2009 Kamado Coconut Briquettes
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Quick Stats


Date Of Review: August, 2009
Purchased From: Kamado
Date Purchased: August, 2009
Price: $8.99 (does NOT include shipping)
Weight: 20 pounds
Burn Time:
Ash Production:
Type of Wood: Coconut shell
Strange Material?: None
Scrap Lumber Pieces?: None
Smell: Cross between coconut charcoal and a burning cigar
Country of Origin: Indonesia


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Conclusions and Final Rating: Click Here

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Commentary

Introduction
Well, here we go again! This is our fifth review of a Kamado coconut charcoal product. Why yet another review? Well, here they go again. According to Kamado's owner, Richard Johnson, in forum posts and in Kamado's newsletters, once again Kamado has changed their charcoal:

"We are very excited about our new Kamado Extruded Coconut Charcoal (KEC) made in our own factory. Our new KEC is superior to any charcoal we have ever sold, including the original from the PI [Philippine Islands]."
Richard Johnson posting to the Kamado forum, December 6, 2008

"For those who have received their new KEC, including the last 4 days of our cooking with the KEC, it is clearly the best. The briquettes are hard and look like they are 'hand made' which they are. The hole in the center is a little smaller and the briquettes are a little longer, hence the higher weight. 100% pur (sic) coconut shell charcoal."
Richard Johnson posting to the Kamado forum, March 25, 2009

"A pallet of Kamado Charcoal will be a gift that keeps giving all summer! We are shipping pallets, at wholesale prices, from our new charcoal factory."
Kamado Newsletter, December, 2008

"MANUFACTURING: We are manufacturing ourselves with quality control our priority. We are using 100% coconut shells with 100% control over the process. This will result in a much dryer (sic) and less ash content. The performance is much the same as our best KEC, but better. The burn test picture is indicative of our frequent testing of our KEC briquettes."
Kamado Newsletter, February, 2009

"Kamado Extruded Charcoal Customer Report. We are very pleased to report that our own manufactured KEC is the best we have sold."
Kamado Newsletter, May, 2009

So, once again Kamado claims to be manufacturing their own charcoal, but now it is in a new factory. They claim that this charcoal is the best ever, even better than the original extruded coconut charcoal from the Philippines that they sold from 2003-2005. (We reviewed the Philippine charcoal in January, 2004, giving it our highest rating.) But they made a similar claim before when they sold the 2007 Try-It-Yourself charcoal on eBay:
"We are now shipping the best Extruded Coconut we have ever made and the best in the world, by the way. We are using the same formula as the original Philippine variety."
Richard Johnson posting to the Kamado Forum, October 19, 2007
But as was evident when we reviewed Kamado's Try-It-Yourself eBay coconut charcoal briquettes, this was simply not true. The 2007 charcoal was the worst charcoal we had ever tested up to that point, with the lowest burn time and highest ash production. Hence, it received our "Not Recommended" rating.

Once again Kamado is claiming to be selling the best charcoal they have ever sold. So, is Kamado really selling good charcoal this time around, or are they selling more low-quality charcoal as they have been since they stopped selling the Philippine charcoal? Obviously, a new review is in order.


A Little History
Before we get into this review, it might help readers to understand a little history of Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes. Kamado has, prior to this current charcoal, sold 4 different types of coconut charcoal briquettes. Kamado has indicated that they have, over this time, obtained raw materials from different sources and charcoal product from different suppliers. Wherever they have obtained their charcoal, Kamado have sold these four types of coconut charcoal briquettes:

  1. The first type was sold intermittently in the 2003-2005 time frame and was labeled "Product of the Philippines."
    (Read The Review)
  2. In 2006, they sold a second type of coconut charcoal briquettes which was labeled "Product of Thailand."
    (Read The Review)
  3. In 2007 they sold a third type of coconut charcoal briquettes labeled "Product of Indonesia."
    (Read The Review)
  4. Finally, in late 2007 they sold their "Try-It-Yourself" charcoal on eBay, with no country of origin identified.
    (Read The Review)
If you read the reviews, you will find that once Kamado was unable to procure any more of the Philippine charcoal, each of the new offerings was decidedly inferior. Here's a short summary of each review:
  • The Philippine charcoal was a great product (we gave it our highest rating), low on ash, long on burn time, hard durable briquettes that survived shipping abuse and burned with the characteristic sweet coconut smell.
  • The Thailand charcoal produced large volumes of ash, and much of it arrived at customers' doorsteps damp, moldy and crumbled.
  • The Indonesian charcoal produced the largest volume of ash we had ever tested to that point, burned for a very short time, and the briquettes were fragile and subject to shipping damage.
  • The 2007 "Try-It-Yourself" eBay charcoal had the shortest burn time and highest ash production we had ever seen in any charcoal up to that point. It was also fragile and subject to shipping damage.

