I was looking at putting this together last week, but couldn’t come with an angle that pleased me. Me & briquets parted ways over 10 years ago and I never looked back. I found that mesquite gave me what I was looking for in grilling and smoking. Plus it didn’t have that telltale sign of a sulfurous smell during and after cooking. Why am I worried about what my smoker smells like after the fact? Grills aren’t so fussy, but if your smoker gets tainted by creosote (smoldering fire ((brown smoke)) or similar nasty smells, it’ll wind up on your food! Don’t believe me? Take some oven cleaner, spray your kitchen’s oven, turn it up to 350 and put a chicken in there. See if your chicken and house doesn’t smell like a chemical factory coming to pay a much feared visit? Heh, no drama here, eh?
A few weeks ago a really nice woman working for one of Kingsford’s PR companies contacted me, wanted to know if I wanted a bag of their new Competition Briquets. Fewer ingredients, burn hotter and longer. Sure, what the hell. Besides, she’s contacted me before over the years and wanted to finally take part in something fresh.
Up until this last Friday, still couldn’t come up with an angle. I googled a few things and read other people’s reviews of charcoal, lump or briquet. Man, these people are nuts! In a good way though, they really go all out. Gram scales, infrared thermometers, timed images, comparison to older versions of the same. It was crazy, I sure as hell wasn’t going to embark on such a journey. I just don’t care that much. There is something I care about though, and that’s how my food tastes. Let’s see how these new briquets cook and what I can come up with in the arena of flavors, or lack therein.
I ran off to Joya de Ceren for my meaty choices, they have the best flank steak around and it doesn’t cost 9 dollars a pound. Flank steak tacos for lunch and figured maybe a smoked whole chicken for dinner. I used a chimney starter and a few pages from my local phone book (really, who uses these things anymore?), and the briquets came right to life. They smoked a bit and smelled like charcoal briquets. It didn’t take long, about 10 to 15 minutes before they were ready to dump in the firebox. I let it go a bit longer, I was in no hurry and wanted to give them some severe heat for a little while longer.
Plus, as it turns out, a wasp was building a nest in the flue of my smoker. I figured this was a great opportunity to play! I got the kids in the house, made sure I had my escape route set up and dumped the briquets in the firebox. I gently closed the smoker and ran in the house. The boys and I spent the next ten minutes with our noses pressed up against the windows attempting to see what was what. The wasp finally came out, lit on the little hood of the flue. He kept trying to fly back down, but couldn’t due to the heat pouring out. After a while the little hat over the flue was so hot he couldn’t rest on it. Another 10 minutes rolled by and it was clear this wasp wasn’t leaving. So, I snuck out to the barn and found my wasp death in a can. It didn’t take long to take care of business and check on the briquets.
These are the new generation briquets from Kingsford. They have these grooves on the back that supposedly allow them to light faster. More surface area, don’t ya know. They could very well do that, it makes sense, in a scientific way. And these Competition Briquets are supposed to burn hotter, last longer with less ingredients. This could all very well be true, I don’t know. I’m more interested to see what they do to my food. I would also think they’d be very spiffy for camp dutch oven cooking, hotter would be nice!
The flank steak cooked right along, done directly over the hottest coals. Good colors and as you can see, pulled when ready. Tasted just fine to me, the odor I usually associate with briquets wasn’t there. After the steak was done, let the coals cook down a bit. Played with them, seemed to hold together just fine. I spent the next few hours adding more (cold, not pre-burned), playing, poking and seeing how they lit when added to a waning fire. As I remember, it used to take a bit to get the fire back up to snuff so you could add the food. That was one of my complaints versus their mesquite or hardwood lump counterparts, adding cold fuel with food on the grill is a nono. They seemed to fire up and gray over pretty quickly.
After a few hours of goofing off, started prepping the fire for smoking. Added more briquets, got them gray, spread them out and closed the lid on the smoker. After the fire simmered down a bit, tossed on a whole, trussed and salted chicken to the side. Added some hickory chips, got them good and going, closed the lid. Came back about every 30 minutes, stirred the briquets and added more hickory.
I added some briquets halfway through, pre-burned in the chimney so the temp in the smoker didn’t dip any further. In about 3 hours I had myself a whole, smoked chicken. Set the sucker aside for 10 minutes to cool. It smelled as it should, nothing that would have lead me to believe briquets had been used. I sniffed the firebox, not too close you knob, to see if I could get the sulfurous smell I remember so well. It wasn’t there, eeeenteresting. Of course it didn’t smell like mesquite or hardwood leavenings, but it didn’t smell bad either. And that my friend, is a good thing.
Z and I sliced up the chicken to see what was what. Damn, that was one fine smoked chicken! And you know what? The breast meat was juicy. Ha! I say, “Ha” to you. Nyah. This chicken totally didn’t suck, I’m impressed.
To sum it all up, Biggles used charcoal briquets for the first time in over 15 years, now that I think about it. While I found the briquets performance to be as good or better than I remember, and not quite as stinky, I’m not a convert. I’ll still be using mesquite or hardwood lump, it’s my preference. But I have to give it to Kingsford, this briquet is not my grandfather’s briquet.