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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.

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