Embers Charcoal: slow-burn issues? Figuring this out...

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by forluvofsmoke, Nov 29, 2015.

  1. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I grabbed 150lbs of this with the intention of firing my WSM 18.5". According to Royal Oak, it's their charcoal, but I've never used RO briquettes, before, so no experience there. I'm having a heckuva time getting temps up to 225*. Seems to burn really slow, so I added 1/3 chimney of hot coals because it was running 165-170* for over 30 minutes with everything wide open. I started it with a torch in the center of the heap and that has worked fine with KBB up to this point. Ambient temps are now 26*F...started @ 20*F. I have the flat-bottom Brinkamann SnG charcoal pan over the coals with 4lbs of pea-gravel for mass. On my last 2 burns the WSM seemed a bit sluggish, but nothing quite like this...it did still pull 230* chamber/top grate temps. Ashes were dumped from the last burn and I started with no old coals, just 100% Embers straight out of the bag, and it didn't get wet (at home or transporting home), either. Seemed to be a bit more crumbs in the bag from the start (compared to KBB & others), but it may have had some rough handling/shipping before I grabbed it. Finally hit 216* according to my pit probe, 30 minute after adding hot coals, but damn this stuff is slow get rolling on BTU output. 2 hrs into a smoke and starting to wish I had more KBB, or some lump to give it good kick-start. 14lb turkey on the top grate, no drip pan over the water pan, etc...just a bird that was 36* internal when it went into the smoke.

    Seems like Embers may be good for moderate ambient temps and low & slow cooking, but may not burn hot/fast enough for winter weather...[​IMG]

    Not complaining about the Embers Charcoal (yet), but I may need to make a trip to the local grocery store to garb some KBB...just to see of my suspicions are correct. Then, I may be reserving the Embers for lower heat grilling.

    Anyone else experience something similar? Slow to build heat, even with nearly a full chimney burning in the ring at this point. It just seems to be smothering itself, or something.

    I'm thinking about removing the barrel and giving the fire a good shake here in a bit and see what comes of it.

    Last edited: Nov 30, 2015
  2. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Well, I'll be damned!!! In the time it took me to post this and upload pics it jumped to 250*!!![​IMG]

    I'm going to let it run wide open all the way and see where it settles in at, and not choke it back unless it's running up towards the 330*+ range.

    I'll update later. Weird, but once this got rolling it really took off like a shot.

  3. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Never heard of them in my neck of the woods. We have a KBB plant over the mountains so most of the stuff we get is KBB at our stores. With that I'll be looking for your final report!
  4. b-one

    b-one Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I still have 20 bags of kbb from the last sale! How much did the embers cost? I just like stocking up while it's on sale. Hope it keeps going for you!
  5. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Yeah, this was new to me. Saw it on the HD site a couple days ago and did some digging to see if it was available locally. Available only @ HD, according to RO and HD sites. Price seemed reasonable, and less than KBB, so I figured I'd give it a shot if it had a good reputation. Turned out it's an RO brand in different packaging, but I never used RO before.

    I'll post the results after the smoke today...the Embers did pick up and start jamming the BTU's, it just seemed really slow getting the WSM up to temp.
    Regular price at HD is $5.99 for a 15.4lb bag ($0.3889/lb). I don't see sales much around here, so I figured this may be a good alternative to KBB, being the price was about 15-20% less. Huh, think I forgot how the numbers ran, now, but it was a pretty significant savings for me. KBB is ~$0.50/lb to $0.66/lb...retailers seem rather proud of that label. KBB @ HD right now is $19.87 for (2) 18.6lb bags ($0.5341/lb). So, with a new WSM on my deck and the intentions of putting it through it's paces through the winter, and as long and often as I can thereafter, yeah, charcoal prices will have a rather large impact.

    Last edited: Nov 29, 2015
  6. b-one

    b-one Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Kbb usually goes on sale twice a year around the Memorial Day or the 4th of July and labor Day for $9.99 or less for two bag packs. When I picked some up there was a guy trying to arrange getting multiple skids not sure how it worked for him as they seem to stick to there limits but I just dump mine in the truck and go back in to stock it up like many others.
  7. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I'll have to remember to watch for those sales, especially now that charcoal is my main fuel, instead of when I only used it for grilling and a few indirect smokes with my kettles. 60 or 80 lbs used to last me for a few months...that's not gonna happen now.

  8. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    OK, I had more thoughts after the finish of today's smoke. Hate to bounce around like this, but I'm just letting it hang out there on the WSM thread as well, so here's a copy/paste from post #22, found here:



    ...I usually smoke a 18-22lb 7-bone whole beef rib, but that would be severe overkill with separate meals this year, so I'll do 2 smaller beef rib eye, instead...figuring on hot & fast @ 280-300*, if the WSM will pull the temps (more accurately, if the Embers will produce the temps), depending on the weather. Gonna be playing it by ear...if the weather won't cooperate, then I'll plan on low & slow and start earlier...no big deal.

