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  #1  
Old 09-19-2004, 10:41 AM
Art R Art R is offline
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Toxicity of Charcoal in Barbeque Cooking

Everyone knows that carbon monoxide is a product of the combustion of the Charcoal Briquettes commonly used in backyard BBQ. However, there is little known about the other by products of the combustion process.

Obviously, starter fluid is not healthy and should not be used if possible. A chimney starter is better and uses no volatile chemicals. But what about the ingredients in the charcoal itself. There are many fillers and bonding agents that might be unhealthy too.

For instance, if the charcoal is not completely lit to the ashen gray color, will cooking foods over it absorb harmful chemicals that pass to humans?

Kingsford is the number one manufacturer of charcoal and there is not any information available about this topic from their website or on the internet.

Any thoughts?
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  #2  
Old 09-19-2004, 11:11 AM
flickster flickster is offline
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AFAIC, I'll gladly assume the risk and liability associated with charcoal use in exchange for the flavor. Yea, I might die a couple of days earlier but if I make it to 80, those couple of days aren't going to me aren't going to give me as much pleasure as what I get from eating food cooked over charcoal now.

What makes you think there are fillers and bonding agents in charcoal?
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  #3  
Old 09-19-2004, 11:28 AM
Q.E.D. Q.E.D. is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by flickster
What makes you think there are fillers and bonding agents in charcoal?
Because there are:
Quote:
The process involved chipping wood into small pieces, converting it into charcoal, grinding the charcoal into powder, adding a binder and compressing the mix into the now-familiar, pillow-shaped briquet. By 1921, a charcoal-making plant was in full operation.

...

Today, KINGSFORD charcoal is manufactured from wood charcoal,
anthracite coal, mineral charcoal, starch, sodium nitrate,
limestone, sawdust, and borax.
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  #4  
Old 09-19-2004, 11:29 AM
Dr. Lao Dr. Lao is offline
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The binders are necessary for the charcoal briquettes to keep their shape. This site states that the most common binder is starch. Starch is just a carbohydrate and will produce carbon dioxide, carbon monooxide, and water when burned.
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  #5  
Old 09-19-2004, 01:35 PM
Art R Art R is offline
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The main reason for my question is that I use a smoker type grill that uses about 5-7 lbs of charcoal in a long slow cooking session.

The preferred way to burn the charcaol is to light only about 1/3 of the total amount in a chimney starter and then add that ON TOP of unlit charcoal. The lit charcoal eventually lights unlit....and the process keeps repeating during the long cooking session.

Thus, new charcoal is always being lit. Are there harmful volatiles being produced?

I guess the alternative method for the fire would be to light all of the charcoal at once and wait until it is fully ignited before adding any meat/veggies etc.

That method would require several additions of charcoal during the cooking time since it would burn out faster....and would thus waste more charcoal.

So, in short.....is the charcoal safe for cooking during the initial stages of the lighting process......

AR
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  #6  
Old 09-19-2004, 04:46 PM
Dr. Lao Dr. Lao is offline
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As long as your not using those "super fast lighting" briquettes that have lighter fluid in them, I don't see the problem with adding unlit charcoal to lit charcoal. I know there are lots of long, slow grill cooking methods that require this, and I've never seen any warnings about adding more charcoal (save the warning about adding those "fast lighting" style briquettes). The binders either don't burn, or give off the same combustion products as the charcoal itself.

If you're really worried about briquettes, buy yourself some natural lump charcoal and grill with that instead.
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  #7  
Old 09-19-2004, 05:16 PM
flickster flickster is offline
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I'm not trying to make light of your concerns, just trying to put them in perspective. In our day to day lives, we all assume certain risk in order to achieve a desired result whether it be driving a car, eating in a restaurant, etc. The point being the level of risk does not outweigh the gain.

If you want the smoked charcoal flavor, use charcoal. If you're worried about what they add to the briquettes in order for them to hold their shape, use natural lump charcoal (it just doesn't burn quite as uniformly).

We've become a nation of worriers and tend to blow the smallest of concerns out of proportion. Frankly, I don't know how anyone over 30 years old ever survived.

Oops, sorry, I'm getting off the soap box now before I go into a personal responsibility rant.
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  #8  
Old 09-19-2004, 10:12 PM
DRBOB DRBOB is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by flickster
I'm not trying to make light of your concerns, just trying to put them in perspective. In our day to day lives, we all assume certain risk in order to achieve a desired result whether it be driving a car, eating in a restaurant, etc. The point being the level of risk does not outweigh the gain.

If you want the smoked charcoal flavor, use charcoal. If you're worried about what they add to the briquettes in order for them to hold their shape, use natural lump charcoal (it just doesn't burn quite as uniformly).

We've become a nation of worriers and tend to blow the smallest of concerns out of proportion. Frankly, I don't know how anyone over 30 years old ever survived.

Oops, sorry, I'm getting off the soap box now before I go into a personal responsibility rant.

I agree. We've got to go back to just living happily as possible day to day.

I will note that there have been several published articles (not by me) which propose to show that the real carcinogen here is in the charred edges of the meat which do contain measurable amounts of altered organic compounds which in SOME dose could pose SOME possible risk of SOME increase in SOME types of neoplasm.

It's never stopped me from enjoying a good ribeye (medium well).
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  #9  
Old 09-19-2004, 11:52 PM
duffer duffer is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dr. Lao
If you're really worried about briquettes, buy yourself some natural lump charcoal and grill with that instead.

