If you possess only one barbecue, it should be a Weber 22½ inch kettle. There’s just something quite impressive, for those who’ve not seen it, in extracting a golden brown, hickory-smoked whole 15lb turkey from beneath the lid of your barbecue. It gets even more impressive when the assembled diners realize that, for some reason, Webers tend to keep the food moist rather than drying it out. A rare and much-appreciated feature when it comes to turkey cooking.
Fortunately, this doesn’t apply to me. I’ve got four barbecues, five if you count the brand new, still boxed replacement Weber kettle lurking in our loft ready for when my 20-year-old trusty original finally gives up the ghost, though two of them are portable travelling barbecues.
Barbecues should, of course, be charcoal powered. Anything gas-powered may superficially resemble a barbecue but it is really just an oven in the garden. All my barbecues are charcoal powered. Real lumpwood charcoal is the finest fuel for direct grilling of things like fish and steaks but, to power the indirect, long-cooking required for the smoked 15lb turkey trick, charcoal briquettes are most appropriate; lumpwood just doesn’t burn for long enough. The aptly named American Kingsford charcoal briquettes are best – they are, indeed, king – but regrettably we cannot buy them in the UK. (It has been known for friends to hand-import them but we really need a bona fide supplier.) No, we must put up with inferior briquettes that emit noxious fumes when first lit. Fortunately, these noxious fumes get driven off reasonably rapidly, within about 15 minutes or so, before the real heat builds up and you start cooking. Only the neighbours get tainted and not the food.
A week or so ago, my winter charcoal stocks having finally been depleted in our thus far inglorious so-called summer, I was out buying some new supplies. I was quite excited to see something new on the market this year: Weber charcoal briquettes. Since Weber knows everything there is to know about charcoal barbecues, presumably they also know a lot about briquettes. They claimed to burn hotter and longer than regular briquettes. Maybe these would prove to be a reasonable substitute for Kingsford briquettes. Maybe these would not emit such plumes of noxious fumes. I bought two 7Kg bags and prepared to hickory smoke a turkey (only a 10 pounder) for some friends.
When the day came to bronze the bird, I threw two fire lighters (a lazy but trusted technique) into my charcoal chimney along with my new Weber briquettes and lit up. For some reason, I also shut the air vents, as recommended by my hand-importer of Kingsford, even though I usually leave them open. A little smoke began to drift upwards so I went to make other preparations as it burned up. 15 minutes or so later Carol spotted that there were, indeed, very few fumes being emitted from the Weber briquettes. Regrettably, there also seemed to be very little in the way of heat being emitted from the Weber briquettes. Yes, they had failed to light. In 20 years of barbecuing, I had never before suffered an ignition failure. Panic! Reload with the old, trusted noxious fumes generating briquettes and start again. Better and, after a couple of hours, a beautifully-bronzed hickory-smoked 10lb turkey.
I tried the Weber briquettes again yesterday. No guests this time, just a modestly sized chicken for myself and Carol. I also took the precaution of using three lighting cubes and reverted to my normal technique of opening the air vents to get a good draw. Smoke began to drift up. After about 10 minutes the smoke died down. The heat also died down. My second ignition failure in 20 years. This stuff certainly doesn’t emit nasty fumes. It doesn’t emit anything.
I decanted the Weber briquettes, half-filled the chimney with noxious-fume generators and topped off with the recalcitrant Weber stuff. Finally, success! The regular smelly briquettes fired up readily and seemed to generate sufficient heat for long enough to force the Weber briquettes to burn.
I’ve no idea how one is expected to light these blasted Weber briquettes without other charcoal. I think a blow-torch or tactical thermonuclear device would be needed. Very disappointing!