Now, it appears that Kamado is selling yet another type of coconut charcoal briquettes, apparently again made in Indonesia. So we have obtained a sample, conducted all the tests and recorded all the results in this review.

One last note about how we obtained the charcoal for this review. Since we published our review of the 2007 Indonesia charcoal which produced a "Below Average" rating, Kamado has refused to sell us charcoal for our reviews. When readers contacted us asking us to do reviews of the newer Kamado coconut charcoals, we could only reply that Kamado refused to sell us samples for testing. As a result, several of our readers volunteered to purchase charcoal from Kamado and forward it to us for testing and review. Each box of charcoal obtained in this manner has arrived at our doorstep sealed and in good condition. There is no reason to believe that the charcoal we received from our readers is in any way different than charcoal we might have received had Kamado been willing to ship it direct to us.

So, let's now take a look at the Kamado 2009 Indonesian coconut charcoal and see how it did.


The Charcoal -- Packaging, Condition, Appearance
Our box of charcoal was sent via UPS, packed inside of a larger carboard box with crumbled newspaper for padding. It is worth noting that the shipping charge for $9 worth of this charcoal via UPS Ground was about $25. You can get a better per-box price by buying a pallet of this charcoal and having it shipped via truck. As you can see from the photos below, the box arrived in pretty good condition. Also below you can see the appearance of the charcoal in the box as we opened it.

Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
The box upon arrival appears to be in great shape.
Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
Box just after opening
Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
Broken briquettes still appear to be a problem. You can't see them in this photo, but the bottom layer was full of broken pieces.


As you can see in the photo above, even though the box appeared to have arrived undamaged, there was a significant amount of broken briquettes in the box. The charcoal itself appears to be relatively fragile, not a good sign of quality charcoal. We were able to crush broken pieces of the charcoal between our thumb and forefinger. If we rubbed the side of the briquette with our thumb, powder rubbed off. The briquettes actually feel somewhat soft in your hand.

Another indication of the hardness or softness of this charcoal is the fact that simply touching one of these briquettes leaves a significant amount of black powder on your hands. The 2003 briquettes were hard and left virtually no residue on your hands.

Although the box is labeled as containing 16.5 pounds, as you can see in the following table, the box actually contains 20 pounds. (We sorted the box into whole pieces, broken pieces, and fines which were unusable.) Here are the results:

Whole Pieces 16.2 pounds 80.9%
Broken Pieces 2.6 pounds 13.0%
Powder/Chips 1.2 pounds 6.1%



Total 20.0 pounds
Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
The contents of the box sorted into whole pieces, broken pieces and fines


You might be tempted into thinking that you got a bargain, getting 20 pounds of charcoal while the box says 16.5 pounds. Perhaps this is done to compensate for the large amount of crushed charcoal in the bottom of the box? No, we have only to look to the Kamado forum to find this post by Richard Johnson:

"We weighed a sample of 20 boxes of the container that just arrived and they are all 19 pounds or over 19 pounds. The poxes (sic) have 16.5 pounds which is wrong and meant to mislead no one."
Richard Johnson posting to the Kamado Forum, March 25, 2009
So clearly, Kamado intends to sell you 19-20 pounds of charcoal in each box. They are most likely using up their old supply of boxes rather than printing new boxes or putting a small label on the old boxes to correct the weight.

81% of the box is comprised of whole pieces, 13% of the box is broken pieces that you might consider tossing into the fire, and 6 percent is essentially unusable. While the 6% unusable chips and dust would fall into the "Low" category for lump charcoals, the 2003 Philippine charcoal arrived with no broken pieces and only a miniscule amount of dust in the bottom of the box. To compare, the box of this charcoal contained 554 grams of dust and chips. The box of 2003 extruded coconut that we opened most recently contained only 10 grams of dust. (10 grams is approximately 1/3 of an ounce versus the one and a quarter pounds of dust in this box.) This charcoal is much more fragile and subject to breaking than the 2003 charcoal.
How Soft Is This Charcoal?