Better yet, wuss out and just get a propane gas grill. You're putting WAY too much thought into cooking with charcoal. How do you ever expect to enjoy a grilled steak or roasted chicken if you're worried about compounds and CO? Be a man and take your chances. Hell, I'll buy you a beer if you do.
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  #10  
Old 09-20-2004, 05:25 AM
Colophon Colophon is offline
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Who the hell using briquettes? Lump charcoal is the way to go.
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  #11  
Old 09-20-2004, 07:10 AM
Roches Roches is offline
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What about the assumption that lighter fluid is unhealthy? Lighter fluid is probably just naphtha -- pentane and hexane and their isomers and hydrocarbons of similar molecular weight -- and would probably burn completely to CO2, and be consumed entirely long before you put food on the grill. I don't have references for this, but I would assume that the risk of getting fatal cancer from any possible carcinogens in charcoal or lighter fluid would be equivalent, or even smaller than, other risks associated with barbecuing, such as starting a fire, getting a fatal disease from a mosquito bite, getting skin cancer from spending time in the sun, developing heart disease from eating high-fat grilled foods, or getting a food-borne illness from undercooked food. These risks would have to be balanced with any life-extending advantages from barbecuing -- decreased risk of heart disease caused by the physical activity involved and by not eating foods that are more unhealthy than barbecued foods, or decreased risk of depression and suicide caused by exposure to sunlight, outdoor air and by having the social network that being able to barbecue implies.
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  #12  
Old 09-20-2004, 08:16 AM
keno keno is offline
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Slight hi-jack

Quote:
Originally Posted by Art R
...
The preferred way to burn the charcaol is to light only about 1/3 of the total amount in a chimney starter and then add that ON TOP of unlit charcoal. The lit charcoal eventually lights unlit....and the process keeps repeating during the long cooking session.

Thus, new charcoal is always being lit...AR
That method has never worked for me. The charcoal in my smoker is never able to maintain temperatures within the acceptable range. I wind up having to add fresh chimney started charcoal. I bought one of the new smokers that have the charcoal pan staying on the ground while the smoker body is lifted off. That way heat doesn't escape during the reload, as happened with my old smoker.

What's your secret to keeping the charcoal going?
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  #13  
Old 09-20-2004, 08:38 AM
Sigene Sigene is offline
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[QUOTE=Art R]
Obviously, starter fluid is not healthy and should not be used if possible. A chimney starter is better and uses no volatile chemicals. QUOTE]

Do you have any evidence that indicates starter fluid is not healthy and a chimney started (lit with newspaper, inks, dyes) is better?
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  #14  
Old 09-20-2004, 09:21 AM
badmana badmana is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sigene
Quote:
Originally Posted by Art R
Obviously, starter fluid is not healthy and should not be used if possible. A chimney starter is better and uses no volatile chemicals.
Do you have any evidence that indicates starter fluid is not healthy and a chimney started (lit with newspaper, inks, dyes) is better?
I don't know about lighter fluid but newspaper is made with 100% vegetable inks. I doubt modern newspapers (including coloured ones) are harmful.
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  #15  
Old 09-20-2004, 12:08 PM
Sigene Sigene is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by badmana
I don't know about lighter fluid but newspaper is made with 100% vegetable inks. I doubt modern newspapers (including coloured ones) are harmful.
Sure they are made with vegetable inks...does that make them harmless when they are burned? How have they been altered to turn them into inks. Just because something is "natural" doesn't mean its harmless... or if it's synthetic ,or processed mean its harmful. Additionally, theres a lot of other stuff in newspapers other than ink...how does the OP know this is harmless

My point is that it is incorrect to say chimney started fires are more harmless than lighter fluid fires, without any evidence to back it up.
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  #16  
Old 09-21-2004, 11:36 AM
Art R Art R is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sigene
Sure they are made with vegetable inks...does that make them harmless when they are burned? How have they been altered to turn them into inks. Just because something is "natural" doesn't mean its harmless... or if it's synthetic ,or processed mean its harmful. Additionally, theres a lot of other stuff in newspapers other than ink...how does the OP know this is harmless

My point is that it is incorrect to say chimney started fires are more harmless than lighter fluid fires, without any evidence to back it up.
Who has proof of anything? Am I really here typing this, or is this my imagination....am I a brain in a vat?

Whether it is more harmful or not is really immaterial to me. It is a flammable liquid, highly volatile at room temps and evaps quickly into the atmosphere....stuff I don't want to breathe or be around. Nor do I need the added fire risks, especially with small boys in the house. The scale tipper is the taste.....it sucks. Unless you let the fluid completely burn off, it will impart "off" tastes to your food. No thanks.

Yes news paper has ink on it. I suppose it could be harmful, but it is done and burnt in about 3 minutes. The remaning charcoal in the chimney is not "ready" for about 15-20 minutes. Plenty of time to oxidize the remaining baddies, if any.

Plus, plus, plus....news paper is cheap.....and lighter fluid is not. Ergo....NP.

FYI, I am using a Weber Smokey Mountain smoker to make ribs/chicken/beef whatever.....even veggies and bread. Cook times vary from 4 hours to 12 or more. Thus a long burning fire is imperative.

The initial combustion of charcoal....that is my real issue. Is it any more harmful than well lit charcoal....which I fully accept all risks of using.

Anyone work for Kingsford?
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