The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Kingsford Competition Briquettes - Second Thoughts

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A few weeks ago in the oh so cleverly titled blog entry: KINGSFORD COMPETITION BRIQUETTES Competition Briquettes I wrote a blog giving my initial impressions about this new (to me) charcoal. I’ve cooked with them a couple more times now and this blog will be a follow up to those initial impressions.

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This new product comes in a red bag to distinguish it from the traditional blue bag product.

AVAILABILITY:

  • In my part of Northeastern Massachusetts these briquettes are available year round. At least that is what I am told will happen. You see they have been out for just under a year.
  • I get the impression they are even newer to Home Depot, since both times I’ve brought them to the checkout, I’ve been asked about them by the cashiers who say this was the first time they’ve seen them
  • You may have to look a bit for them at Home Depot - at least if you live in a cold climate like I do. In the summer Home Depot has the charcoal indoors in the main part of the store near the entrance to the Lawn and Garden annex area which is an indoor outdoor area. The indoor part of the Lawn & Garden department is in a smaller annex building attached to the main store building. Just before New Years I’d gone into several Home Depot locations looking for blue bag regular Kingsford and it looked like they were out. In it’s place was additional fire wood, fire rings, DuraFlame fire logs etc. I found the new Competition Briquettes quite by accident in a trip to a Home Depot in New Hampshire. When I made a trip out this week to get more of the new red bag product at a Home Depot close to me, they still appeared to be out of all charcoal. I am glad I asked because I was lead out of the main store and into the Lawn and Garden annex building where they had moved the charcoal while it was “out of season”. Not that it is “out of season” for me but don’t get me started.
  • There is a list of stores selling the new product on the Kingsford web site. Besides Home Depot, the only other national chain in my area was Costco.


SIZE & PRICE:

  • They come in 12 & 16.5 pound (5,5 & 7.25 Kg) bags which are red in color as opposed to the traditional blue of the regular Kingsford. Throughout this blog entry I may refer to the new Competition Briquettes as “red bag” as opposed to the traditional “blue bag” Kingsford.
    • In the red bag product Home Depot had the 12 pound (5.5 Kg) bags only, which were selling for $8.49. This is not cheap but also remember since it is 100% natural it is going to cost more.
    • As a comparison Home Depot had 16 pound (7.25 Kg) bags of regular blue bag Kingsford on sale for 2 for 15.99. If I can find regular blue bag Kingsford around in the supermarkets here at all in the winter, they get $7.99 for a 5 pound bag. Ouch!!


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This charcoal lights quickly, but sprays lots of embers into the air. Make sure you have a large non-combustible ares to light it in.

LIGHTING:

  • These briquettes are very easy to light in a charcoal chimney.
  • Kingsford warns you to have your food ready to go quickly because these briquettes are ready fast. For once this is not some sort of advertising hype. They are not kidding: For me they were ready in 10 minutes. The same amount of blue bag Kingsford takes 20 minutes, while DuraFlame natural hardwood briquettes take 15 minutes.
  • They have a smell which is wood like, which is not surprising since they are mostly wood plus borax which is used to help them release from the charcoal molds at the factory. They smell better and more natural than the blue bag Kingsford briquettes.
  • Be careful to light this charcoal in an area that is clear of flammable items since they make a lot of sparkly embers which pop out of the top of the chimney and go way up into the air.



HEATING UP THE SMOKER:

  • Once again let me stress that is not hype about heating fast, they may be ready to use in as little as 10 minutes
  • When pouring the coals out of the charcoal chimney be sure to wear long BBQ gloves that protect your arms. These coals give off a lot of embers as you pour them into the side fire box
  • These coals heat up the smoker in RECORD TIME. The fastest my smoker has come to a 225 degree (105 C) temperature is 30 minutes, and this was when it was 95 degrees (35 C) outside. Normal warmup time for my smoker is 45 minutes to an hour. The 45 minutes is with Duraflame and the hour is when it is cold outside. In 19 degree (-7 C) air my smoker hit 225 (105 C) in 15 minutes. I was stunned!! Fortunately my meat was ready to go, so I didn’t waste any of that quick heat.
  • Keep a close eye on the temperatures so you don’t let this charcoal get too hot. I have a feeling this charcoal will behave like lump in that if you let it run away from you and get too hot, it will prove next to impossible to drive back down. Where this heats much faster than what you may be used to, don’t get too distracted and think you have loads of time before it comes to temperature.


