Kingsford Briquettes: New versus Old

Old Kingsford

New Kingsford


The Product

UPDATE: When you are done reading this page, you may wish to read this report about a second test we conducted.

There has been discussion on various barbecue forums recently over the change that Kingsford made to their briquettes. Kingsford says on their website that their new briquettes are "ready faster" and "burns even longer". They apparently attribute the "ready faster" claim to their "Sure Fire Grooves". "More edges and surface area to catch the flame quickly. Grooves provide air channels for fast heating and even burning." Reading the FAQ on their website we find the following claims:

  • Briquettes weigh less
  • Easier and faster lighting
  • Ready to cook faster (15 minutes)
  • Burns even longer
  • Burns slightly hotter
  • "You still get the same great smoky tasting food..."
  • We also note the following somewhat odd statements:
    "While the weight of each briquet has changed, the new bags are the same size, have the same number of briquets as before..."
    You are going to have to explain this one to us. If the briquettes don't weigh the same, and the bag contains the same number of briquettes as before, how can the bag be the same size? Do they mean the physical size of the paper enclosure they call "bags"? If so, then so what? And then this:
    "Be sure to take note that new Kingsford charcoal with Sure Fire Grooves is now ready to cook on in about 15 minutes. This is significantly less time than our prior Kingsford charcoal and all other charcoal available today to get ready to cook on. As a result, you will need to put the food on the grill earlier to take advantage of the extended cooking time that our new Kingsford charcoal provides. New Kingsford briquets with Sure Fire Grooves burn longer than ever before."
    They seem to be saying that since the fire is ready to cook on sooner, that gives you more cooking time. Ok, sounds good, but how does that equate to "burns even longer"?

    So, those are the claims made by Kingsford. On the other hand there are quite a number of complaints from Kingsford customers about this new briquette burning significantly hotter and not as long as the old briquette. So what's the real scoop? Well, fortunately we still had some of the old Kingsford in our garage left over from our attempts to get wet charcoal to spontaneously ignite. Kingsford probably didn't think we had any, huh? Well, we did, so let's look at the claims made by Kingsford and compare the old Kingsford with the new Kingsford.


    New Briquettes Weigh Less?

    The Test: Kingsford says the new briquettes weigh less and that you get the same number of briquettes in the old and new bags. The old bags were 10 and 24 pounds. The new bags are 9 and 21.6 pounds. (We're not sure where the old 20-pound bags fit into this scheme of theirs...) In this photo you can see an old briquette side by side with a new briquette. (Click on the thumbnail to see the full-size version.) We weighed out exactly 3 pounds of each type of briquette (on a scale with 1/4 ounce resolution) and then counted the number of briquettes. We also took equal numbers of both briquettes, selecting only whole, large briquettes and weighed them. (We would have counted the number of briquettes in bags of old and new Kingsford, but we didn't have an unopened bag of the old briquettes.)

    The Results: 3 pounds of the old briquettes contained 53 briquettes. 3 pounds of the new briquettes contained 52.5 briquettes. When we weighed 7 whole, large briquettes of each type, both samples weight exactly 180 grams. (We switched to grams for this since our scale has slightly better resolution when weighing grams vs. ounces.) And as you can see in the photo, both briquettes are roughly 1.75 inches wide.

    Conclusion: We think Kingsford is confused on this one. The old and new briquettes are the same physical size and the same weight. So, it looks like their claims of equal numbers of briquettes in the old and new bags just isn't true. It looks like the new bags simply contain less charcoal.


    New Briquettes Are Easier to Light?

    The Test: We put 2-pound samples of the old and new briquettes 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. Somewhat subjective, but it's like pornography. We might not be able to describe it, but we know it when we see it.

    The Results: Both the old and new briquettes took 3 sheets of newspaper to get the fire started in the chimney starter as far as we were concerned. We really didn't see any difference between the two as far as ease of lighting goes.

    Conclusion: While we couldn't really detect any difference in the ease of lighting the old vs. new briquettes, we're willing to allow that the new ones might be a bit easier to light. Perhaps, we just can't see that small of a difference.


    New Briquettes Are Faster To Light?

    The Test: 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 a roaring fire burning in the chimney. Again, somewhat subjective but as Tony Blair and probably every other British prime minister of the last 100 years has said, "We refer the honorable gentleman to the reply we gave some moments ago." (The bit about pornography...)

    The Results: The old briquettes took about 10 minutes in the chimney starter to get to the point where we felt we had a roaring fire and could dump them out into the cooker. The new briquettes were ready to dump out in about 8 minutes.

    Conclusion: Kingsford wins this one. The new briquettes took 2 minutes less to get a roaring fire going in the chimney starter, a 20% improvement over the old briquettes.


    New Briquettes Are Ready to Cook Sooner?

    The Test: Once we had a roaring fire burning in the chimney, we dumped the charcoal into a Weber Smokey Joe. We rearranged the briquettes into a pile to ensure that all briquettes were in contact with the burning pile. (As you know, in a chimney starter the briquettes in the middle burn while the briquettes up against the walls of the chimney may not get lit or may only be half-lit.) We moved briquettes around as necessary to make sure that all briquettes were getting lit and ashing over. We stopped the clock when all the briquettes were ashed over since this is Kingsford's own definition of "ready to cook", based upon the instructions on the bag. Thus we measured the total time from when the newspaper was lit until all the briquettes were ashed over.

    The Results: Once we dumped them into the Weber Smokey Joe cooker, the old briquettes were completely ashed over in 17 minutes, while the new briquettes were completely ashed over in 15 minutes. We congratulate Kingfsford because they said "about 15 minutes" and danged if it wasn't just about 15 minutes!

