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

Stumped by Stump Chunks

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Back in July I wrote a blog entry about STUMP CHUNKS FIRE STARTERS. This product is 100 percent natural kindling wood made from tree stump wood. It was my preliminary evaluation and initial discoveries about the product. Three months have passed and I have used the product more and made two new discoveries, one good and the other not so good. This blog will discuss both items and suggest a possible cause/solution for the not so good item. It will also discuss an unexpected discovery I made back in July and how it is still the case today.

FULL DISCLOSURE: The first bag of this product I used was a small sized bag of this product given to me 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 have bought 10 more bags since then and I am spending my own money to do so. I have also graduated to larger sized bags, so you know I like the product and plan to use it going forward.

We Don’t Have Ignition: Let’s get the not so good item out of the way first. I am a bit mystified about it, hence the title of this blog. The first few times I used Stump Chunks they were brain dead simple to light. You held a match near the end of some of the pieces that had thin fuzzy strands of wood on them. The thin strands of wood quickly ignited, the fire spread to the rest of the wood chunk and you were quickly off to the races. This was the typical behavior the first half dozen so times i lit a fire. Since ,then the pieces have been rather hard to light. I used to use a butane fire starter, but lately the fire would go often go out the moment I pulled the flame away from the lit piece of wood. I have taken to using wood stick matches to light the Stump Chunks. Sometimes the match may not light the chunks directly, but dropping the match into the chunks will sometimes cause them to ignite. In the past once the chunks were ignited, they would continue to burn on. Not so much now. sometimes the fire gets a little bigger and spreads a little bit, but then goes out. It seems to take 5 minutes or more now to get the fire going. Once the fire “takes”, it is business as usual.

We Don’t Have Ignition-Causes: I think the reason for the sudden difficulty lighting the Stump Chunks is the difference in how I have stored the bags. The first two bags I bought were small bags and I stored them inside the house in a closet together with my grill tools. I would bring the bags outside, use some of the chunks and bring the bags back inside. Once I knew that I liked the product, I started buying bigger bags which I stored outside in one of my grill cabinets. They weren’t directly exposed to rain and fog, but it certainly is a more humid environment than being stored in my house. I didn’t think this would be a problem, because the bags themselves have an area that is a screen that lets outside air into the bags. I am going to try storing a new bag in one of the gasketed plastic storage bins I use inside some of my grill cabinets. In one of those bins the Stump Chunks will have storage conditions as dry as inside my house. I will see if this helps. I have several large bags to go through first, so it will be a while before I have a definitive answer. I will write a follow up piece when I am able to test out this theory. In the meantime if you use Stump Chunks, I would suggest storing them someplace that is on the dry side.

Lighting Low Temperature Fires For Direct Grilling: In my initial testing I learned that Stump Chunks solved the one problem I had with lighting a fire in the Big Green Egg. Up until I used Stump Chunks, getting a lower temperature (350 F/ 175 C) fire for direct grilling was problematic. Using 3 fire starters I would hit 350 (175 C) fairly quickly and instead of an evenly lit pile of coals, I would end up with 3 individual small glowing areas of lit coals surrounded by unlit coals. The only solution was to let the grill continue to preheat for 45 minutes or so, during which time the area of lit coals would spread. I discovered by spreading a large but thin area of Stump Chunks over the charcoal would solve this problem. When the Stump Chunks went out after about 5 or 6 minutes or so, I was left with a large evenly lit bed of coals and the grill was already close to 350 degrees (175 C). This has continued to be the case over time. Now I can easily create any temperature fire I want.

Lighting High Temperature Fires For Direct Grilling: This was my latest discovery and was not something I expected Stump Chunks to improve on. When I light a high temperature fire of 500 degrees (260 C) or more, I typically figure on at least 30 minutes for 500 degrees (260 C) and around 45 minutes for 700 degrees (370 C). These last 2 weekends I have done stir fries where I was cooking on my wok at 650 degrees (345 C). I discovered quite accidentally that Stump Chunks can accelerate and improve on this process as well. To light this type fire, I used more Stump Chunks and spread them all the way across the charcoal bed. This bed was more dense than what I used for 350 degree (175 C) fires. I did it by gut feeling, but I would say I used maybe 50 percent more Stump Chunks. Once I got the Stump Chunks going, they took about 5 minutes to light the fire and burn out. At this point I was left with a fire going at 500 degrees (260 C) and rising fast. Within 8 minutes I was at 650 degrees (345 C) and was able to stabilize the grill there. Quite an improvement over 30-45 minutes. Now for a pizza cook I would let the grill continue to preheat at that temperature for at least 30 more minutes to make sure the ceramics and the pizza stone had absorbed the heat and were at this temperature too. I do this when I light the grill using fire starters, but in that case the entire process takes 60-75 minutes vs 38 with the Stump Chunks. But for a stir fry in a wok, where you are cooking with the lid up and using only the direct heat of the coals, you could be cooking in under 10 minutes. A week later I was able to easily repeat these results. Your mileage may vary. You will have to discover the right size for the area of Stump Chunks you lay down and the density. It will depend on the lump charcoal brand you are using and the design of your grill. But I am certain you will be able to achieve similar results once you have the correct surface area and density down. One thing to be careful of is don’t use too many Stump Chunks or you will be left with a fire that is hotter than what you wanted. With a kamado grill you always want to ease up to the temperature you want. You do not want to overshoot your temps.

Bottom Line: Despite the recent problems I have had lighting the Stump Chunks it is my preferred lighting method now. I use it on 2 out of the 3 Eggs I own. The only Egg I don’t use it on is my “Baking” Egg. On that Egg I don’t use any wood of any kind on other than the lump charcoal itself. I use paraffin starters on the “Baking” Egg, but the truth is: I wish I could use the Stump Chunks here too. Stump Chunks are the only lighting method I have tried that gets me an evenly distributed bed of coals at 350 degrees (175 C) for low to medium low temperature direct grilling. It does this in under 10 minutes. Stump Chunks also gets me a high temperature 500-700 degree (260-370 C) fire in less than 10 minutes. The only trick is learning the right sized bed and amount of Stump Chunks to use. This can be easily done in one or two grilling sessions. I just need to figure out the reason I am having a harder time lighting them now than I did back in July. I look at this as an inconvenience which is far outweighed by the advantages of Stump Chunks. This fire starter product surprised me by solving two problems I never expected it to fix. It was like a free bonus and it has simplified creating two types of fires.

Here is a link to the Stump Chunks website.

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