Cowboy Lump Charcoal (2007)
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Quick Stats
Date Of Review: August, 2007
Purchased From: Ace Hardware
Date Purchased: 8/31/2007
Price: $7.99
Weight: 8.8 pounds
Burn Time:
Ash Production:
Type of Wood: Oak, hickory and maple.
Strange Material?: None
Scrap Lumber Pieces?: Nearly 100%
Smell: Very little
Country of Origin: USA


Quick Links
Other Information: Click Here
Unusual Or Unique Statements: Click Here
Statements From The Bag: Click Here
Lighting Instructions: Click Here
Photos of Contents: Click Here
Other Photos: Click Here
Photo of UPC Code: Click Here
Contact Information: Click Here

Rate And Comment On This Charcoal: Click Here


Commentary

Update (08/03/13): Cowboy has changed the charcoal that is sold in this packaging. It is no longer the scraps from milling operations such as molding and flooring. Rather it is the more conventional lump made from tree limbs, etc. We are doing a review of the new lump which comes in this bag. However, according to the Cowboy Charcoal website, they now sell the traditional milling scrap as "Cowboy Gold". We have yet to get our hands on some to review, but we are looking.....


This is an updated version of this review. Since this review was originally done, we have added more tests and because Cowboy is so easy to find around the country, we felt we should update the review and bring up to our current standards.

When we first wrote this review, we had heard a number of people on various forums praise this brand of lump charcoal and we were anxious to open our bag. We were left wondering why it gets such extreme praise. It appears to be a good basic charcoal, but that's about it. Of course, Cowboy has also been vilified on the web with accusations that they use scraps with finish on them. And there's a lot of knee-jerk types of statements to the effect that since the charcoal is made from scraps of wood, it can't be very good. So, let's see what this charcoal is really like.

The charcoal is indeed basically all scrap. We pick through every bag fairly closely and we can honestly say we didn't find a single piece of charcoal that wasn't scrap lumber. It should be noted that the raw material stream for Cowboy is the scrap from milling operations that make molding, flooring, etc. None of their raw materials have any finish applied. This is all unfinished kiln dried hardwoods.

You can see the distribution of sizes from an 8.8 pound bag in the photo down below. This table shows you the weights of each pile. As you can see, you get about half a pound more charcoal than the weight listed on the bag. There are no really large pieces, but most of the small and medium pieces are usable. The chips and dust amount is very low:

Large 0.0 pounds 0.0%
Medium 1.3 pounds 13.8%
Small 7.6 pounds 80.9%
Chips/Dust 0.5 pounds 5.3%



Total 9.4 pounds

It lights about as quickly an any lump we have tried and it has very little smell, so this would be ideal lump for anyone who really only wants heat and no smokey flavor. It lights so quickly due to low density/carbon content, so it will not last as long as some other more dense charcoals like Wicked Good charcoal. In our burn test, it burned a below average length of time. The ash produced, however, is very low.

One aspect of this charcoal that really stands out, though, is the maximum temperature you can attain with it. In our maximum temperature burn test, this charcoal achieved a screaming 1030 degrees, the second highest (missed by 10 degrees) maximum temperature we have measured so far.

Note that you can also find Cowboy charcoal sold under the following brand names: Wild Oats, Williams Sonoma, Martha Stewart (Kmart), Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Genuswine.

UPDATE (September 1, 2007): We continue to find strange things in Cowboy charcoal. If it weren't for concerns about strange items in bags of Cowboy, it might have barely squeaked up into the recommended rating. We have no idea what this is, but here it is for your viewing pleasure:

UPDATE (September 10, 2004): We have received two separate reports that ceramic insulation from the kilns used to make Cowboy charcoal has been found in bags of Cowboy products. The ceramic insulation was found in Whole Foods and Wild Oats charcoal, both of which are made by Cowboy. Both individuals who found the insulation in the charcoal contacted Cowboy and Cowboy indicated that the material is indeed ceramic insulation. The insulation has been described as "cotton fluff" and "like fiberglass insulation". Cowboy told both individuals that the material is harmless. One individual contacted an EPA toxicologist who indicated that this material is "is probably as carcinigenic as asbestos" and should not be allowed to contaminate the product. As always, we want to be sure you understand that we are not qualified to judge the information provided by Cowboy or the EPA toxicologist. However, we strongly encourage anyone using Cowboy or one of the other brands supplied by Cowboy to carefully examine the charcoal when they add it to their cookers. Be on the lookout for foreign objects, especially anything that looks like fiberglass insulation. It may be harmless or not, but it doesn't really cost you anything to be on the lookout and remove it if you should find any.