    ...Hopefully I have the slow heat build-up issues worked out with the Embers charcoal before the upcoming rib eye smokes (practice, practice, practice). My thoughts at the moment are that I just need a larger fire from the start compared to KBB, as Embers seems very slow to ignite from adjacent hot coals. Even when starting 1/3 chimney to add to the WSM today, they seemed sluggish to get going over a propane burner, although once removed from the flame I could see visible flame in the chimney earlier than with KBB and far less popping and snapping coals throwing out hot embers everywhere. I didn't really think about it at the time, but it all is starting to make sense, now.

    The advertised 15 minutes (if I recall) to start cooking and "fast lighting" with Embers would not be very accurate, but a longer burn time might be a good assumption based on how slow they actually ignite and begin putting out an appreciable amount of BTUs...time will tell. I'm just trying to wrap my head around this new fuel and it's characteristics, in the very early stages, so I may be completely off the mark and have it all wrong...but what I saw today indicated that I'm thinking correctly.

    I think it would be a PITA to try to ignite Embers with vegetable oil soaked newspaper, like some guys do...might take several attempts to get a burn going, and then, a really long wait to dump the chimney when the coals are finally hot enough to do the job. I like my propane burners for starting charcoal chimneys because the time to get coals burning is somewhat irrelevant...once you know your fuel, that is. To put Embers into perspective, based on what I've experienced from this first round, I would put hardwood lump at #10 and Embers at #2-3 on a scale based upon lightning fast ignition to snails-paced ignition...only problem is that I can't think of anything slower than Embers...LOL!!! Joking aside, I'll stick with it and find out more, soon.


    More to come, in another day or so.

    Thanks guys!!!

    Last edited: Nov 30, 2015
  9. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Update: a bit more experience with Embers this evening...and my thoughts as I worked through somewhat of a challenge, shooting for a hot & fast smoke on a somewhat cold, but calm afternoon. It took a bit of trial and error, and I decided to just pour more hot coals to the fire, twice. Once I got a decent amount of hot coals rolling (2 full chimneys, burning) we were off to the races. I did decide I'm going to stick with Embers at least as long as it takes to use up what I have on hand. If I feel it's a suitable fuel for my intentions, I'll grab more and stock up again, but then I may stock up before I'm out. It does seem to be a bit more forgiving with my rig...the Brinkmann fire pan with 4lbs of pea gravel, and a non-modded WSM 18...fire doesn't run away in the cooler weather, at least. Maybe that's a good thing, especially for me, as I don't plan on many long smokes, and I am doing more hot & fast, just because I can, and like it. I'll do more low and slow before long, too, and have a better feel for that in cooler weather. For now, it seems the Embers need a good sized fire from the start to keep the BTUs coming, but there are probably more variables including the leakage my WSM has being it's not sealed with gasket material, etc. More to come as time allows for smokes.

    Again, this is a copy/paste from the WSM thread, from post #26 and #30. If you'd rather just see what I was up to and read the entire posts, go here: http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/...sm-18-5-let-the-journey-begin/20#post_1492123


    This evening, I decided to go hot and fast for the Rib Eye and Taters, so I dumped the ashes and fired up 2 Weber rapid fire chimneys, 1/2 full with Embers over propane burners on med/low flame until the charcoal was beginning to flame up through the center, about 5 minutes. Once ashed-over (about 15 more minutes minutes) with one on the WSM fire grate and the other on my Smokey Joe 14 fire grate, I dumped both in, heaping it towards the center and added a few smaller hickory chunks around the outside for a fast smoke.

    I started the smoke with just sitting the barrel on, tossing on the rib eye and taters to the grate, inserting a probe and dropping a lid over it. So, cold smoker, hot fire, lotsa smoke up front. We'll see how the Embers takes off with wide open dampers. I'll monitor temps and choke it back if it's going to push over 350*, but I'd like to see it hit 300*...just for what if...and I've never smoked a hot & fast rib eye before, so, a lot of variables I'm playing the odds with tonight. I did probe from the start just so I can watch I/Ts by the minute, if desired, and I don't want to dump heat by opening the lid  to probe. That said, no peeking until I see 135* I/T.

    Low Temp Issues:

    25 minutes into the smoke and I have 235* grate temp with a 22* ambient temp at start-up and calm winds. 35 minutes and the grate temp was already falling off @ 224*. Fired another 1/2 chimney and dumped in after disconnecting probe leads and removing the barrel...quick and painless. Temps were up to 245* on the grate @ 45 minutes, in the time it took me to plug the sensor wires back into the heads after sitting the barrel back on. I did spread the coals out all the way across the grate, in case that was part of the problem, but the original load of Embers were burning, just not as hot towards the outside, so I'm thinking that the WSM doesn't like a partially covered fire grate. Wait and see.

