Which Charcoal Is Best for Tonight's Smoked Dinner?
The answer is yes, it is more than ok to light up your charcoal smoker at your next bbq.
The charcoal used in your smoker is a vital ingredient to any dinner. You may not have given it as much thought as your menu’s first and second courses, or as the ingredients in your shopping list, but it is very necessary to literally breathe life into your meal.
Everybody wants to be that guy. Let’s call him Mike. Mike, is that guy who has the best barbecues in the neighborhood, every summer. He grills and he smokes. He carelessly and obnoxiously lets the delicious and taunting smells of his cook waft down the streets and into the windows of his neighbours, sparking envy and hunger. He does this daily. He does this nightly. He is that guy. Be like mike.
Mike invites everyone over; Mike is a friendly neighbor and Mike knows his charcoal, so Mike’s food is always worth invading personal privacy and peaking over the fence for.
Where to start when cooking with indirect heat and when cloning Mike?
Well, you’ll need to look good in khaki’s first, but if that’s not possible then learn a little about charcoal.
Charcoal is made from the process of slowly burning natural hardwoods in an oxygen-free environment and creating a majority of carbon. In the end your wood will look charred. Mike and most of his neighbours love smoking their foods with charcoal, rather than grilling on the barbecue, because the charcoal smoke engulfs your meats, and leaves an indescribable taste and aroma.
Types of Charcoal:Lump charcoal: This is slightly more expensive option, because it is actual pieces of wood that have been fired into charcoal. Lump Charcoal is necessary for ceramic smokers and will have a more authentic wood flavour, but it will be uneven size. Uneven charcoal can result in holes in your fire when laying down a charcoal bed at the base. However, lump charcoal usually burns cleaner and you will use less of it, because it burns longer. It also produces less ash.
Briquettes: Briquettes are made from pressed sawdust and with natural, sugar-based binders, giving them a consistent size. These features make a recipe guideline or a "serving size" more controllable, as well as easy to maintain a steady temperature in your smoker. The downside is that they sometimes take longer to light.
As a general rule of thumb, you want to pick the bag of charcoal with no additives, especially no light fluid additives. These will burn the cleanest and won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth, or in the environment. For flavour add with wood chunks atop your charcoal bed. All of these products, including a variety full of wood chip, chunk and charcoal flavours are sold at our five stores across Canada: Burlington, Oakville, Etobicoke and in the north and south corners of Calgary, Alberta.
- Size of Lump: Larger lump charcoal burns longer, while briquettes consistent shape burns even across your smoker’s bottom. This results in better control over cook times and recipe guidelines.
- Blend: The blend of hardwoods used to create your charcoal will determine its flavour. Be mindful of your meat and what flavour of smoke you’re pairing it with. For example: poultry pairs well with hickory. For more flavour pairings check out this post of tune back into our blog.
- Residual Ash: Lump charcoal, made directly from the wood and not pressed from sawdust, will create less ash. This will make clean up a breeze.
- Burn Time: Most charcoals should light up and produce smoke within 10-15 minutes. For a brisket you should only need a 20lbs bag for an 8-hour smoke. For other cook times, burn times and charcoal arrangements check back on our blog or ask one of our barbecues extraordinaires. We have staff who have smoked for years.
- Flavour pairing with wood: When mixing charcoals and wood chips and chunks you want to consider complimentary flavours. Oak is a great choice of charcoal, if you choose to opt for a charcoal with flavour additives, and when you want less flavour and more of a plain base for your wood smoke to come through. Maple is also on the less heavy, but sweet side and pairs well with maple wood - surprise! For sweeter woods to pair with maple or oak charcoal opt for: Apple, Cherry, Hickory or Mesquite. Mesquite can be quite overwhelming and strong, but it never hurts to try them all.
- Where to Store Charcoal: Charcoal can easily be contaminated and produce mold if stored outside without proper containment, especially by the lakes in Ontario and in the cold snow of Calgary, because of the moisture in the air. It is best to store it in a storage bin with a lid, and somewhere where it will be completely dry.
A high quality, high performance smoker will be the center of attention at any summer celebration. The charcoal is more than just a fuel, it adds taste and changes the cook of your meat and that can be life-changing once you try it.