Well, you asked for it. Here, Smoky answers the most commonly asked questions. He is direct, honest and offers an insight into the time proven techniques to preparing great barbecue that is unavailable elsewhere. If you are unable to locate the exact answer you are seeking, feel free to contact him directly and ask!
He returns all questions . . . . . . .
Topic: How to replenish charcoal while cooking BBQ . . . .
Subject: Re: Replenishing Charcoal
I've been burning meat on a grill for the past few years and have even tried my hand at cooking BBQ. It is the method of replenishing charcoal while cooking BBQ that raises a question in my mind. I have noticed a difference in technique and seek your sage wisdom.
Some of my friends who have been cooking for years use a trick to keep the fire going over night; they add fresh briquettes either in a line or butted up to the hot coals. Over a period of time the new charcoal catches and keeps the fire going for long periods of time. These cooks use large cookers and usually feed fairly large groups of people. I never noticed that their BBQ had an unpleasant flavor.
More recently I have noticed that the trend is toward burning the charcoal down before adding to the fire. I understand that this technique is used to eliminate the possilbility of the charcoal giving off creosote and other unflavorful additives to the meat.
My question is this: If a good brand of charcoal is used, such as one with a wheat paste binder, is it really necessary to pre-cook the charcoal before adding to the fire? I will confess that I have tried replenishing my charcoal fires both ways and have not noticed any difference in the flavor of my BBQ. I do use Hickory Specialties briquettes and lump charcoal.
I have looked for your book, "The Great American BBQ Instruction Book: without any success. Is there a mail order source?
Thank you for your help.
Good to hear from you again and I appreciate your excellent question. With an all charcoal of desirable hardwoods containing nothing more foreign that a wheat paste binder, it is possible to build an elongated charcoal pile, fire up one end and let the ignition travel along the bed to provide consistent heat over long periods. One may also add small quantities, relatively speaking, during the cooking and the effect upon the taste and color of the meat will be minimal. However, firing the charcoal first will, all things being considered, produce a superior product. To prove this to yourself, take a small (very) sniff from the exhaust vent stream while the coals are firing up.
I would not do this with a charcoal containing mineral coal or an unfamiliar mixture of anonymous carbonized materials.
In the process of making wood charcoal, the noxious and obnoxious gasses have been driven off leaving, so to speak, a virginal ember which has not yet been brought to the point of ignition. There may be, in this initial glow, a bit more carbon monoxide emitted than when the coals are fully ignited. This poses no danger to the meat and, if you are off resting or playing somewhere else, certainly none to you. It only poses a problem in a confined space with inadequate ventilation. Carbon monoxide, however, is a toxic gas which accumulates in the blood stream and should always be avoided when possible.
Wood, of course, is a different matter. It must be burned down to embers before adding to the firebox or the meat will definitely suffer discoloration and desecration. Only those who are either famished, devoid of discerning palates or seized by compelling ignorance would cook twice in wood flames.
The book, by the way, is available at the Barbecue Store on this website.
Cook good, eat good and have fun,
A follow-up note from Mark . . . . . .
Thanks for your response to the charcoal question. You have confirmed,once again, that you are the all knowing sage of the BBQ Internet! And I was beginning to think that I was continuously just too drunk to taste real creosote when it hit me in the face! ;-)
I thank you for giving your knowledge to the internet community. I may not agree with you 100% of the time but, hey, you know what they say about opinions! The times that I don't agree are more over personal taste than technique. I have only differed with you on one occasion and that related to the Hickory Specialties charcoal.
The Hickory Specialties products are an enigma. Their Wildfire brand is slow to start and burns cool. I don't have significant experience with their Old Hickory or Jack Daniel's. I will soon. Their Nature Glo or lump charcoal burns much hotter than the Wildfire. I have recently gotten some pricing from them that is only good if I pick the charcoal up at the plant. The lump is almost twice the cost of the briquettes.
Go figure. I think they make a good product and I wish it were more readily available to the BBQ community.
Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience. My experience is that people who don't share information, don't really have that much to share anyway.