Why buy charcoal if you can make charcoal that is of high quality with wood from your own forest or wood you can get free (pallets, tree trimmers, sawmills etc)? You want to make lump charcoal don’t you? It’s an easy process that can be done by almost anyone. Why do you want to make Lump charcoal?
Reason #1 – You Know What is in Your Charcoal
According to Everything You Need to Know About Charcoal, from Briquettes to Binchotan written by Sam Dean...”Technically, charcoal briquettes aren’t actual charcoal, but a combination of charcoal and other ingredients molded into easy-to-light lumps. Kingsford Charcoal, for example, by far the most popular brand in the US, is made up of bits of charcoal, coal, starch (as a binder), sawdust, and sodium nitrate (to make it burn better). For the same reason that SPAM is cheaper than a whole ham, briquettes are cheaper to make than all-wood charcoal.” I guess if you like using coal to cook your food go by yourself a bag of Kingsford…its safe, so they say.
Reason #2 – Ash is crimping your cooking style
Charcoal briquettes while handy create a lot of ash. Burning hardwood lump charcoal does not create as much ash. Therefore hardwood lump charcoal is great for using in some grills like the kamado syle grills like the Big Green Egg.
Reason #3 – Making lump charcoal is easy…it really is!
However, If you live in the suburbs I wouldn’t recommend making charcoal using the method I am going to describe…or almost any other method because of the large amount of smoke made during the charcoal making process. Anyway it is super easy to make hardwood lump charcoal.
What you’ll need…
- A 55 gallon steel drum with a lid
- A tool (saw or drill) to cut holes in the bottom of the barrel for ventilation
- A supply of hardwood. Preferably for the best lump charcoal it will be seasoned hardwood cut to no more than about 4″ thick.
- A place to make charcoal where the smoke won’t bother the neighbors
- A shovel, gloves, pieces of thin rebar about 3 ft long, a couple of flat bricks or rocks, some gloves, a dust mask and some containers for charcoal.
Steps in the process…
- Prepare your barrel by cutting holes in the bottom. I just used my saw to cut some 4 triangles about 3 inches long X 2 inches wide ( make two cuts and knock triangle into barrel about an inch with a hammer…this protects the hole from getting clogged with coals). This isn’t scientific so just make sure your holes are evenly spaced.
- Place your barrel in the place you want to make charcoal.
- Set the barrel on the ground open end up. Start digging a hole around the barrel using the barrel as a guide.
- Dig out the hole so the barrel will set in the hole about six inches below the surface
- Dig a trench about six inches deep and six inches wide starting at the edge of the round hole. Dig the trench so that it is about two foot long.
- Level out a earthen shelf all around the edge of the hole. This shelf will support the barrel. Make certain that air will be able to flow from the trench up through the holes in the bottom of the barrel.
- Place your barrel in the hole with the vented side down and make sure it is well supported and the barrel is fairly level.
- Begin placing your wood in the barrel. I recommend a thin layer of kindling. Then a layer of seasoned hardwood, then a thin layer of kindling and so on until your reach the top of the barrel. Build a fire on top of the wood in the barrel.
- Let the fire burn down to the bottom.
- When the fire is good and hot take your shovel and tap the barrel all around to settle the wood down. You could buy a fancy pyrometer to check the temperature but I just use a spray bottle of water. When you spray the bottom of the barrel and the water instantly vaporizes the temperature is hot enough to move to the next step.
- Lay your piece of thin rebar across one side of the top of the barrel and then put the lid on the barrel.
- Put a rock, brick or something else not combustible on the bung hole (if it is not plugged with a steel plug).
- Watch the smoke which will be white (water vapor).
- 2 or 3 hours the smoke will turn a translucent blue (nearly all of the water vapor is removed).
- Pull out the piece of rebar.
- Close the lid tightly.
- With your shovel fill in the trench next to the barrel to shut off the air.
- Wait 24 hours (if the barrel is warm wait longer) and then carefully remove the lid. The lid will likely be stuck because of tar and creosote. To remove the lid I use a piece of thin rebar bent into an L shape and hook the lid though the bung hole to pop it off.
- Turn the barrel on its side.
- Use your shovel to empty the charcoal from the barrel and to put it in containers…make sure the charcoal is completely cool if the containers are flammable. You may find wood that has not completely carbonized. No worry. Just toss it aside and place it back in the barrel for the next batch of charcoal.
- You are finished! Fire up the grill it’s time to cook! Lump charcoal light easily with lighter fluid or better yet a fire started with some kindling and tinder (for the purists).
That’s it. It is not hard at all to make lump charcoal. Making lump charcoal is a great way to use those small hardwood trees that would just get burned or ground into mulch. Plus, having a large supply of lump charcoal is a great asset. Check out this article for 10 uses for lump charcoal. But, you may not want to use lump charcoal for anything but cooking after you use your product to roast a chicken, turkey or grill steaks. Go ahead an make some lump charcoal. When you use your own homemade organic lump charcoal you really can taste the difference, you get great satisfaction using a fuel you made to cook your food and you know exactly what went into making your charcoal. Enjoy!
Do you want to learn more?
The technical term for the transformation of wood into charcoal is pyrolysis which simply means using heat to cause chemical decomposition. Pyrolysis is a process used across a wide array of chemical applications from the oil industry to cooking a chicken in your oven. If you would like to read technical information about the use of pyrolysis to transform wood into charcoal I recommend reading the article “Industrial Charcoal Making Technologies” produced by the Forestry Department of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
We sell limited quantities of organic lump charcoal
At La Casita we now offer our guests the opportunity to cook on our Weber grill using organic lump charcoal made from the trees in our forest. If you are coming to visit just let us know that you would like to cook using our charcoal grill. We also sell our organic locally produced lump charcoal for $1.25 a pound plus sales tax. (limited availability)