When you think of charcoal, it probably brings up many fond memories. It conjures images of those crinkly bags at the store, backyard BBQs and great times spent with the barbecue family. It elicits memories of the Fourth of July and Little League baseball games. The associations are numerous. Any barbecue lover has probably cooked with charcoal, after all.
But what is charcoal?
Let’s start with what charcoal isn’t. Despite the name, charcoal isn’t the same as coal — the naturally occurring fossil fuel. Coal is created deep in the bowels of the earth, the result of eons of force and pressure, producing a combustible mineral that can be used as fuel.
Charcoal, on the other hand, is man-made. And the process is much simpler. Instead of millions of years, making charcoal can take just a few hours. What you need is wood and heat. Lots of heat.
B&B Charcoal products are all-natural and don’t include the fillers or other unwanted material like resins found in some charcoals on the market.
Many Types of Charcoal
There are different types of charcoal. The kind used for cooking is commonly referred to as the charcoal briquette. A briquette is compressed charcoal that can be used as quick-burning fuel. Before the briquette was in use, charcoal had been used for thousands of years as a heating source, in medicine and for its ink-like properties.
In 1897, a Pennsylvania man named Ellsworth B. A. Zwoyer invented and patented the briquette. In doing so he brought charcoal to the cooking masses. Every backyard BBQ enthusiast is indebted to Zwoyer’s foresight. Before his invention, charcoal was largely used for other, less gastronomical endeavors.
The manufacture of charcoal, whether lump, briquette or B&B Charcoal’s Competition Char-Logs, has evolved over the years, but the basic principles remain the same. To make charcoal, you take cured wood and heat it in the absence of oxygen by keeping the wood enclosed and separated from the heat source. This way, the wood doesn’t catch on fire and burn away. Instead, the process transforms the wood into something lightweight, burnable and charred — charcoal.
Because there are different types of wood, there are different types of charcoal. Commonly, it’s made of hardwoods such as oak or cherry. People use charcoal because it burns hot, long and is faintly odorous. With the addition of wood, meats like steak, ribs and chicken are imbued with the extra flavor of smoke.
It’s as much a cooking ingredient as it is a heat source. And this is why people tend to have such a strong association with charcoal and BBQ in general. Charcoal is a taste, a smell and a tactile experience. It’s an interesting human creation that’s as much a part of grilling as the grill.