UPDATE (February 13, 2004): We recently purchased a bag of Cowboy lump for use in our burn time comparison test. We are a bit distressed to say that we found a sheet of plywood in the bag:

We wrote to Cowboy for an explanation and they say that none of their suppliers makes plywood so Cowboy doesn't know how the plywood could get into their supply stream. We continue to receive stories of odd things found in bags of Cowboy lump. This is the first truly bad item we personally have found, but the stories do concern us. At this point, we recommend that you keep an eye on what comes out of the bag before you let it get into your cooker.

UPDATE (June 9, 2003): We have added a photo down below of how Cowboy lump is shipped and displayed at Lowes. Four 10-pound bags to a box. One of the knocks on Cowboy is that kiln-dried lumber when converted to charcoal is more fragile than wood in its natural state. At least if you buy it at Lowes, the bags should be protected somewhat by the box. You can also find Cowboy lump in 20 pound bags at Ace Hardware. We asked our friendly Ace Hardware man how they came, and he said that they arrive at the stores on pallets. So, no boxing for the 20 pound bags.

UPDATE (June 7, 2003): For those of you interested in these things, the June, 2003 issue of Gourmet magazine indicates that Cowboy produces the lump sold as Martha Stewart, Whole Foods and Williams Sonoma. And of course, we already knew that Genuswine Lump is also Cowboy.

UPDATE (August 20, 2002): We have surmised in a number of places that Cowboy lump, being made from kiln dried scrap, would have less smokiness to it than other lumps made from raw wood. The other night we cooked some chicken breasts over some fresh Cowboy. Sure enough, we could taste almost no smoke flavor in the chicken, and we all know how poultry can suck up the smoke. So, this lump may be a good choice for those who don't want the smoke flavor in their food.

If you can find this lump for a more reasonable price than we did (20-pound bags are cheaper and Ace Hardware is always more expensive than other places. We have heard of people finding 20-pound bags for $8.), it is a good basic charcoal. We'd also like to point out that Cowboy Charcoal is preventing a lot of this scrap from ending up in landfills. Also, according to the June, 2003 issue of Gourmet magazine, Cowboy Charcoal is made in a more environmentally-friendly way than many charcoals. The gases that are driven off of one retort are burned to heat the next retort rather than being released into the air. So, we give it our above average rating:

To the left is the rating that our readers have given this charcoal. Now that you have read our review, if you have used this charcoal and would like to rate it and leave your comments, Click Here

To view reader ratings of all brands, Click Here.


Other Information

The following comes from an email (posted on The BBQ Forum) from Cowboy Charcoal customer service regarding the use of scrap lumber in their lump. Personally, we don't object to the use of scrap lumber to make lump. We don't prefer it either. Whatever your opinion might be, we thought you would be interested in this additional information:
"As always, we stand by that we have only 100% natural hardwood charcoal made from oak, maple and hickory woods.

The wood that we use comes from the lumber industry in Kentucky. However, I assure you that none of it has been treated or has any chemicals on it. Much of the wood that we aquire (sic) is conserved from the kiln dried lumber industry. Much of this product is further processed into tounge (sic) and groove flooring material. Most of our raw material stream comes from the process before it is routed. However, occasionally a piece is rejected after it grooved and joins our raw material stream. Some flooring manufacturers are now prevarnishing their product. However, none of the mills that we resource (sic) from offer this product and no varish (sic) is used in their proccesses.

I hope this helps reasure you! Please sontact us if you have any other questions!"

UPDATE (February 2, 2004): The following information comes from an email from a marketing manager at Cowboy and provides further information about their process:
"We take both pride and care in producing our charcoal. For 10 years we have produced Cowboy Charcoal at the praise and acceptance of thousands of enthusiastic consumers. It is our desire to maintain, grow and serve our customers in the best way possible. Toward that end allow me to explain a little bit about our processes.

"Our raw materials are conserved from the dimension timber industry. This wood is prepared from seasoned hardwoods that are cut into dimension strips, kiln-dried for dehydration, then graded for cosmetic purposes. We then receive the "off-cuts" that result from these processes. The "off-cut" wooden blocks are collected into specially designated steel containers at the mill, then transported to our plant by our own truck.

"The product arrives at our plant looking much like children's play blocks. Next, we screen and size the blocks as a final preparation before heat processing. The heating process (carbonization) subjects the wood to over 1200 degrees where it is changed into carbon. We also take pride that our manufacturing processes utilize energy recovery systems which reduce both production emissions and energy consumption. Our product is produced 100% in the USA using environmentally compatible methods. This is in sharp contrast to the clear wood cutting, earthen-pit processing operations around the world. "


Unusual or Unique Statements

None.


