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Fire and food

Cooking is an opportunistic benefit of using the CharCone. The primary intended use  is to make charcoal. However, there is something about an open, contained wood fire that inspires cooking. It may be a primal instinct to make full use of a rare resource, or a real need to prepare or preserve food. Either way, cooking with a live (wood) fire is still widely practiced and enjoyed in the modern world.

When using the CharCone, the opportunity to cook is all too obvious and it only takes a  simple tool and a little practice to take advantage. So why not make the most of it (if you have the instinct)?

There are two good reasons to cook something while making charcoal with the CharCone:

  1. To enjoy some delicious fire-roasted food
  2. To comply with local burning ordinances

video-thumb-cookingOpen burning ordinances (usually at the municipal level but more and more regional and statewide as well) are the main reason there isn’t more brush and yard waste burned. And for good reason. Besides the obvious danger of fire spreading, there is usually a lot of nasty smoke blowing wherever the wind takes it. It’s a nuisance for the neighbors, and the inefficient low-temp fire creates lots of gases and particles that end up as pollutants in the atmosphere.

However, if you use the CharCone (or something else like it) you can create a very hot (1500F) smokeless fire in a safe container and that will cause fewer problems. What’s more, if you cook even the smallest thing (e.g. a hot dog or marshmallow) you can say you were having a barbecue, not burning brush and most local officials would agree. So, no smoke + no danger + a little food = a lot less problems.

The recipe:
Take some food like a hot dog or marshmallow or a pepper and fasten it to a stick (from your brush pile?), a skewer, or specialized tool and hold it to the fire until cooked.

There are three basic methods of CharCone cooking:

  1.  Campfire style – using long-handled tools to cook directly over the fire.
  2.  Accessorized –  using built-in accessories such as a grill, rotisserie, or hanging pot.
  3.  Conversion – converting the CharCone to a charcoal fuel cooker, either a grill or smoker

Tools for campfire style cooking

Campfire style is the simplest and easiest and there are a surprising amount of tools available (even for baking bread!). Direct cooking has to be done carefully though as the CharCone produces a very hot fire and there are a lot of sooty particles in the live flames (these particles get recirculated into the fire and burned). Examples of campfire style cooking tools are: long-handle grill baskets, popcorn poppers and chestnut roasters, hot dog and marshmallow forks, and pie irons. Go here for a complete list of campfire cooking tools and where to buy them.

Custom cooking accessories

The CharCone comes with a built-in port that accepts cooking accessories. The Auspit, a  battery-operated rotisserie system is available from one of our sales partners (go here for more information). A swing-out grill that we are be producing will be available soon. We have more new products under development that will continue to extend the utility and cooking possibilities of the CharCone.

Converting the CharCone

To a grill
Although it is not the primary function of the CharCone it was designed to be used as a charcoal burning cooker as well. There are custom brackets available that make conversion to a grill very easy.

To a smoker
The same configuration can be adapted to use as a low-temp smoker as well. Please see the section below for more details.

To give the CharCone more versatility, we designed it so that it could be converted into a charcoal grill. Since the dimensions of the CharCone are very similar to a Weber style kettle grill, it is possible – with a set of conversion brackets that we sell – to use both of the grill grates and cover from a Weber 22″ kettle grill in the CharCone. You won’t be able to control the temperature as well (kettle grills have a built-in damper system for that) or remove the ash as easily but otherwise it will perform the same.

There are two methods for using the CharCone as a converted grill. Place the optional conversion bracket set in the cone and use one of the following methods:

  1. Semi-burn. Put  the charcoal grate (bottom) in place on the lower bracket and build a raft on on top of it. Light it and let it burn down like normal (go here for details and instructions), put the cooking grate back in place and grill away.
  2. Classic. Simply use the converted CharCone like a normal grill. Place coals on the charcoal grate and light them. If possible, use some (dried) coals from a previous burn.

In addition, all after market grill cooking grates plus some other Weber-ready accessories (such as a pizza oven and rotisserie system) will work great in the CharCone. See details on the grill conversion here.

Rotisserie cooking is very well suited for the CharCone. It would seem a perfect match – just turn the food over the open flames until cooked. However, cooking directly over a fire has its drawbacks. First, it is hard to control the temperature of live flames. Second, there are some nasty compounds (soot, black carbon)  in those flames that are neither tasty or healthy.

video-thumb-layer1The solution is to cook indirectly, off to the side of the flames and the Auspit rotisserie is made to do just that. The CharCone has an accessory port built into one of its leg brackets that will accept the support post from the Auspit. The Auspit has a cantilever design that allows the spit (where the food is fastened) to be rotated into the fire or kept on the side of the cone. In this way, you can cook indirectly if needed. It is also adjustable up and down the post for even more control of the cooking.

