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From Our Freshologists: Natural Charcoal

Every day we pass by or even touch thousands of objects without even noticing them. These things become white noise — stage props to our daily lives. But everything has a story.

Take the charcoal briquette. Seems so boring. Pure geometry and potential heat. Right? Do a little Googling though, and the humble briquette reveals itself to be the handy-work of the nascent automobile industry and America’s most influential businessmen.

In the early days of automobile manufacturing, wood was used for much of the interior. Henry Ford was a man who didn’t like waste and he began to devise a plan to use the leftover wood shavings from his sawmill. So he called his cousin’s husband, Edward Kingsford. And a charcoal briquette empire was born. For years you could only get the Ford/Kingsford briquettes at Ford dealerships. Who knew?

And summer wouldn’t be summer without them. Stacking briquettes properly was a big deal with my Dad. He could talk your ear off about pyramids and chimneys and we’d all be standing on the patio, sweat dripping down our temples, bellies growling, wondering why he couldn’t stack and talk at the same time. We used the standard compressed briquette back then. They usually contain charcoal, some hardwood, binders, an accelerant like nitrate, and sometimes lime. It was easy to light and had a consistent heat, but seemed to give off a chemical smell.

But these days, natural wood briquettes are available. We carry several brands of natural wood briquettes here at FRESH. These are usually made from just the carbonized wood and some natural binder. They have the same consistent burn of compressed charcoal briquettes but there are no chemical worries. And no chemical-y smell.

Of course, you can avoid briquettes altogether; you can cook it with gas. Kentucky had the Hatfield-McCoy fight and grilling will always have the gas versus fire debate. Gas is a lot more convenient, but some say it’s impossible to get a good, crusty sear. Gas heating gives off a small amount of vapor, making the heat less dry than from briquettes or wood. A perfect sear needs dry heat. But flipping a switch and getting instant flame? That’s tough to beat.

So, thank you Henry Ford for making grilling more convenient, for fostering America’s grilling desires, and for making the charcoal briquette a little more interesting. Every time I pass aisle 13 at FRESH, I’ll tell passersby my mini-history of briquettes. And I’m sure I’ll tell it at every cook-out, every lazy day of hamburger grilling, every camp-out. People are gonna start rolling their eyes every time I start a sentence with: Have you heard about my briquettes story… Yep. Thanks, Mr. Ford.