USAGE:

  • The first thing I noticed is this is the most finicky charcoal I have ever tried. Your adjustments may need to be much more precise. I remember feeling this way when I switched from the original blue bag Kingsford (without the grooves) to DuraFlame. It took me several cooks to get the hang of controlling DuraFlame.
  • The adjustments you make with your grates will be much smaller if you are trying to lock in your 225 operating temperature. With DuraFlame I would often adjust the grates in intervals of 1/4 to 1/8 of the total grate opening: IE from 1/2 to 1/4 open or 1/2 to 3/8. With red bag Kingsford these same adjustments seem to be 1/8 to a mere nudge. I have about 40 hours of usage under my belt now and I am finally getting used to making very small tweaks.
  • My theory on what causes this “finicky-ness” is the V-grooves that Kingsford started using on their products about 4 years ago. They present a lot more exposed surface area to the air, so a little change in air flow makes a bigger difference in temperature.
  • While it may take some getting used to in terms of locking in at 225 (105 C), this ability to turn on a dime can be helpful if you need to regain temperatures fast. I have found as long as I do my charcoal refuelings correctly I can regain my temperatures fast. If you need to open the lid in the cold weather, this charcoal makes regaining the temperatures quite fast.
  • Like Duraflame which is also a natural product, these coals do a very uniform burn right up to the bitter end. With blue bag Kingsford the temps started a slow descent about an hour before they were going to need replacing. You could hold temps by opening the grates, and in an hour or so you needed to be ready to refuel. DuraFlame and red bag Kingsford give you little warning they are about to burn out. Often when the temps do start dropping, it is actually almost too late. At first it looks like you have a bunch of intact ashed over coals. When you start trying to move them to make room for the new briquettes they quickly disintegrate to nothing at worst, or at best you are left with tiny red embers and you don’t have enough of them left to quickly get the new coals started.
  • Since I had already experienced this “no signs until it was too late” effect with DuraFlame natural briquettes, I fully expected it with Kingsford. What I didn’t expect was it taking only 2 hours to burn through. So far my three cooks have been in temps below freezing, and the norm so far is not to expect more than about 2 hours before refueling. This is not as good as Duraflame which would have given me closer to 3 hours according to my logs. Here is yet another reason to keep cooking logs: I could look up logs for long cooks in similar air temperatures using DuraFlame and see what my refueling times were.
  • One advantage to the quick heating is if I ever do wait too long to add more coals, I am only about 10 minutes away from having a chimney full of fresh hot coals. I hope to not have to use this ace in the hole, but it is nice to know it is there in the winter.


CLEANUP:

  • These coals do make less ash than blue bag Kingsford, but more than DuraFlame natural hardwood briquettes.
  • I could go about 16 to 18 hours without having to empty the ash drawer on my side firebox with DuraFlame. Blue bag Kingsford was more like 6 to 8 hours. This new red bag Kingsford falls in the middle at about 10 to 12 hours.


CONCLUSIONS:
I have decidedly mixed feelings about this charcoal. While I LOVE how fast it lights and how fast it heats up my smoker, I don’t like the shorted burn time and more ash than my previous favorite DuraFlame. Sadly I am speaking about DuraFlame in the past tense. I simply can’t get it anywhere in New England. I even called distributors and offered to buy a palette, but they would not sell to an individual. In the short run I am happy to find this new Kingsford charcoal which seems like it would be available year round at a chain store with lots of locations in my area. I do have an option which I will soon explore: Wicked Good makes an all natural briquette made from the same woods as their well known lump charcoal. The Naked Wiz web site which reviews primarily lump charcoal did a 3-way test of blue bag Kingsford, red bag Kingsford and Wicked Good briquettes. It turns out that the Kingsford burned hotter for the first hour of the test, but the Wicked Good burned hotter and nearly 50 minutes longer after that. Even better Wicked Good is local and will sell palettes to individuals. So hopefully sometime next week I plan to make a 2 hour drive out too the center part of the state to pick up 60 11# (5 Kg) bags of Wicked Good. I wouldn’t have found out about this if I wasn’t researching the red bag Kingsford.

If the Wicked Good turns out to be wicked good, I see red bag Kingsford as a suitable backup available around the corner. If I can’t make the 4 hour round trip out to get more Wicked Good, I can grab some red Bag Kingsford to hole me over. I am also thinking I may use the red bag Kingsford to light in the charcoal chimney. After I try the Wicked Good product I’m sure I’ll be back here writing about my impression.

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SOME RELATED LINKS:
Here are links for some of my blogs related to what was discussed here, plus an external link for the 3-way charcoal review on the Naked Wiz web site.

  KINGSFORD COMPETITION BRIQUETTES Blog Entry
  YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE Charcoal Chimney Blog Entry
3-WAY CHARCOAL BRIQUETTE REVIEW Web Link


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