Every barbecue enthusiast has an opinion about the best fuel to use on a charcoal grill. If you’ve not thought much about your fuel options, you should, because the fuel you use can make a big difference to the quality of your barbecued meals.
The three fuel options are charcoal, briquettes and wood.
In this article we’ll look at each of these in turn and then make some suggestions about the best ways to use each of them on your charcoal grill.
Mankind has been making charcoal for thousands of years, and probably been using it for cooking for almost as long.
Charcoal is made by burning wood in an atmosphere starved of oxygen, and while it’s burning, water and other volatile components in the wood are vaporized. The charcoal produced is used as a fuel instead of wood. It’s good for cooking food over because it burns more consistently than wood and it doesn’t impart any particular flavors (good or bad) to the food cooked. Flavors can be produced by adding wood chips to the burning charcoal (we’ll discuss this later).
Generally speaking, the best woods for burning on an open fire are also the best ones for producing charcoal. But very often when you buy lump charcoal for a BBQ grill you’re not told what type of wood was used to make it, but if you do get a choice choose charcoal made from hardwoods such as oak, hickory or mesquite.
Avoid the inferior charcoal produced from timber off-cuts.
Charcoal briquettes appeared on the marketplace after Henry Ford spotted an opportunity to use the wood waste produced from car manufacturing to make charcoal charcoal briquettes. He did this by making use of a previously patented technique for producing “fuel briquettes”. This technique involved a special process for combining and compressing granulated charcoal (produced form his waste wood) with a mixture of borax (used to aid the manufacturing process) and petroleum products (used to bind the wood-chips together and help ignition).
Henry Ford was definitely onto a good thing. He made lots of money selling his briquettes for the nations charcoal grills. Today there are lots of different varieties and brands of briquettes on the marketplace, some of which don’t contain the unpleasant-smelling petroleum products. However, even if you can avoid buying briquettes containing petroleum products, it’s still best to let them burn for a while on your charcoal grill before you start grilling food to make sure that you get rid of any other substances that might affect the taste and smell of your food.
Lots of people use a Charcoal Grill Chimney Starter to prepare the briquettes for their grills. This method avoids putting burning coals onto your grill until the unpleasant substances in them have burned off. Using a chimney starter you can also replenish your grill with fresh batches of hot briquettes when you are barbecuing for long periods of time.