The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Another Year Another Charcoal

I am beginning to get a bit frustrated because every time I find a charcoal I like, it suddenly becomes hard to find. It started when Kingsford switched their blue bag product adding grooves to it and calling it New Kingsford. To me it was about as good as the New Coke. Next I tried out Duraflame All Natural Hardwood Briquettes and became a big fame of all natural charcoal. Quicker to light, quicker to bring the smoker to temperature, longer life, higher temps and far less ash. Unlike Kingsford in the blue bag, it actually smelled like wood rather then some odd ball chemical smell. The only problem was, the Duraflame was never easy to get in the winter and two summers ago it just disappeared entirely around here. Last winter I found Home Depot carried the then new Kingsford Competition Blend All-Natural Hardwood Briquettes (in the red bags) which I used through the winter of 2010. This Summer I found a source for Wicked Good All Natural Hardwood Briquettes which I liked the best of all. Sadly that source lasted all of 3 months, but I had a decent stockpile and I figured I’d switch back to the Kingsford for the winter. Imagine my surprise when Home Depot had no Kingsford in late October, and none has come in since. This past week I exhausted the last of my stockpile of Wicked Good and still hadn’t found suitable replacement. I have become an all-natural charcoal snob: I refuse to cook my food with blue bag Kingsford which is about all I could find around here.

The Good News: The composition of this charcoal is the same as Duraflame which had been a favorite of mine. The only reason I stopped using it is they stopped selling it around here.

I spent an afternoon making the rounds once again of all the stores I could think of. When I got to Lowes I was surprised to see bags of Stubbs 100% All-Natural B-B-Q Charcoal Briquettes. I guess I’ve seen the bags there before, but I was looking for something else and never gave them much notice. With the other offerings thinned out this week, the Stubbs was easier to see. Actually I do remember seeing the Stubbs name on some charcoal at Lowes, what escaped my notice before was the fact it was 100 percent all-natural. The bag said 95% hardwood and 5% vegetable binder. This was the same as Duraflame, which I liked a lot, so I had high hopes I may have found a good charcoal. When I got home I was disappointed to see something I hadn’t noticed at the store. On the bottom of the bags it said that the charcoal was distributed by Cowboy. This company’s lump has a reputation for having foreign objects in it. I rationalized things by saying perhaps they don’t make it, only literally distribute it just as the label says. But rather than dwell on “what-ifs”, let me report my experience using it for the first time.

The possible Bad News. Cowboy Lump has had occasions in the past where foreign objects have been found in the bag. Of course it is always possible they literally just distribute it and don’t manufacture it.

It was a clear and sunny winter’s day with temps in the mid 20’s and no wind. I filled the Weber chimney about 3/4 full as is my norm for the winter in these conditions. My first attempt at lighting the coals failed, I’ve had this happen with Wicked Good briquettes and the solution was to use a third sheet of newspaper to light the chimney. Once lit the Stubbs seemed to produce a darker smoke than normal, and a different smell than other charcoals I’ve used. It wasn’t bad or foreign smelling like blue bag Kingsford, just different. The coals took 40 minutes to be fully lit and ashed over. Some of this may be due to the charcoal chimney sinking into the snow. I normally use a concrete block to raise the chimney up off the ground, but this day it was frozen in place where I store it. So when the chimney got hot, it sunk into the snow about 2 inches until it settled in on the ground. The snow remained within a half inch on all sides and as a result the vents were partially obstructed and couldn’t breathe as well as normal.

Once the chimney of coals were ready I dumped them into the SFB, which I had filled to capacity save for the space for the coals from the chimney. After the long lighting period, I was not expecting the short 20 minute warmup period it took for the CG to reach 225. The only charcoal I’ve tried that was any faster was the Kingsford Competition, which brought the CG up to 225 in about 12 minutes. The warmup was even and steady, with no sign of the dark smoke I saw during the warmup. The charcoal had a unique smell which was different from any other charcoal I’ve used. It was a somewhat sweet smell and not at all unpleasant. Since the rise was so steady without big spikes, I decided to let the coals get to almost 225 (105 C) before I closed the SFB vent. With charcoals which are more volatile, I’ll usually start shutting the vents down and let the temps coast up to 225 (105 C). With the Stubbs the temps rose another 3 degrees (1.66 C) to 228 (109 C), but I was able open the chimney vent to beyond half way to drop them to 225 (105 C). For what ever reason in the winter when you open the chimney vent past halfway, the temps fall as opposed rise.