While we worked on this review, we struggled to find a way to convey to you how soft and powdery this charcoal is. It finally struck us that when breaking one of these briquettes in half, it reminded us of chalk. So we went out and bought some street chalk for comparison. If you wish, you can do this experiment yourself! Hold a piece of 7/8" thick street chalk in your two hands and try to snap it in half. It's pretty easy. Look at your hands and you'll find very little of the chalk on them. Now imagine holding a 1.5" thick piece of charcoal that's much softer than the chalk. Imagine it taking only about 1/2 the force to break it in half. Imagine your hands covered with black powder. That's how soft and powdery this charcoal is.

How hard was it to break the 2003 Philippine charcoal in half? We couldn't do it bare-handed. You might as well try to imagine trying to break a steel rod in half.

Indeed, we found we could easily break a piece of this 2009 charcoal in half with our bare hands, and even into quarters with a little more effort. On the other hand, we couldn't begin to break one of the 2003 pieces using our hands. We also improvised a little hammer test back in 2007 in which we allowed the head of a standard claw hammer fall about 6 inches onto a piece of each charcoal. Similar to what we found in 2007, a piece of this charcoal shattered on the first impact. The piece of 2003 charcoal wasn't even dented after 3 impacts. We had to swing the hammer with moderate force in order to shatter it.

In addition, we suppose it doesn't help that the boxes used for this 2009 charcoal appear to be the same boxes used on the 2007 Indonesian charcoal. These boxes are less substantial than the boxes used for the 2003 charcoal. The 2003 boxes were quite sturdy and had capacity and strength data printed on the bottom. These new boxes are flimsy and have no such data printed on them.

What about the physical appearance of the briquettes? Many of the Indonesian briquettes from 2007 were crooked, cracked, mis-shapen, bringing into question whether or not the briquettes were actually extruded. The 2007 Try-It-Yourself briquettes were also cracked and mis-shapen. These 2009 briquettes are no better, as you can see in the photos below:

Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
Many of the briquettes are crooked, crumbled and misshapen
Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
The end view reveals that the holes are often not round or uniform, the briquettes are often squashed
Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
Many of the pieces have cracks in the sides and a rough surface.

Needless to say, the 2003 briquettes were hard, not cracked and rarely had any crumbling on the ends.


Burn Time
If you take a look at the box this charcoal comes in, it says "50% LONGER BURN". This of course begs the question, 50% longer than what? It turns out that the question is irrelevant. The burn time on this charcoal was lower than any lump charcoal we have ever tested. What about compared to other coconut briquettes? Of the five different types of Kamado coconut briquettes we have tested, this particular type would come in 3rd. But that's not saying much as the burn time was only half of the burn time of the 2003 Philippine charcoal.

Furthermore, if you look at the cost of this charcoal per hour of burn time, it costs about $0.07 per hour to burn a pound of this charcoal, if of course you exclude shipping charges. That makes it about average compared to the 92 we have tested so far. Most quality charcoals cost less than $0.05 per hour per pound to burn, so this charcoal is no bargain. And of course, if you include shipping charges, the price per hour per pound of this charcoal skyrockets to over double the most expensive lump charcoals we have ever tested. Even with pallet shipping prices it is more expensive than any other lump charcoal to burn.


Ash Production
Once again, we direct your attention to a statement on the box, "ASHLESS". Ash production was the biggest shock coming out of our review of the 2007 Indonesian charcoal, and the shock only continues. These 2009 Indonesian Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes produced more ash by volume than any other charcoal we have ever tested, exceeding even the enormous volume produced by the 2007 Try-It-Yourself coconut charcoal sold by Kamado on eBay. This also includes even Kingsford briquettes! Let's repeat this so that it sinks in: Kamado claims that this charcoal is "ashless", yet it produces more ash than any other charcoal of any type we have ever tested. This includes almost 80 brands of lump charcoal, a handful of briquette products, and several coconut charcoal products.

Each time we review a Kamado coconut charcoal product that produces such incredible amounts of ash, we get reports of a few individuals claiming that it produces very little ash. They claim that the ash production of these products is no worse than the 2003 Philippine coconut charcoal, or that it is no worse than Royal Oak lump charcoal. Even this latest 2009 charcoal from Kamado has produced a statement from an individual on the Kamado forum, saying (we quote) "Good stuff, light ash production..." Such statements beggar belief if you have actually burned both types of charcoal, so this time, we thought we would produce a short video which demonstrates exactly how bad the ash production of this newest coconut charcoal briquette really is. Samples of the 2003 Philippine charcoal and this new 2009 Indonesian charcoal were burned side-by-side, at the same time, in the same location, under the same conditions. As you will see in the video, the Indonesian charcoal produces over 4 times more ash by volume and 12 times more ash by weight than the 2003 Philippine charcoal.

