Briquettes vs charcoal

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Briquettes vs charcoal

Postby SunofTzu » 11 Feb 2010, 12:17

I'd be interested in views on which is best for proper BBQ. As far as Brit BBQ (grilling) goes, I'm usually one for charcoal but for parties I go with briquettes due to the longer burn time. This leads me to think that in a smoker that it would be easier to go with briquettes (I see in another thread that Heat Beads seem to get rave reviews as long as you don't use the minion method...had to google that one :) ). In addition, as a newbie to this, how often, typically, do you have to refresh charcoal or briquettes when using a vertical smoker e.g. ProQ Frontier (I realise this will likely differ depending on which fuel and size of smoker but some rough ideas would be appreciated)
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Re: Briquettes vs charcoal

Postby Steve » 11 Feb 2010, 16:55

You'll get differing opinions on this matter, of that I'm sure :D

What you've got to remember is that all lumpwood is not made equal and the same goes for briquettes. You can successfully use either on a bullet smoker, using minion method or not.

Here's my opinion on both...

Lumpwood Charcoal

First off, as I'm sure you know, don't touch instant lighting stuff, in an enclosed environment the lighting chemicals will taint you food. Secondly, the majority of lumpwood I've bought over here has been diabolical. It's not unusual to get a few good lumps and half a bag of slag :evil: I've even used half a bag and then taken it back to B&Q to demand a replacement.

The safest bet with lumpwood is to go for restaurant grade if you can find it. Makro and Booker do it (in a blue bag) and it is much better than what you'll get from a garden centre or other non-trade store. This stuff comes from Bar-be-quick in Burnley, if you're near there you can buy direct from them and save about 25% :)

Otherwise, you can also buy direct from Big K, but you'll have to buy at least 5 bags and they don't deliver to all post codes.

Lump is fine for both normal and Minion burns. For a non minion burn I have to replenish my coals every 2-3 hours on an Excel. I'd expect the Frontier to be better though. For minion burns, don't go with the donut of unlit coals with a few lit in the middle, this is what I used to do and I was getting tainted flavors. Put a layer of unlit at the bottom of your basket and cover this with lit coals. I was shown this at last years Royal and it's definately better. This applies to briquttes too.

Briquettes

This is where things get much more complicated. Briquettes are made using charcoal dust compressed and formed with binders. These binders may be as simple as vegetable starch but you never know exactly what they are :( Also the ratio of fuel to binder varies from brand to brand, more binder will mean shorter burns and more ash. I find that generic supermarket briquettes have loads of binder in them, they burn up real quick and leave tons of ash. Supagrill and Big K are not too bad at all and Supagrill also do a cocoshell briquette which burns clean and long. If you're going for briquettes I'd recommend the cocoshell stuff but it's better to buy it direct from CPL as it seems to be expensive at retailers. CPL have a website, just google for it.


Overall I tend to use restaurant grade lumpwood more than anything. The best thing to do though is to try different stuff and decide for yourself what you like the best.
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Re: Briquettes vs charcoal

Postby SunofTzu » 11 Feb 2010, 18:25

Steve

Thanks for the advice, much appreciated. I did find a local charcoal producer in another thread from a link you suggested so I'm tempted to give those a try (on the basis that hopefully they would take more pride in it than the garden centre stuff but I could just be being optimistic) plus the cocoshell or Heat Bead briquettes plus I found the Big K site for the restaurant quality lumpwood. As you suggest think it's a case of suck it and see if there isn't a single school of thought :)
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Re: Briquettes vs charcoal

Postby Steve » 11 Feb 2010, 21:07

I'd definitely try your local charcoal producer. The possible advantages here are twofold, firstly if they're a small business they probably take ride in their product, secondly the bags won't have been kicked around in transit. So fingers crossed you'll get some good lumps.

It's always good to support local businesses like this if you can too. Too many of these professions are dying out.
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Re: Briquettes vs charcoal

Postby SunofTzu » 12 Feb 2010, 11:11

Ok thanks, I notice from the website of the producer that they use Ash, Hazel, Oak and Field Maple..although they don't sell wood chips I might see if I can suggest it and wangle some wood chips/chunks at a reasonable cost too ;)
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Re: Briquettes vs charcoal

Postby County4x4 » 04 Mar 2010, 11:30

Hi there,

I've posted much of this in another thread, so forgive me for repeating myself, but here we go:

My advice would be to use a local producer wherever possible. Good quality locally made stuff is a million miles from the standard DIY store/garage forecourt bags - many of which are full of imported charcoal of dubious origins like the wholesale destruction of mangrove swamps to make oil palm plantations, though in fairness the UK situation has improved somewhat in recent years. That having been said, I do know there is a fair old trade going on in importing charcoal from Eastern Europe and then re-bagging it once it gets here to make it a more attractve looking option! I may not be allowed to post links yet as I'm new - but a google search for "local charcoal" will give you an obvious site at the top of the list, which details charcoal producers by county. I have no connection with the site at all btw - though I must add myself to it - only came across it the other day!

