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  #1  
Old 06-01-2008, 11:23 PM
CookingWithGas CookingWithGas is offline
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Why do people make charcoal?

People burn wood to make charcoal (I got to thinking about burning wood reading Cecil's column on why wood doesn't melt). Then they use charcoal to cook (this isn't done just by American suburbanites; it's a fairly critical method in the Third World).

Why not just burn the raw wood to start with, taking advantage of the heat released in that process?
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  #2  
Old 06-01-2008, 11:30 PM
The Hamster King The Hamster King is offline
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You usually want to cook over a bed of coals, not a burning flame. Coals give you a steadier, more controlled heat.

But it takes a long time to get to a nice bed of coals starting from just wood. During that time the fire requires a lot of attention. Too little fuel and it will go out. Too much and it will get out of control. You have to feed wood in gradually and watch how the fire develops.

If you start with charcoal you're already halfway to coals. Once you get them lit you can largely ignore them until they're ready to cook on. It gives you the same final result as a wood fire, but with much less hassle.
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Old 06-01-2008, 11:36 PM
Rick Rick is offline
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Why do people make charcoal?
So I can barbecue of course.
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  #4  
Old 06-01-2008, 11:38 PM
bouv bouv is offline
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There's lots of stuff in wood that:
1) Doesn't burn very well (like water) and
2) Doesn't make the food taste very good, although there are other things in wood that CAN make meat taste good...but it has to be the right wood. There's a reason you smoke things with maple, applewood, hickory, etc... and not pine.

So you make charcoal and get rid of a lot of the crap you don't want, and end up with a lot higher proportion of stuff that burns hot, and for a long time, and without a lot of nasty smoke. Plus, a lot of charcoal is made from wood scraps, sawdust, etc... that wouldn't be suitable for burning anyway.
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Old 06-01-2008, 11:43 PM
Pullet Pullet is offline
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Best OP to OP username thread ever.
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Old 06-01-2008, 11:53 PM
Santo Rugger Santo Rugger is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pullet
Best OP to OP username thread ever.
It'd be like me starting a thread titled, "Why do people play football (American or soccer)?", or you starting one titled, "Why do people raise turkeys?"

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  #7  
Old 06-02-2008, 04:49 AM
The Them The Them is offline
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Not all people, but a fair number, want a fire a lot hotter than a regular wood fire gives (tandoori as an example).
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  #8  
Old 06-02-2008, 05:16 AM
madmonk28 madmonk28 is offline
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It is also more transportable than wood, it is reduced and bagged and ready for transport. Here in Indonesia, it is an industry people engage in on the side to make a little bit of extra money out in the countrysice. The charcoal is then bundled into convenient sized units and sold for a few cents in town.
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  #9  
Old 06-02-2008, 05:36 AM
lobotomyboy63 lobotomyboy63 is offline
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http://www.smokepistol.com/tipcharcoalbriquette.html

Henry Ford created the charcoal briquette from the wood scraps and sawdust from his car factory.

IIRC it was a "waste not, want not" thing on his part.

The Kingsford Company was formed when E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Ford's, brokered the site selection for Ford's new charcoal manufacturing plant. The company, originally called Ford Charcoal, was renamed Kingsford® Charcoal in his honor.

http://www.kingsford.com/about/index.htm
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Old 06-02-2008, 05:57 AM
Ale Ale is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pochacco
You usually want to cook over a bed of coals, not a burning flame. Coals give you a steadier, more controlled heat.

But it takes a long time to get to a nice bed of coals starting from just wood. During that time the fire requires a lot of attention. Too little fuel and it will go out. Too much and it will get out of control. You have to feed wood in gradually and watch how the fire develops.

If you start with charcoal you're already halfway to coals. Once you get them lit you can largely ignore them until they're ready to cook on. It gives you the same final result as a wood fire, but with much less hassle.
All the way back to my home country (Uruguay) we use wood to cook Asado, it´s indeed a lenghty process that requieres a lot of effort to get things right, that´s why it´s customary to have a round of applause for the cook ("Un aplauso para el asador!") when the people seat at the table to eat.


Quote:
Originally Posted by bouv

2) Doesn't make the food taste very good, although there are other things in wood that CAN make meat taste good...but it has to be the right wood. There's a reason you smoke things with maple, applewood, hickory, etc... and not pine.
Another typical thing in my country is that construction workers cook their meat using wood used for molding the concrete, I haven´t tried "Asado de obra" myself, but everyone who´s tried it says is particularly good, something to do with the lime or who knows what on the firewood.
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  #11  
Old 06-02-2008, 07:32 AM
Malacandra Malacandra is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lobotomyboy63
http://www.smokepistol.com/tipcharcoalbriquette.html

Henry Ford created the charcoal briquette from the wood scraps and sawdust from his car factory.

IIRC it was a "waste not, want not" thing on his part.

The Kingsford Company was formed when E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Ford's, brokered the site selection for Ford's new charcoal manufacturing plant. The company, originally called Ford Charcoal, was renamed Kingsford® Charcoal in his honor.

http://www.kingsford.com/about/index.htm
But of course charcoal itself is a sight older than that.

As folks have said, it's a comparatively clean-burning fuel that gives you really hot coals and not too much ash, smoke or off flavour. The idea is to drive off the volatiles out of the wood, and you're not entirely "wasting" the fuel potential in so doing - you're using it to make the charcoal.
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  #12  
Old 06-02-2008, 08:32 AM
even sven even sven is offline
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Having lived in a country where both wood and charcoal are the main forms of cooking....

Transport is a big part of it. In the sahel, at least, a city or large village is going to be surrounded by a large deforested area before you get to a place where you can cut down wood. After that, you have to bring the wood into town, usually on your head or in a small push cart. A day's worth of work may only yield a week or so's worth of firewood for a normal family. Searching for/buying wood takes a lot of time and energy- for example, when public buses enter a town they will usually stop in a small village so that people on the bus can buy some wood. So people in small villages will create charcoal and sell it in large villages and cities to people who are looking for fuel that is easy to buy in quantity, easy to store, and easy to cook with.
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  #13  
Old 06-02-2008, 08:45 AM
Dr. Lao Dr. Lao is offline
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I was going to say that weight is probably a big issue. Wood has a lot of water and other non-flamable (or less flamabe) stuff in it. Turn it into charcoal and you have something that give a lot more heat per pound of fuel.
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  #14  
Old 06-02-2008, 09:23 AM
TheLoadedDog TheLoadedDog is offline
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So the world can have Jack Daniel's and be a better place.
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  #15  
Old 06-02-2008, 11:18 AM
Lumpy Lumpy is offline
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Pretty much what everyone has said. My camping manuals suggest using the flame stage of firewood to boil water, and only cook with the coals. Wood is ok for heating a home in a cold climate, but otherwise for cooking and most other purposes charcoal is preferable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Santo Rugger
Quote: Originally Posted by Pullet
Best OP to OP username thread ever.

It'd be like me starting a thread titled, "Why do people play football (American or soccer)?", or you starting one titled, "Why do people raise turkeys?"
New thread for this: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/...d.php?t=470286
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  #16  
Old 06-02-2008, 04:51 PM
Gbro Gbro is offline
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Charcoal will pick up bad vapors, It should be stored away from gas cans and such.

I don't care for store bought bricketts, When I used to grill steaks at Deer Camp I used poplar. I would cut a dozen 3-4 inch trees and leave them standing against other trees to dry for the next years cooking fire. The coals didn't last very long but they didn't leave any bad aftertastes.

I have read about using Hard Coal. Has anyone used this? It was in a Herters cook book.
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