Kingsford Sure Fire
Wicked Good Charcoal
Well, Kingsford has finally come out with a briquette product that doesn't contain a myriad of chemicals. Their new "Competition" briquettes are advertised as 100% natural and they have attracted a lot of attention in the BBQ world. We have received a large number of emails asking us to do some sort of review of these new briquettes. Since we had previously done a report comparing original Kingsford briquettes with their new "original" briquetes (yes, that's what they say....) with "Sure Fire" grooves, we thought we would oblige and do a comparision between the "Sure Fire" briquettes and these new "Competition" briquettes.
There has been a lot of talk about these briquettes on the internet and of course, Kingsford has had a lot to say about them on the bag and on their web site. First, let's take a look at what's being said.
A lot of people have been spreading the word that these briquettes are made from lump charcoal. Actually, all briquettes are made from lump charcoal really. Briquettes are made from ground charcoal. It doesn't matter if the charcoal started as lump charcoal or as dust from charcoal-making operations. It's still just charcoal. Once you have your charcoal, then you can decide how many chemicals to add in order to produce the briquette you want to produce. What's different about these briquettes (vs. the "original" briquettes) is that they only contain charcoal, a starch binder and borax. (The borax is a press release agent to allow the briquettes to release from the molds they are made in.) Other natural briquettes only contain charcoal and starch binders, but for some reason Kingsford needs to use the borax in their process.
Next, Kingsford makes the following statements about their new Competition briquettes:
"...high heat that's ready to cook on fast for grilling, searing or slow cooking."
"Lasts The Same As A 15 lb Kingsford Original Bag"
"...Kingsford's latest innovation."
"These new briquets offer a unique combination of the high heat associated with lump charcoal and the consistent burn of briquets..."
"100% All Natural"
"Ready to Cook on Fast"
"Kingsford Competition Briquets do burn hotter than Kingsford Original charcoal."
"The Competition Briquets will be ready to cook on faster, so be ready to place your food on a little earlier than with Kingsford Original."
So we decided to compare these new Competition briquettes to the "original" Kingsford Sure Fire briquettes. And although Kingsford refers to these new Competition briquettes as "...Kingsford's latest innovation," briquettes made from just charcoal and a starch binder have been around for years. Consequently we also thought we should compare them to another brand of all natural briquettes. While we haven't done much testing of briquettes, of the ones we have tested, Wicked Good Charcoal's Weekend Warrior briquettes have proven to be the best. The tests that we conducted are essentially the same tests we conducted when we compared Kingsford's real original briquettes to their new "original" briquettes with Sure Fire Grooves, plus a few other wrinkles we came up with along the way.
The Competition briquettes are a bit smaller but quite a bit thicker than the Sure Fire briquettes. The Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes are a bit smaller than the Competition briquettes. The Competition briquettes weigh less than the Sure Fire briquettes (not surprising since there is no limestone), while the Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes were heavier than both of the Kingsford briquettes. Here are the numbers:
|Sure Fire||1.9"||1.2"||.80 oz|
|Wicked Good Charcoal||1.9"||1.3"||.90 oz|
Left to right: Kingsford Competition, Kingsford Sure Fire, Wicked Good Charcoal
Left to right: Kingsford Competition, Kingsford Sure Fire, Wicked Good Charcoal
In general, the Competition briquettes were in better condition than the Sure Fire briquettes. Most of the Competition briquettes were whole, while most of the Sure Fire briquettes had missing chunks. Virtually all of the Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes were whole and intact. Also, we weighed the contents of the entire bag of Competition briquettes. Our bag contained 12.4 pounds, safely over the advertised weight of 12 pounds.
Ease Of Lighting
We put 2-pound samples of each type of briquette in a chimney starter and then used single sheets of newspaper, added one by one, to see how easy it is to light each type of briquette. We stopped adding sheets of newspaper when we felt that the charcoal was burning well enough that we could leave it to finish starting on its own.
Competition briquettes were surprisingly easy to start, taking 3 sheets of newspaper. The Sure Fire briquettes took 4 sheets, while the Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes took 4.5 sheets.
Time To A Usable Fire
Once we had the charcoal lit, we timed how long it took from the time we lit the first sheet of newspaper until we had dumped the briquettes out into a Weber Smokey Joe cooker and had a fire suitable for cooking. Both the Sure Fire and Competition briquettes say you should wait until the briquettes have ashed over, presumably to burn off the borax on the surface of the briquettes.
We felt we could start cooking on the Sure Fire briquettes after about 12-13 minutes. The Competition briquettes did seem to be ready after about 9 minutes, but it's not that simple. The Competition briquettes produce a lot (a lot!) of smoke as they are starting, more than the Sure Fire briquettes. You may want to wait for the smoke to abate some before putting your food on the grill, so these briquettes may not be considered by many users as actually ready to cook on faster than the Sure Fire briquettes.
We started a chimney of briquettes and once they were burning away, dumped them into a medium size Big Green Egg Cooker. We then added more briquettes to bring the level of the briquettes up to the top of the firebox. Finally we recorded the maximum temperature at the grid level, the opening level (also known as the raised grid level), at the level of the dome thermometer, and finally down in the fire itself. Temperatures were measured using a 2000° K-type probe thermocouple and a 2500° K-type ceramic thermocouple. We allowed each brand to burn with the air vents wide open for a sufficient time to get all the briquettes burning and until the temperatures measured no longer continued to rise.
