Barbecuing is one of the simplest forms of cooking. Once you are more serious about it and chose the option of using charcoal in your pursuit of ultimate gastronomy. You will want to know more about the co-star in this play – Charcoal.
Here, we hold no bars in explaining what choices you are presented with. From lump charcoal to briquettes to binchotan to storing to disposal. Confusing?
Let’s start from this.
How Charcoal Is Made?
Think of dried meat? The concept is largely similar – just drier. Simply put, the raw ingredient, wood, is drained of every drop of moisture to form charcoal. This process is called slow pyrolysis – the process of cooking wood in an airtight environment in the absence of oxygen.
By placing the wood in an airtight place – called a retort and heating it up. The wood can’t catch fire due to the lack of oxygen. As it gets hotter, what happens next is the wood will sweat out every single drop of moisture which is then taken away. What’s left is a blackish, solid carbonized substance, known as charcoal.
Due to the lack of water and other components. When ignited, these properties allow the charcoal to burn to a higher temperature and gives off a lesser amount of smoke compared to burning wood.
Different Types Of Charcoals
In stores, there are generally 3 types of charcoal. The lump charcoal, the charcoal briquettes, and the Binchotan in the order of commonality.
Here, we look at them.
#1. Lump Charcoal
Made from hardwood material, such as maple, oak or mesquite. These charcoals are also called hardwood charcoal. It is the most commonly used fuel by American household. You can find them in bags anywhere, from petrol stations to your neighbor’s BBQ party.
To determine whether you have bought quality lump charcoal, check the shape of it. Hardwood charcoal usually retains its’ original rough shape. If you recognize it as the shape of wood, you got a good one.
Lump charcoal doesn’t give off much smoke and generally considered to be less polluting compared to say briquettes.
There is a certain myth out there that posits perfectly carbonized charcoal churn outs more smoke and in turn, provide that smoky flavor to the food. That is not correct. If the charcoal is perfectly carbonized, there won’t be any smoke at all, let alone the smoky flavor.
The real smoke comes from imperfection – the little remnants of wood that remain in the center of the charcoal.
#2. Charcoal Briquettes
From the same slow pyrolysis process that is used to make lump charcoal, the fine dust will be combined with other fillers such as starch, lime or even coal dust. Then, these are manually compressed into the pillow shapes that you are familiar with.
Charcoal briquettes are slower to light up compared to lump charcoal. One specific type requires a liquid fluid to light up. However, there is also the instant of self-igniting briquettes, which doesn’t require it.
Due to the added chemicals to enable steadier burning, briquettes produce chemical pollutants at the start of your party.
#3. Japanese Charcoal
There are 3 types of Japanese charcoal. What most people are interested in is the Binchotan, also known as white charcoal. Consider the apple in many chef’s eyes, it is the epitome of almost perfect charcoal.
Binchotan is made from Oak, and it has a higher carbon content compared to hardwood. Due to higher carbon density, burning it does not give off any odor. It enables you to enjoy the natural flavor of your food. You can recognize Binchotan by its’ distinctive metallic sound when you tap two sticks of it together.
Binchotan burns cleanly with a high steady temperature. Moreover, ashes are said to neutralize protein acids and other undesirable acidic products during grilling. However, Binchotan is harder to ignite than lump or briquettes.
How To Store Charcoal?
While charcoal is not that expensive, you would not want to waste precious fuel. You might also want to stockpile a little to cater to a last-minute BBQ party, especially when it is off-season. Hey, no one said that you cannot BBQ other than in summer.
So, it is paramount that you are aware of how to properly store your pile of charcoal.
Conditions To Store Charcoal
Charcoal must be stored in a cool and dry area, out of the sunlight. It should not be placed in an area with exposure to highly flammable ignitors, such as electric sockets. The reason is obvious, you do not want to cause an uncontrollable fire.
Ideas and Places Where You Can Store Charcoal
If you have a basement where it is naturally dry, it is a great place to store charcoal. It can also provide relief from the elements like rain. You would not want to get them wet.
#2. Trash Cans
No, they are not trash. A metal trash can is large enough to contain a bag or two of charcoal. Roll that top, place it in the can and shut it tight. There, charcoal contained!
There is also the option of a trash can with wheels. It would be an excellent idea if you intend to move your fuel around, such as moving from the shed to the BBQ pit. While it is not too difficult to move a couple of bags for that party but a little convenience won’t hurt.
Not forgetting to mention, those cans with wheels are usually large and weather-proof.
#3. Large Plastic Containers
You could get those containers from Walmart or any hardware shops in the neighborhood. Get those with handles that double up as a lock. The ample amount of space and lock keeps moisture out and sits pretty.