Statements From The Bag

"Made 100% in the USA", "Ingredients: Wood Charcoal", "New!", "100% Natural Lump", "This paper bag is biodegradable.", "Package contains recycled products.", "This bag has been printed with soy ink."

"Why We Are Different

Compare "Cowboy Charcoal" to "briquets"

1. All Natural, 100% charcoal, no coal, no fillers or chemicals!
2. Quicker, hotter fire, with heat in excess of briquets!
3. Easy lighting, starts in half the time of briquets!
4. Great taste!, with no petroleum off-taste and flavor!
5. Charcoal can be added to fire without smelly fumes!
6. All charcoal means less ash, cleanup is minimal!"

"The Cowboy Way...

Grilling over an open fire is the oldest method of cooking known to man. On the western frontier it was the only way to feed hungry cowhands. Frontier food was prepared over glowing wood embers and was characterized by its hearty flavor and inviting aroma. It was over those traditional fires that "Cowboy Cuisine" was born! The tradition continues with Cowboy Charcoal, a blend of Oak, Hickory, and Maple Hardwoods. The high heat quickly seals in flavor and retains the foods' moisture, while imparting a distinct charcoal flavor!"


Lighting Instructions

"Cowboy Charcoal is an all natural charcoal product. It burns cleaner, lights easier and cooks hotter than briquets. This allows you to use less charcoal and cook quicker."

"Charcoal Tips: Cowboy Charcoal is sensitive to air and will light and burn quite readily! Note: Make adjustments in your air vents and grill lid to control the rate of burning."

"Suggested Starters: We suggest using starters such as a charcoal chimney, an electric starter or solid cubes. They are economical, ecological and easy to use!"

"Using A Charcoal Chimney: We highly recommend starting your fire with a charcoal chimney. It uses newpaper as a starter, is easy to use and does not give good an after-taste."

"Using Starter Fluid: In a clean frill, close air vents and pour approximatgely two pounds of charcoal into a pile. We suggest building the fire on one side to allow for better cooking control. Follow directions on starter fluid package for amount to use. Add starter fluid to charcoal, light immediately, keep grill uncovered until ready to cook. Allow 10-15 minutes for the fluid to burn off and the charcoal to begin to glow orange, spread out charcoal, replace food grid and begin cooking. For extended cooking time, add charcoal.


Photos Of Contents

This is the contents of the bag. Those are 1 inch squares on the measuring bar.


Here is a closer view.


Here are the larger pieces we found in the bag.


Here are the contents of the bag sorted into large (none), medium, small pieces, and chips and dust.


Other Photos

This is how Cowboy lump is delivered to Lowes, in boxes. This should help
protect the fragile charcoal. You will have to excuse the poor quality of the
photo as we couldn't use flash. Stores get real excited if they catch people
taking photographs in their stores.


Photo of UPC Code

Here is a photo of the UPC code on the bag:


Contact Information

www.cowboycharcoal.com

info@cowboycharcoal.com

1-800-775-4060

Marketing & Sales Office
P.O. Box 3770
Brentwood, TN 37204
(800) 775-4060
Fax: (615) 661-9938

Manufacturing & Distribution Office
P.O. Box 99
Albany, KY 42602
(800) 625-7771
Fax: (606) 387-8906


About This Review

If you are unfamiliar with our testing procedures, you may wish to read How We Review Lump Charcoal before reading this review. Also, you can read How We Score Lump Charcoal to learn about our scoring system.

Prices listed in our reviews are current as of the date of the review. We do not attempt to keep these prices current.

The conclusions and final rating given any charcoal are based upon the opinion of the author. We recommend that you use our rating only as a guide. You should read the entire review and decide what is important to you in making any buying decision.

Performance ratings are designated with stars, 1 star being the worst and 5 stars being the best:

= Performance is Far Below Average
= Performance is Below Average
= Performance is Average
= Performance is Above Average
= Performance is Far Above Average

Images which can be viewed at a larger size have a small magnifying glass icon at the bottom right corner. Click on the icon to display the image in a new larger window. If you wish to ensure that you are seeing photographs the same way that we are seeing them, we recommend that you calibrate your monitor to a PC-normal gamma of 2.2. You should be able to see the difference between blocks A, B and C below, as well as the difference between blocks 3, 4 and 5.

  

This review is protected by Copyright and may not be reproduced in part or as a whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from the author. You can use the "Email The Whiz" link at the bottom of any of our webpages to contact us about using material from this review.


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