Day 15: Five Things You Should Know About Charcoal

We’ve all had our experiments with wood, charcoal, and even gas when cooking outdoors, but did you know that charcoal was originally used for several other reasons including art, medicine, makeup, and metallurgy?

Image By DryPot – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12649706

Charcoal in Art

Charcoal has been used as a pigment for ages to represent the color black. From the earliest paintings and inscriptions to modern art, charcoal is a favorite among a long lineage of expressionists and artists alike. Furthermore, charcoal is microscopically absorbant and can be used as a pigment for dyes used to create black and grey fabrics.

Charcoal in Medicine

Charcoal is one of a few age old home remedies for dietary and digestive issues. For centuries people of the ancient world all the way to today have used charcoal to settle stomach aches and other digestive issues. It is so popular that charcoal is still used today in pill form to address and treat ailments.

 

Charcoal in Metallurgy

Charcoal is a fairly clean burning fuel when compared to wood and other organic rich fuel sources. That’s because charcoal has been through a process called pyrolysis, which is like fire anaerobics for trees. That means that wood or other vegetation like Bamboo, is heated to high temperatures with the absence of oxygen which consumes the organic matter and water and dries out the vegetation forming a charred black carbon substance we call charcoal. Since the wood has been burned once, the main byproduct, smoke, is cut in half leaving a combustible substance that puts out way less smoke. When you have less smoke, you can forge and weld metals with fewer impurities which allows for a better quality metal. Charcoal has fueled blacksmith forges from the early beginnings of the bronze, iron, and industrial ages throughout today.

Charcoal in Cosmetics

Like the dyes and paints mentioned before, charcoal can be ground into a microscopic powder pigment and used in a wide variety cosmetic products because it is absorbed very well by the skin and has staying power. Maybe she’s born with it? Maybe it’s Royal Oak?

Charcoal in Cooking

Naturally charcoal is a fuel of choice for many barbecue enthusiasts, and it’s American as Ellsworth B. A. Zwoyer… Yep that’s right, charcoal as we know it in the briquet form was invented by Zwoyer in 1897 in Pennsylvania. So 6 years before the Wright Brothers were jumping off of sand dunes with a giant kite, Zwoyer was getting a patent on charcoal, literally one of the most abundant and widely used fuels in the world, because he made it into nice consistent square briquets. And you thought Steve Jobs was a visionary. LOL. This guy reinvented reburning wood and patented it.

It doesn’t stop there though, Henry Ford got into the game and changed it FOREVER. Henry Ford needed a way to recycle and reuse wood byproducts and horsefeed used in his automobile factories so he took the charcoal briquet idea and ran with it. He began producing charcoal and selling it which founded a little company called Kingsford.

So what does all this have to do with Jim Quessenberry BBQ? Well for one you won’t be seeing us using any of Hank Hill’s propane and propane accessories, but furthermore, we prefer to cook most everything with charcoal for a smooth, longlasting, and well controlled fire. I prefer Kingsford, but Royal Oak will do in a pinch. I suppose that makes me a Ford man afterall.

 

Tell you what, why don’t you grab a bottle or two of the good stuff in our shop and share some of your charcoal grilling techniques with us. We’d love to hear your stories.

Day 10: Hickory Wood: All the Stats, Facts, and Data You’ll Ever Need to Know

Hello everyone. It’s time for a science and history lesson. First I would like to apologize for the late blog post. I am late by a whole day, but I am here to make that up to you along with a giveaway we’re doing and some other fun ideas. In memorium of my old man on his birthday, we’re out to celebrate with all of our friends and family right here on the website, but first we gotta get the fire started and there’s no better wood to smoke with than Hickory in my opinion.

The Pawchohiccora and the Carya

Hickory Trees are from the genus Carya which means “nut” in Ancient Greek. While I am not up to snuff on the whole of ancient mythologies, I can safely say that Hickory has had a long history of being used for a variety of useful tasks including many different recipes in the Powhatan tribes of Virginia before and during the founding of the British-American colonies. Those recipes used the nut of the Pawchohiccora (Hickory) Tree and included a broth and a pulp used to flavor beans, vegetables, and broths as well as to create flour for breads. The Hickory nut was common all the way until the 19th century for cakes, breads, and cookies.

Hickory Smoking

Several years ago my Dad knew what many legends of barbecue have said for generations, and that was the fact the God put the Hickory tree on Earth for a reason, and the reason was that he knew what we were going to do with it. He gave the Texans mesquite because the soil was too poor to grow Hickory. That’s how we’re going to be using Hickory for the purposes of today’s blog.

Hickory has been used for several hundreds of thousands of years for campfires and cooking all over the world. The distinct aroma and savory flavor it produces when used to smoke meat is something many would find difficult to beat in life. The flavor is not as sharp as Mesquite or other hardwoods, but is also not as fruitful or sweet as a fruitwood. Because many consider it a “Fire Elemental” wood, it goes hand in hand with preparing food as well as making tools forged from fire. Compared to “Air Elemental” woods suchs as pine, cedar, and other conifers, Hickory is suitable for a pleasant and slow burning fire. It is dense and very strong under stress. This causes an even and manageable heat for smoking. Hickory when burned produces a smoke that is relatively free of harsh oils and waxy residue. This allows for long cook times without fear of ruining your meat with an overpowered falvor or aroma.

