This will be a non-scientific review of Stubb's 100% All-Natural Hardwood Briquettes based on my first run of them last Friday. It is non-scientific because other than time, all other measurements are visual. That is to say your mileage may vary. The comparisons are based on using it in my CG using the Minion method. I use two CG charcoal baskets sitting on the cooking grate in the SFB. This is the only mod I have made to my stock CG. I lit the coals using a Weber charcoal chimney which was 3/4 full, which is how I do it this time of year for all but the coldest conditions. The SFB was filled to capacity with a pocket left for the lit coals.
When I first got my CG Smokin' Pro 6 years ago, I used the original Kingsford in the blue bags, the ones without the grooves. This lasted a year and a half. When Kingsford came out with the New Kingsford, I liked it about as well as the general public liked New Coke. I switched to Wicked Good Lump, but I really didn't like it for low and slow. I know it is a great product, just not for my use where I don't grill on my CG. Next I tried Duraflame All Natural Hardwood Briquettes and I immediately became an all-natural charcoal snob. They burned hotter, lasted longer, smelled like wood and not chemicals and made far less ash. Duraflame was never easy to get around here particularly in the Winter, but I liked it enough I would buy 30 or 40 bags to get me through the Winter. Sadly two summers ago, it just disappeared around here completely. Early last Winter when I exhausted the last of my stockpile I found Home Depot was carrying the new Kingsford Competition Blend All Natural Hardwood Briquettes in the red bags. Home Depot carried this all through last Winter and it is what I used until last Summer. Last Summer I found a source for Wicked Good Briquettes which had tested even better than the Kingsford Competition Briquettes. The Kingsford Competition Briquettes use Borax as a releasing agent for the moulds and while this is 'natural" I'd rather not have it in my charcoal. The Wicked Good Briquettes were the best I have used: Longest Burn time, very stable and the least ash.
Sadly I was only able to get them for 3 months. So I figured I'd switch back to Kingsford Competition. It lights fast, has a fast rise, can drive the CG to the highest temps using the SFB and these traits made it a good Winter charcoal. I figured I'd use this for the Winter and hopefully I could get the Wicked Good again next Spring. This wasn't to be. Home Depot didn't have any more in November. This past week I used up the last of my charcoal and made a desperate search for some Kingsford Competition. I spent an afternoon driving around with no luck. I could get all of the Cowboy Lump or blue bag Kingsford I wanted, but I won't use either product. The next morning I was in Lowes for something else and decided to look again. They had a lot of empty space where the charcoal usually sits and in the middle were these 4 bags of Stubb's. I'd seen them there before, but what I hadn't noticed was the fact that they were All Natural. They used the same 95% hardwood 5% vegetable binder that Duraflame used. I liked Duraflame so I had high hopes. What I also didn't notice until I got home was the bottom of the bag said it was Distributed by Cowboy. Where Cowboy Lump has taken a beating in the past for having foreign objects in it, I was disappointed. I tried to paint a happy face on things by telling myself maybe they didn't make it, just distribute it. So lets move on to what I found in my first smoke.
The Good News:
The possibly Bad News:
For the sake of space I will use the following abbreviations:
= Blue Bag Kingsford = New Kingsford with the grooves.
= Red Bag Kingsford = Kingsford Competition Blend
= DuraFlame All Natural Hardwood Briquettes
= Wicked Good All Natural Hardwood Briquettes
= Stubb's 100% All Natural Hardwood Briquettes
Fair, 25 degrees air temp, no wind.
I am basing the comparisons to the other charcoal based on similar Winter use conditions.
My first attempt at lighting the STU
with 2 sheets of newspaper failed. WGB has this same problem and requires a third sheet. Trying it again with 3 sheets worked.
Time to be ready to use:
RBK = 10-12 minutes, DUF & WGB = 15-20 minutes, BBK = 20-25 minutes and STU
= 40 minutes*.
*This may not be representative of the time STU will have. I normally set my chimney up on a concrete block which elevates it up of the damp ground. My block was frozen in place and I couldn't move it and couldn't use it. I placed the chimney on the snow and as it heated it sank about 2" down into the snow until it reached concrete terrace. The snow came to within a half inch on all sides and while the vents weren't covered I think it may have cut down on the draft.
BBK: Doesn't really smell natural like any burning wood I know
/ WGB / DUF / RBK: All smell like some sort of wood burning. Each a little different. The STU seems to have a bit of a sweeter smell to it.
Time for smoker to reach 225:
RBK = 10-12 minutes, STU
= 20 minutes, DUF/WG = 30 minutes, BBK = 45 minutes
Volatility 1 - Temperature Stability:
By this I mean how stable the charcoal is over a long burn
/WGB = Excellent. Once you get it to temperature it goes a very long time without tweaking.
DUR = Very Good to Excellent. Lasts a little less time than STU/WG so you will need to tweek it a bit sooner.
BBK = OK. Tends to need more tweaking but you can get it stable for an 60-90 minutes in a row.
RBK = OK to P.I.T.A (Pain in the ...) This charcoal tends to be tweaky. If you have steady winds you can get it to go 60-90 minutes in a row. If it is windy this charcoal tends to jump when subjected to any variation in draft.
Volatility 2 - Responsiveness to Vent Changes:
I will give a written description of each charcoal
RBK = Turns on a dime. A little change in vent position can create a large rise or fall in temps. This can be good if you are trying to regain lost temps in the cold, but it can be a nuisance trying to dial in 225 as it is easy to over or undershoot. This fast rise makes it a good cold weather charcoal as long as you learn a lttle vent tweak goes a long way.
WGB/DUF = Both of these charcoals respond rather fast, but aren't as fussy about it as RBK. It is fairly easy to dial in your temps.
= A little less responsive, but still very good. If you can minimize your temperature drops it will recover fairly quickly. When I added more charcoal the temps were at 205 when I was done. Opening the SFB vent to full got them to 225 in under 5 minutes. I like the responsiveness of this charcoal so far. When I was bringing it up to 225 I let it get almost to 225 before closing the vent and it only overshot 3 degrees.
Cooking Time Initial Basket:
/WG = 4 hours*
DUF = 3-3.5 hours*
RBK = 2.5 - 3 hours*
BBK = 2.5 hours
*You need to watch any of the All Natural briquettes and catch them early when you want to refuel. BBK will start dropping ever so slowly and opening the vent won't stop this drop. You've got at most an hour left before you must refuel. the natural charcoal seem to burn right up to the point where you have little marble-sized pieces left that will disintegrate if shaken. So you always want to catch these charcoals at least an hour before this happens or you will have nothing left to ignit the fresh charcoal.
Cooking Time Second Basket:
/WG = 3.5 hours
DUF = 2.5 - 3 hours
RBK = 2.5 hours
BBK = 2.0 - 2.25 hours
BBK: Horrendous, almost volcanic
RBK: About 50 percent of BBK
DUF: About 33 percent of BBK
/WG: About 25 percent of BBK
Needless to say I am VERY pleased with the results. Particularly since this is the only all natural briquette I can buy just now. I got 7 1/2 hours out of a 15 pound bag which is very good for my unmodified rig in the Winter. Most importantly the food tasted great. The Stubb's charcoal seemed to hold it's own against Wicked Good which had been my favorite up until this point. Short of doing more scientific measurements like weighing the ash, there was little to separate them. Once again these were Winter results. In the summer I've gotten 7 hours burns from WGB, 6 from DUF, 5-5.5 from RBK and 4 - 4.5 from BBK. I expect Stubbs will finish in the 6-7 hour range as well.