Charcoal is used by many developed countries as a fuel for cooking and heating. It is the most popular barbecue fuel used throughout the world. But how does it stack up as an emergency fuel should the electricity go out? While charcoal can only be burned outside, it is worthy of serious consideration as one of your stored fuels. There are potential health risks, however, associated with using charcoal frequently so be sure to store other forms of fuel as well.
There are two main types of charcoal - briquettes and hardwood lump - and the debate rages on as to which kind is better. Both have there pros and cons but it really just comes down to personal preference.
Types of Charcoal
Charcoal briquettes are what most of us probably grew up with. They are uniformed sized bricks made from coal dust, charcoal dust, and wood by-products like sawdust, and wood chips. Included are binders and additives that when compressed, make them easier to light and burn longer.
Briquettes burn more evenly than hardwood lump since they’re all uniform in size. Some briquettes are made with several fillers, chemicals, and even lighter fluid so watch what you purchase.
When compared to actual firewood, briquettes burn longer, are easier to start, and are easier to dispose of.
- are readily available and are easy to find
- costs less
- the shape is consistant and easy to use
- maintains a steady temperature and burn
- burns longer
- includes fillers & binders
- is not made from pure wood
- cannot get to extremely high temps
- leaves behind a large amount of ash
- does not burn as hot as hardwood lump
Brands include: Kingsford Charcoal, Royal Oak Premium Charcoal Briquets
Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Hardwood lump charcoal is just charcoal made from chunks of hardwood, usually oak, and pecan. With no fillers/additives to burn down, hardwood lump produces a lot less ash than charcoal briquettes. It burns hotter and faster but more unevenly. The big difference is the real wood smoke that produces the smoky flavor.
Interestingly, even though lump charcoal comes from pure wood, it’s generally a better fuel for cooking than pure wood. Because of its high carbon content, charcoal has more potential energy, and when burned, it provides cooking heat that burns hotter, more steadily, and cleaner than dried wood.
- is made from pure wood
- contains no fillers or additives
- produces real wood smoke that adds a smoky flavor
- gets to extremely high temps
- produces less ash
- variety of shapes and sizes
- burns unevenly which can be a bit harder to control
- costs more
- burns faster
- many find lump pieces too small to use
Brands include: Royal Oak Ultra 100, Royal Oak Hardwood Lump, Rockwood, Fogo
How much do I need?
If you choose to use charcoal as one of your main cooking fuels, the amount needed is pretty easy to calculate. For example: a 1-month supply at 3 meals per day would require around 120 pounds of charcoal. This equals approximately fifteen 20-pound bags of charcoal to cook one hot meal a day for one year.
This is a general use guide, be sure to factor in the differences between the two different types of charcoal.
Be sure to choose an indoor fuel as well for more cooking options.
Charcoal produces dangerous carbon monoxide gas and is to be used outdoors only. People have died during power outages because of carbon monoxide poisoning from indoor charcoal fires.
- Charcoal can be stored inside your home, garage, or shed.
- Must be stored in a cool, dry enviroment, and away from any moisture.
For additional protection against moisture, you can try the following:
- Place the original bag inside a larger plastic bag and store inside another container such as a bin or covered metal trash can.
- Pour your charcoal into a plastic lined 5-gallon containers and seal with gamma lids for easy stacking.
Charcoal can be stored indefinitely if the right storage conditions are met.