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The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Flame On - The Looftlighter

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Saturday was truly a mix of highs and lows, bitter and sweet. As I recorded in my blog Kenmore Elite-2003-2014, I said goodbye to my first serious gas grill and the best gas grill I ever owned. On the positive side I felt a sense of true weather independence while easily lighting my Big Green Egg. This despite air temperatures in the single digits and winds gusting over 20 mph. I was easily able to light my Egg and cook up some Breakfast Panini's just like it was the middle of the summer. The device I used to accomplish this task was called the Looftlighter. It essentially looks like an oversized curling iron and allows you to get the charcoal on the Egg lit up and running in a matter of minutes.

The Looftlighter was an invention of a Swedish man named Richard Looft. He wanted a way to light charcoal quickly and easily without using lighter fluid. Some of his first experiments evidently involved putting charcoal in a toaster and using a vacuum cleaner with the hose attached to the exhaust port to blow hot air onto the charcoal as the heat was applied. This crude setup was successful. He sent the concept to one of Sweeden’s top industrial design firms and the end product is what we have today. It is actually one of the nicest looking barbecue accessories I have ever seen. The Looftlighter projects a high temperature, high velocity stream of air onto the charcoal causing it to first spark, then ignite in very short order. The device is about 18 inches (45 cm) long by 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter and is about one third handle and two thirds perforated metal igniter. The device actually uses double wall construction where the outer perforated metal cylinder is intended to act as a guard and cool off quickly to protect the user from accidentally burning themselves. Within about a minute of turning the Looftlighter off it the outer cylinder is cool enough to touch without getting a serious burn. There is an inner metal chamber with a fan that propels the 600 degree C (1112 F) degree air onto the charcoal. The handle portion of the Looftlighter has a push and hold switch on the top which is protected by a rubber like membrane to help keep moisture out. There is a chrome stand on the bottom to allow you to set it down on a work surface and the stand elevates it so you don’t burn the work surface. The handle also has a slot cut into it that allows you to hang it on a hook and part of the slot also doubles as a bottle opener. It constantly amazes me how excited guys get when they hear that handle is a bottle opener. They are the buying and $80 device to get their fire going in mere minutes and they get all excited about the bottle opener. The handle and has a 10 foot (3 m) long heavy duty electrical cord coming out the bottom. This is a good length, but where my grills are 10 feet (3 m) away from the power outlet I still need to use an heavy duty extension cord. The Looftlighter draws 1500 watts and the 20 foot (6 m) heavy duty extension cord I used had no problems powering the Looftlighter. The Looftlighter retails for around $80 and is available from grill dealers, online retailers such as Amazon and places like Home Depot and Lowe’s. Some of these stores may be selling them in their wood stove and fireplace departments since the Looftlighter is said to be great for use lighting fires in those items too.

The procedure for using the Looftlighter are as follows: You press and hold the power switch and hold the business end of the Looftlighter so that is physically touching some of the lump charcoal you wish to light. I try to touch it to smallish pieces which seem to ignore faster. You’re supposed to see sparks coming from out of the pile of charcoal in about 20 to 30 seconds. At this point you pull the Looftlighter in inch or so back from physical contact with the charcoal and continue to heat the pile for another minute or two. Then you are left with a glowing pile of charcoal that is the starting point for your fire. You can touch multiple spots in your charcoal bed to have multiple points of ignition. This is one of the things that I am still learning because the piles of embers you're left with do behave differently than when you've used firestarters to ignite the fire. The lit pile of embers seems to extend deep into the bed of charcoal. The embers do tend to diminish rapidly the moment you turn the Looftlighter off and pull it away. But what remains is enough to get the fire going. The number of piles and amount of charcoal you should light is something I still need to learn more about. I've noticed that the lump charcoal I use, Wicked Good Weekend Warrior, seems to take about twice as long to have the sparks show. Realize though that we are talking a minute versus 30 seconds. Also once you remove the Looftlighter, the glowing charcoals definitely diminished significantly. I think there is a similar explanation for both phenomenon. Wicked Good lump has a reputation of being hard to light. So my educated guess is the longer time to sparking and the quickly diminishing pile of lit embers is because you are dealing with a charcoal it is harder to light.

I really didn't mind the time it took to get the Egg started using paraffin fire starters. I simply worked the fire starter time into my prep time. But I've now had three cooks this past winter where a combination of cold temperatures and high winds caused me no end of problems trying to light my Eggs. Twice on holidays something that should've took me five minutes or less took me 15 to 20 minutes. That was just unacceptable and I began looking into other solutions. The Looftlighter looked like a good solution to the problem, but it wasn't without some worrisome issues. On Amazon and some of the other sites that sell the Looftlighter, there was a lot of feedback from disgruntled users who said their Looftlighter only lasted a short time before failing to operate. The two-year manufacturers warranty was often implemented through the Looftlighter Company. The stores the Looftlighter was purchased from would refer people to the Looftlighter company and the people were saying they tended to be unresponsive. This was a big concern for me, so I was very careful to find out from my dealer who is backing the warranty. My dealer responded that they would handle the return. I have a great BGE dealer and I trust them, so once I heard that I dropped the money to buy the Looftlighter. My dealer told me they sold quite a few Looftlighters over the year and they've only had three or four come back.

Once I got the Looftlighter it also occurred to me I might save money over time in not having to buy fire starters. Running some quick calculations based on the amount of cooks I do and the number of fire starters I use, it seemed like the Looftlighter would be cheaper than fire starters after about 9 months. This surprised me a bit, and while it wasn’t one of the reasons I purchased the Looftligher, it certainly helps justify what looks like a rather expensive purchase.

So far I am extremely happy with the Looftlighter. I just need to learn how many stacks of charcoal and how much charcoal to light to achieve the proper temperatures and heat distribution for the meals I'm making. I'm sure this will come quickly. Meanwhile there is something to be said for being out at the grill for only five minutes. Not to mention knowing that you've got a good fire going that won't blow out like the paraffin starters were doing. At some point in the future when I learn more about how much Charcoal to light and how many piles of charcoal to light, I will write a future blog entry with what I found. It truly was an amazing feeling yesterday to go out and light the Big Green Egg, warm it up, and cook some Breakfast Panini's like it was a day in the middle of the summer. The Egg didn't seem to notice the difference, but I sure did and was great to be able to be back into the warm kitchen quickly. If you are interested in learning more about this device, either Google "Looftlighter" or go to YouTube and search on "Looftlighter".

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