Charcoal is a great fuel for cooking as it produces little smoke, heats to high temperatures and burns for a long time. Up until recently the preferred form of charcoal for home grilling has been charcoal briquettes. Now other forms that are sold and produced are lump or natural and extruded.
Charcoal has been used by humans for over 6,000 years. Originally used for metal work and smelting operations. It was not until 1920 that charcoal for cooking came into the scene. Henry Ford invented the charcoal briquette using the wood wastes from his manufacturing processes to produce briquettes at a profit. Ford Charcoal was sold at the same stores where you would buy your car.
Charcoal Briquettes, making of
Charcoal briquettes are produced by burning wood in an environment practically void of air. This process extracts the moisture and any volatile gases that are given off by the burning wood. There are two methods of arriving at the charred product that will become briquettes known as char. First is a kiln method that burns the wood slowly over several days. The smoke from the smoldering wood can indicate what phase the burn is in; white moisture is present, yellow sugars are being burned and blue indicating completion. The second method is called the retort method and involves passing the wood through a series of ovens for the char process. The second method is faster but both methods are still used today.
The char is then crushed, mixed with a natural starch binder and pressed into the briquette shape. At this point the briquettes still retain some moisture due to the binder material so they are dried at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours. If they are to be sold as instant light the briquettes are then sprayed with a fine mist of volatile chemical for burning.
Charcoal briquettes light quickly and burn at medium high temperatures for about 40 minutes. The consistency of the burn and temperature of charcoal briquettes make them perfect for a backyard cook, requiring less knowledge about cooking than cooking with a fuel that has a higher temperature range such as lump charcoal. I love to use briquettes for items when I want a rare to medium rare temperature while being able to cook the fats of the meat where they will release the flavor held. Briquettes have been around for almost a hundred years and little has changed in the manufacturing of them. They are the number one fuel for backyard cooking.