Product Review

Yakiniku and Yakitori Charcoal from Binchotan, Peat, a Lump of Coal, and Coconut Shells (Did Gilligan Know This?)

Recently, I watched some dude create a massive charcoal grill bonfire in a motel parking lot. As the dude shot a stream of lighter fluid onto the grill, a flame rode up the constant and excessive stream to his plastic bottle of lighter fluid, which then caught fire. He then went code brown and threw it to the ground, which sprayed all over the parking lot, setting it ablaze (don’t be this dude).

I should have got it on video, but it would have been too obvious that I was out to capture his buffoonery. On top of that, I saw no hot dogs, hamburger patties, or a rack of ribs nearby. The dude was all about his fire (not the type to instigate).

I am here to break down what Japanese binchotan/bincho-zumi aka “white charcoal” is, along with what is it good for, and where to buy it (also, if you should buy it and what are the alternatives).

If you are about to do some yakiniku (grilled meat) or yakitori (grilled chicken), you clicked the correct link.
Photo Description:
Staying power, not a heavy smoker, and brings the heat, what else could you want in a significant other and charcoal. Picture by Korin.com

WTF is Charcoal

During the zombie apocalypse, if any of us got asked to produce some of the most basic things we take for granted, such as a pencil, an eraser, or charcoal, the vast majority of us would not even know where to start. Which is good that an eraser or pencil will not be a top commodity during the apocalypse, but charcoal would be (so you better keep reading).

Charcoal is primarily carbon but if that only confuses you even more (like it did for me), keep reading cabron.

The 4 most common elements in the universe is: hydrogen, helium, oxygen, and carbon (humans are composed of hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen, along with a few cabrons).

Not only would we not know where to start, but what the hell is an eraser (what is it made of?), or the material used for pencil lead (lead pencils do not contain lead, so what is it?), and what is charcoal made of (do not say it is made of charcoal)? Also, is the charcoal for a grill related to charcoal tablets/capsules?!?

Let us find that out because if you have read any of my previous blog posts, you will know I really do not know chit, so what I do is research the hell of the topic. Then I aggregate it all and spew out like a dude with big bottle of lighter fluid in a cheap motel parking lot.

Photo Description:
I specifically created this blog post for anybody who has purchased or is about to purchase a shichirin yakiniku or yakitori konro/grill. Image by STRONGlk7 via Creative Commons.

This is Why Binchotan (Charcoal) is Popular

One aspect of its popularity is that binchotan is chemical-free charcoal great for grilling food.

White binchotan is chemical free, almost smoke free, and burns three times hotter (1652-2192ºF / 900-1200ºC) than American charcoal for up to 4-5 hours.”

– Korin.com, New York City, NY

Types of Binchotan and Charcoal for Grilling

Most of our fellow humans use “grilling” and “barbecue” interchangeably, but grilling is high-heat and barbecue is low (heat) and slow. So if you are grilling, having a charcoal burn three times hotter is what you want.

The most popular raw material used in Japan for bincho-tan is ubame oak (quercus phillyraeoides). Although, due to the popularity and dwindling supply, age of the producers (Japan is a geriatric society), you should consider alternatives.

I have alternatives to binchotan listed below.
TYPE OF CHARCOALDESCRIPTION
Sumi charcoalIs an economical charcoal briquette, chemical free and almost smoke free, it is easier to light, with a 3 hour life, and is a product of China.
Kamitosa white binchotanFrom the Kochi prefecture, on the island of Shikoku. This binchotan ranks equally with the Kishu binchotan as the highest quality binchotan available in the world today.
Kishu ubame binchotan Wakayama is the most popular region of Japan for ubame oak binchotan, white charcoal is chemical free and almost smoke free.
Popularity and sustainability seems to be in competition with one another.

Types of Materials Charcoal is Made From

Regardless of the source of the raw material, charcoal is ideal for yakiniku to yakitori (grilling). Although, the best one for you depends on what you care about: price, performance (heat, shape/uniformity, duration, and ease to start), the environment/sustainability, and availability.

You do not need to know all of the raw materials charcoal is derived from, but here are four other types: 1). peat, 2). coal, 3). wood, and 4). coconut shells.

