It was only 4 degrees (-16 C) when I started smoking.
As I mentioned I am trying out this new charcoal as we speak. I had really really come to like the DuraFlame all natural hardwood briquettes, so this new Kingsford charcoal has a tough act to follow. The early results were equal to or better than I expected. The things I liked about DuraFlame was it lit well, was ready to use about 5 minutes faster than blue bag Kingsford, could be driven to higher temperatures and produced way less ash. It also smelled better than Kingsford blue bag: more natural. The 100 percent charcoal briquettes had the good characteristics of lump and the stability of uniform sized briquettes. I’ve used lump that has had a wide range of sizes and wide ranging temperature spikes to match. The only downside to the all natural briquettes was like lump you had to make sure you didn’t let it get too hot, it could easily run away on you. The other gotcha was you really had to keep an eye on things when the charcoal was close to being spent. It would burn down to next to nothing while still holding temperatures. When you went to replenish your coals you had little to nothing left to keep the fire going.
If you are going to smoke on a cold day you come to love remote read thermometers which allows you to keep an eye on the meat & smoker temps from the warmth of your Kitchen. The 9:15 is how long the pork has been cooking on this cold day.
I am giving the Kingsford Competition Briquettes a tough test for it’s first outing. The temperatures was a nippy 4 degrees when I lit the charcoal chimney before sunrise. I filled the chimney about 3/4 full instead of my usual just over 1/2 full to make up for the cold temps. The Competition Briquettes began to ignite and glow almost at once and I began work on setting up the grill. This is when my first pleasant surprise happened: These coals actually smell like wood burning. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but after using blue bag Kingsford for my last few cooks the difference was noticeable. The other thing I noticed about the blue bag Kingsford was the huge amount of ash it produced. I’m guessing that whatever they used for a binder wasn’t very combustible. My last prime rib smoke lasted about 6 hours using blue bag Kingsford in the SFB. I used one full load and I topped that off with about 1/4 of a load midway through so I wasn’t running out right at the end. When I cleaned up afterwards, I found this short cook had just about filled the ash drawer to overflowing. If I used DuraFlame I’d have to go 16-18 hours or more to generate that much ash.
That is not excessive smoke coming from the smoker, that is the condensation from the 4 degree (-16 C) air hitting the 225 (110 C) degree smoker.
The second and third surprises also came while the coals were heating up in the charcoal chimney. The first was how fast the coals heated, they looked ready to go in10 minutes. I gave them another 5 minutes to make sure they were good and hot due to the cold weather. I wanted to make sure they were really ready to go. The second item I notice was the flame these briquettes give off had a decidedly purplish glow. This was most apparent in the dark. I didn’t really notice it in the daylight when I had to light a second chimney of coals. My next pleasant surprise came when I dumped the coals into the SFB (Side Fire Box) of the CG. The temps climbed from 6 degrees (-14 C) to 200 (95 C) in less than 15 minutes. I don’t think I have ever had as fast a temperature rise, even in the summer. Now you might say I put in more coals and I let them burn in the chimney a bit longer, this is true. But the fact is I have done the same thing when I have tried to drive the CG to a higher temperature of 300 degrees (150 C) instead of 225 (110 C). In those cases it didn’t rise that fast and the air temps were at least 60 degrees (33 C) higher. So an impressively fast temperature rise indeed.
The first bit of bad news comes in with length of burn. One of the things about DuraFlame is, unlike the blue bag Kingsford, they burn steady and don’t have a temperature drop until they are almost spent and ready to disintegrate. So if you let them go too long you have no usable lit coals left to keep the fire going and ignite the newly added coals. Where the Kingsford Competition is all natural I figured it would have the same characteristics. The trick is to not wait too long before restocking the coals. Now I may have been a bit conservative, but 2 hours into the cook it looked like I should add more coals in an hour or less. I decided to do it then and there since I was not as familiar with this charcoal and regaining lost temps in the cold weather isn’t always. I was a bit surprised how quickly I had burned through these coals. I’m sure some of it was due to the cold weather, but I’d still say these burn faster than blue bag Kingsford and particularly DuraFlame. This is not scientific by any means, just my gut reaction. I shall have to have some more cooks under my belt to know for sure.
The Kingsford Competition Briquettes come in a 12 pound (shown here) or 16.5 pound bag (5.5 or (7.25 Kg).
I had to do another refueling in two more hours, and it looked like this was to be the pattern going forward: Refuel every 2 hours. I was caught by surprise 90 minutes later when the temps started dropping and I found I had burned though most of the coals. I added fresh coals and lit a chimney full of coals to help get the party restarted. I lost about 50 degrees (28 C) here. I regained about 20 (11 C) of it while waiting for the fresh coals from the chimney. After 10 minutes I added the freshly lit coals from the chimney and within 5 minutes was back up where I wanted to be. So the fast warm up time of the Kingsford Competition grade made up for what could have been a long period of low temps. From that point forward it has been more of the same: refresh every 2 hours or so. I will say these coals really do seem to turn on a dime and adjust fast to changes in the grate position. I wonder if this is due to the grooves cut into the surface of the Kingsford briquettes to create more exposed surface area. It has been a while since I have smoked in this type of cold weather. I will be interested to see my results when the weather warms up.
So while my initial assessment was extremely positive, my enthusiasm has been tempered by the reality of a seemingly much shorter burn time. At this point, for me at least, the score card stands as follows:
+ Available at Home Depot here in Massachusetts, even in the Winter.
+ Kingsford has the widest distribution of any charcoal in my area, so hopefully this can at least be my new fall back charcoal.
+ All natural, it definitely doesn’t smell like blue bag Kingsford.
+ Is ready to use from the charcoal chimney much faster than blue bag Kingsford (about 1/2 time), and slightly faster than DuraFlame (5 minutes faster).
+ Comes to temperature in the smoker much faster than blue bag Kingsford, and slightly faster than DuraFlame.
+ Seems to react faster to adjustments in the grates.
+ Less ash than blue bag Kingsford
- More expensive than blue bag Kingsford or DuraFLame (when I can even find it). I don’t mind paying for good charcoal, it is the second negative here that concern.
- Shorter burn times. I don’t know that this is due to the all natural part since the DurafFlame all natural seems to last longer than blue bag Kingsford. But for today I am going through coals at a rather furious clip. I need to test this out in more moderate temps, but this could be a very big negative towards this becoming my go to charcoal. I certainly can see myself looking around some more and reserving this as a fall back charcoal. This is what I did with blue bag Kingsford. I wold keep a couple of bags around in reserve just in case I couldn’t get DuraFlame. This is at least a better fall back charcoal.
- Somewhat more ash than DuraFlame.
At this point I am going to keep trying to find another all natural briquette that I can actually buy year round here in New England. In the meantime this will at least serve to be a better fall back charcoal than blue bag Kingsford.
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