Local stuff is generally way hotter, and the stuff I sell up here will light with a few bits of newspaper and a bit of draught. No need for any lighter fluids or other chemical muck to get it going. It also produces much less smoke, as UK traditionally made stuff generally has a much better conversion to carbon than most of the imported varieties - less "brown ends" as the charcoal makers call them. Most imported stuff is around 60% converted - much UK stuff is 90%. The Dorset Charcoal Company have a wealth of information on their own website (no connection ) which makes very interesting reading

Briquettes I wouldn't touch with a barge pole, let alone eat anything cooked over them. They are made from the fines left over from lumpwood production, which don't have a lot of markets open to them, apart from some uses in commercial horticulture. Fines won't stick together, so they mix other stuff with them to make a briquette in a mould. This stuff includes - if you're sitting down and prepared for this - coal dust, clay, rice starch, sodium nitrate, borax, sawdust and cement amongst other things. Would you want to cook over that little lot?!

There is one other option which we're looking at currently - and that's charcoal made from manufactured wood briquettes. In this case, the method of production is the same as usual - but the briquette is made first, and then charcoaled. The briquette is a 100% natural UK made product to begin with - with one ingredient - wood! There is absolutely nothing added to it at all. These charcoal briquettes are possibly more suitable for commercial operations with very long burn times and high heat output - but once we're up and running with these, we'll probably offer some out at a discount to see what domestic customers think of them. I think it's best to have ideas like this tested by people with some experience - I know a lot about woodfuels and so on, but have little BBQ experience, so best to hand them over to people who do and they can tell us what they think.

Hope that's some help to you!

Cheers,

Andy
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Re: Briquettes vs charcoal

Postby British BBQ Society » 04 Mar 2010, 12:58

Hi Andy,

We are all about local producers and I can understand your oppposition to Briquettes as the majority including some supplied by big brands are useless, but we are very happy that heatbeads are sponsoring the BBQ circuit this year, there product is by far the best briquette available on the market, and comparing burn time between lump and briquettes, briquettes has to be the way to go (matter of opinion not fact). Please feel free to post a link to your site in the links section. The more the merrier.

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Re: Briquettes vs charcoal

Postby County4x4 » 04 Mar 2010, 14:07

Hello Toby,

I had a look at the Heatbeads site earlier to be honest, and on the face of it, their product looks to be a different ballpark to the DIY store briquettes, which as I said, I wouldn't go near! As long as their unspecified "other ingredients" don't include the nasties I mentioned, then they may be all well and good.

From a purely personal point of view though - and others may disagree as they have every right to do - I don't think I could really go for something food related that said "other ingredients". That's not quite enough information for me personally. I understand commercial confidentiality and so on, and of course they have every right to keep their ingredients secret, but if I was cooking on it or eating it, I'd really want to know! Remember the "special stuff" that Mr Briss had under his counter in League of Gentlemen :o :D

We're still investigating the possibilities for our charcoal briquettes to be honest. They were developed with more of a view to being a coal replacement for carbon conscious consumers than as a BBQ fuel - but now I've found you guys who seem to be a very helpful bunch so far - then we may have a better look at this side of things too. I'll be very happy to keep you posted with any news and developments.

My website is offline at the moment as I'm re-developing the whole site, but we should be back up within a week or two. If anyone would like to be notified by email when it's back up, please send me a pm with your address - but I'll post it here as well too if that's okay.

Cheers for now,

Andy
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Re: Briquettes vs charcoal

Postby Steve » 04 Mar 2010, 21:39

My two pence worth...

On the whole I don't like briquettes, I don't trust the companies who make them not to put little nasties in there to maximise their margins. for instance i used some Weber briquettes last year and the ash that was left was yellow!!!! Yuk :? won't go there again even though I've been told they've changed to use only a natural starch binder.

But i believe there are some exceptions. Heat Beads for example are a premium product that sell at a premium price based on their reputation. I think that they are well behaved with regards to their ingredients. I'd be happy to use them for some applications, but some things I do I won't use anything other than good quality lump.

I know a number of people who swear by heat beads or other brands of premium briquettes. It's a personal choice as to what you fuel with. Personally I would avoid the cheapy supermarket stuff though.
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Re: Briquettes vs charcoal

Postby County4x4 » 04 Mar 2010, 22:33

Agreed on the supermarket stuff 100% - as I said earlier:

This stuff includes - if you're sitting down and prepared for this - coal dust, clay, rice starch, sodium nitrate, borax, sawdust and cement amongst other things.


And I do worry a little about "other ingredients" though I'm not about to start making a fuss here!

As for the re-bagging of imported stuff - I don't know if that's even legal technically speaking - but it goes on as I've seen it first hand.

The jury is still out on our own charcoal briquettes - well not actually out as they've not been dispatched from the box yet - but I can give my personal assurance that absolutely nothing but wood will find it's way into our briquettes. I've mentioned elsewhere on the forum that they were developed originally (and fairly recently)as an alternative to coal rather than with a view to the BBQ market. However, having found you guys here and seeing that some of you seem keen - I think we'll probably run a little further with the idea.

I don't know a great deal about the BBQ world it has to be said - but I did notice elsewhere that someone was talking about using some very small briquettes for cooking over. Would this be some sort of flame grilling system? Only asking as the charcoal briquettes we're talking about here are made by charcoaling wood briquettes that are sold as an alternative to firewood. Would these be of interest to you guys - or is flame grilling a different ball game? Sorry if these sound like dumb questions to the old timers here - but I know a lot more about wood fuels than BBQ's! I'll be very happy to post any information you want if you're interested in them.

All the best for now,

Andy
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