Although we haven’t had much chance for the last few weeks thanks to the terrible weather normally we like to barbecue two or even three times a week during the summer holidays because the kids love it and it allows us to spend some time as a family.
We bbq with disposable ones on picnics and we use our charcoal grill in the garden on summer evenings. We have a much fancier gas barbecue which has its own merits but nothing beats the taste of food that has been charred over charcoal so this is out preferred method of preparing our food outdoors.
We usually just buy charcoal and then use a fuel accelerator to burn it but instant charcoal is a good alternative though it does work out more expensive. The instant charcoal from Homebase is really good but it does cost £14.99 a bag. Though for the money you do get a massive 9kg bag.
Inside the bag you get six bags of charcoal which are wrapped in a paper bag which has been soaked in a flammable liquid so you just throw the bag in your barbecue and then light the edge of the bag to set it alight. It will then spread to envelope the entire bag in flames and heat up the charcoal inside.
It does make things a tiny bit easier and it also means that there is less mess to begin with because the charcoal is already measured out for you so you don’t need to get your hands dirty scooping it from the bag to the barbecue. The cleaning up still takes the same of course.
For instant light these are pretty good as the bag actually sets alight easily and first time. I have used some cheaper ones before and they were useless and the flame didn’t take so I ended up having to use an accelerator on them anyway.
I actually think these took longer to become white than when using an accelerator but they did get white eventually and I didn’t need to use anything to help them get there. The bag provided enough heat and flames to get all the charcoal within hot enough to cook on.
I like these instant charcoal bags. I’m not sure that I would recommend using them over traditional charcoal and an accelerator but they do what they say that they are going to do and work well though I do think that they are more expensive than they probably should be.
=== The product ===
An 8kg bag of individually wrapped 1kg parcels of charcoal. Each parcel of charcoal is covered in wrapping which is coated to allow it to be lit at one edge and then light the whole wrapping and burn the charcoal making it simple to start off a barbecue.
=== The packaging ===
Each 1kg parcel is individually wrapped in wrapping and these are then contained in a large bag. The bag is black with a chilli pepper on the front which is a little different from the usual charcoal packaging which is good. The packaging is quite simple but it's easy to understand and spot in the store which is always good.
=== How to use these ===
Each bag is coated with fluid that means you just have to light one corner and the bag will set alight, break down and then light the coals. Leave this burning, away from strong winds, for around 15 minutes and once the coals are white they are ready to be used.
Obviously you will place this in to your barbecue before lighting and we have been using two of these each time we have held a barbecue and then once they are lit we have placed some standard coals on the top just to ensure that these is plenty of coals and they last long enough to cook some meat up for the whole family.
=== How much do these cost & where can I buy these from? ===
These were purchased in summer 2011 from Homebase for £12.99. These can be reserved online to be collected in store, delivered to your home or you can just go in to Homebase and see if they have this in stock. The product number is 473047 and this will come up under 'Instant Light - 8kg - FSC' online.
=== Overall opinion ===
Each bag is quite small, however, this is great as we are able to just use two, add a few more coals on the top and then have just enough time to cook something for the whole family.
The bags work well as long as they are away from the wind. We did have two that went out a couple of times but this was soon sorted with a long match and moving the barbecue so it was a little more sheltered from the wind. The bags are very simple to light and get going in a short amount of time. They light well and in just a matter of minutes the wrapping is disappearing and then the coals are beginning to burn.
We are really pleased with these, they aren't going to be enough for a barbecue if you use them individually but with two and a few coals on top we are able to ensure that the whole family (usually 8 or 10 of us) get enough food to eat before the coals have burnt out and been finished with. The wrapping will burn away without leaving much mess behind and it won't get blown all around your garden.
These lighting bags are fantastic for us, no more faffing around trying to light the barbecue for hours on end just to be let down and have to resort to some sort of chemical that really shouldn't be burning underneath your food. These bags mean we can ave a barbecue in an instant without worrying about how to get it lit or how to keep it lit. Just protect your barbecue from the wind (or rain!) and light away!
I would say that £12.99 is a lot of money but it's only around £4.00 to have a barbecue once coupled with a few extra pieces of coal and two of these bags which isn't too bad at all for something that causes families to be more sociable in the hot summer days!
The most important thing to consider when buying charcoal to use with your bbq is not just the price. Ease of lighting and quality of the product itself is a very important factor. But mostly having tried many different types of bbq fuel that has come packed in a variety of ways I have come to the conclusion that one product shines through way over an above others and sadly it isn't the Homebase Instant Lighting Charcoal that I am reviewing here.
Homebase sell a variety of products once bbq weather is upon us and their own brand Instant Lighting Charcoal is just one of those. The product is something that does have its uses but isn't for the die hard bbq chef. I have found over the years that there are so many pretenders to the charcoal market and the Homebase Instant Lighting Charcoal is certainly one of them.
The product we bought came in a larger 8kg bag and we only ended up with it as we were in a hurry and picked out the nearest thing. The bag is decorated in black with the only decorative feature being a red hot chilli on the front. I am only describing the bag for those who want to check out the product when in store. It will be easy enough to spot as its quite distinctive with its flash of red. It also has a mid grey panel that shows some text about what the product is.
We paid a not very cheap £10.99 for the 8kq bag but when compared to a large bag of good quality lumpwood charcoal or the cheaper briquette types this is not cheap at all. Prices do vary from store to store depending on what you buy, but to me this £10.99 for the Homebase Instant Lighting Charcoal seems too much to pay and I think you are paying for the packs more than anything.