#4. Large Cooler Boxes
I am not kidding here. Ice boxes or cooler boxes does not necessarily only to be used with ice. Consider this, the purpose of a cooler box is to form insulation and keep air and heat out to keep the contents cool, right?
The conditions are all met. Airtight and dry, safe from the elements and out of sunlight. Cooler boxes are perfect! Oh, they come with wheels too!
#5. Charcoal Caddy
This is specially made to store charcoals. Relatively cheap and since it is made to store charcoal. They are airtight and element-proof, for sure.
If these suggestions don’t work out for you. Fret not, as long as the storage, whatever you used, is dry. They will work.
One more thing, if you have the option of using either plastic or metal container, go with metal. Although it might be heavier, metal is generally fireproof and less porous compared to plastic. Remember to elevate your containers a few inches off the ground such as using pellets or bricks.
What Happens If Charcoal Gets Wet? Can You Dry And Use It?
Shit happens. After all those preventions you implemented, your charcoal is wet or moist. What can you do? This is where good quality and bad quality charcoal makes a difference. Good quality ones could be “saved”.
Regardless, for now, calm down and follow these steps.
- Pour the charcoal out onto a dry surface, such a canvas sheet.
- Separate the drenched charcoal from the driest ones.
- Take those drier charcoal and place them out in the sun.
At this point, you might notice that some charcoal will crumble more easily than others. These are the charcoal that could not be saved, and even if you force it, it would be next to useless.
However, even those better-quality ones that you saved. Their effectiveness would be reduced, giving off more smoke and slower in starting.
If your loss is confined to a bag or two. Consider just purchasing a new bag if the situation allows. Whilst wet charcoal can be saved, it doesn’t always necessitate nor justify the effort.
Will Charcoal Ever Go Bad?
Charcoal does not have an expiry date. It is, essentially, very very dry wood. And since there is no moisture, it does not rot.
However, chemicals or additives may wear off. Also, no matter how well you keep your charcoals, there is always a risk of exposure to moisture, rendering them less and less effective over a prolonged period of time.
The best way to determine whether your charcoals is bad would be to use it.
How To Dispose Of Charcoal Ashes From BBQ Pits?
You prepared, cooked and enjoyed the meal. Now, you are left with a lump of hot charcoal ashes. You can either dowse it with water, let it cool, wrap it and throw it away at that nearest bin or you can try one of these creative ideas to re-use them.
Creative Ways Not To Waste Used Charcoal And Ashes
#1. Use It In Your Compost
If you used lump charcoal, not charcoal briquettes. You can re-use the ashes for your compost. For soils with a high acid content, the alkalinity of charcoal ashes can raise the pH of the soil and neutralize the acid. A neutral pH soil is great for growing ferns or asparagus. You can read more here.
Charcoal and ash will also absorb and hold fertilizers and slowly release it into the soil, allowing the plants to have a slow and steady of nutrients.
Layering ashes over your soil can also protect it from frost in the winter.
#2. Pest Control
Have a great garden and don’t wish to see it be destroyed by pests? You are in luck!
Snails and slugs hate ashes and if you add it around plants, you should see them less often. Of course, unless you are a fan of them.
Putting ash on an ant colony paths will force them to relocate, as they can’t move the ashes. Placing ashes around the dark corners or spots in your basement will deter pests such as mice, rats, and cockroaches.
Who knew a BBQ could do more than cooking good food?
#3. Create A Cinder Path
Notice that nice path in your neighbor’s garden? Now, you can do that too, at a fraction of the cost. Spread the ashes around your flowers and let your steps do the work. Over time, you will get a nice cinder path, totally free.
#4. Uses As A Dehumidifier
Charcoal absorbs moisture if that is not already clear so far. Any partially burned charcoal left can be dusted off and place in your closet and under the sink to keep it dry. Of course, get a container with pores for it. You do not want to black trails around your home.
Have a cat? Simply sprinkle some over your cat’s litter box to remove that odor
Is Charcoal Dust Susceptible To Spontaneous Combustion?
The myth that charcoal dust can burst into flames when it comes into contact with moisture. This is not true. Scientific American has an entry about this detailing that it is impossible under normal circumstances. NakedWhiz has done an investigation into this myth and concludes the same.
The surest way to cause a fire is to ignite it yourself.
Plan Your Barbecue
You want to make your outdoor soirée a hit. What is in the way is the lack of information. With this, you should be able to make the correct charcoal choice and perhaps, you don’t even need to think of what to chat about that night. Impress away and have a great grill!