Meet the Girls!
Egghead Dawn's Blog
July 13, 2012
What is Charcoal?
You may have wondered what it is exactly that you are cooking your food with when you use your charcoal grill. A lot of people have asked me this question when discussing the fuel that is recommended when grilling on their Big Green Egg. There are several types of charcoal you may have come across in your travels. Natural Lump Charcoal (which can be made from kiln dried lumber scraps, saw mill scraps and pieces of wood not processes such as limbs) and Briquettes (made from wood char, mineral char, mineral carbon, limestone, starch, borax, sodium nitrate and sawdust) are the two types of charcoal available for your grill. Typically, it is recommended to use lump charcoal in your kamado style cooker because you can control the air flow in this type of grill. Lump charcoal burns hotter and faster if the air is not restricted, so if you are not able to control the air flow, briquettes may be a better choice as they burn slower. A kamado style cooker is made from ceramic material which is somewhat porous on the inside. Lump charcoal is a better choice as it does not contain any additional chemicals. Here are a few interesting tidbits about charcoal and its use for outdoor grilling.
Charcoal is the end result of the partial burning of carbon-rich material such as wood in the absence of oxygen. This process reduces the volatile compounds (water, hydrogen, methane and tars) present in the wood into vapors which pass off into the air. The carbon is converted into charcoal which burns longer and more steadily than the original wood and is about 1/5th to 1/3rd lighter. The charcoal is primarily carbon, traces of volatile compounds and ash. Charcoal is desirable because it burns hot, lasts for a long period of time and produces less smoke than burning wood. Because charcoal is mostly carbon, it will produce larger amounts of heat proportionally to its volume than wood.
Charcoal has been used as a fuel source for centuries. It was used extensively throughout Europe in the 1400’s in the blast furnaces to smelt iron. In the 1800’s charcoal was used in the United States for extracting silver from ore, railroad fuel, residential and commercial heating.
Traditionally, charcoal was made by piling wood into a cone-shaped mound and covering it with dirt leaving air holes around the bottom of the pile and creating a chimney on top. The wood was then set on fire and allowed to burn slowly. The color of the smoke exiting the chimney indicated the various stages taking place within. White smoke indicated the presence of steam evaporating from the wood, yellow smoke was indicative of the resins and sugars burning and a wispy blue smoke signaled the charring process was complete. At that stage, the fire was snuffed out and the charcoal was allowed to cool. In modern times, stone, brick or concrete kilns replaced the single-use charcoal pit. The modern style kilns could hold 25-75 cords of wood (1 cord of wood: 4’ x 4’ x 8’) and could burn 3 to 4 weeks. The cooling phase could take up to 10 days to complete. This type of charcoal is referred to as “Lump Charcoal”.
An alternate way of making charcoal was developed by Orin Stafford in the early 1900’s called the “retort method”. Orin Stafford and E.G. Kingsford helped Henry Ford establish the charcoal briquette business in the early 1920’s. In the retort (continuous) method, the wood is dried in a large drum dryer where the moisture content is reduced by 25%. It is then fed into several ovens or furnaces (retort). It is a repetitive process where wood is consistently entering one end and the charred remains leave the other end. The top portion of the furnace is about 525 degrees F and the bottom is 1,200 degrees F. This method does not allow visible smoke emissions to leave the retort. Utilizing afterburners, the wood gases re-burn helping to maintain desired temperatures in the middle level of the furnace. Oil or gas fired burners are used in the beginning and ending phase of the furnace. The retort method is a multi-step process which combines the char (carbonized wood) with minor ingredients (such as the starch binder).This blended mixture is then dropped into a press containing a “briquette” mold. The briquette process is environmentally friendly as it uses wood shavings, sawdust and bark from pallet manufacturers, flooring manufacturers and lumber mills.
The use of charcoal as a heating and industrial fuel transitioned into a recreational cooking material. By using the sawdust and scrap wood generated in his automobile factory, Ford was successful in developing a profitable sideline business and promoted the recreational use of his cars for picnics and grilling. Both grills and Ford Charcoal were sold at the company’s automobile dealerships, with a large portion of the showroom devoted to the cooking supply business. The Kingsford Company was created by Henry Ford and E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Ford who brokered the site selection for the charcoal manufacturing plant. The charcoal originally was called “Ford Charcoal” later renamed “Kingsford Charcoal” in E.G. Kingsford’s honor. Today, Kingsford Products Company holds 80 percent of the market share in manufactured charcoal. Annually, more than 1 million tons of wood scraps are used to make charcoal briquettes.
Lump charcoal or briquettes? Which is a better choice for you depends on what you are grilling on, availability and cost. My preference is natural lump charcoal because it burns hot with little ash. I can reuse what is left over in the bottom of my egg and not have to worry about wasting charcoal. I like Big Green Egg’s charcoal which is made from Hickory and other hardwoods (maple & oak) because of the mild smoke flavor it in parts into the food being cooked. There are other brands that use other types of wood, but that will be a discussion for another day.
Indirect vs. Direct Cooking
Decisions, decisions…what are you going to cook on your grill?