(If you watch the video, you find that the Philippine charcoal ash plus pan weighed 15 grams and the Indonesian charcoal ash plus pan weighed 109 grams. When we subtracted the weight of the pans to get the actual weight of the ash (we weighed the pans prior to starting the experiment), the Philippine ash weighed 8 grams and Indonesian ash weighed 103 grams. So, the Indonesian ash weighs over 12 times what the Philippine ash weighs! The volume of ash shown in the video was 75ml for the Philippine and 350ml for the Indonesian, meaning the Indonesian charcoal produces over 4.5 times the volume of ash that the Philippine charcoal produces!)

This ash production problem becomes even more apparent when you look at the volume of ash produced per hour of burn time. Because of the double whammy of high ash production and low burn time, this charcoal produces the third highest amount of ash per hour, exceeded only by the 2007 Try-It-Yourself Kamado charcoal and the 2006 Thailand Kamado charcoal. There is just no other way to say it; the ash production is truly staggering. The following photos show the enormous amount of ash produced by only three of these charcoal briquettes:

Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
Burning 3 briquettes to determine ash content.
Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
Notice how the volume of the ash is essentially equal to the volume of the unburned briquette.
Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
The ash produced by only 3 briquettes, after we broke it up a bit. The foil pan is 9" x 5.5" x 1.5".

Now try to imagine the quantity of ash that would be produced by a cooker filled with these briquettes for an overnight cook. Truly jaw-dropping. We were barely able to keep our large Big Green Egg cooker going for an overnight cook with the 2007 Indonesian charcoal before the ash completely blocked the airflow. With this charcoal producing roughly 25% more ash, it would not be usable for long overnight cooks in many types of ceramic cookers.

Before we leave the topic of ash production we'd like once again to dispel the notion that perhaps we just got a bad batch. One Kamado customer posted on the Kamado discussion board that the ash content depends on how the raw material was carbonized. His statement implied that the high ash production of our sample of Kamado coconut briquettes was due to poor manufacturing, i.e., it is just a "bad batch". To
How Ash Is Viewed in Indonesia

We received a very interesting email from someone we'll call "Syafrinal" who lives in Indonesia. He contacted us after reading our previous reviews of Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes. He informed us that "what we use here in Indonesia (and most people from tropical region) is coconut shell charcoal in natural form, not briquette. Nobody uses briquettes here because at least 2.5% of briquettes content is starch or tapioca as binder. That means at least 2.5% will be converted into ash immediately." So, in Indonesia, they don't even like the Philippine charcoal due to what they consider to be high ash content at 3%. Imagine what they would think of this charcoal at over 33%!
quote, "The ashiness of the charcoal is strictly a product of how the coconut shells were burned down."

This is simply not true. Ash is mineral matter, such as clay, silica and calcium and magnesium oxides, both present in the original raw material (wood or coconut shell) and picked up as contamination from the earth during processing. At the time that the wood is cut or the coconut shell is harvested, it contains a certain amount of ash. This original amount of ash will be left after combustion whether you burn the wood/coconut shell down to ash, or convert the wood/coconut shell to charcoal and then burn the charcoal down to ash. If the raw material is not properly carbonized, then the finished product will contain more of the volatile organic compounds that are normally driven off in the carbonization process. However, the final product will still contain exactly the same amount of ash as if the raw material had been properly carbonized.

In other words, carbonization does not remove ash from the wood or the coconut shells during the process of converting it to charcoal. Hence, the ash content of charcoal has very little to do with the process used to make the charcoal unless you contaminate the source material or deliberately add some other materials to it. So, we didn't just get a "bad batch." We got charcoal that's just like everyone else got and our results are representative of what everyone will see.

