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Kingsford Brand Charcoal ingredients

By JOE O'CONNELL, cbbqa past President 

Kingsford Brand Charcoal Briquettes are the best selling briquettes in the U.S.  They are also widely used by many veteran barbecue experts, including cooks at barbecue contests.

Some claim that Kingsford briquettes have an unpleasant odor, especially when they are first lit, and many wonder if they contain any petroleum products.  After an investigation, it has been determined that neither Kingsford Brand nor any other known commercial charcoal briquettes contain any petroleum products.

Kingsford ingredients

Kingsford sends a form letter in response to consumers' questions about the ingredients.  According to the form letter sent in August, 2000, Kingsford contains the following ingredients:

  • wood char
  • mineral char
  • mineral carbon
  • limestone
  • starch
  • borax
  • sodium nitrate
  • sawdust
Purpose of ingredients

There so many ingredients because the addition of each requires another to offset its negative affect.  For example, in order to make the briquets easier to light, sodium nitrate is added.  But then limestone is added so that, when the briquettes get started, they have the typical light-ash color.

Here are the purposes for each of the ingredients:

  • wood char:  for heat
  • mineral char:  also for heat
  • mineral carbon:  also for heat
  • limestone:  for the light-ash color
  • starch:  to bind the other ingredients
  • borax:  press release
  • sodium nitrate:  to speed the ignition
  • sawdust:  to speed the ignition
History of the charcoal briquette

Around 1915, Henry Ford was using large amount of wood to manufacture automobiles.  Ford operated a sawmill in the forests around Iron Mountain, Michigan to make the wooden parts, so there were piles of wood scraps.  Ford learned of a process, which had been developed and patented by Orin F. Stafford, which involved chipping wood into small pieces, converting them into charcoal, grinding the charcoal into powder, adding a binder and compressing the mix into the now-familiar, pillow-shaped briquettes.  By 1921, a charcoal-making plant was in full operation.

According to Kingsford:

E. G. Kingsford, a lumberman who owned one of Ford's earliest automobile sales agencies and was distantly related, briefly served as manager of the briquette operation.  A company town was built nearby and named Kingsford.  In 1951, an investment group bought the plant, renamed the business the Kingsford Chemical Company, and took over operations. Its successor, The Kingsford Products Company, was acquired by The Clorox Company of Oakland, California, in 1973.

Today, KINGSFORD charcoal is manufactured from wood charcoal, anthracite coal, mineral charcoal, starch, sodium nitrate, limestone, sawdust, and borax. The wood and other high-carbon materials are heated in special ovens with little or no air. This process removes water, nitrogen and other elements, leaving almost pure carbon. 

The briquettes do not contain petroleum or any petroleum by-products. KINGSFORD charcoal briquettes with mesquite contain the same high-quality ingredients as KINGSFORD, but with the addition of real mesquite wood throughout.

Manufacturing briquettes begins with preparing the wood charcoal using one of the following methods:

Retort processing -- Waste wood is processed through a large
furnace with multiple hearths (called a retort) in a
controlled-oxygen atmosphere. The wood is progressively
charred as it drops from one hearth to the next.

Kiln processing -- The waste wood is cut into slabs and stacked in
batches in a kiln that chars the wood in a
controlled-oxygen atmosphere.

Once the wood charcoal is prepared, it is crushed and combined with the other ingredients, formed into pillow-shaped briquettes and dried. The advantage of using charcoal over wood is that charcoal burns hotter with less smoke.  [See the discussion of Kingsford described below.] 

Related information:

The Kingsford Products Company website.

the Virtual Weber Bulletin Board has a discussion of Kingsford with authoritative information from the company. 





List of suitable smoking and grilling woods

Here is a good web site that reviews different brands of charcoal.  Click here

Dave Lineback

Dave Lineback, a scholar and the guardian of America's traditional barbecue, wrote a web page on the science of wood and wood combustion.

Can Q be made with gas?

Click here for an accompanying story discusses the question of whether barbecue can be cooked with gas rather than wood.

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