Skip to main content

BBQ Tip on Charcoal Preparation

Getting charcoal ready to grill is something that every guy should know how to do. I have one of those Weber charcoal chimneys that usually works very well. You put newspaper in the bottom and charcoal in the top. One match is usually all it takes to get everything going. Usually. Yesterday I tried to light the charcoal and I was glad that there were no Cub Scouts around to heckle me. Good grief.

It started with the charcoal. I emptied out the last of a bag of briquettes, but it didn't quite reach the top of the chimney. I could have opened another bag, but I had a little bit of real, mesquite wood charcoal left in another bag so I had the brilliant idea to just use that bag up, too. This was a good idea in theory, but the problem with real charcoal is that it is, well, real. Instead of machine formed and pressed, identical briquettes, the real charcoal is in whatever shape the wood is in - and the bottom of the bag is mostly tiny pieces. These tiny pieces basically filled in all of the air gaps around the edges of the briquettes so, instead of a nice airflow that the flames could use, I had a blocked can of wood. The next problem was the newspaper. I don't take the paper, but I do get ads in my mailbox every week, so I use those. I had used up all of the newsprint ads, so I was left with the glossy, color ads. The glossy color ads don't really burn well at all - plus there was the airflow problem - so I would light some of the paper, and it would burn for a second, and then just smolder. I sat there using match after match, marveling at paper that would not burn.

I decided to start again with new paper. I pulled all of the smoldering paper out of the chimney and put it into my outdoor fireplace - where it promptly burst into flames and burned brightly. Dammit. Then I dug around in the recycling bin and came up with a little bit of news print and some printer paper. The new paper did burn OK, and it lit the charcoal, but the airflow through the charcoal was so poor that it was going to take a week to get it to get hot enough to use for cooking. As I was standing around waiting for the charcoal I was looking for something to do and I decided that I needed to use my leaf blower to clean off my patio. That's when it occurred to me. What I needed was more air, and the leaf blower puts out a 150 mph stream of air. Ah ha! I fired up the blower and pointed it at the air intakes at the bottom of the chimney. Sure enough - the charcoal chimney looked like a blacksmith's forge. Flames were shooting out of the top! On the down side, sparks from the mesquite were FLYING out of the chimney in a kind of hot, sparky, blizzard of fire. My patio is cement, but my grass is not. I got the garden hose and extinguished the parts of the lawn that had started to smolder. Perhaps you might think that I would stop using the leaf blower at this point? No, no, no. Being a guy, and worse, an engineer, I simply refined my charcoal preparation process to be a) fire 150 mph wind at the chimney air intakes for 1 minute, b) hose down the grass for 30 seconds, repeat. In no time at all I had hot, ready to use charcoal, and no wild fire raging in my back yard. Mission accomplished! I think that the leaf blower trick would be less pyrotechnic if I used only briquettes. I will have to try that next time....


BJ Eliason said…
I solved this years ago by using my wife's hair dryer... you just have to keep it from getting over heated. So, now in your new happy state, you can borrow from her.

Popular posts from this blog

Reducing CO2 in your home the nerd way

For Christmas my wife gave me a Netatmo weather station because I am a home weather station nerd. The Netatmo is very cool, but it has an unexpected feature: it measures indoor Carbon Dioxide (CO2) levels. As soon as I set it up, the Netatmo began to alert that our indoor CO2 was at an unsafe level. The notes said that outdoor CO2 is usually around 400 ppm, and numbers above 1500 ppm could be unhealthy. On that first day, my house was at around 1300 ppm. Prior to that, I never gave indoor CO2 levels a thought. I began to do some research and discovered high levels of CO2 can cause symptoms such as fatigue, headache, breathing difficulties, strained eyes and itchy skin.  My family does have all of these issues, especially on the weekends when we are home all day, but I never connected that to indoor air quality. Previously, I installed a Nest thermostat . The Nest is very smart and saves energy by learning your habits and programming itself. Unfortunately, it is so efficient, that t

Global Entry - The TSA Trusted Traveler Program - or - How to Go In The Short Line At The Airport Security

Ever since September 11th, 2001, flying has been a hassle. With each failed attempt to smuggle explosives on an airplane, the TSA makes us get more undressed at airport security. In fact, for really early morning flights, we should probably all just show up in our jammies and then get dressed once we are through the scanner because currently we get up, get dressed, go to the airport, get half undressed, go through security, and then get dressed again. For quite some time, people have been asking the TSA so implement some kind of pre-screening program where travelers could have a background check in advance, and then be allowed to go in a shorter line. That day is finally here, and the TSA is now rolling out a Trusted Traveler Program known as Global Entry . In a nutshell, you pay $100, fill out some online forms, go in for an interview, present your proof of ID, and get fingerprinted and photographed. Yes, it sounds like some red tape, but then, every time you make an airline reser

How To Make School Lunches More Nutritious: Re-Define Words

If you are a parent of a child who attends public school in Washington, and if you have even a vague recollection of the food pyramid , you probably will have noticed that the lunches that are served in school cafeterias are frequently at odds with the rules of good nutrition. The school is not wrong, however. They have just re-defined words and you are not keeping up. Pop quiz:  Cheese belongs to what food group? *bzzz* - wrong. You said that cheese was in the diary food group , right? No! Pbth! How boringly accurate of you. Cheese magically transforms into a protein when it is served on pizza or in a bread stick! I know that you may be dubious, but I contacted Wendy Barkley, RD,  who is the Acting Supervisor of School Nutrition Programs in the State of Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and she assured me that it is so. To quote her email to me: " Pizza remains an option for schools for their menus.  The cheese on pizza is counted as a protein in t