Sunday, December 19, 2010

Homemade Charcoal For Grilling

Anyone who likes the flavor of wood chips when they grill will want to pay attention to this.  I too love the flavor and learned how to make my own charcoal out of the wood I have around the yard.  I did not realize that charcoal was just the remains of burnt wood when the impurities are burned away.

I had always thought that it was impossible to burn wood without allot of oxygen but it turns out not to be true.  In fact if you burn a log in a low oxygen environment you will be left with a clean burning form of charcoal.  During this process the water contained in the wood will burn away.  Then the tar and other volatile oils that disturb the taste of the food will disappear. There are so many impurities that will filter off during the burn that you will actually remove about 70% of wood's weight leaving behind a great burning fuel for your favorite grilled delights.

Have you ever seen the burnt remains of a campfire?  Those burnt black logs like very similar to charcoal don't they?  If you imagine yourself breaking up the wood into chunks you will basically be making your own charcoal.  However, unlike the the coals we buy in stores, these won't be loaded with lighter fluid and other fillers to get them to light.  These will light quickly and burn much cleaner than most popular brands.

The briquettes we buy in stores are not naturally occurring.  In fact they are loaded with fillers like petroleum products designed to get them to ignite quickly and burn longer than the natural carbon in real wood.  It was Henry Ford who is credited with the first use briquettes so it goes to figure that he would use petroleum inside.  Even when natural wood burns we are still dealing with something organic and the initial burning serves to purify the remains we use to cook our foods. 

Lighting the coals in the grill can be a tricky proposition.  I for one do not like to use lighter fluid.  I prefer to use a chimney starter powered by a little bit of newspaper to get things started.  I find that even though it is a little bit slower than flooding the coals with fire starter, the charcoal will heat up a little more evenly and do a better job cooking the food.  Once they sit in the chimney starter for about 10 minutes, I dump them on the grill and if they are completely ashy I will add a fresh layer of unlit coals over them.  I won't swear this is the best way but it is something that has been done in my family for years and I enjoy the process.

Another little trick I've discovered to make getting the coals burning a lot easier.  I bought the grill glove so I can get rid of all my accessories and handle the coals, and food directly.  The grill glove is a 100% food grade silicone heat resistant grilling glove that allows you to pick up or turn your food right on the grill.  If you reach onto the coals wearing the grilling glove you will not get burned and it doesn't get crusty and charred like regular oven mitts.  It is definitely an accessory worth looking into.

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