. Rather they are concentrated on the benefits of charcoal cooking. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Fair play to the Schmoes. Please crack on. However we at Big K love geeking out over charcoal. It’s what we’re all about at the end of the day. Ultimately, the more we know and understand about these black pieces of perfection, the better quality product we can give the world. If you are one of those people that always ask ‘where can I buy charcoal near me?’ don’t worry: we have that covered too. So let’s roll up our sleeves and get hands on with charcoal, from manufacturing and evolution to grilling techniques and tips.


Lumpwood charcoal burns in a shallow grill base with yellow and orange flames


Where did the charcoal story start?

Charcoal is not some modern marvel. It has been around for thousands of years. Hit that temporal rewind button to about 30,000 years ago. Industrious Neanderthals frolic across the European continent, creating their own charcoal for cooking and heating purposes. Yes people charcoal is really that old. Since those watch-out-or-a-saber-tooth-tiger-might-eat-you days, charcoal has evolved from the personal to the industrial and commercial. Let’s go a little further.


How to make charcoal? 

It’s all about carbonisation. The term simply refers to the breakdown of complex substances into simpler ones via heat. In charcoal’s case, wood (usually hardwoods such as beech, birch, hard maple, hickory, and oak) is burned in a low oxygen environment for a set period of time. The process burns off volatile compounds such as methane, water, hydrogen and tar – leaving mostly pure carbon A.K.A char. The more volatile compounds removed, the purer (and therefore better performing) the charcoal.


What is charcoal?

If things are still a little foggy in your cerebral passages, don’t worry. In a carbonised nutshell, charcoal is basically just a porous black solid, consisting of an amorphous (irregular shaped) form of carbon. Simple dimple.


Lumpwood charcoal glows red hot and is cook ready


Meet the main players in the game

Lumpwood charcoal

If you are now asking yourself ‘where can I buy charcoal near me?’ slow down young BBQ apprentice. We have more to tell you. Black or lumpwood charcoal is the most recognisable and commonly used charcoal in the char-family. These simple black pieces fuel grills all over the UK and across the globe. Lumpwood charcoal is easy to light, a consistent performer and fairly inexpensive – making it the go-to charcoal for the public (and the pros too in fact). Not to toot our own horn (ok maybe just a touch of tooting) we see ourselves as experts in the lumpwwod world. That’s because we’ve spent over 50 years refining the highest quality lumpwood charcoal. Take a look for yourself and discover all the consistent and high calibre performance of Big K Lumpwood Charcoal .

Next up to bat we have white charcoal, also known as hard charcoal. This powerful cousin of lumpwood charcoal packs a serious punch. Essentially its thermal conductivity is beyond that of good old lumpwood and this is all down to the manufacturing process. To start things off, the wood is carbonised at a lower temperature. Once most of the burn is complete, the kiln temperature is boosted up to a massive 1000°C, turning the wood red hot. Finally after burning, the charcoal is removed from the kiln and covered with a powder to lower the temperature. The powder is made up of earth, sand and ash. The powder granules add a white tint to the charcoal hence the name.


Charcoal briquettes are stacked and ready for use



The difference between charcoal briquettes and lumpwood lies in the manufacturing process. Briquettes are made using by using a high intensity compression technique. Char is mixed with binding agents (such as a starch derived from milo, wheat or corn) and moulded under high pressure to make the briquette.

Let’s take a quick technical detour. The binder and charcoal are mixed together in a paddle mixer. Once the blend is ready, the mixture is poured into a press containing rollers as well as briquette-sized indentations. Due to the moisture of the material, the 40° C temperature, binding agent and high pressure from the rollers, the briquettes keep a uniform form shape as they exit the press. Lastly, the charcoal briquettes are passed through a dryer blasting out 135° C heat for up to four hours. This final heating stage reduces internal moisture levels to around 5%. This means that the briquettes are ready for action.

You know us by now, we don’t just talk the charcoal talk, we walk the charcoal walk. So naturally we have a range of briquettes to tempt and tantalise every BBQ enthusiast and part- timer too. So if the question ‘ where can I buy charcoal near me?’ has returned like a boomerang, look no further than <link>. You’ll find all kind of charcoal treats to tickle your fancy. For example, our sustainable Coconut Shell Briquettes   are produced from waste coconut shell, delivering great performance with up to a 3 hour cooking time. Alternatively check out our 10kg Au Natural FSC® Lumpwood Briquettes . These babies are 100% natural, made from wood waste with no binders and produce an epic 3-hour cooking time. Talk about the BBQ bee’s knees.

Briquettes versus lumpwood

Here’s a quick bit of digestible comparison for you: lumpwood lights faster and burns hotter than briquettes. However, once lumpwood is at peak cooking temperature, it begins to lose its heat quite quickly, meaning it burns faster than briquettes. As briquettes have a longer burn time coupled with a lower temperature burn, they are perfect for indirect ‘low and slow’ cooking as well as for use on closed appliance barbecues.  Lumpwood, with its high heat and faster burn, is ideal for the direct cooking of food such as steaks and chicken skewers. One final thing: the uniform shape of briquettes ensures consistent performance across each piece – giving you more control over your burn. Lumpwood is irregularly shaped and sized, so different pieces burn for different periods of time with different temperatures. Don’t worry, these are only small fluctuations, however (for the average BBQ Rain Man) this does mean a slight increase in unpredictability and therefore control.


How to use a charcoal bbq?

Ok so now that you have the answer to the ‘where can I buy charcoal near me?’ question, it’s time to move into the practical. Yes the charcoal theoretical is a realm of wonder for sure. However now you know the score, we’re sure that you’re itching to fire up the grill and get things crack-a-lacking. Here are a few quick pointers to get you started using your charcoal barbecue.

Step 1 – Channel your inner architect and stack some of your charcoal pieces into a pyramid or mound. When doing so, ensure to leave multiple gaps between the pieces. This helps to increase the airflow through the pyramid, as well as increasing the charcoal surface exposure to oxygen. These two elements come together to boost the combustion process, making your burn hotter, cleaner and more efficient. Finally the mound form increases contact from coal to coal. This helps the flames to spread.

Step 2 – Now it’s time to get the fire started. Get your hands on some newspaper and scrunch up a few sheets into a ball. Make about 5-6 balls and place them into the gaps in your stack of charcoal. Of course you can also follow the exact same process using natural firelighters <link such as wood chips or wool. Our all-natural Woodies firelighters will do the trick .

Step 3 – Now simply light the paper or natural firelighters and allow the flames to catch and spread. Word of wisdom here – take your time and be patient. Let the flames spread in their own time. There’s no need to add a load of lighter fluid to your charcoal. Once some of the coals are lit, the rest will catch and follow. Usually your charcoal will be up to temp and cook ready within 15-30 minutes depending on the charcoal.

When is your charcoal ready?

  • Grey or black with flames: Slow down sailor. It’s not quite there yet.
  • White-hot glow with red centre:  That’s the sweet spot for direct heat cooking.
  • White ash and heat: That’s a green light for indirect heat cooking.

There it is folks: another lovely meandering detour through the world of charcoal. We do hope that you enjoyed it. Stay locked for new insights coming soon.