How Do You Make Your Own Charcoal For the Barbecue
Even though the weather often conspires against us, we Brits love a barbecue and a staggering 60,000 tonnes of charcoal goes into cooking all of those burgers and sausages every year. Cheap charcoal sold in the UK is often imported from the tropical forests of South East Asia, and although cheap, it is not a particularly environmentally friendly way to cook outside. Some DIY stores do stock British made charcoal which does not adversely affect the environment, but it can be hard to find. Charcoal has been made in the UK for centuries, and making your own at home does not require a huge investment of time or equipment.
What is Charcoal Anyway?
Charcoal is made by letting wood burn, but without allowing any air in to fuel the fire. When air is added, the wood burns away completely, but without air it just chars and smoulders away slowly to produce the blackened lumps we call charcoal. Charcoal has been used for centuries as it was easy to make and far easier to move around than something like coal, but since the advent of large scale coal mining and factories which are no longer powered by coal, we only use it for barbecues.
Equipment to Make Charcoal?
In order to make charcoal at home you will need two basic elements; some wood which you are going to turn into charcoal, and some sort of air tight container where you can set the fire and no air will be able to get in or out. An oil drum is the ideal container, as long as you make sure it is completely cleaned out inside and free from any oily residue. Turn the drum upside down and cut the base off to form a lid. Punch a four or five holes in the lid of the drum. You will also need somewhere to burn your charcoal safely, preferably at the bottom of a garden well away from the house and any other garden buildings. Any sort of wood can be used to make charcoal, and it is often just a matter of experimenting with different varieties to find out what works best for you.
Making the Charcoal
Once you have cut your oil drum up, place it on the ground and build the earth up around the sides to support it. Put a vertical stick in the middle of your drum and get someone to hold it steady while you fill the rest of the drum with the wood to turn into charcoal. Finally remove the stick and replace with a firelighter, light it and the process begins. As soon as the fire has caught, replace the metal lid section of the drum, making sure to seal the edges well with sand or soil. Watch for the smoke coming out of the holes which you have cut in the drum. Once the smoke changes in colour from white to a blueish haze, block up all of the holes on the drum and leave it overnight or for at least 12 hours for the process to complete. The next morning, the fire should have burned itself out and you will have a drum full of charcoal to use in your barbecue. Getting the hang of making charcoal can be a bit hit and miss, so if the end product isn’t what you’d expected, try again to make sure the fire is hot enough, the air vents are properly blocked and it has been left alone for long enough
Once you have made your charcoal, it can be used in the normal way for starting your barbecue. Homemade charcoal is often far easier to light than shop bought charcoal, and all it will need to get it going is a sheet of newspaper rather than kindling and fire lighters. Charcoal can be used in your wood burning or multi fuel stove for heating the house, and is also popular with artists. Homemade charcoal will burn away to practically nothing in the bottom of your barbecue, and any ashes which are left in the bottom of the barbecue make great fertiliser for the garden. If you like the idea of locally produced, eco-friendly charcoal but don’t have the time or facilities to make it yourself, search for charcoal burners in your local area as there are small scale businesses operating across the country.
Image from www.welshwildlife.org “Making Charcoal on the Gower”