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Lump Charcoal Question


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I bought my Vision Pro C at a True Value in my town, they market both the Vision and the BGE. I have been cooking on my Vision  Kamodo for about 6 months. It seems that I have access to Royal Oak (red bag), Cowboy, Frontier, and BGE. I started off using Cowboy, but found that the lump really varies in size from rather small to tree branch. I also tried BGE which was frightfully expensive. I actually mixed Cowboy and BGE on one cook and lost control of the temp (I don't know if the mixture had anything to do with it). I was cooking for about 20 people from church and doing baby backs on the Vision  and chicken thighs on my old Weber gasser. After an hour I couldn't seem to get the Vision temp up over 200. With that many people on the way, I freaked a bit and looked for a way to bring the temp up as it just seemed to sit there and was actually starting to drop a bit. Soooo,  I used a small hair dryer on low with the vents turned down for a minute or so. The temp climbed up to 220 and then slowly to 260 where it seemed to lock in for about an hour.  I was feeling pretty smart. Then, however, it climbed into the 300's and kept on going. The whole time I was messing with the vents trying to hold it down. I shut them top and bottom which would drop the temp, but as soon as I opened them again it would climb. At times, I was up as high as 450 close to 500.  I foil wrapped the ribs and managed to hold them for 3 hours. with the temp jumping up and down. They actually came out pretty good considering the situation.  (I used the Paula Dean rub mixture with orange peal and some apple juice inside the foil). The chicken came out perfect and no one except me and the wife knew of the near disaster. 

 

From reading your posts, I think I understand what I did. Using the hair dryer as a fan, I probably spread the fire out too much and it started  to put out too much heat for me to control because too many coals were lit. Since the,  I have tried to be careful to keep the fire small by only using the electric starter for 8 minutes and then waiting for as long as it takes to get up to temp. I haven't lost control since this incident. 

 

My questions:

 

#1. Am I right in my guess about the reason for my  loss of temp control?

 

#2. Is there any real difference between the lump charcoal  brands that I  have access to?

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I'm sure more seasoned grillers will be able to chip in with their experience and perhaps some science. In the meantime, I have found that if I let the fire get too big, it's really hard to control for a low and slow, especially when I'm opening the lid. That's why people recommend lighting it up with a portion of a lighter cube, a cotton ball soaked in alcohol or a torch. I had a fire like that at some point and the only thing I could do to keep the temps down was to shut all vents and reopen them once the temperature got a bit below where I wanted. 

 

Now, for charcoal. BGE, as I understand, uses the same lump as Royal Oak. Cowboy seems to have a reputation for scrapwood, metal and rocks in their bags as well as a lot of smaller pieces, where others swear by it. I don't have any firsthand experience with that brand, so I can't comment. When you're looking for lump, I don't think there's a guarantee of quality in terms of piece size, dust & all. There is lump made from different trees however and that can impart a different flavour profile to your food. For example, I cook mainly with Nature's Own Lump from Basques Charcoal (made out of maple). I've also tried Duraflame lump charcoal (that's what my in-laws gave me to go with my kamado) and I found a ton of small pieces, so I won't be buying it again. 

 

Basically, there's no assurance for quality. Look for what kind of wood it's made of and, if you don't mind looking a bit weird, feel your bags before you bring them home.

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I've never mixed charcoal before, so I won't be able to comment on your 1st question.  However, for your 2nd question, I would unequivocably say yes, there is a difference in quality of the brands you have acces to.  If it were me, I'd buy only Royal Oak or BGE lump.  I don't know anything good or bad about Frontier.  But several folks on this forum and a coworker of mine have said Cowboy lump is junk.

 

By the way, good work on rescuing your food from a real disaster.  I know it wasn't easy to do so.

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I have always used the electric starter that came with the vision. If I use the cotton ball soaked in alcohol, I assume I place it down and in the center of the pile of lump. Using this technique, how much time, in ball park terms, should I plan on before the coals are close to temp and I can close down the vents. I usually set the bottom large vent to 3 and the top large vent to 2 during the lighting process and then close the top to 2 on the smoker dial and 2 on the large bottom vent.  

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For low and slow I figure 30-45 minutes to hit a stable temp on my Akorn, try to bring it up much faster and I can overshoot to 300+ (I can bring this back down to under 250 in another 30 minutes but I understand that's much harder with a ceramic)

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I've burned a few bags of RO red Lump and liked it a lot. Each bag has some dust in it and smalls. I've burned 4 or 5 bags of Cowboy lump and each back has large, med, smalls and dust, but I have yet to find any scrap wood pieces in it. Perhaps we need to come to conclusion that dust and smalls in any bag is the result of heavy handlers throughout the delivery process. BGE Charcoal is expensive. Check out the nakewhiz site for their lump charcoal reviews.

Placing a hair dryer into the bottom vent should really kick start a low burning pile of charcoal. Not only are you adding mass air flow you are also introducing heated air. More air + higher temp air should result in a rapidly escalating charcoal fire in your pile.

I like to use the cotton ball method to light my grill and I start to close it down pretty quick so as to not overshoot.

Awesome work to stay with it and save the meal.

On my vision grill cooks anywhere from 225 to 300 the vents on my grill are pinched down much tighter than you are reporting on yours. For 275 my top vent is around a 1, Bottom vent is also around a 1, if not slightly smaller.

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