    270* grate temp @ 55 minutes...better...not what I hoped for, but it may climb some more...oh, wait, temps are falling just about as soon as I could look a second time...268*...fired another 1/2 chimney for round 2 of probe disconnects and barrel left. 271* @ 70 minutes with the 2nd additional 1/2 chimney...I'm not adding more, 'cuz the WSM fire ring is about 80% level to the top, now. It's gotta just burn and do it's best from here on out. 280* @ 75 minutes in...still climbing...284* @ 80 minutes, and I finally looked at the meat temp: 84*.

    Cruise mode now...so far, I'd say for hot & fast, in cold weather, with Embers...2 full hot chimneys is a good place to start...but then I haven't done any mods for leak control just yet. My Brinkmann Gourmet Stacker was about like this, too...but I'd have to say that rig was far worse, especially for it's size.

    282* grate temp & 88* meat temp @ 85 minutes into the smoke...I think I can finally relax a little...might even still make that 2.5hr cooking time I figured on for 260-270* grate temp...[​IMG]

    293* grate temp & 101* meat temp @ 100 minutes.

    300* grate and 112* meat temp @ 115 minutes...[​IMG]

    286* grate & 122* meat temps @135 minutes.

    275* grate & 129* meat temps @ 155 minutes...missed the 2.5-hr mark, but hey, that's why I'm doing this...to find out what it will take for the next 2 rib eyes.

    268* grate & 131* meat temps @ 170 minutes. I'd build the fire up more now, depending on how far off my finished temp was and how much coals burned off, but we're so close now that I'd just be wasting fuel. Ambient temp is down to 16* now...and I'm getting hungry. Oh, checked the fire...still have about 3 briqs deep across most of the grate, some spots burned-up a bit faster.

    277* grate & 134* meat temps @ 180 minutes...huh...fire must have dropped some ashes and settled in a little tighter for a bit hotter burn...maybe...

    --------------------break in post------------------

    277* grate & 138* meat temps @ 195 minutes...and we're done...that's 3.25hrs & 0.85hrs/lb, for those who want to know. Oh, guestimated average grate temp would be roughly 250*, considering I started out cold and had some speed-bumps along the way, with an hour passing before I got over 250*, and with a peak of 300*, but mostly riding in the ~270* range once I had the coals jamming nicely.

    --------------------break in post-------------------

    I did miss the 2-hr mark, but I have a much better idea what it will take for time and fire management with Embers in the WSM on the next 2 hot & fast rib eyes with taters...no matter what happens tonight, I walk away with some more lessons under my belt, and that is priceless

    It did some effort and fuel to get those grate temps up in the 300* range, but we did it!!! I'm getting more comfortable with the WSM and Embers now...for hot & fast, just kick it off with a big, hot fire that covers the whole fire grate and don't worry about high temps in the cooler weather...it won't run away very fast with the 4lbs of pea-gravel in the water pan. All things considered, I can amke this work...WSM 18, Embers, Rib Eye & Taters...yeah...done deal...oit worked for me, so I'm gonna stick with it for our upcoming Christmas dinner(s). And, I'm step further down that road on my journey with the WSM...a couple more weeks and we'll be tight friends.

    -----------post #30------------

    Huh, I got the coals to die-out tonight when I actually got all 4 dampers in the FULLY CLOSED position...and there's still about 1-1/2 to 2 deep for briqs on the grate, although, I didn't shake the ashes off, so a bit less than it looks like...life is good!! She's under wraps until next weekend. I'll be thinking about what to thaw next for a couple more burns...hmm, wonder what's left in the freezers? OK, time for some rummaging...later!!


  10. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Update: today, Embers seemed to be holding it's own for a low & slow smoked chuck, taters and red onions in the WSM 18. I just checked the fire after snuffing it out about 30 minutes ago...has some spots where it had burned up to the point there were holes in the coal-bed with the grate showing, so that confirmed my suspicions that it had all but exhausted my fuel when temps began dropping. I think I'm going to stick with Embers for a while. For the price and how well it burns, though a bit slower starting, maybe, it seems to be doing the job in the my WSM 18. It may not be the best for hot & fast (300*+) in the WSM, but what briquettes are, really? That's a job for lump, IMHO.

    I'll be stocking up on more Embers the next chance I get...only have ~125lbs left...well, realistically, that's enough for another 4 weeks at the rate I'm burning it, but if I decide to pull an all-nighter, that stack's gonna disappear soon.


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