Stump Chunks Fire Starters
07/05/15 - 11:21 Filed in: Review | Fire Starter
This blog is about my first impressions of a fire starter product called Stump Chunks. It is made locally in New Hampshire from ground up tree stumps making it a green product since the tree stumps were left over from lumbering operations and would otherwise have gone to waste. I began hearing about this product last summer and have wanted to try it for a while now. After my first test fire, it was looking like it would not work for me for the type of fire I like to create. But I could see plenty of other uses where it would be a perfect solution for others. Then I did some thinking, I made a few minor changes that made a big difference
FULL DISCLOSURE: I was given a small sized bag of this product by a company rep at my Big Green Egg dealers Customer Appreciation Days. Retail Price $4.99, local price $2.99. I’ll let you decide if you somehow think that a $3.00 freebie has colored my judgement. The other proof I will stand by what I’ve written is: I will be spending my own money on the product going forward and I just bought a couple more bags.
WHAT ARE STUMP CHUNKS:As mentioned the product is made from the stumps of trees here in New England. The stump wood is the most dense part of the tree and the wood has the most BTU’s. There are no additives used in the wood to help it light, they are not needed. It’s appearance looks like cedar bark that is used in landscaping. The pieces of Stump Chunks seem a little smaller, but otherwise look like cedar bark. The product gets placed on top of or underneath the item you are trying to light. You use a long match, butane lighter wand or the AirLighter or Looftlighter to light the Stump Chunks. Many of the pieces have finely shredded strings, that can best be described as hair, at the very end. You are told lighting the hair is the easiest way to light the Stumps Chunks. The fire spreads across the pile of Stump Chunks and this serves to light the lump, or briquettes or fire wood and gets your fire going. The Stump Chunks are said to be able to light wet wood and they have a YouTube video to prove it.
SURFACE VS. DEEP FIRE:Speaking of videos, my Big Green Egg dealer has a video where they light the Egg using a couple fist fulls of Stump Chunks lit by the AirLighter butane fire starter. This encouraged me because the videos on the Stump Chunks web site show putting the stump chunks beneath whatever you plan to light. This is not something I want to do, because I really don’t want to go burrowing around and rearranging my pile of lump to start a fire. Personally I like fires that are started on the top side of the lump charcoal. Putting the Stump Chunk under the lump would result in a deeper level fire which can take longer to light and is more difficult to control. If you are wondering how I know this, both my Looftighter and AirLighter create fires deep in the coals. These fires smolder for a while and spread rather slowly, with a VERY slow temperature rise. At some point part of the fire finds it’s way to the surface and reaches a source of more oxygen. Then it is off to the races. With an new oxygen supply, the fire spreads quickly and the temperature skyrockets. It is rather easy to lose control of the temps with this kind of fire. It takes a while for your adjustments to take effect and then suddenly you may have a rapid rise of fall of your temps.
FIRST FIRE-Not So Great Results:After seeing my dealer’s video and talking to Tom, the sales person who made the video, I figured I would be able to create a fire on the top surface of the lump. This would respond similarly to fires I light using paraffin fire starter blocks. That was the theory anyway. Theory and reality do not always turn out the same. I spread out an 8-9” diameter (20-23 cm) circle on top of the lump. I did nothing further to work some of the Stump Chunks in the gaps in between the pieces of lump. I lit the hairy parts at the ends of the Stump Chunks in 3 places forming a triangle. The Stump Chunks lit very easily and produced a smell, that to me said: New England campfire.
The fire in the stump chunks built very quickly, as can be seen in the series of pictures above. Within 5 seconds the flame had caught on and was beginning to grow. Within 30 seconds the fire had started to spread and the flame was getting bigger. Within a minute about a 1/3 of the Stump Chunks were beginning to burn and the flames were about 3” (7.5 cm) high. In two minutes the flame had spread to 2/3 of the Stump Chunks and they were 9” (23 cm) high and coming up above the felt line. This was quite a bit faster than the more controlled burn of paraffin fire starters. This was all good. What I started to notice was the Stump Chunks were burning on the surface of the lump, but none of the lump itself seemed to be catching on. As the Stump Chunks continued to burn away and the flames reduced in size, the lump still hadn’t ignited. I was beginning to wonder what to do. I could try to add some more Stump Chunks or try paraffin starters.
Then I noticed a few burning embers from the Stump Chunks fell down into some spaces between the pieces of lump below. These actually appeared to ignite the adjacent lump. Not in any big way, but it did light the lump. I decided to let this process continue and see what happened. Cutting to the chase, the lump that was lit by the last embers of the Stump Chunks did stay lit and I did eventually end up with a fire. This fire took about 45 minutes to get going and was a deep fire like I mentioned above. Though slow to start, once the temps started rising, they rose extremely fast. As often happens with these deep rooted fires the temps overshot by nearly 100 degrees. I was able to knock the temps back down but this took a while.
