The most popular fuel for backyard grilling is charcoal. Charcoal is made by heating wood in the absence of oxygen. The original method of making charcoal was to set fire to a pile of wood and then cover it with dirt and allowing it to simmer.
Today's grilling fuel is processed charcoal briquettes. These little molded pieces of fuel are made with wood and a clay binder. Many purists dislike artificial binder charcoal. Pure wood charcoal is also available. It comes in chunks rather being molded into briquettes.
The great thing in cooking in barbecue charcoal is cooking low and slow. The meat cooked in barbecue charcoal is so tender that it falls apart and the taste drives people crazy. The secret is that one should keep a close eye on the fire and have some patience.
Barbecue aficionados prefer charcoal over gas (propane) for the authentic flavor that coal provides. Barbecue with charcoal is the best way for cooking burgers, steak, chicken or anything over open fire. It adds flavor to the dish.
Careful attention should be paid while lighting the coals. There are a number of ways to start the fire. A charcoal chimney starter is a traditional method for getting a consistent heat from the coals.
Another common method is to soak the charcoal with aliphatic petroleum solvent or pretreated briquettes and light them in a pyramid formation.
The most popular method is to stack the charcoal in a neat pile and saturate it with charcoal lighting fluid, allowing it to settle for a couple of minutes and then applying the match. Charcoal lighting fluid is naphtha, a fairly clean burning fuel. It has a petroleum taste when burnt.
Another method is to use an electric iron to heat the coals. There are electrical charcoal lighting devices, with containers that stack charcoal on top of a sheet of crumpled newspaper and use the newspaper to start the coals glowing. A small propane torch can also be used to fire the coals. Whatever the methods may be, still one can enjoy the smoky taste afforded by the hot coals.
After the coals are ashed, they can be spread around the perimeter of the grill with the meat placed in the center for indirect cooking, or piled together for direct cooking. Water-soaked wood chips of mesquite, cherry, hickory or fruit trees can be added to the coals for flavor. In wood barbecuing, the temperature of the grill is controlled by the amount and distribution of coal within the grill and through careful venting.
Charcoal is inexpensive to buy and is more convenient to use in portable barbecues that can be transported along in any holiday excursions.
Barbecue charcoal grills can be problematic in two ways. First, the charcoal can produce hydrocarbons and tiny soot particles that pollute the air which can aggravate heart and lung problems. Second, when the fat from the meat drips onto the charcoal, polycyclic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines form which are carcinogenic compounds that produce cancer.
It is safer to buy charcoals certified by the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program which are 100 percent oak hardwood that are sustainably harvested and contains no coal, oil, limestone, starch, sawdust or petroleum products. Get the best charcoal and make your charcoal grilling fun.