The Auspit rotisserie is a third party product and can be purchased in our store or directly from the Auspit website.

Smoked meat is the essence of true barbecue. It’s not just the smokey flavor (that is actually a minor factor) but the way in which it’s cooked that makes it so distinctive and delicious.

More important is time and temperature. “Low and slow” – low temperature (225-300F) and long cooking times (up to 12 hours) are the real pillars of smoked barbecue. You can do this anywhere (even in your home oven) but the results seem to be better when cooked outdoors, using a live fire, in a specialized piece of equipment.

Using the Weber conversion kit (described above) you only need to use a different fire management technique and add a water pan to turn your CharCone into a smoker.  It will work  a lot like the Weber Smokey Mountain cooker or a Big Green Egg (Kamado style cooker). One advantage of using this method of cooking is that it uses very little charcoal. In fact, you would start out by burning down a “raft” just like you were doing a charcoal burn so you wouldn’t even need any charcoal to start.

Remove the drain cap from the bottom of the cone. build a raft and conduct a normal burn for 1/2-1 hour until you have built up enough coals for your needs (this depends on what you will be cooking). Install the grill conversion brackets and put the cooking grill in place. Place your meat on the cooking crate, place the cover on the cone and monitor your temperature as you would for any other cooker. Note: the CharCone was not designed primarily as a smoker and may not attain and maintain ideal cooking temperatures as well as other systems. We recommend this accessory for better performance.

Dilemma #1

If you like fire and love food than you are my kind of person. As a chef and entrepreneur, I’ve been lucky enough to make a living at it (SpitJack) for the last 12 years. When I first heard about biochar (charcoal created to be sequestered – or buried – to help the environment), I was thrown into a dilemma. Here I was actually selling fuel charcoal and promoting it’s use when I now understood (and believed) that not burning it was best.

I kept these thoughts to myself (well, at least I didn’t discuss it with my customers) until a  solution became available. If there only was a way to make charcoal while you were cooking….

Resolution #1

It wasn’t until I saw the pyramid kiln and Kon-Tiki kiln working that the answer appeared. Here was a bowl of burning wood that made charcoal as a result. Perfect. Now I just had to work out how to cook with it. Seeing how it’s been my line of work for 12 years, that was the easy part. I have a pretty deep bag of tricks when it comes to cooking with fire.

Rotisserie, grill, swinging grill, long handled roasting pan, grill basket, hot dog stick, wok, plancha – all went right from my showroom into the test queue. I still haven’t tried everything, but I’ve gathered some very useful information in the process.

Dilemma #2

One of my basic rules of cooking with fire is (was) – “never cook directly with live fire – the food should never touch the flame” and for the most part it is still a good rule to follow. There is a lot of bad stuff in a direct (yellow) flame that doesn’t taste good and may not be healthy. Also, it is very hard to control the temperature of a live fire, which doesn’t make cooking any easier. Ideally, you wait until the flames have died off and you cook with heat from the embers. This was the core technique of all fireplace cooking.

The CharCone process is dependent on live fire and the flames must always be kept vibrant. Not only that, it works as a “gasifier” burning the gases coming form the wood at the top of the cone (right where you would be cooking). Another dilemma.

Resolution #2

The answer (like in other forms of wood and charcoal cooking) is to cook indirectly. Offset your food from the above the fire – cook to the side. It takes a bit of practice, but by using a grill or rotisserie or other tool that can be moved away from the fire if needed you can control the cooking enough to get acceptable results .

Dilemma #3

The CharCone’s primary intended use is to create charcoal for sequestration. To give it “legs” it has also been designed to be used as a traditional charcoal grill or smoker. Brush piles, no matter how big, will be gone before long and the CharCone is designed for year-round heavy use. Giving it other uses makes it more versatile and attractive as a consumer product. However, this contradicts the primary purpose – bury charcoal instead of burn it.

Resolution (rationalization) #3

“In each life, some charcoal must burn.” So if you make 10 lbs. of charcoal and you use 2 lbs. to cook dinner, that’s a ratio of 5/1, the same ratio of charcoal (carbon) yield from photosynthesis. You can’t do a burn every time you cook and by burning charcoal you will be displacing the fossil fuel that would have been used, so… is that so bad?

Ready to go?
We are just starting to test and develop custom accessories that will be part of an expanded cooking system. In the meantime I would like to share what I have learned and encourage your comments.

So get your hands on a CharCone and start cooking! There’s so much to be discovered. How long does it take a potato to bake in the middle of a 1,000F fire ? Could you slap a naan on the side? Let me know.

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