FIRST FIRE - Take Away: The first fire I lit with the Stump Chunks wasn’t a total failure, but it didn’t work the way I was hoping either. I decided it may be a matter of the product not being meant to work the way I would like. Tht is fine. After all it isn't all about me. The Stump Chunks certainly worked as advertised in terms of being easy to light and catching on fast. I personally do not like the deep rooted type of fire you get with the LooftLighter or AirLighter or my first run of the Stump Chunks. I planned to try again one more time with the other half of the bag I had left over. For the second try I will use the Ash Tool to work some of the Stump Chunks into some of the spaces between the pieces of lump. It occurred to me that I do a similar thing with the paraffin starters, pushing them down in between pieces of the lump. So I will try this technique the second time around to see if I can’t get a fire to form closer to the top surface. If I can manage to get a top surface fire, I can see a use for me for the Stump Chunks. They do light easier and get burning much faster than paraffin starters.
SECOND FIRE-Eggcellent Results:A week went by before I got to try the remaining half of the bag of Stump Chunks. I really didn’t expect I would be able to use Stump Chunks for my needs. I could see many use cases where this product would be the perfect solution. But for lighting the type of fire I liked in my Big Green Egg, I didn’t think these would work. I was puzzled how Tom at my Big Green Egg dealer loved using these to light his Egg. He didn’t do any elaborate prep to start the fire, and he got good results. I know, I asked him about it after my first near failure. It also occurred to me that when I used fire starters, I did nestle them down in between the pieces of lump. I also would take small pieces of lump and partially cover the fire starters. So the reality was I did actually do a minor amount of “tweaking” to get the best results using the paraffin fire starters. So it would be reasonable to expect to have to do some minor “tweaking” to get the best results using Stump Chunks too. The reality was I had no expectations that my second trial would be any more successful than the first.
Boy was I wrong. When it came time to direct grill some DUCK & MANGO QUESADILLAS I figured this would be a good time to break out the stump chunks. This time I used the ash tool to scoop out a slight depression in the center of the lump pile. The low area was about 6” (!5 cm) in diameter. I filled this slightly depressed 6” (15 cm) area with the Stump Chunks and then spread some more out to about 9” (23 cm) in diameter. I used the ash tool to move some pieces of lump onto the Stump Chunks. I covered more of the pieces in the center of the pile, than towards the edges. When I lit this second load of charcoal, it took longer for the Stump Chunks to catch than the first time around. It was still quicker than the paraffin starters, but it definitely took longer than the first fire I lit with Stump Chunks. I am guessing this was because some of the pieces were partially covered and less oxygen was getting to them. Although the pile was taking longer to get rolling, I could also see that this time the lump was igniting and that was the point of this exercise. As the pile became more involved I continued to see more lump catching on. After about 2 1/2 minutes I was getting a flame that reached the felt line and the lump which was being ignited and was staying lit. I put the cast iron grill grate on at this point because I was sure I had a successfully lit fire.
Within about 5 minutes, the Stump Chunks had burned off and I had about an 8” (20 cm) pile of glowing lump in the center of the pile. This glowing pile was at the surface and extended an inch or two (2.5-5 cm) down into the lump. The temperatures were beginning to rise steadily too. This was considerably faster than the paraffin starters, which take about 9 minutes to ignite and burn off. With the paraffin starters, you are left with small individual areas of burning coals which eventually spread and merge together. Depending on the desired cooking temperature it can take 20-30 minutes for the lump to reach your temperature. With the second fire I achieved the surface fire I wanted and the initial ignition took half of the time of the paraffin starters. I was left with an 8” area of burning coals which continued to quickly spread to other areas of the lump pile. This fire took only 12 more minutes to reach my desired cooking temperature of 425 degrees (218 C). The lit lump was more wide spread and uniformly lit. If I lit 3 paraffin starters to achieve this temperature, I would expect to see 3 distinct areas where the lump was lit and quite hot. With the Stump Chunks I had a single, more widespread area of glowing lump. The lump was evenly lit from edge to edge. This would result in a larger area to cook with and my not having to worry about hot spots. Needless to say I was quite surprised and pleased.
SECOND FIRE - Take Away:With a tiny amount of additional work, I was able to achieve better results more quickly than paraffin. The advertising material describes a multi-step process with step 3 being you are done, time to crack open a beer. They stress the sooner you get to Step 3, the better. I’ll have to say this is the case. Now I never stressed over the 20-30 minutes it took to get a fire going with the paraffin starters. I just included it as a part of my prep time. But now I have the opportunity to shorten my cook, if I wish to. Or I can let the more quickly lit and stabilized fire continue to burn during the time I saved. It will continue to even out and get more coals involved. Either way this is a win.