Since the ash produced by this charcoal is so staggering, we have measured the ash content of the charcoal in addition to the volume of ash produced when it burns in a cooker. Ash content can be determined by heating a weighed sample to red heat in the presence of air to burn away all combustible matter. The residue left behind is the ash. (In other words, you burn the charcoal and weigh the resulting ash.) You then merely calculate what percentage the weight of the ash is of the weight of the original sample. So, to calculate the ash content of this new charcoal, first we heated our charcoal sample in an oven for several hours to drive off the moisture. We checked the weight of the sample periodically and stopped when the weight stabilized. We then burned the charcoal inside of a large cooker with plenty of airflow and allowed the sample to burn completely to ash. We then weighed the remaining ash and calculated the ash content of the original sample.

So what is the ash content of this latest Kamado extruded coconut charcoal? It was a staggering 33.8%, almost a new record. Here is a table showing the ash content of each type of Kamado coconut charcoal we have tested:

2003 Philippine Extruded Coconut 3.0%
2006 Thailand Coconut Briquettes 35.7%
2007 Indonesian Coconut Briquettes 18.2%
2007 Try-It-Yourself Coconut Briquettes 26.2%
2009 Indonesian Coconut Briquettes 33.8%

What does all this mean? Well, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report "Simple Technologies For Charcoal Making" indicates that pure coconut charcoal contains about 1.5% ash. A survey of several coconut charcoal manufacturers reveals claims of ash content in the 1.8-5.0% range for their products. Clearly, all of these various types of Kamado coconut charcoal except for the 2003 Philippine variety have massive quantities of binder/filler added to them. Why would manufacturers do this? Our research has indicated that when a buyer contracts to purchase coconut briquettes, they can specify the amount of filler included in order to affect the price. More filler equals a lower price. (We'll address this in a bit more detail down below in the section "Additives and/or Fillers".)

One final note. When we did our review of the 2007 Indonesian coconut briquettes, we did side by side comparisons of ash produced by various types of charcoal. This included different types of Kamado coconut charcoal as well as Royal Oak lump charcoal. If you would like to see those side by side comparisons, click here. You will be taken to the portion of the 2007 Indonesian review which disproved the many claims that the 2007 Indonesian charcoal didn't produce any more ash than other charcoals. When you view those side by side photographs, just imagine this charcoal producing roughly 25% more ash than the 2007 Indonesian briquettes.)


Moisture Content
We don't normally measure the moisture content of charcoal in our reviews. However, the incredible ash production of recent types of Kamado coconut charcoal led us to measure ash content and to do that we naturally had to measure moisture content. We have found the moisture content of all the previous Kamado coconut charcoals to be between 7.5% and 8.3%. This charcoal was unusually high at 10.2%. This higher moisture plus high ash content means that this charcoal contains 44% unusable content, higher even than the 2006 Thailand charcoal. Add to that 44% the roughly 6% of the box that was unusable powder and our 20 pound box of charcoal suddenly only contains about 10 pounds of usuable charcoal. Also, the higher moisture content will come into play in the next two sections, lighting the charcoal and maximum temperature.

We witnessed the effect of this elevated moisture content, as you will read below, in our maximum temperature test. When snuffing the fire, moisture condensed on the lid and then dripped into the fire. Most charcoals we have tested don't do this.


Lighting The Charcoal
This charcoal took 10 sheets of newspaper to light in our chimney starter test. This matches the hardest to light charcoal that we had previously tested, the 2006 Thailand charcoal. The high moisture content of this charcoal no doubt contributes to this difficulty in lighting.


Maximum Temperature
The box advertises "50% HOTTER". This claim could be interpreted in at least two different ways. First, you might be talking about the temperature that you can measure in the cooking area of your charcoal cooker. Essentially this is what we measure in our maximum temperature test that we perform for all our charcoal reviews. Or, you might be talking about the actual temperature of combustion as measured right down in the burning charcoal.

For this 2009 Indonesian Kamado coconut charcoal, we were only able to get our cooker to 720 degrees. We have run this test on dozens of brands of lump and extruded coconut charcoals, and 720 degrees ranks "low" on the range of temperatures that we have measured. Obviously, this is not "50% hotter" than any other brand of charcoal we have ever measured. We attribute this unusually tepid result partially to the elevated moisture content of the charcoal. After we are done measuring the maximum temperature of a charcoal, we place the ceramic lid back on the cooker to snuff the fire. After a minute or so, you can check the underside of the lid for condensation and sure enough we found enough condensation on the lid to be dripping off the lid down into the cooker. Also, of course, we have to think that the fact that this charcoal evidently contains a large amount of filler (see section below) contributes to its inability to burn hot.

