Charcoal comes in all shapes and sizes. It has been around for a long time. Henry Ford was the first person to use coal in a practical way. He realized that he was spending a lot of money on wasted wood in his automobile manufacturing process. He decided to make charcoal briquettes to counteract the cost of the wood. The charcoal, cheap to manufacture, became commercially successful. People started using coal for heating and cooking. The Ford Charcoal Company was set up and run by Ford’s relative, E. G. Kingsford.
Charcoal briquettes are made with sawdust and mixed with a binder, which includes mineral carbon, borax and sodium nitrate. It is then made into blocks and fired in a furnace. The fire used for cooking in the grill, burned off the binder and rendered it pure.
The following are the types of charcoal available with pros and cons.
Pressed Charcoal Briquettes – The ingredients are given above.
Pros: You can pick up charcoal briquettes cheaply and easily at any grocery store.
Cons: You have to let the charcoal burn down so that the chemical additives can burn off.
Pressed Charcoal Briquettes with added wood – These are the pressed charcoal brands that promise the mesquite flavor. It is usually advertised as Mesquite Charcoal. Hickory is another wood used, and promoted as having “real” wood flavor.
Pros: It improves the smell of charcoal when barbecuing. It is commercially popular with barbecue cooks and can be picked up at local grocery stores. It also is inexpensive.
Match Light Charcoal – Every ingredient is the same as charcoal briquettes. The difference is that it contains a kerosene type lighter fluid. This allows for easier lighting without adding extra fluid.
Pros: It is inexpensive. It is readily available in grocery stores. Lights the first time, every time.
Cons: You have more added chemicals to add to your barbecuing delight.
Lump Charcoal – This is the original charcoal before briquettes the creation of pressed briquettes. It is beginning to make a come-back. It is different types of hardwood that are pre-charred.
Pros: It has no added chemicals. The flavor imparted from the charcoal is a true barbecued flavor without the additives.
Cons: It is expensive in comparison to charcoal briquettes. It is up to 5 times more expensive than pressed briquettes. Lump charcoal is not readily available. You have to go to specialty stores.
Extruded Charcoal – Extrude literally means to shape by forcing through a die. Briefly this is a way to develop sawdust into a shape that is then carbonized rather than using a binder to hold them together. Many of the extruded charcoal available today are made of crushed coconut shells. There is not enough information to provide the pros and cons. It is a product imported from Thailand, Phillipines and Indonesia. It may be another alternative for charcoal grilling in the future.No matter which charcoal you choose, the important aspect of any barbecue is the opportunity to enjoy fellowship with family and friends.