It doesn’t matter if you have a gas grill or a charcoal grill you have a choice as to how you will prepare your food. Indirect cooking is more like baking. The food is cooked by convection and radiant heat. Usually, the food is placed off to the side away from the direct heat source. This form of cooking/grilling allows the food to cook slower and more evenly and is less likely to burn on the exposed side. Traditionally, you will use a drip pan to catch the drippings/grease to prevent flares ups and in turn will be less likely to burn the underside of your food. Any food/meat that is 2” or greater should be cooked in this fashion.
Direct cooking is more like broiling in your oven. The food is placed directly above the heat source and the lid of the grill is up/open. In this fashion the food is cooked more quickly from underneath at a higher temperature. Steaks or burgers or anything that is less than 2” thick should be cooked this way. You can also cook with the lid down/closed to bake or cook the food.My favorite way to cook on my Big Green Egg is “Low & Slow”. Low and slow cooking in the Egg allows the meat to absorb the flavors of the charcoal and smoking woods and remain moist and juicy. Low & slow cooking with a large piece of meat
actually creates a steam cloud inside the lid. Less airflow means that more of the smoke will come in contact with the meat before it exits the grill, resulting in a flavorful smokey taste.
Dry Rubs-flavor & texture
Dry rubs usually contain salt which melts into the surface of the food and gives the meat a crusty surface. Sugar is a common ingredient because it enhances the flavor as well as adding to the crusty exterior. Hot pepper is often used, it adds to the flavor, but not everyone likes the heat. Paprika is used to add color. Applying dry rubs on your food the night before grilling allows the food to absorb the flavors of the spices and dried herbs. Prior to grilling allow the meat with the dried rub to sit out of the refrigerator for a short period of time to “warm up”, reserve some of the rub to reapply as needed if turning .
Many people like to make their own dry rubs-don’t have time, try some of our favorite rubs ready and waiting at our store. Cilantro & Lime, Raspberry Chipolte, Orange Dill, Bourbon Rub, Pacific Oriental Rub, Old Stockyard Steak rub, Mojave Garlic Pepper with Hickory, Texas Chicken Tickler, Tammy’s Herbal Rub and Texas Pig Rub to name a few-guaranteed to please.
April 18, 2012
Egg Heads Unite
Fire Gel Master Maria's Blog
Maria has been making sure heating appliances have been getting the care and attention they need on a yearly basis for many years. Working for her father at his HVAC business for about 10 years she learned the importance of continuing to take care of the equipment long after it is sold to keep them running for a long time and to earn the customers trust. She has been using the same knowledge to help people with thier fireplaces, stoves and inserts for the last 10 years.
May 11, 2013
I know with the warm weather and the desire to be outside most people are not thinking about the up keep on their fireplaces, stoves and/or inserts. Just like ants we need to prepare for the winter as well by making sure our hearth appliances are clean and ready for use when they are needed. There are many reasons to get planned maintenance for your fireplace equipment and here are some for your gas and pellet units:
Some Manufacturer’s Warranties require yearly maintenance by factory trained technician
Ceramic Glass is very expensive and if not regularly cleaned it can become etched and will need to be replaced
A visual inspection by a trained technician can fix or even prevent a malfunction from happening. One example might be if the technician saw sooting in the fireplace. He could check the log placement. If this went un-check before the season the sooting could have gotten worse and may be cause the fireplace not to work, leaving you chilly waiting for a service technician in the winter.
Batteries need to be changed at least once a year. Some fireplaces have up to three sets of batteries. The remote transmitter, the remote receiver and some rear burners require batteries.
Keeping the fireplace beautiful is important to. Most gas fireplaces use embers around the burner to enhance the fire. Embers typical do wear out slowly. A simple change of the embers may make your fireplace look brand new.
I find going over the equipments operation helps customers get the most out of their fireplaces. When we shop for these types of appliances we learn a lot of information at the time of purchase and it can be hard to remember some of details when we have the equipment in our homes.
Most Pellet Stove Manufacturers require daily, monthly and yearly cleaning depending upon usage, quality of pellets, quality of the stove and length of the chimney run.
Pellet stoves have many moving parts and yearly cleaning that includes removing parts, cleaning the vent pipe and reassembling the stove is on a minimum of yearly basis very important to retaining optimum efficiency and longevity of the unit.
As you know our environment is hot and humid during the summer months. Ash mixing with the moisture in our air can become caked on to the inside of the stove and become harmful to the metal parts and structural components. When it comes to pellet stoves getting the yearly planned maintenance as close to the end of the burning season as possible is best.
The advantage of planned maintenance is we can take care of any problems during the spring and summer and your unit will be ready for use when it’s really needed. Whether you have a gas, pellet, stove, insert or fireplace yearly planned maintenance can help keep your equipment working and beautiful for years to come.
Call us today at 410-782-4070 to get your hearth equipment ready for the winter ahead.
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To learn more or schedule us to visit your home, give Day or Night Home & Hearth Services, LLC a call at (410) 782-4070.