COST ANALYSIS:Now that the Stump Chunks have proven to be a viable alternative that should be seriously considered, it was time to look into the costs. Based on the 2 fires I got out of the Small Bag, you would get 20 fires out of Large Bags. The Small Bags work out to $1.50 per fire. I may find I can use less Stump Chunks than I did, but for now I will use this amount. A Large bag retails for $35.00. Based on the local price of the Small bags vs. the suggested retail price, I am thinking I will find the Large bags for around $28.00. This works out to a cost per fire of $1.40. Now a 24 count box of Big Green Egg fire starters retails for $23.00 which is a bit absurd because identical 3rd party paraffin fire starters sell for about half that price. So assuming I use an average of 3 fire starters per fire and the box costs me $12, this works out to $1.50 per fire with paraffin fire starters. So the cost is essentially the same for both products. The paraffin starters would be even cheaper if I was able to find a 100 count box. But even so, with the Stump Chunks I gain the ability to have the fire going in half the time using a more evenly lit pile of lump. Is this worth a little more per fire to me? Yes it is. Your mileage may vary.
POTANTIAL DISADVANTAGE 1 - Storage: You get 20 fires from a 3 cu. ft. (85 l) bag. Obviously this takes up way more room than 3 boxes of paraffin fire starters. To get the advantages of a faster, more evenly lit fire you must have 3 cu. ft. (85 l) of storage out of the elements.. This may be a consideration for some people.
POTANTIAL DISADVANTAGE 2 - Smoke: This is a disadvantage mostly for me, but it is possible it may be important to a few other people. What I am talking about is using Stump Chunks generates a smoke which I described earlier as New England camp fire. The smoke smell does go away once the Stump Chunks burn off, but I don’t know if some of this smell might linger inside the Egg. I don’t think I will use Stump Chunks for my Baking Egg which I don’t use any kind of smoking woods with. I will continue to use the more smoke neutral paraffin starters with the Baking Egg.
OTHER USES:After my first attempt with Stump Chunks, I didn’t think they would work for me on the Egg. When I was thinking this way, I was trying to think of what some good use cases for this product might be, You see the product did what it promised to do, I just didn’t think I could use it to get a top surface fire on the Egg without a lot of additional work. Happily this proved to be wrong and I can easily achieve a top surface fire. But after trying Stump Chunks twice now, here are some other uses where they might be ideally suited:
- Lighting a camp fire. This can sometimes be a pain in the neck depending how wet the wood is. Stump Chunks had a video on their website where they show how they were able to light wood that had just been soaked in water. They used more Stump Chunks to light the fire, but other than that it lit with no problems.
- Lighting a charcoal chimney. There is a demo video on the Stump Chunks site where they light a chimney full of briquettes and a chimney full of lumps. According to the video the charcoal is ready to cook with after 7 minutes. This is much faster than I remember briquettes taking. I seem to recall it taking 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the brand.
- Tailgating. The speed that Stump Chunks can get a fire going would be an advantage for tailgating.
- Lighting a fire in an outdoor fireplace, fire pit or fire ring. I don’t think it would get too much easier than this for lighting these items.
- Indoor stoves or fire[laces?? I could see this being another ideal use for this product, but I would want to get some clarification from the manufacturer first. The product literature mentions the stumps come from a “…mixture of select soft and hardwoods.” I would want to find out more above the soft woods and any potential resin deposits that may be left in your indoor stove or fireplace’s chimney. There is a contact form you could use to ask this question.
SUMMRY:I am happy to have another way to light my Big Green Egg. I will admit after my first trial I never expected to be saying this. Using Stump Chunks takes less time which isn’t a bad thing, but not mission critical to me personally. This will be a big plus for many folks though. What excites me more is you get a more widespread bed of lit coals than with paraffin fire starters. I would often find the Egg would reach the target temperature before the charcoal bed was uniformly lit. At higher cooking temperatures the extra time allowed more coals to become lit. Direct grilling at low temperatures always brought out this problem. At 350 or 375 (177 or 190 C) you would often have 2 or 3 smaller areas with lit coals surrounded by slightly lit or totally unlit coals. Using the Stump Chunks gave me a larger, more uniformly lit bed of charcoal. Plus I can use the time savings to let the fire stabilize longer and get an even more uniform bed of lit charcoal. My thanks to Bob from Stump Chunks for giving me the small bag to try out. I had been planning to give this product a try, but I hadn’t gotten to it. This served to get me off the dime, and I am excited about the possibilities of a more uniformly lit bed of coals for low temperature direct grilling.
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