The Competition briquettes do indeed burn hotter than the Sure Fire briquettes. Here are the results:
|Grid Level||Opening Level||Dome Level||In The Fire|
|Wicked Good Charcoal||1184°||1024°||1051°||2020°|
3 pounds of each type of briquette were burned in a small Big Green Egg cooker. The burn was controlled by a BBQ Guru ProCom 4 temperature controller. The cooker was kept at 400 degrees for the duration of the burn. The clock was started when the temperature first rose to 300° and stopped when the temperature fell to 350°. The cooker was opened one time when the temperature started falling below 400° due to ash buildup. The briquettes were stirred enough to knock the ash off and piled up so the burn could continue. The burn times were adjusted to meet the standards we use when testing lump charcoal.
The Competition briquettes burned for 11.8 hours, Sure Fire burned for 10.3 hours, and Wicked Good Charcoal burned for 12.4 hours.
Kingsford doesn't make any claims about the volume of ash produced by these two types of briquettes that we can see, but part of our regular testing of lump charcoal is to measure the volume of ash produced. This can be important in some types of cookers because the ash can block air vents and affect the fire. We expected lower ash production with the Competition briquettes since they don't contain non-combustible ingredients like the Sure Fire briquettes do.
After the burntime time test is finished, we open the lid of the cooker and let all the charcoal burn to ash. Once it is cooled, we measure the volume of ash in a graduated vessel. As with the burn time test, we adjusted the results to meet the standards we use with lump charcoal.
The Competition briquettes produced somewhat less ash than the Sure Fire briquettes, but both produced enormous amounts of ash compared to the Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes:
|Ash Produced||Ash Produced|
Per Hour Of Burn Time
|Competition||1750 ml||148 ml|
|Sure Fire||1900 ml||184 ml|
|Wicked Good Charcoal||900 ml||73 ml|
Note also that we conducted a burn test and ash test for another brand of natural briquettes. We aren't able to reveal the source of these briquettes, but just for reference we can report that they produced 1300 ml of ash in our testing.
Can You Snuff The Fire And Re-Use The Briquettes?
Not much of a test, really. We just stirred the briquettes used in the maximum temperature test in order to dislodge all the accumulated ash after they had thoroughly cooled down to ambient air temperature. We then tried to crush or break the remaining briquettes by hand.
Both of the Kingsford briquettes could actually be stirred to knock off the ash without destroying the remaining briquettes. They could be broken by hand relatively easily, but they could have been relit and used for additional cooking. The Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes could also be stirred to knock the ash off, but they were much more difficult to break with your hands and thus could have stood up to rougher stirring.
The "Smokey Joe" Test
A lot of purchasers of briquettes use them to grill in a kettle cooker. They are going to dump out as much charcoal as "looks right" to them. They won't be weighing the briquettes nor will they be using temperature controllers on sealed air-tight cookers. The "Smokey Joe" test aims to test these briquettes the same way the average Joe (!) will use them. So, we counted out 46 briquettes because that looked like the right amount to cover the charcoal grid in a Weber Smokey Joe kettle cooker. We piled them up in the middle of the grid, added 4 ounces of starter fluid and then ignited the charcoal. When the flames died out, we spread the briquettes evenly over the charcoal grate. Next we added the cooking grid and then we placed a 2500° K-type ceramic thermocouple on the cooking grid in the center. We recorded the temperature every 30 seconds using a data recorder and stopped when the temperature fell to 200°. The test was conducted inside a building so that there were no air currents (i.e. no wind) to affect the results.
Note how the Competition briquettes stayed hotter than the Sure Fire briquettes for about 20 minutes. At that point, the ash buildup on the briquettes stifles the heat sufficiently that the two types of briquettes seemed to stay even for most of the rest of the burn. Notice also how the Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes burned hotter than either of the two Kingsford briquettes due to the exceptionally low ash buildup. And of course, you can't help but notice that the Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes burned over 45 minutes longer than the Kingsford Competition briquettes.
This is a bit tricky, obviously, as pricing can vary greatly from store to store and region to region. For what it's worth, we checked a few prices locally. Both the Kingsford Competition and Sure Fire briquette prices came from do-it-yourself stores. The price for Wicked Good Charcoal briquettes came from their website. Since we also saw Stubbs brand all natural briquettes at a DIY store, we also included their price:
Note: Wicked Good Charcoal price with shipping assumes purchase of 6 11-pound bags
|Price per Pound|
|Kingsford Sure Fire||$0.38/lb|
|Wicked Good Charcoal||$0.53/lb|
|Wicked Good Charcoal|
w/ shipping (See note)
and includes Fedex Home Delivery shipping to Colorado as an example.
So, how do these new Competition briquettes compare to the original briquettes? They burn hotter, they are easier to light and they don't have all the chemicals in them (and the associated irritating smoke that burns the eyes and lungs). If you burn them in a cooker with good control over the airflow, they will burn longer than the Sure Fire briquettes. If you use them in an open grill, they will burn for a slightly shorter period of time. Also, they produce slightly less ash than the Sure Fire briquettes.
But are they worth double the price? For our money, if we are going to use briquettes, it is worth the money to get rid of all the chemicals and cook with something that approaches pure charcoal. That decision is up to you.
However, given a choice, we would stick with the Wicked Good Charcoal Weekend Warrior briquettes. If you can find them in a store, they are cheaper than the Kingsford Competition briquettes. Even with shipping included, for the additional money you get longer burn time, much less ash, and no borax.