Saturday, April 23, 2005

Charcoal Light Test

I saw an interesting piece in the Sacramento Bee House & Garden Section this morning. Garden writer Dan Vierra settled the mystery of how long it takes to light charcoal briquettes. The results were "enlightening" (Dan's word, not mine).

He studied five common charcoal lighting strategies: lighter fluid, chimney started, electric heat element, Kingsford Match Light charcoal and Duraflame Fresh Light Liquid Gel charcoal lighter.

Dan lit a fresh batch of 50 briquettes in a clean Weber kettle grill for each test. He explained his unscientific methodology: "Coals were declared ready when 90 percent of the surface had burned gray."

Charcoal stands ready in a weathered chimney starter.

The results: The charcoal chimney starter came out on top at 17 minutes from lighting to ready. "Not much to look at, but the metal chimney if efficient, fast and no chemicals are required," said Dan.

I agree. My experience shows that a chimney starter lights the charcoal in 15 to 20 minutes. Remember, safety comes first. Wear heavy gloves when dumping the charcoal onto the grill plate. Avoid nasty foot injuries from falling briquette firebombs and keep the hot chimney away from small children and pets.

How did the competing methods fare? Kingsford Match Light took 19 minutes. Not bad, especially when you want to avoid the fuss. It's "much safer than the douse-and-stand-back method of lighting," declared Dan. Watch chemical residue when grilling foods, warns Dan.

Electric heat element and charcoal lighter fluid came in third (at 22 minutes) and fourth (24 minutes), respectively. The liquid gel, which you squirt into piled briquettes, made a dismal showing 68 minutes.

Note: You'll have to register to view the Sacramento Bee website.

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