On the other hand, if you interpret this statement to mean that the temperature of combustion measured right down in the burning charcoal is "50% hotter" than other charcoals, we can measure that also. Although it is hard to imagine a charcoal that can't produce top temperatures in the cooking chamber could be actually burning at a higher temperature than other charcoals, we have the ability to measure it so let's look. Whereas this is not a test that we routinely run, we have run it against Kingsford briquettes and Royal Oak American hardwood charcoal. Kingsford is, of course, your "typical store-bought briquettes", and Royal Oak American hardwood charcoal is a very good brand of lump charcoal.

So, how did we measure the temperature of burning charcoal down in the actual region of combustion? We simply piled up some charcoal in our medium Big Green Egg ceramic charcoal cooker and then used a Thermoworks WD-08467-64 High Temperature Ceramic Fiber Insulated Probe inserted into the burning charcoal in the heart of the fire. This probe is capable of measuring temperatures up to 2500 degrees F. Here are the results we obtained:

Royal Oak American hardwood lump charcoal 2041 degrees
Kingsford standard charcoal briquettes 1912 degrees
Kamado 2009 Indonesian coconut charcoal 1861 degrees
Kamado 2007 Indonesian coconut charcoal 1809 degrees

So once again, the 2009 Kamado coconut charcoal does not burn "50% hotter" than other charcoals, whichever definition of "burns hotter" you wish to use. In fact, it burns at a much lower temperature than your average charcoal when measured in the cooking area of a ceramic cooker.

One additional observation we made in our past reviews of some of the Kamado coconut charcoals was that the charcoal became very fragile after burning. In fact, after our maximum temperature test, we allowed the charcoal to cool and then we tried to stir the charcoal to knock the ash off for the next burn. What we found was that most of the charcoal briquettes crumbled to powder and thus were unusable. This 2009 Indonesian charcoal appears not to suffer from this fault. After our maximum temperature test was run and the charcoal cooled, we were able to stir it up and knock off the ash without destroying all the remaining charcoal. If you are reasonably gentle in your stirring, you can preserve a large portion of the leftover charcoal for your next fire. A small consolation to offset the poor burn time, perhaps.


Smoke, Odor and Food Flavor
Back to the box! It contains the statement "SMOKELESS". The smokeless claim is also subject to interpretation. As we have observed many times before, all lump charcoal smokes while it is igniting and then burns "virtually smokeless" once it is completely ignited. Kamado has often referred to a photograph they took of one of their briquettes burning on an electric stove burner with no smoke. We reproduced this photo with a Kamado extruded coconut briquette, a Kingsford briquette and a piece of Royal Oak lump charcoal and we also found no smoke. So, this is not unique to Kamado extruded coconut charcoal:

Kamado Coconut Charcoal Briquettes
A Kingsford briquette, a lump of Royal Oak and a Philippine briquette all burning smokeless

Completely odorless? Not all all. Burning quality coconut charcoal like the 2003 Philippine coconut charcoal produces a relatively strong, sweet and pleasant odor until, like most charcoal, it is completely ignited and burning hot. Then, like most charcoal, there is less odor. During our test burn to determine the burn time of this charcoal, we could smell the charcoal burning during the entire burn. This new charcoal which is loaded with some sort of filler (see section below) does not have the characteristic sweet odor of quality coconut charcoal. While the smoke vaguely resembles the smell of coconut charcoal, when this charcoal burns it also reminds us of cigar smoke. Essentially, it smells like a cross between a hint of the coconut charcoal smell you would expect and a burning cigar. We can only attribute that to the presence of the filler/binder that this charcoal is loaded with.

As for a taste test, we again cooked some chicken tenderloins over some Royal Oak lump charcoal and over this 2009 coconut charcoal. The flavor was pretty mild with just a hint of an off-flavor. When we did this test using the 2003 Philippine charcoal, the chicken took on a stronger and more pleasant flavor. However, the flavor was so mild that we doubt that you would taste it if you are using rubs and sauces on your meat and smoking woods to add smoke flavor.


Use For Grilling
We don't know that anyone would recommend using this charcoal for grilling, but since our taste test involved grilling chicken tenderloins, we measured some temperatures to compare this charcoal to lump charcoal and a high quality briquette. When doing our taste test, we grilled the chicken in a Weber Smokey Joe. We measured the temperature at the grid level, with the lid off, and at the top vents with the lid on. Here's what we recorded:

 Grid
Temperature
"Dome"
Temperature
2009 Indonesian Coconut Briquettes 370°330°
Wicked Good Charcoal Briquettes 450°375°
Royal Oak Lump Charcoal515°410°

So, it is pretty clear that this charcoal would not be ideal for grilling, and is probably best left for low-temperature smoking. Of course, this is entirely in line with our maximum temperature testing results.


