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History of Charcoal Briquettes: Different Types and Uses

History of Charcoal Briquettes: Different Types and Uses

Whether you are a relative newcomer or a seasoned veteran, firing up the grill is something that any food connoisseur can enjoy. There’s something about grilling the perfect steak or plate of veggies that is so satisfying. Whatever your reason for grilling, you can’t start your session without igniting the flames.

However, in order to do this, you must possess the correct materials. Throughout the years, charcoal briquettes have become one of the primary sources of heat for grilling. In addition to gas-powered grills, charcoal grills are popular because they are relatively easy to light and stay lit for extended periods of time.

For those who don’t know, a briquette is a small block composed of flammable materials that you use as fuel for the grill. These briquettes help you make a fire and typically come from many different types of materials. In this guide, we will go through the history of charcoal briquettes and their different types and uses.

Materials That Compose Charcoal Briquettes

Some of the constituents of charcoal or biomass briquettes include wood charcoal, mineral char and carbon, starch, limestone, borax, sodium nitrate, sawdust, chaff, and wax. All of these materials serve different purposes in the briquette, such as acting as the primary fuel, accelerant, binding agent, or colorant.

Nonetheless, if you aren’t a fan of all these chemical constituents, sustainable charcoal options are also available. These types of charcoal come from differing materials, such as coconut shells. In addition, some briquettes go through a process of compression and drying so that each one turns into a hard block of dried brown coal.

Companies make blocks in this fashion to serve as low-rank coals, and people use them mostly in households and industrial environments. In order to create these low-rank coals, manufacturers dry them to about 12 to 18 percent moisture so they can burn for longer.

Charcoal Briquettes and Their History

Although many people credit the invention of charcoal briquettes to Henry Ford, a Pennsylvania native named Ellsworth B. A. Zwoyer was the first person to patent them in 1897. Zwoyer sold it through the Zwoyer Fuel Company, but it wasn’t until Henry Ford got hold of it that the material became a household staple.

As the story goes, Henry Ford went on a camping trip with other wealthy industrialists such as Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, and Edward G. Kingsford. Ford invited Kingsford on the trip to ask him about the timber where Kingsford was from: the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Since Ford needed a ton of wood to manufacture his Model T’s, he wanted to produce some timber of his own, so he purchased 313,000 acres of Michigan timberland.

He built a few things there. First, there was a sawmill to produce all the wood, then a parts plant, and finally a nearby town called Kingsford for housing the workers of these facilities. Even though Ford’s plant created heaps of lumber, it also created plenty of waste by way of stumps, sawdust, and branches.

Ford, ever the miser, hated all this waste, so he decided to reach out to Orin Stafford, a chemist from the University of Oregon who pioneered a method of fuel creation that combined tar, sawdust, mill waste, and cornstarch. These lumps became known as “charcoal briquettes,” and Ford shortened the term to “briquet.”

Thomas Edison ended up designing a briquette factory adjacent to Ford’s sawmill that Kingsford would run. This factory created 610 pounds of briquettes for each ton of scrap wood the sawmill produced. The company would sell the charcoal to fish and meat smokehouses, but since supply was greater than demand, they needed some clever marketing to get them off the shelves.

Ford began marketing “Picnic Kits” in the mid-1930s that included charcoal and portable grills, but they didn’t catch on until after World War II. Due to the popularity of suburban migration and the invention of the Weber grill, a company ended up purchasing Ford Charcoal and renamed it Kingsford Charcoal.

Within a few years, all the major supermarkets in America carried the charcoal, and barbecues became iconic American household staples by the mid-1960s. Who would have thought that one of the premier automakers of the 20th century also helped to popularize the charcoal we use to cook hamburgers?

The Different Types of Charcoal Briquettes

Several types of charcoal briquettes are out there, but the main types are pillow-shaped briquettes and hexagonal sawdust briquettes. Pillow-shaped briquettes come from compressing the charcoal with a binder (typically starch) and some additional components. Hexagonal sawdust briquettes also come from compressed charcoal but do not use binders or additives, making them an all-natural grilling solution.

Some types of pillow-shaped briquettes might contain brown coal or mineral carbon as heat sources, sodium nitrate to act as an aid for ignition, limestone to whiten the ash, and borax. Many countries such as Taiwan, Greece, and Korea prefer hexagonal sawdust briquettes for their grilling purposes.

These types of charcoal contain round holes in the center that intersect hexagonally. In addition to emitting no smoke or odors, these briquettes also produce little ash, have high temperatures, and can burn for over four hours. They also lead to a more pleasant wood-burning aroma.

Charcoal Briquettes and Their Benefits

Since they are so easy to light and serve as a constant heat source, charcoal briquettes are the most ideal solution for entertaining guests with an outdoor barbeque. Charcoal briquettes burn longer than lump wood charcoal, which gives you a better bang for your buck. In addition to being a high-quality heat source, burning coconut charcoal briquettes is more sustainable and better for the environment than lump wood charcoal.

Overall, there is much more to charcoal briquettes than meets the eye. Whether you need heaps of grilling materials for your restaurant or want to be the pride of your neighborhood with a backyard behemoth, charcoal briquettes are your best bet. After learning about the history of charcoal briquettes, their types, and their uses, now you can start quizzing your friends and family on barbeque trivia, techniques, and factoids.

History of Charcoal Briquettes: Different Types and Uses

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