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

Stump Chunks = Stu(m)pendous

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The end of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 has been very good in the grilling & smoking department. After my 6 month hiatus, I am back in a big way. A discovery I made this past summer has born fruit in the winter and in a big way. I will go over the background briefly and then get into the specifics of my discovery. Also in my last blog entry about Stump Chunks fire starters I mentioned I was starting to have some difficulties getting them lit. I have discovered the solution to this problem too and the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Stump Chunks are a relatively new product, having been on the market for the last few years. They are small chunks of wood from ground up stumps intended for use as fire starters for grills, stoves, fireplaces and camp fires. I tried out Stump Chunks fire starters for the first time this summer. Initially I was underwhelmed. Enough people whose judgement I trust loved Stump Chunks, so I figured I was doing something wrong. On my second try I discovered it was all about the setup and I was doing it wrong. I quickly discovered a totally unexpected bonus: Stump Chunks solved a problem getting a low temperature fire going for direct grilling. With paraffin starters I would get several areas of lit coals and the Egg would be at 350 (177 C). I had to let the bed of coals sit at that temperature for 30-45 minutes to allow other coals to gradually light. I discovered by spreading a thin layer of Stump Chunks across the bed of coals I could get an evenly lit fire at 350 degrees (177 C). This fall, I also discovered that by using more Stump Chunks I could quickly hit 700 degrees (370 C) for stir frying in my wok.

All was not well however. When I first started using Stump Chunks, I had zero problems lighting them. Over time I began to have more difficulty lighting them and keeping them lit. Once they caught on the fire would spread normally, but getting an area to light and stay lit was much more problematic. I feel I now know the answer. This summer when I was initially testing Stump Chunks, I was using small bags of Stump Chunks that I bought just before using them. When I discovered I liked Stump Chunks, I started buying bigger bags and storing them in one of the cabinets in my outdoor kitchen. I began to wonder if storing them outdoors and their picking up moisture was the problem. I really didn’t think this was going to be the case. The bags of Stump Chunks have a open mesh screen on the back of the bag that gives you a view of the product. Now why would you do this if they were moisture sensitive? I found the answer with the large 1.5 cu. ft. (42 L) bag of Stump Chunks I started using in November. I stored this bag in my cellar and only brought it outside to add Stump Chunks to the grill. Problem solved!! The Stump Chunks are once again lighting with ease.


Background - This past Saturday I committed to grilling some pork chops for lunch on the Monday holiday without paying any attention to the weather. It turns out that we were having temps in the low 20’s (-7C) and wind gusts of 50 MPH (80 kph), meaning sub-zero wind chills. The wind was blowing the 2” (5 cm) of newly fallen snow everywhere. Things were going to get worse in the afternoon. I know my Eggs don’t mind the weather. After shoveling the blowing snow in my driveway, I had had enough fun out in the cold. Making things worse, I got off to a late start because it took me longer to clear the driveway. I was thinking in that type of cold and wind I was looking at a 45-60 minute start up time to hit 500 degrees (260C), and many trips out to the Egg to check on the temps. I needed to make up some time and trips out to the grills.

Stump Chunks to the Rescue - I decided to try to go for a quick rise to 500 (260C) by using a thicker bed of Stump Chunks across the charcoal bed. The right amount is something you will need to get a feel for through a bit of trial and error. It will vary from grill type to grill type. With a ceramic kamado grill like the Big Green Egg, the amount you use is consistent year round. The insulating qualities of the 1” (2.5 cm) thick walls ensure consistent temps once the fire is lit and the lid is closed. Based on my prior usage I spread a thin bed of Stump Chunks across the entire charcoal bed. This thin bed was only 1 piece of Stump Chunks deep. I then went back and spread a second thin layer on top of the first. Lastly I took about half a dozen chunks of lump and placed them on top of the Stump Chunks here and there across the bed of charcoal. The weather was too cold and windy to use my butane utility lighter, so I used wooden Kitchen matches. The Stump Chunks, which were stored indoors lit easily. After lighting 3 areas I soon had a raging fire going. I kept the lid open on the Egg to allow maximum oxygen in to help get the fire going. I moved on to the second Egg and did the same set up with the Stump Chunks. After about 7 minutes the Stump Chunks in the first Egg were just about spent, and I had a nice evenly lit bed of coals in their place. I closed the dome and left off the top cap. My intent was to adjust the higher grilling temps using just the bottom draft door. I didn’t want to have to worry about the top cap shifting when I opened and closed the grill - one less thing to think about during a quick/busy cook. I went back to the second Egg, finished setting up the Stump Chunks and lit it. This took about 3 more minutes. When I returned back to the first Egg, I found in the 3 minutes time that had elapsed it had not only reached 500 degrees (260 C) but was approaching 700 degrees (370 C) and climbing. I was rather amazed that I was approaching 700 degrees (370 C) after only 10 minutes! I stayed outside long enough to get the second Egg stabilized at 500 degrees (260 C). Not having to wait 45 to 60 minutes to get a stabilized fire at 500 degrees (260 C) really saved the day. Plus I had an extremely evenly lit bed of charcoals across the entire bed when I hit my target temperature. I didn’t have to wait additional time to let the bed of coals even out. The time savings I realized helped get me back on schedule and I was able to just add the chops to the grill without sweating about hot and cold spots. When you are cooking something for 3 minutes per side you don’t need to be worrying about trying to move items around to even out the cooking.

Economics - I was not at all concerned about the cost of doing things this way versus 4 paraffin fire starters. It was all about the results. I needed a quick, hot, evenly lit fire and the Stump Chunks had me going and ready to grill in 10-15 minutes. But I thought I would take a look at the relative cost. The 1.5 cu ft. (42 litre) bag would light about 20 fires like this. Using paraffin fire starters it would take 4 of them. At a typical price level the cost for Stump Chunks would be $1.50 and about $0.50 for Paraffin fire starters. Yes this is 3x as much, but we are talking small amounts of money here. Also to me time is money. I was ready to go in 10-15 minutes vs. 45-60 minutes. This is worth something too. Also the costs would tend to get closer if you were lighting some fires for low and slow cooks where you could use far less of the Stump Chunks. Another thing you could do is keep both types of fire starters around and choose one based on your application. I have paraffin starters around for use in my baking Egg where I don’t use and smoking woods of any kind. The Stump Chunks do give off a wood smell so I don’t use them in my third Egg. But when I am lighting fires in the other two Eggs, where I have my choice of what to use I always go with the Stump Chunks. They are easier and a bit more predictable than paraffin fire starters.

My first use of Stump Chunks left me underwhelmed. But then when I learned the correct way of using them for lighting fires, it has been pretty much nothing but good news ever since. I also had to learn to store them indoors. Having done that, they are easy to light and get a fire going quickly. The unexpected bonus was by adjusting the amount of Stump Chunks used, you are able to get an evenly lit fire for temps from low and slow indirect or low direct to high direct and indirect grilling. They don’t just light your fire, you can use them to control the type of fire you get. This is huge for me and I think you will appreciate it too.

Here are links to previous Stump Chunks blog entries.

Stump Chunks:

   STUMP CHUNKS FIRE STARTERS 2015 Blog Entry about my first impressions and my early experiences using Stump Chunks fire starters.
   2 OLD PROBLEMS, 2 NEW SOLUTIONS 2015 Blog Entry about how using Stump Chunks fire starters solved an old problem lighting a low temperature fire for direct grilling.
   STUMPED BY STUMP CHUNKS 2015 Blog Entry about how I began to have problems lighting Stump Chunks fire starters and what I think the cause is.


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