BUYING LOCAL CHARCOAL
60000 tonnes of charcoal is burnt on British barbecues each year. Much of this charcoal comes from Tropical Forests and endangered Mangrove Swamps in South East Asia. For the small extra cost of British Charcoal not only do you help wildlife but you get charcoal that is easier to light, quick to heat and with food as the only additive not firelighters!
What is charcoal
Charcoal is made by heating wood in the absence of air. Its use in Europe can be traced back 5500 years and was important for many needs such as gunpowder and the smelting of metals. In 1709 the Darby Brothers discovered how to use coal, which was cheaper than charcoal, to smelt steel and since then in Europe charcoal has been used mainly for barbecues.
Why buy British
If only half of the annual 60000 tonnes demand for barbecue charcoal came from British Woodlands, instead of 5%, this would provide the financial incentive for the better care of 40 000 ha of Ancient Woodland. You would also get better quality charcoal as the wood from the British trees used is typically less dense than that used for imported charcoal. This means it is far easier to light and quicker to get the heat up for cooking.
A charcoal kilm (photo supplied by Traditional Charcoal, Cheshire
Lighting the BBQ
Roll up enough newspaper to cover the base of the barbecue then thinly cover with British charcoal. Set the paper alight and once the charcoal has properly caught fire add further charcoal so as to create a bed of hot glowing 'coals' over which you cook the food. It will take 10-15mins to get to full heat.
Buying Local Charcoal
Charcoal is often sold at local stores garages, shops and garden centres. A number of the major garden centres and DIY stores stock British charcoal, but it is often tucked away!
Forest Stewardship Council
The FSC is a world-wide non-profit organisation promoting the conservation of the worlds forests. They run an independant certification scheme to help consumers identify wood products from well managed sources. When you can not get a locally sourced product the FSC logo is the best guarantee of the environmental quality of the wood product you buy.
Make your own Charcoal in an oil drum
Materials and equipment to make the charcoal 'kiln'
50 Gallon oil drum
Angle Grinder¾ -1" Cold Chisel.
Stout leather gloves
A bucket of sand
Make sure the oil drum is empty of all liquid before working with it. It helps to set a fire in the oil drum to burn off any waste but this is very smoky, smelly and generally unhealthy and should only be done well aware from residential areas!
Preparing the top
· The base of the oil drum will become the
top of the charcoal kiln
Preparing the base
· On the underside of the drum (ie the former top) use the cold chisel to punch five or so holes as shown in addition to the oil drum outlet hole.
· Stand the drum on three bricks and seal
the base with soil and turf except for an air inlet of 6-9inches diameter.
· Pull out the vertical post and drop down a lighted firelighter, cover with more sticks and let the wood catch fire.
· Seal the rim with sand, yes it has to be
as this forms a good seal. You will notice that there are two holes left.
These are the chimneys to allow the smoke to get out.
Problems to watch out for
More ash than charcoal: Too much air got in during the burn so the wood burnt rather than heated up. Reduce the air inlet next time and pack the turfs around the base more tightly. Did you use sand? If not use it!
Mainly inadequately charred wood (Brown ends) rather than charcoal: The burn did not get hot enough. Make sure the fire has really got established at the start before putting the lid on. Also may be not enough air got in and the air inlet at the base may need to be made larger. Sometime the wood gets suspended in the kiln and gets out of contact with the burn. A few taps on the side helps to avoid this. Save the brown ends for starting the next burn.
Hostile neighbours: You underestimated the amount and smelliness of the smoke produced!