Additives and/or Fillers
The box claims "100% NATURAL (NO CHEMICAL (sic), ADDITIVES OR FILLERS)" and "100% PURE CHARCOAL". In light of the incredible ash content of this charcoal, this claim simply cannot be true. Pure coconut charcoal should have an ash content in the very low single digits, as we have already seen from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report "Simple Technologies For Charcoal Making" . This charcoal has an ash content of 33.8%. So either this charcoal contains large amounts of some type of filler or else there has been some sort of massive contamination of the raw carbonized charcoal.

In fact, our research into the manufacturing of coconut charcoal briquettes yielded information from a distributor in Indonesia indicating that the molding process required more binder than the extruding process and thus more ash was the result. While we don't have confirmation that these briquettes were actually molded or extruded, we have also received information about a common practice in the coconut charcoal industry in Southeast Asia. A coconut charcoal manufacturer explained that if the customer wants a lower-priced product, manufacturers will simply add filler to the coconut charcoal before molding/extruding. Filler is cheaper than coconut charcoal and this filler, of course, replaces the carbon content of the carbonized coconut shells. This results in a cheaper product with higher ash content and reduced burn times. See the following table that contains results of our testing from the five reviews. More ash content roughly equals less burn time:

2003 Philippine Extruded Coconut 3.1%14.7 hours
2007 Indonesian Coconut Briquettes 18.2%10.0 hours
2007 Try-It-Yourself Coconut Briquettes 26.2%6.2 hours
2009 Indonesian Coconut Briquettes 33.8%7.3 hours
2006 Thailand Coconut Briquettes 35.7%4.7 hours

This explains the wide variation in ash production and burn times between the different types of coconut briquettes that Kamado has sold. The different manufacturers who have been supplying Kamado with coconut briquettes have apparently been adding various amounts of filler to their products, despite Kamado's claims that their coconut briquettes contain no filler. It may also explain how Kamado was able to reduce the price of their charcoal from $11.99 for 16.5 pounds ($0.72/pound) in 2003 for the high-quality Philippine charcoal to $8.99 for 20 pounds ($0.45/pound) in 2009 for their current charcoal.


Compared To Traditional Briquettes
When we did our grilling temperature test, we used Wicked Good Charcoal Weekend Warrior Briquettes as one of the test fuels. If we go back and look at all the key measurements that we make in charcoal reviews, Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes are a great choice when it comes to briquettes. How does Kamado 2009 Indonesian coconut charcoal stand up against Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes? Here's how:

 Wicked GoodKamado Coconut
Fines 0.9%6.1%
Lighting 4.5 sheets10 sheets
Max Temp 840°720°
Burn Time 12.4 hours7.3 hours
Ash Production 900 ml2300 ml
Price w/ Shipping $1.16/lb$1.47/lb
Delivery Time 3-5 days2 months

(Note: Shipping costs used came from the UPS shipping calculator and Wicked Good Charcoal's ordering page. Shipping was calculated for the maximum number of boxes/bags that could be ordered in a single non-pallet shipment via UPS (Kamado) or FedEx (Wicked Good Charcoal). Kamado is at a disadvantage as it appears not to have a "corporate discount" with UPS and thus you pay full price for UPS ground.)

As you can see, Wicked Good Charcoal Weekend Warrior Briquettes wins in every category. If you want slow steady burning for overnight cooking, which is probably what most folks would agree is what Kamado coconut charcoal is intended for, it would seem that Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes would be a better choice. They are cheaper, you can call the company and get an answer, you can get the briquettes shipped in a few days, and the briquettes perform better in every category.

There are also a number of "all-natural" briquettes available in stores (Royal Oak, Nature's Grilling, Stubbs, Picnic) which you may also wish to investigate. With no shipping to pay, these charcoals can be purchased for 1/3 the cost of the Kamado coconut briquettes.


Purchasing
Purchasing this charcoal appears to be extremely difficult. You have a choice of either ordering a pallet, or ordering smaller amounts via traditional ground shippers such as UPS. Purchasing a pallet requires a large financial outlay and trying to organize a group purchase on the Kamado forum which doesn't seem to have much activity on it in the last couple of years. Purchasing smaller quantities and having them shipped by UPS is prohibitively expensive. You can expect to pay up to $20 to $25 per box in shipping.