The temps remained amazingly steady throughout the afternoon. I set the alarms on my Maverick Remote Read Smoker thermometer to plus or minus 10 degrees (5.5 C) from 215 - 235 degrees (102-113 C) and I only had one high temp alarm and one low temp alarm. The high temp alarm came about an hour into the smoke. I find most charcoals I use in my CG tend to have a rather steep rise in temps about an hour after first hitting 225 (105 C). I don’t know if this is something the CG does or if it is something about the way I do the Minion method. Perhaps this is when the unlit coals first start to ignite in the SFB. I’ve also found you need to deal with it right away r try to prevent it all together. Otherwise you’ll be stuck with high temps that are hard to knock back down. I got a high temp alarm one hour in and unlike some other charcoals, I was easily able to knock this spike down. I burped the lid once for about 3 seconds and closed off the SFB vent and opened the chimney vent all the way. The temps came down and when they hit 225 (105 C), I opened the SFB vent about 1/4 of the way and this gave me steady temps for the next 3 1/2 hours. They didn’t vary more than plus or minus 5 degrees (2.75 C). When the temps dropped after 3 1/2 hours and gave me a low temperature alarm, I went out and took a look at the coals. One of the things I have noticed about all-natural charcoal is they keep high temps till the bitter end. Blue bag Kingsford would start a slow steady drop which meant you had about 1 hour before it was time to refuel. You couldn’t stop the drop away from 225 (105 C), but it also served as an early warning alarm. The natural stuff tends to stay high and burn down to little marble sized coals that disintegrate if you try to move them. When you find out at this point in the game, there aren’t enough lit coals left to get the new coals going.

Looking at the Stubbs charcoal, I saw I still had perhaps an hour to an hour and a half to go before it reached that point. I could have gotten away with shaking the baskets to knock off the ashes which would have brought the temps back up. I decided since I would need to do a refuel anyway, now might be the time to add some more coals. This way here the lit coals were big enough and still solid enough to move to the front of the basket closer to the opening to the main chamber. I added the remainder of the 15 pound bag behind the lit coals. When I started the refueling process my temps had dropped to 215 (102 C), when I was done adding more coals and closed the SFB lid I was down to 205 (96 C). I opened the SFB vent and the temps rose back to 225 (105 C) in under 5 minutes, which I considered quite good at a 25 degree (-4 C) air temperature. Then I set the SFB vent back to where I had it and I never had to fool with the vents again. The temps stayed within my plus or minus 10 degree (5.5 C) alarm limit, most of the time hovering between a low of 223 (106 C) and a high of 228 (109 C). This was outstanding performance, and I do like the stability of this charcoal and it’s reaction speed to changes in the vents. Kingsford competition turns on a dime and change temps rapidly, but this is a double edged sword because it usually takes a few vent tweaks to dial it in to the temperature you want. I wonder if it isn’t the grooves cut into the surface of the Kingsford coals. This gives it more surface area to react when you let more or less combustion air in via the vents. When it was time to pull the meat, I had gotten another 3 1/2 hours out of the coals which I was quite happy with for winter use on the CG. I was also quite pleased with the ash production, or actually lack of. It was better than either blue or red bag Kingsford, a little better than Duraflame and about the same as Wicked Good which makes the least ash of anything I’ve tried. It was close enough that I’d have to weigh it to determine a winner.

So in conclusion, I am quite pleased with this initial run of Stubb’s 100% All-Natural B-B-Q Charcoal Briquettes. The fact that it is about the only 100 all-natural briquettes I can buy this winter, makes me feel lucky it is so good. The one thing I don’t know is how high I can drive the CG using Stubbs in the SFB. I think it will probably reach 325 (163 C), perhaps 350 (177 C). I doubt it will reach 375 (191 C) which I can do for short times with the Kingsford Competition Briquettes. Here is a summary of my findings thus far.

Stubb’s 100% All-Natural B-B-Q Charcoal Briquettes

  • A bit more difficult to light, requires 3 sheets of newspaper in the chimney, not the usual 2.
  • Comes to temperature quite fast. Only took 20 minutes to reach 225 (105 C) starting from 25 degrees (-4 C). this was my second fastest time ever.
  • Is quite steady and burns for long periods without needing to tweak the vents.
  • Reacts reasonably fast to changes in vent settings. Doesn’t overreact to small changes in the vent openings like Kingsford Competition Blend sometimes does.
  • Has good recovery time when doing an inflight refueling.
  • Seems to be long lasting, at least as good as Duraflame and perhaps as long as Wicked Good. I will need some more cooks to know for sure.
  • Low ash production. It seems to be a low as Wicked Good which was the previous champ in this department.

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Here are some links to other blogs I have written about some of the other charcoals I have tried. You may have better luck finding them where you live, than I do here in Massachusetts.



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