As the weather improves we’re back into “barbecue season”. Of course some of the “hardcore” barbecue types never actually stopped cooking outdoors, so they’re probably a little amused at the idea of a “season”.
One of the more common questions that comes up in the various barbecue and outdoor cooking groups is about charcoal and other fuels.
I’m not an expert nor do I have an particular fixation with any one brand, but I’ve burnt quite a bit of charcoal over the past year or so and this blog post is really just meant to answer the basic questions.
First off there’s no wrong or right answer. Like with so many other things in life it’s highly subjective. Some people absolutely adore a particular type of charcoal and even specific brands. Also you have to expect that really cheap charcoal can be lower quality than the more expensive stuff. If you watch a lot of Youtube videos a lot of the US guys are talking about specific brands. None of them are available readily in Ireland so don’t waste your time looking for them.
When you finish cooking you should close up all your vents and let your grill cool down. You’ll then be able to reuse the leftover charcoal the next time you light it. You do NOT need to throw out all the charcoal after each use. Just remove the ash and top up with fresh fuel.
There are two types of charcoal that are commonly used on barbecue grills and smokers in Ireland:
- charcoal briquettes
- lump charcoal
Charcoal briquettes are of a uniform shape and size. This means that they are more predictable and you’ll often come across videos from barbecue fans where they talk about things like “the snake method” etc., which relies on using briquettes. With briquettes you will probably find that they’re quite hard to light which is why the starter chimneys are so useful.
Lump charcoal is 100% natural and when you open a bag you can see exactly what it is. Lumps and chunks of tree. While the briquettes are going to have that consistence in size and burn, the lump charcoal will have a much wider variety of shapes and sizes. Some brands have a better reputation than others and, generally speaking, lump charcoal tends to be more expensive than briquettes.
Wood pellets. Some brands of barbecue grill are designed to use wood pellets. Wood pellet fired smokers often tend to be both expensive and electric.
Wood including kameeldoring are very popular with South African ex-pats and lend themselves to a very different way of building and controlling a fire for cooking.
Don’t confuse barbecue with braai. They’re very different in many ways.
Personally I tend to use lump charcoal more than I use briquettes. I find it’s easier and quicker to get lump lit and going, whereas with briquettes it generally takes longer and I usually resort to using starter chimney. Briquettes are handy if you’re travelling as they take up less space and are more readily available in supermarkets and garages.