Then there is the matter of getting your order placed to begin with and then shipped. The Kamado forum abounds with posts from customers over the years asking for help in getting Kamado to respond to their requests to purchase charcoal and accessories for their cookers. There are also posts asking for status on paid orders, sometimes months after the orders had been placed. It is hard to know how long it takes to get charcoal shipped, but the sample we obtained was indeed difficult to obtain.

The person who provided us with the sample for our review kept a log of all the calls and emails that were sent. This was their account of getting the order placed and shipped:

"I called and left voice messages, and I sent emails daily for 4 weeks, and there wasn't a single response! Then, coincidentally, Kamado posted the phone number of their customer service representative, Tony, on their online forum. Tony answered the phone and cheerfully took the order. However, he promised an invoice by email that day, but it was 6 days later before the invoice was sent. The order was then forwarded to Kamado but essentially ignored for 2 weeks. It took 10 more phone calls to Tony (and Tony had to call Kamado several times) to get a shipping number from Kamado. So overall, it took about 8 weeks to get Kamado to ship a few boxes of charcoal via UPS."

And then there is the matter of paying for the charcoal. Kamado does not accept credit cards for some reason. Should you encounter any difficulty with your order, you would not have the protection that paying by credit card affords.


100% Satisfaction Guarantee
Since the box contains a "100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEE", perhaps it is worth mentioning that based upon posts to the Kamado online forum by Kamado, you can return the charcoal for a full refund, less shipping, if you pay the return shipping. Since the average individual cannot get bulk rates on shipping a pallet of charcoal, it would almost certainly cost more to ship the charcoal back to Kamado than you would get in your refund. And if you purchase a small number of boxes to be shipped via a service such as UPS or the US Post Office, it will cost $20 to $25 per box to ship it back. So, you've spent $34 to get your box of charcoal. It doesn't make much sense to spend another $25 to get back $9, does it?


Conclusion
As we stated at the beginning of this review, Kamado once sold a Philippine coconut charcoal product that was brilliant. Then came one disappointment after another as they sold various other coconut charcoals from Thailand and Indonesia. In view of the steady decline in the quality of Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes and Kamado's recent announcements about changing the product however, we were eager to see what this new charcoal was like. We were hoping to see some improvement. Kamado's claim that "Our new KEC is superior to any charcoal we have ever sold, including the original from the PI [Philippine Islands]." really had us hoping for a return to the excellent properties of the Philippine charcoal. Unfortunately, it appears that the decline in quality of Kamado coconut charcoal briquettes has only continued:

  • Smell: Although there is a hint of the smell of coconut charcoal, it also reminds us of burning cigars.
  • Difficult Lighting: Tied for worst ever.
  • Burn Time: Worse than any lump charcoal we've tested, only half the time of the Philippine coconut charcoal.
  • Ash Production: Worst ever, period. Worse than any lump, coconut or briquette charcoal, ever. Simply staggering.
  • Maximum Temperature: Lower than any coconut and most lump charcoals, despite "50% hotter" claims.
  • Difficult/Expensive Shipping: Ship a pallet via truck or pay outrageous shipping charges for smaller quantities.
  • Poor Value: 50% of the charcoal is either ash, moisture or unusable powder.
  • Poor/No Customer Service: Many, many emails and phone calls were not answered. 8 weeks to obtain a few boxes.
So, what rating for the new Kamado 2009 coconut charcoal briquettes from Indonesia? The quality of this latest charcoal is probably the worst we have ever seen. In light of the many problems we have noted and the difficulty in obtaining this charcoal, we have no choice but to give it our lowest rating, Not Recommended.

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Contact Information

Kamado has conducted its business under several names and at several addresses over the years. The following names and addresses are believed to be relatively current:

Kamado Distribution
6440 Sky Pointe Drive
Suite 140-401
Las Vegas, NV 89131
J5 Designs
9711 S. Eastern
Suite H-96
Las Vegas, NV 89183
HPB Products LLC.
7260 W Azure Drive
Suite 57
Las Vegas, NV
Kamado
2375 Paseo De Las Americas
Suite 3310
San Diego, CA 92154

Other email addresses and various phone numbers can be found on their website:

www.kamado.com


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

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