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horseshoes

KJ big block charcoal tastes bad?

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I've gone through about 5 bags from multiple roadshows, and never experienced this (granted my sample size is much smaller than Johns). I really do wonder how many people have this issue with the boxed stuff vs the bagged stuff. IIRC the photos you see on FB of charcoal in old seed bags, etc come from the boxed stuff. Perhaps the supplier for the bagged and boxed stuff is different? Maybe theyre stored/warehoused differently?

I'm not saying there is a problem, but there could be many potential causes. Some KJ controlled, some not.

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I have seen a lot of comments and complaints on it in social media.  The only common thing I see with it, and I am not implying anything by this, is that most of the comments are coming from new grill owners.  The thing that makes me think there IS some sort of problem with the charcoal is that when those owners go get a bag of some other kind of lump charcoal, the problem goes away.

 

There is one other thing that can cause this chemical aroma on food and in the smoke.  Using too much of any kind of smoking wood can definitely cause that.  If the wood is not properly seasoned, it's even worse.  There are just a lot of variables in play here.

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40 minutes ago, John Setzler said:

I have seen a lot of comments and complaints on it in social media.  The only common thing I see with it, and I am not implying anything by this, is that most of the comments are coming from new grill owners.  The thing that makes me think there IS some sort of problem with the charcoal is that when those owners go get a bag of some other kind of lump charcoal, the problem goes away.

 

There is one other thing that can cause this chemical aroma on food and in the smoke.  Using too much of any kind of smoking wood can definitely cause that.  If the wood is not properly seasoned, it's even worse.  There are just a lot of variables in play here.

It certainly concerns me as a relatively new joe owner. Sometimes I'll have a piece or two of coal that looks like it's almost leaking fluid that's then solidified, like a on telephone pole can, but those pieces don't give me any sort of off taste. I'll take a photo of one if I encounter it again.

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Indeed, I'm a relatively new grill owner, and using the same logic, I've been puzzling over it going back and forth between both explanations. Didn't really make sense to me that it would be bad lump, and it doesn't happen with RO.

 

But now I have a very interesting update to this!

 

I made a couple of steaks last night. There were some very large chunks (much bigger than fist sized), and although I tried to break them a little bit, I didn't have a hatchet handy. I made a point of trying to ensure that the fire really got going, and for longer than usual. Instead of using the electric heating element starter, I lit 3 lighter cubes, gave it plenty of oxygen, burning with the dome open for about 20 minutes, then with the dome closed but the vents wide open for a while, and then started to close them a bit to bring it down to temperature. Total burn time before I put any food on was over an hour and a half. When it got to about 320 degrees, I decided to throw the steaks on, cooked them indirect to medium well/well done (accidentally overshot).

 

They tasted pretty bad. Still edible, since steaks are a bit more tolerant than something like fish or chicken to smoke, but it was like a delicious steak flavor wrapped in a dirty aroma and flavor of smoke that was unmistakeable.

 

Since I overcooked them, and the wife wasn't home yet, and I am too much of a perfectionist to serve a well done steak, I threw 2 more on. Still had plenty of charcoal and I just let it keep going. Easily burning for a couple of hours by this point. By this time, the temp had cooled to about 260-275, so I cooked them again and they went quite a bit longer, in theory, absorbing more smoke.

 

They tasted amazing. Nothing like the first 2. Wife got home just as they hit medium rare and she loved it.

 

Just for science, I cut a small piece from the least well done side of the original batch and put it on her plate. Night and day difference, she confirmed it tasted bad. I saved a bit of leftovers in the fridge from both, and tried them again this afternoon. One is still great tasting, one is unmistakably the putrid smoke one.

 

To me this confirms what was posted above - too young a fire for charcoal that is too big. Even though I was well aware of this concept in theory, and thought 1 hour+ had to be plenty, that isn't necessarily the case. But, switching to Royal Oak, which as was pointed out is much smaller, it makes sense that following the same procedure for both would produce great results with RO but putrid garbage with giant XL logs in the firebox.

 

It isn't obvious that your choices for dealing with the exceptionally large pieces are either: burn for over 2 hours, or take a hatchet to the pieces, so it's no wonder that some people have this experience and don't know why. 

 

Now I have to head to that costco road show, stock up on the 30lb bags while I can, and pick up a hatchet from home depot on the way back ;)

 

So I'm curious then, folks who use KJ XL regularly, do you always hack up the big pieces? I suppose a chimney starter likely avoids the issue as well, since they're pretty effective at burning lump up quickly, but I just find them too awkward and inconvenient to use and handle with a KJ. If anyone is not breaking up their big pieces and not having this problem, I'd be curious what your lighting method is...

 

Edited to add: I also wonder if there is less potential for the really large pieces among those who buy the 30lb bags vs the 20lb boxes. Bags are prone to getting lump crushed during shipping/handling, boxes are immune to that problem. That's my biggest problem with the RO bags - the size of the larger pieces is pretty good, but it seems like a lot get crushed into chips and dust that settles as you get near the bottom.

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1 hour ago, horseshoes said:

So I'm curious then, folks who use KJ XL regularly, do you always hack up the big pieces? I suppose a chimney starter likely avoids the issue as well, since they're pretty effective at burning lump up quickly, but I just find them too awkward and inconvenient to use and handle with a KJ. If anyone is not breaking up their big pieces and not having this problem, I'd be curious what your lighting method is...

 

No... never had an issue... Light with 91% rubbing alcohol– in 3 or 4 places for a hot fire. Have two grills– one with KAB, the other sans. While one is 'harder' to hit higher temps with the larger size lump, never an off taste or smell. Which is my question and perhaps I overlooked the answer above.

