21 August, 2009

Why I'm Buying Imported Charcoal

I don't like using charcoal briquettes. It's not that I'm some kind of "barbecue snob" or anything, I just prefer plain hardwood charcoal (it's usually labeled as "lump charcoal" on the bag) because it burns hotter and cleaner and it's kind of cool to see real wood embers in the bottom of the grill or fire pit or whatever.

Last year, I wrote about my disappointment with a charcoal company that seemed to have some pretty low quality-control standards (I kept finding rocks in the bags of charcoal I was buying from them.) I stopped buying that brand and switched over to buying World Classics Trading Company lump charcoal and Kingsford Charwood. World Classics is pretty good stuff, I have to admit, but it's pricier than most of the other brands. And unfortunately Kingsford - the number-one brand of charcoal - seems to have quality-control problems of their own; they don't seem to be able to pack bags of charcoal without letting in chunks of firebrick. Cooking over live coals is expensive enough as it is without getting shorted because the bag has heavy chunks of brick hidden inside, and whether it's accidental or not, I still get irritated when I'm cleaning out the ashes and find rocks and firebrick.

But recently I found a brand that I can recommend without reservation: Amigos lump charcoal, manufactured by a company called Charcoal International, Inc. in Paraguay and imported to the US by the company's offices in Miami. I first gave them a try because of the price - a full 20-pound bag was around $12.00 at a local market, a good deal because it's hard to find lump charcoal in bags larger than 8 pounds around here. And unlike most of the other lump charcoals I've used, Amigos is made of natural wood: branches, logs, tree limbs. Not scrap oak flooring or old pallets or hunks of plywood (Yeah. Plywood. Quite a surprise the day I was pouring out some of that shitty Cowboy Charcoal and got a 9-inch by 18-inch piece of perfectly carbonized plywood, like some kind of fossilized Home Depot artifact.) Although I sometimes have to give the Amigos lumps a good whack to break them into pieces that will fit into my charcoal chimney, that minor inconvenience is more than compensated for by the natural purity of the product. Charcoal International products are guilt-free, too. The wood they use is sourced from environmentally responsible, sustainably-managed plantations and mill yards.

Check this out. It's a fairly typical example of what you get when you reach into a bag of Amigo charcoal. There's no sense of scale to that picture, but the big piece standing up on the left side of the pic was almost eight inches in diameter. The branch alongside was about 10 inches long and a little over three inches in diameter. There are plenty of smaller pieces and bits in the bag too, but the large hunk of obviously natural wood set this brand apart from most of the others I find in my area.


Charcoal International Company's website.

Kingsford Charcoal website - They're a great source of info for barbecue and grilling, including recipes if you need them. Click here to go to the Kingsford Charwood page directly.

World Classics Trading Company products - an info page at Big Y (a locally-owned supermarket chain in my region.) World Classics Trading Company maintains a "placeholder" site here, but you'll get more information by either clicking on my Big Y link or by checking with a supermarket near you that carries the brand.



Ron W said...

Amen brother. Lump charcoal is the only way to go. Even the worst lump is better than briquettes. I make grills and pretty much grill for a living, and after a day of grilling with Kingsford my clothes smell like a burning house. After a day using a good quality lump, they smell like bacon. I like Green Egg charcoal. Not their grills. And Royal Oak lump is consistently good either the green bag or the red one. Check out the worlds best charcoal grill by searching on German Grill. Thanks.

Little Timmy Carbuncle said...

Paraguay? They're probably chopping down old growth forest and and endangered species habitat to make this stuff.
While I agree the real deal burns hotter and tastes better, I'll stick with recycled pallets.

Dave said...

@Little Timmy Carbuncle: So in other words, you didn't bother to read the part in my post about Charcoal International sourcing their wood from sustainably-managed plantations and mill yards.

TJD said...

Dave, is your post still active? I love looking for new and exciting lump charcoal but its seems both your site and the international market are no longer active.

Respond and we can talk more. Thanks

Dave said...


I'm not sure I know what mean when you say "my site" is no longer active. Email me using the Contact Me link at the top of the page and we can take it directly to email.