    Conclusion: Kingsford wins this one also. The new briquettes took 2 minutes less to get ready to cook (completely ashed over), a 12% improvement in the total time from lighting the newspaper to putting meat on the grill. However, keep this 2-minute improvement in mind for later. This is a really interesting number!


    New Briquettes Burn Even Longer?

    The Test: We placed 3-pound samples of each type of briquette into small Big Green Eggs. We then burned the samples, controlling the temperature of the fires by using a BBQ Guru temperature controller on each Egg. In this test, the burns were done simultaneously, therefore under identical conditions. We started the clock when the fire reached 300 degrees as measured by the BBQ Guru pit sensor. During the burn, we opened each of the Eggs twice to knock ash off the briquettes and rearrange them into a pile to keep a hot fire burning. Finally, we stopped the clock when the temperature of the fire dropped below 350 degrees.

    The Results: Equal weights of the old and new briquettes burned virtually the same length of time. 3 pounds of old briquettes burned for 5 hours, 42 minutes while 3 pounds of the new briquettes burned 5 hours, 39 minutes.

    Conclusion: We think Kingsford gets busted on this one! The difference in burntime between the old and new briquettes was only 3 minutes, less than a 1% difference! And while the error in this testing is probably greater than the difference, wow, isn't it curious that the old briquettes burned just a little bit longer? In any event, this test shows that equal weights of the two briquettes will burn the same time in a cooker where you can control airflow. The old and new briquettes have essentially the same heat content. We'll deal with the case in which you can't completely control airflow in your cooker later on down in the maximum temperature test.

    Editor's note: The really disappointing thing about this result is that Kingsford is telling us that a new bag which contains 90% of the weight of the old bag will burn longer. No way. It will burn about 90% as long. Even if you buy into their "it is ready to cook sooner, so you have a longer cook time" argument, the difference is only 2 minutes!!! Only an advertising staff could come up with logic like that to claim that a product burns longer.

    So, just to be clear, the new briquettes and the old briquettes burn the same length of time when you use the same weight. A bag of the new briquettes which contains 10% less charcoal than the old bag will burn for a 10% shorter time.


    BONUS: What About Ash Production?

    The Test: 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. Basically, 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.

    The Results: 3 pounds of the old briquettes produced 850 ml of ash, while the new briquettes produced 875 ml of ash.

    Conclusion: This test only reaffirms that both the old and new briquettes produce an appalling quantity of ash.


    New Briquettes Burn Slightly Hotter?

    The Test: We lit 2-pound samples of each type of briquette in a chimney starter. When we had a roaring fire going in the chimney starter, we dumped the sample into a medium Big Green Egg. We then added 3 more pounds of the briquettes on top of the burning sample. The bottom and top vents of the Egg were left wide open and then we just watched the temperature on a Tel-Tru 200-1000 degree thermometer inserted into the Egg. We let it burn until we observed the maximum temperature. This test was run sequentially with the Egg being allowed to completely cool between tests.

    The Results: The old briquettes were able to achieve a maximum temperature of 765 degrees while the new briquettes were able to achieve a maximum temperature of 900 degrees.

    Conclusion: Busted again! While Kingsford doesn't say on the bag that the new briquettes burn hotter, in their FAQ they say the new briquettes burn slightly hotter. 900 vs. 765 isn't "slightly hotter," it's a lot hotter. (It is interesting to note that about 1/3 of the back of the old bag is devoted to praising the "barbecue secret" of slow cooking. The new bag doesn't mention barbecue or slow cooking, and in fact, spends a large portion of the back discussing grilling meat.) So, based on our results, if you are using a cooker where you don't have good control over airflow, you will see the new briquettes burn hotter and therefore not as long.


    New Briquettes Produce the Same Great Smoky Tasting Flavor?

    The Test: Not much of a test, really. We just sniffed around during lighting and cooking.

    The Results: We won't claim to be able to do taste testing or smell tasting, but we did note that the two briquettes burn with distinctly different smells.

    Conclusion: You'll have to determine for yourself whether or not these new briquettes produce different tasting food. However, we wonder about the claim of the "same great smoky tasting flavor" when the smoke from the two types of briquettes is so decidedly different.


    Conclusion

    Here are the results of our testing in tabular format:

    Test
    Kingsford Says
    Our Results
    Briquette Weight New is smaller Equal
    Ease of Lighting New is easier Equal
    Speed of Lighting New is faster New is 20% faster
    "Ready To Cook" Time New is faster New is 12% faster
    Burntime New is longer Equal
    Maximum Burn Temperature New is slightly higher New is much hotter
    Ash production Nothing New slightly higher
    Smoke/Flavor Same flavor You be the judge

    It looks like all the complaints on barbecue forums about the new Kingsford burning hotter and therefore not as long are valid. For the sake of getting the briquettes ready to cook a couple of minutes sooner, it looks like Kingsford has sacrificed some of the ability to cook low and slow in many cookers.

    UPDATE: When you are done reading this page, you may wish to read this report about a second test we conducted.


    Disclaimer: We admit being lump charcoal snobs in the worst way. (But what do you expect from The Lump Charcoal Database, for cryin' out loud?) However, we do admit that our father cooked with Kingsford some 45 years ago and some of our fondest memories are of a Sears charcoal grill in the garage (yes, the door was open), a rotisserie of pork ribs (probably slathered in something like Kraft barbecue sauce) grinding away, and the smell of a bed of Kingsford briquettes. Man, we can still smell those ribs now. So we will admit that even today, smelling those briquettes lighting up transports us back to a more innocent time when Kingsford seemed like heaven....


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