When mixed with a light amount of fruitwood (Apple is a favorite) Hickory produces a salty-sweet smoke that is amazing for bacon, hams, and other white meats such as chicken and even turkey. My personal favorite is a batch of Apple-Hickory smoked bacon with a light glaze of Maple syrup. You can’t beat a candied bacon made from Nature’s gifts to mankind.

Hickory For Utensils

Hickory has qualities unmatched by many other types of wood when it comes to longevity, hardness, durability, and strength. Used as a handle in shovels, pick axes, and other told of labor, Hickory has enough tensile strength to dig or pry anything apart without breaking. Until recently, Hickory was the only wood used in baseball bats and has been phased out for Ash as of late. Many other culinary uses of Hickory include cutting boards, knife handles, wooden spoons, and rolling pins.

Hickory for Building and Woodworking

Hickory is a slow growing wood and has been used far less in the last several decades due to deforestation. It has been replaced by fast growing pines and other easily replaceable trees as a cost effective and somewhat better for the environment building material, but let me be the first to tell you that Hickory built furniture and reclaimed wood holds high value in my book of hobbyist woodworking. It is sturdy and is probably singlehandedly responsible for the old saying “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.”

Conclusion

Hickory is a wonderful wood for utility and smoking barbecue. It also just so happens to be the driving flavor behind our highly sought after steak rub. Before you go, take a look at Jim Quessenberry’s Steak Beautiful.

Day 8: 5 Ways To Improve Your Indirect Heat Cooking Skills On A Small Grill.

So, you wanna improve your skills on cooking indirectly, but you don’t have a fancy offset smoker, no worries. There are a couple of tools and tricks you can use to get the desired results of indirect heat.

#1: Charcoal Basket and Drip Pan:

I often use this method on my Weber kettle grill. The basic idea here is to partition your fire to one side of the kettle using a charcoal basket. Then place a foil pan or sheet fashioned into a pan on the charcoal grate at the other side of the kettle. This will not only catch the drippings of the meat above, but it will also shield direct heat from hitting the meat by providing a buffer between it and the burning charcoal. This method is great for slow cooking ribs without a true smoker. Water can be added to the pan to make the cook chamber atmosphere more humid to aid in keeping the meat moist while cooking.

#2 Build a Brick Wall:

Let’s say you don’t have a charcoal basket for your kettle grill, or you have a different type of grill. No worries the same idea can be applied by setting the coals up at one side of the grill, and building a wall up to the cooking grate with bricks. The wall will provide the buffer between the meat and fire that is desired, and also once the bricks are warm, they will provide consistent heat as it slowly permeates through.

#3: Ring of Charcoal or The Snake Method:

This method is some what new to my bag of tricks, but i have found it to be very useful when I want to smoke a Boston Butt, but don’t want to break out the huge smoker or don’t wanna spend lots of money on tons of charcoal to smoke one butt on a larger smoker. If you have a small smoker you won’t need this method, but again if you have a Weber kettle grill or even a cheap burger and hotdog cooking tailgater, you can use this method and put some delicious slow smoke on a Boston butt or turkey or any thing that can fit in your small grill. So here is how you set it up. Take charcoal brickets and neatly stack them around the perimeter of the charcoal grate where it meets the side of the kettle. Leave space between the start and end of the ring so you don’t accidentally burn both ways at the same time. Start your fire on one end and it will slowly burn around the perimeter for many hours, at a nice low and slow pace. You can also sprinkle your favorite wood chips over the ring of charcoal to keep a steady regimen of smokey goodness cooking into the meat. I like to start my fire so that it burns clockwise, it helps indicate what hour of cooking I’m in. After you start your fire. place the cooking grate over it and place your meat in the center of the cooking surface. I like to place Boston Butts it in an aluminum pan, but leave the pan uncovered. It lets the Butt get the flavorful smoke, stay moist because it cooks in it’s own juices, and it acts as a buffer between the fire and the meat.

#4 The Stack Add-On:

There are a few different extensions you can add on to Weber kettles that move the cooking surface higher above the coals for a slower cook. In this type of situation the coals are still under the cooking surface, but not close enough to flame kiss a steak. If you are like me you like the idea of having the versatility of an add-on like that, but never think to buy one. I think it’s funner to create indirect heat using the methods mentioned above.

#5 Electric Smoker:

If you have access to electricity this is one of the easiest and consistent ways of smoking and using indirect heat. The heat is provided from a heating element much like an electric oven, and the smoke is typically created by feeding wood pellets or pucks via an auger or conveyor into the heating element creating smoke. These smokers are nice to have when cooking at home, but are generally not permitted in BBQ contests, as they make things way to easy and consistent. Taking the skill out of it.

I hope you enjoyed this article, as you can see the basic idea is to move the food away from direct heat to slow down your cooking process, and add that wonderful flavor we all love. Come back tomorrow for more BBQ tips, tricks, and stories!

-Michael Q