 

  1. As @fbov asked, are you smelling anything while the lump is burning? It's difficult for me to imagine off tasting food without offputting smoke.
  2. Are you pouring in lump dust along with the lump or simply setting the pieces in the grill?

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This happened to me one time and I was cooking pizza. So the fire was plenty hot and had been for a while but there was a weird flavor that got into the food and lasted for the bag. I tried a clean burn the next day but no joy. The problem repeated in the next cook. (It's been a while, well over a year or so). I'm happy to say it was a one-off so far. 

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Hasn’t happened to me yet.  I usually let The Big Joe warm up for an hour.  You would think it could happen on a low and slow where you light on one side and burn across the bowl, but so far so good there.  I’d take John up on his offer to check it out.  I’ve probably been through 40 bags at least.  My only complaint would be some bags are too full of smalls.  Just opened a 30 pounder today, and it was 90% smalls, & easily 30% of the bag was grape sized, smaller, or dust.  I haven’t had to hack up any xl pieces.  I put them on the bottom to help with air flow.  I have noticed some batches are more sparky than others.  On a funny side note...  My worst cook was my first, when I forgot to take that huge desiccant bag out of the bottom.  Now that was some nasty chicken!  Threw it out obviously.  Figured out what happened when I went to dump the ash the next day.  Was getting the side eye from the wife for spending $$$ on something that made chicken taste awful.  Fast forward a few years and she’s all, “What are you cooking on the Joe tonight?”

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18 hours ago, CentralTexBBQ said:

 

No... never had an issue... Light with 91% rubbing alcohol– in 3 or 4 places for a hot fire. Have two grills– one with KAB, the other sans. While one is 'harder' to hit higher temps with the larger size lump, never an off taste or smell. Which is my question and perhaps I overlooked the answer above.

 

  1. As @fbov asked, are you smelling anything while the lump is burning? It's difficult for me to imagine off tasting food without offputting smoke.
  2. Are you pouring in lump dust along with the lump or simply setting the pieces in the grill?

 

1. Yeah, tried the smell test, and although the smell improved by the time I usually put it on, I questioned whether or not it still smelled right. I did think it was a little off, but was second guessing myself. I would say that it didn’t smell so bad that a less experienced user could immediately conclude that it was awful, but it didn’t smell great either. Although I had some doubts that the smell was where it needed to be, the color/thickness combined with running it for over an hour and a half, made me feel relatively confident that this had to be as good as it gets.

 

2. Grabbing pieces by hand and setting them in, plus in subsequent cooks, some lump that was reclaimed. 

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On 7/3/2019 at 2:03 PM, John Setzler said:

I have seen a lot of comments and complaints on it in social media.  The only common thing I see with it, and I am not implying anything by this, is that most of the comments are coming from new grill owners.  The thing that makes me think there IS some sort of problem with the charcoal is that when those owners go get a bag of some other kind of lump charcoal, the problem goes away.

 

There is one other thing that can cause this chemical aroma on food and in the smoke.  Using too much of any kind of smoking wood can definitely cause that.  If the wood is not properly seasoned, it's even worse.  There are just a lot of variables in play here.

I have had an issue almost identical to this, though with two UK brands of what we would refer to as 'restaurant grade' charcoal.

 

One was simply much more forgiving of starting to cook too soon and didn't produce any off flavours before it was up to temperature and the other required proper lighting and stabilising of the grill before you got started. It didn't need to have all caught, but the increased temperature of the firebox must have driven off some volatile compounds. I wonder if that is what is happening here.

 

For the benefit of UK readers the forgiving one was CPL and the one that took extra care was B&Q blue bag.

 

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Everyone remain calm. This problem isn't KJ lump specific. Don't worry from time to time you'll get a bag of RO (or any other lump) that does/tastes the same. 

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New user, had my Pit Boss for about a year. I grill several times a week, used lots of KJ Big Block, never had any trouble with it. I do the same thing that someone else in the discussion mentioned, I put the really big lumps on the bottom so the ash grate doesn't get plugged up. For my two cents I think it's good lump.

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My lowes is carrying kj lump now been using that and mine burns fine nothing like you describe. now cowboy lump is a different story that was terrible

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Well, drove 1.5 hour round trip to the road show and no KJ to be found. Asked an employee and they got a manager, who said that the KJ reps were a no show for the entire event. So, no lump for me! The manager at Costco said they may not be allowed back, because apparently this has been an issue, and they don’t take kindly to flakey vendors. Come on Kamado Joe, get your #### together...

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My wife notices smokey flavor. I have only found one brand of charcoal she can spot by taste, and it's made with mesquite, a "strong" smoking flavor. Oak-based brands don't get noticed save for smoking wood, or immaturity. 

 

On 7/3/2019 at 9:43 PM, horseshoes said:

... too young a fire... 

Learning this is an important step. Don't be surprised if you get impatient and regress. The food will always tell the truth. It's why good pit-masters are creatures of habit. You'd forget all the details otherwise. 

 

Frank

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I have not used the boxed stuff yet, but to me the bagged Big Block very definitely smells much more ... I don't know the right word ... chemical-ly? ... than RO lump when it's first lit. I still prefer the KJ, especially for long cooks, because I feel like it burns longer than the RO. (Purely anecdotal speculation on my part.) But when I use the KJ, I do let it burn longer than the RO before I put any meat in. I always wait until I'm completely sure I don't smell any of the volatiles. With the RO, that smell goes away in a very short time.

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