The idea of an instant lighting charcoal is that you have a product containing your charcoal within a flammable paper bag. All you need to do in theory is place a bag into your bbq and then at your leisure light the paper. You do not need any additional fire lighters or lighting fluid and the charcoal lights ready to use within around 15 minutes.
The problem with this system is that one lot of the charcoal is not enough to bbq anything much at all so you will need to add more bags. This is a complete waste of what is a very pricey product, as much of that 8kg seems to me to be the pack. The charcoal within comes in much smaller bricks that you normally get too, so whilst it lights quickly it burns out more quickly.
The best advice I can give about any of these instant lighting systems is that they are only handy if you have had problems in the past with the initial lighting of your bbq. They can be used to best effect if combined with some good quality loose lumpwood charcoal, which can be grouped around the self lighting stuff and will then catch when the flames reach them too. Using the self lighting product combined with the loose lumpwood will produce a good lighting effect and will also mean that you actually have some charcoal to cook with around 15 to 20 minutes later.
Always cook when the coals are white hot and you will get good results, by following the mix and match method above. If using just one lot of the instant lighting stuff on its own results are not half as good and the charcoal doesn't last very long. In the world of bbq fuels a good quality large chunk lumpwood charcoal is the best thing you can buy and there is nothing else that comes as close to that in terms of bbq cooking.
Rating for the Homebase Instant Lighting Charcoal is going to be just 3 stars as a product on its own. If adding your own loose lumpwood charcoal to the mix you will get far better results.
I tried a gas bbq for a couple of years on the advice of a few people I know saying that they didn't taste any different than a proper bbq, and I suppose they don't really taste that different and they are certainly much easier and cleaner to set up and use. However about a year ago we decided to knock the kitchen and dining room together and this resulted in a huge pile of bricks. I had always fancied a brick bbq and decided to set about building one with the bricks that I had, this obviously then resulted in the gas bbq getting tipped and we were back to the mess of charcoal and fire lighters again - untill I discovered Homebase instant lighting charcoal.
I suppose the main problem with a traditional bbq is the fact that when you come to set it up ready to light, you have to start stacking charcoal up neatly with strategically placed fire lighters or you have to pour lighter fluid all over the place and I think this tastes on the food. So all this normally results in you getting covered in black charcoal dust and rebuilding your pile of charcoal many times this I have always found particularly annoying.
Instant Light Charcoal To The Rescue
Then one day I happened to be in Homebase and noticed their instant light charcoal. Loads of other people do it also but it seems to come in the same size packs and cost the same where ever you buy it. Basically it is a normal looking bag of charcoal but has four further bags inside all filled with charcoal.
How Does It Work Then?
All you have to do when you come to light your bbq is take one of the bags out and lay it in your bbq, you can use two if you have a large bbq . You then simply light the bag and sit back and wait. No mess as you don't have to touch the charcoal, no need for lighter fluid or blocks as this is all infused into the charcoal and the bag. The bag burns away nicely and then the charcoal takes alight and you simply wait about 15 minutes then spread the charcoal out and you are ready to cook.
Tips For Use
Having used instant light charcoal quite a lot now I have devised a few hints and tips to help you out when using it.
* Buy instant light and ordinary charcoal, light one bag then wait till it is burning away nicely (about five minutes) then add some normal charcoal on top of the instant light stuff, this will then burn away nicely with the other saving you a few quid as the instant light stuff is dearer than ordinary.
* If having a very large bbq you can put two bags together and pile some more charcoal on top then light the whole thing and the heat from the two bags will burn the normal charcoal also.
* Make sure after you have removed one bag of charcoal from the outer bag you wrap the bag up well and store it somewhere cool and dry as otherwise the ones that are left will dry out and not light.
* If you want to cook a few different courses over a longer period of time, light one bag and let it get ready for cooking then just keep adding a little more charcoal four or five lumps at a time and these will heat up off the stuff that is already hot and keep the bbq going for a while.
Availability And Cost
Homebase instant light charcoal is obvioulsy only available from Homebase, however most large stores do their own versions and to be quite honest they are all as good as each other. You tend to get four 1kg bags for £4.99 so it works out a little dearer than normal charcoal but then you don't need any lighter blocks or fluid. Also the time and mess they save make up for the price. A bag of four should be enough for four bbq's especially if you read my tips above and buy some normal charcoal also.
The instant light charcoal performs very well, it lights easily as I have already said and is ready to cook over after about ten to fifteen minutes. It contains lumpwood charcoal, as I think all makes do, which doesn't last as long as briquets, however I prefer to cook on lumpwood for some reason that escapes me. One bag will easily last long enough to cook a meal for four and I would say you get about thirty to forty minutes of decent cooking time, however this can easily be extended as I said earlier, simply by adding a little more charcoal and if you add briquets then you will get a longer cooking time obviously. I have done a bbq for thirty to forty people in the past and this went on for about three hours. I simply lit two bags of instant light and added more charcoal roughly every twenty minutes and the bbq was as good to cook on at the end as it was at the beginning.
All things considered Homebase instant light charcoal is a very good idea in my opinion and I would recomend it to anyone. It is not that much more expensive than normal charcoal by the time you have bought lighting aids and also is very much easier to light and set up. You can use instant light charcoal at home or even take it away with you if you have a portable bbq and go camping or whatever. I do not use anything else now as the alternative involves so much messing about.
For more info visit www.homebase.co.uk
Thanks for reading..........John June 2008