  1. Peat (aka turf, not terf, but the organic grass kind that is part of the Earth): as a whisky drinker, especially one that loves whisky from the Islay region, I may tout something as “peaty,” but as far as knowing what peat is, I had no clue till now.
  2. Coal: if I had received a lump of coal in my x-mas stocking, I may have had a better understanding of what it is, but we never celebrated x-mas (the time we did, we got fruit roll-ups that we also had no clue what it was). Now decades later, it does not appear I got any smarter because it was not till this blog post that I could tell you that coal was a sedimentary rock. Created from dead plant matter that decays into peat and then is subjected to heat and pressure over a millions of years which we then get what we call coal.
  3. Wood: yup, wood, but not just any kind of wood. The kind you will need that is the best for producing lump charcoal are hardwoods such as oak, walnut, and fruitwoods. The only downside to lump charcoal, like the other charcoals sourced from natural materials is that they can be uneven in size and shape. Although, you can produce your own by burning (low oxygen burn) your own wood which results in a high carbon charcoal (very little organic material is leftover).
  4. Coconut shell: I wonder if the Professor ever had Gilligan producing coconut-shelled charcoal because they consumed their fair share of coconuts. It is also why coconut shelled charcoal and briquettes rank high for being environmentally sustainable because they are from the waste of shells and husks.

Oga-tan is product you need to know about because it is made up of sustainable natural materials. These hexagonal shaped briquettes with a hollow center are formed (pressed) from the sawdust from fruit trees in Southeast Asia.

Like binchotan, ogatan is also additive free, reaches high temps, and is relatively smoke free.
Photo Description:
The “optimized” and sustainable option for anybody looking for a binchotan alternative for yakiniku and yakitori. Photo courtesy of DryPot

Activated Charcoal/Carbon (Other Uses Other Than For Grilling)

You will hear the term “activated charcoal” (also activated carbon) used all the time and all it means is:

Activated charcoal has a high degree of microporosity, which means it has massive amounts of surface area for absorption of contaminants in the air and water.

Often prescribed for overdoses or poisoning or if you fart a lot.

Activated Carbon/Charcoal Products Uses

Photo Description:

This is the short list because the uses for activated carbon is an extensive one that ranges in uses from industrial applications to the medical field. A few examples are removing organic impurities from the bright nickel electroplating solution to medical cases to treat overdoses/poisonings.

  • A chemical-free grilling charcoal.
  • Absorbing toxins through its pores that trap chemicals and is widely used for drug overdoses/poisoning. The over-the-counter product will treat you gassy and farting, diarrhea ridden, and indigestion types.
  • A popular way to filter water is with activated charcoal (the primary filtration method for a Brita water filter).
  • Air deodorizer.

Binchotan charcoal is full of surprises. It has a metallic sheen that belies its wood origins, and yields powerful heat despite burning cleanly and silently, without smoke. Though it doesn’t start easily, once ignited it burns steadily with a beautiful flame, giving those who master its use new control over the flavor of grilled foods. The lack of chemical additives and the incredibly high heat preserves the flavorful juices, adds a beautiful sear, and makes anything barbecued on it absolutely delectable. These wonderful charcoal are not limited to kitchen usages, they also have health benefits if used properly, such as air filtration and the ability to absorb humidity and bad odors.”

– Korin.com, New York, NY

Do Not Forget These Charcoal Tools (How to Start Binchotan)

Unlike dude who was using a gallon of lighter fluid to start his charcoal, this is what you need to properly start binchotan charcoal:

  1. A charcoal starter pan (Korin).

Where to Buy Genuine Binchotan and Ogatan Charcoal

This is blog post is a work in progress, so I will be making several ongoing changes on where to buy.

After all my research that took a couple of days to lump together into a briquette of a blog post, I highly recommend for most uses that you use ogatan charcoal for your next yakiniku or yakitori cookout.

BTW, I had to throw this in, but erasers are made of either synthetic or natural rubber.

Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.

COMPANY
BRAND
BINCHOTANOGATAN
Korin
New York City, NY
Grilling/yakitori
yakiniku
Ippinka
Houston, TX
Toronto, ON
Currently, products
for water filtration.
Jealous Devil
Bakersfield, CA
A product
of Paraguay,
South American
Hardwood
Knifewear
Canada
“Vietnamese-style log
charcoal from your
friends at Knifewear.”
 
Morihata
Philadelphia, PA
Various uses/products
not specifically for grilling
MTC Kitchen
New York City, NY
Ogatan charcoal
fruit trees from
Southeast Asia
Thaan
Portland, OR
Than Charcoal is natural,
Thai-Style log charcoal.
It is a long burning, clean
and natural alternative
to commercial charcoal briquettes.

Through this research, I have realized that charcoal is not just good for grilling. The most important usage is probably as biochar which is having a significant impact on improving soil quality

If you want to learn about carbon farming or biochar, NHK has a great vid on it, or you can read about it on Regenerational International.

Worthwhile Reads on All Things Charcoal

There are all too many hack journalists and bloggers, but this list are the ones that are a cut above the rest.

One other thing, here are “11 things the Professor built on ‘Gilligan’s Island’ instead of fixing the boat.

– MeTV

Fire icons created by alkhalifi design – Flaticon

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