CHARCOAL IS ANCIENT HISTORY
Literally. We can trace the use of charcoal back to man’s earliest days, when cavemen realised that the hot embers in the middle of their fires burned better and hotter than smaller pieces of wood. This dynamic fuel quickly became one of man’s most important tools, its pigment used in cave paintings over 30,000 years ago. Over time production techniques have changed but, in its simplest form, charcoal is wood that’s been cooked in a low oxygen environment to remove all but the carbon.
At Woodsmith, we follow in these footsteps and produce Lumpwood Charcoal using a traditional ring kiln method. Our wood is split into small logs and stacked by hand. A fire is started in the base of the kiln and soon the chimney begins to produce low temperature steam. The fire will continue to create heat, driving off the liquid and other natural chemicals within the wood whilst also using up the oxygen coming into the kiln.
Depending on the species and size of the wood, this can take anywhere from 14-20 hours to complete, with the final charcoal about 25% of the original weight of the wood. Quite often you will still be able to see the shape of the logs, even the texture of the bark, in our charcoal.
Woodsmith charcoal is proudly unrefined and differs from the mass-produced briquettes that most people are used to seeing in supermarkets. The industrialised production of briquettes was spurred on by Henry Ford, inventor of the car and founder of Ford motors, who saw opportunity in using the sawdust and shavings from early car production to make a little extra money!
Modern offerings may contain sodium nitrate or petroleum as an accelerant, tainting food with an unmistakable chemical flavour. Once lit, the best quality charcoal should give off very little, if any smoke and will help to unlock subtleties of flavour hidden within your ingredients. Alongside the charcoal briquettes, supermarkets have begun to sell lumpwood charcoal. This is typically imported from all around the world, often without stating the source of the wood and with huge environmental impact.
Over the last couple of decades there has been a shift in our approach to sourcing the ingredients we cook with. We have realised it's the food cooked using locally sourced, natural ingredients that produces the best results.
At Woodsmith, we believe that charcoal itself is an important ingredient and should be produced in a sustainable way, with full traceability of where and how the wood is sourced. All the timber for our charcoal comes from the same Somerset orchards as our cooking woods and other local woodlands. Producing charcoal by hand in this way means we can invest locally to enhance the commercial value of the woodlands. This ensures they are properly managed and preserved so that wildlife flourishes for future generations to enjoy.