What is Charcoal?
Charcoal is mainly composed of pure carbon that is known as called char. It is produced by cooking wood within a low oxygen environment e.g. a clay or steel box over 1000F degrees. This process can even take days and the lack of oxygen is necessary as this means that the wood cannot catch fire or combust. During this, volatile compounds such as water, tar, hydrogen, and methane, are burned off leaving residual black powder and lumps around 25% of the original compound.
In large-scale commercial processing, the burning normally occurs in big steel or concrete silos also with negligible oxygen present. It is stopped just before the whole thing turns to ash. The old fashioned way involves building a fire in a pit and burying it in the mud leading to partial wood combustion, removal of impurities and water and mostly pure carbon left behind.
Once the carbon in charcoal is ignited, it will combine with oxygen to form water, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, some other gases and will release a tremendous amount of energy. It unleashes more potential energy/oz. than raw wood can. Char is a compound that burns in a highly stable and heated manner.
It emits considerably less dangerous vapors and smoke. This is pretty ideal perfect for slow and low heat grilling as well as high heat searing.
Different Kinds of Charcoal
Also referred to as natural lump charcoal or char wood, this is made by burning logs or trees underground, in a sealed cave or a kiln. It is made purely of wood without any petroleum-based accelerants or binders. This eco-friendly substance burns pure and hot. Refueling a lump charcoal fire with unlit charcoal is possible without releasing the pungent smoke that freshly lit briquettes tend to emit.
However, natural lump charcoal burns erratically. It is initially and cools down eventually. It also burns out quicker than charcoal briquettes. Lump charcoal grills need to be refueled more often than briquettes i.e. after 30-40 minutes. It is recommended not to acquire lump charcoal sold in straight-edged rectangular blocks as they are not made from logs but lumber scraps.
These burn steadily and maintain a stable broiling temperature of approximately 600F for 60 minutes. Traditional briquettes include elements like sodium nitrate, borax, coal dust, sawdust, petroleum binding agents, and wood scraps. When these are initially lit they will release emissions of acrid-tasting smoke. Instant-light charcoal involves briquettes that are saturated with lighter fluid.
Once the charcoal glows orange the unpleasant smoke vanishes and starts to ash over. However, the grilling continues to take place over coal, borax and petroleum binders which may produce an oily after-taste if low-lit.
This is a kind of lump charcoal customarily used for Japanese yakitori grilling. Located in Southwest Japan it is derived from ubamegashi oak found in mud-sealed caves. It burns extremely hot and extremely clean but whilst burning at a very low temperature. It generates no discernable charcoal flavor. This is usually very expensive and costs several dollars per piece. The average price range for 10 oz purchased online is around $30 or more. It takes quite some time to ignite.
Users will have to use an electric starter, blowtorch or a chimney and wait 30 minutes for the coal to effectively catch fire and get working. Once Binchotan Charcoal is lit, it burns for an extended period of time of 5 hours. Moreover, it can be extinguished and restarted up to three times.
Coconut Shell Charcoal
Coconut shell charcoal fuel is obtained from husks. Sold in small pieces, it is quick and easy light and burns pretty hot. These characteristics make this the most ideal fuel source for a smaller grill. It is difficult to find in the United States.
Match Lighting Charcoal
This kind of charcoal can be ignited simply by using a matchstick because of the additional chemical present to make it ignite easily and quickly.
Does Charcoal Go Bad?
The good news is that consumers can keep charcoal forever as long as it is kept dry and is handled with care. You should not move it around too much as it will result in it being pulverized into dust. It is a highly stable substance as it is composed almost entirely of pure carbon similar to diamonds and coal. Researchers discovered plants that partially burned over 400 million years ago and left behind residual charcoal that to this day can still be lit and used.
If you purchase self-lighting briquettes that are slathered with lighter fluid, then most manufacturers state the shelf life is only up to 1 -2 years provided as long as the bag is not compromised and it is stored in an impenetrable container. Lighter fluid is highly volatile and evaporates quickly, so keeping it in a vacuum-packed container is a good idea.
Charcoal does not expire until and unless it is burned. But additives and chemicals present within it may lose effectiveness with the passage of time. However, the chemical and additives used may wear off in time. Continued exposure to damp conditions can also affect the quality of the charcoal.
If the chemicals that aid in igniting a spark in briquettes wears off, it won’t light up even if the charcoal has not gone bad. By pouring some fluid on the charcoal, you can prevent briquettes from dying out. Both lump charcoal and briquettes absorb moisture so you can dry them out in the sun and use them again in emergencies.
How to Store Your Charcoal
Charcoal and water are enemies. Charcoal that is exposed to outdoor environments and unpredictable weather conditions like humidity, fog, rain or dew can result in the lessened lighting capacity of it. Hence, you need an effective preemptive plan of action to lengthen its shelf life as long as possible:
- It is strongly advised that you store your charcoal in a cool, dry place. Either a plastic or metal storage bin can be used. Start by rolling or folding the top of the bag shut in order to seal it. Then place it in an empty storage bin or trash can with the lid securely placed on top to safeguard it from any harmful elements.
- Store the charcoal away and shielded from the sunlight.
- A naturally dry basement, garage or sack or spaces where you can regularly use dehumidifiers are ideal storage units.
- Use can make use of a zip-lock bag to store any excess charcoal to quarantine it from external factors.
- Burn your charcoal over 450F, in case it gets wet.
- Lump charcoal technically has an unlimited shelf-life but keeping it away from moisture is still advised.
Charcoal is an excellent energy fuel source option for BBQ enthusiasts, campers and commercial users alike. The greatest advantage is the large quantity of clean, usable energy it produces. There are certain steps you must adopt in order to make sure your charcoal pool doesn’t decline, but luckily for us, charcoal is a pretty resilient and hand asset to have on hand.