Grilling Product Reviews: afire™ KOKO Coconut Charcoal: Hot or All Ash?
On a consistent basis the team here at GrillJunkie™ sets time aside to communicate our formal rating on either a Grilling, BBQ or Burger related product. We do this via our Grilling Product Review process. As you certainly can imagine, and most likely have experienced yourself, these products run the gamut from:
Gotta Have It!, Cool, Useful, Utilitarian, Ridiculous and the, well, Just Plain Asinine! The spectrum of grilling related products is wide.
Today’s Grilling Product Reviews candidate:
The GrillJunkie™ Grilling Product Review Scale
Based on our extensive field research, the GrillJunkie Product Review team assigns a formal rating to every product that we test. This rating is based on a 1-5 Firepot structure as depicted through our Grilling Product Review (GPR) scale illustrated below. The number of Firepots given to the grilling product indicates its final rating. The higher the number of Firepots, the more positive the review.
Quick Rating: For the more impatient reader who needs to get the rating right away, we gave the afire™ KOKO Charcoal a 4.0 out of 5 GrillJunkie™ GPR Firepots. This rating equates to a Hot product but not quite Searing. The product addresses and solves the problem for which it was designed, in a durable, fairly well designed product with heat sustaining, healthy cooking and environmentally-sensitive variables. The product lights easily, heats up well in order to quickly grill and sear while sustaining a long burn for a “low and slow” BBQ smoke-a-thon. With a bit more brand awareness and a tweak or two to pricing, availability and process issues, the afire™ KOKO Charcoal could spark long-term interest in loyalty among the ever hungry grilling brethren! For more detail on this Product Review, including the history of charcoal, the connection to Henry Ford, coconut charcoal’s debut onto the BBQ scene, as well as the many upcoming Grilling Product Reviews on our schedule, read on!
First Up: Coconut Charcoal – What, Why & How?
Ever since Henry Ford and his brother-in-law fired up briquettes of sawdust in the early 1920’s, charcoal has been mass-produced from industrial waste. Ford, the consummate businessman, was always finding new and better ways of doing things. One day when the Model T’s were coming off the assembly line he noticed many wood scraps being thrown out. So he decided to make sure all wood scraps were brought to the chemical building (Ford operated a chemical building and many others in the town of Kingsford, Michigan) to be made into wooden briquettes for home heating and other uses. The Kingsford Company we know today was formed when E.G. Kingsford, a relative of Ford’s, brokered the site selection for Henry’s new charcoal manufacturing plant. The company, originally called Ford Charcoal, was renamed in E.G.’s honor.
Whether dust from the saw mills or scraps from furniture factories, we weekend warriors have depended on producers to turn this useless leftover wood into fuel for our grills and smokers. Suddenly in 2003, there comes a different kind of charcoal made from the husks and shells of coconuts. Technically referred to as extruded coconut charcoal, this material can be formed into virtually any shape to serve most any purpose from charcoal logs to briquettes for cooking. Coconut charcoal, when manufactured correctly, burns hot and clean, imparts a slight flavor, and produces a mild, sweet, but unique smoke.
Coconut charcoal is extremely popular in Asia where it is produced and has been making its way into Europe and North America, sparked mainly by the introduction of Philippines-sourced Kamado coconut charcoal back in 2003. It was a lower ash, long burn time, hard and durable briquette that survived shipping abuse and burned with a characteristic sweet coconut smoke. However, since 2005 Kamado has only been able to sell inferior coconut briquettes that burn a short time and produce enormous volumes of ash. Does afire™ KOKO Charcoal live up to the original standard?
Hot or All-Ash?: afire™ KOKO Charcoal
Before we proceed to the formal Grilling Product Review, it is important to note that our reviews follow an organized and comprehensive structure which includes the:
- Problem that needs to be solved or addressed
- Solution to that problem
- Ugly elements of the product
- Verdict – an official GrillJunkie™ GPR (Grilling Product Reviews Rating)
So let’s dig in to the afire™ KOKO Coconut Charcoal review.
Official Product Review and GPR
- Problem – The way we view it, the options for charcoal have been limited to a handful of charcoal manufacturers of traditional briquette-style charcoal, dominated mainly by Kingsford™, or by using lump hardwood charcoal. Although these products have their inherent competition with gas grills (see our blog on Charcoal versus Gas), charcoal has sustained its popularity by attracting the purists who see gas grills as sacrilegious. However, charcoal comes with two main problems: most modern charcoal is made from some pretty nasty and less-than environmentally sustainable stuff including sawdust fillers, Borax and sodium nitrate! Then, there’s what goes on the briquette in order to set it ablaze – petroleum based lighter fluid. And, although lump hardwood charcoal does not come with the chemical side effects of charcoal briquettes, it is made from the falling of trees. With an ever-growing sensitivity to our environment and healthy cooking methods, an alternative to the charcoal status-quo was ripe for the taking.
- Product’s Solution Pitch – afire™ addressed the problem by developing, marketing and distributing a coconut charcoal product branded KOKO Charcoal. The product comes in two sizes; 4.5 lbs and 24 lbs. Specifically, the product pitch ad copy reads:
“Afire KOKO Charcoal is based on the science of using less to grill more. KOKO Charcoal is more efficient than conventional charcoal. Made from 100% coconut fiber, it burns cleaner, hotter and longer – with no chemicals or nitrates. Chemicals and impurities are non-issues with KOKO Charcoal. It is made from 100% carbonized coconut shells, a self-sustaining product that harms no trees in the manufacturing process. Coconut shells are a natural by-product left over from the harvesting of coconut milk and other coconut products, such as coconut butter, coconut oil and shredded coconut”.
“The KOKO Charcoal manufacturing process begins with carbonizing (burning) the discarded coconut shells, then compacting the remains under high pressure and extruding them into cylindrical briquettes. The briquettes feature center holes to aid airflow in the hotter-burning, longer-lasting grilling experience”.
The company continues by stating that All-natural KOKO Charcoal nullifies the health concerns associated with other methods:
- Gas-Based Impurities. It is well known that if the source of gas flame is impure; it can leave toxic substances in the meat when combined with animal fatty acids.
- High-Heat Efficiency. Excessive cooking of meat in close proximity to the flame can release HCAs. When meat is grilled for longer periods of time, for example, the HCA levels in a hamburger may increase by as much as 25-30%. When properly used, the high-burning heat of KOKO Charcoal can cook and smoke meats more quickly.
- Carbon Additives. Most charcoal is a funky amalgamation of things like sawdust, cornstarch and lighter fluid. afire™ 100% natural KOKO Charcoal has none of these additives.
- Remaining Ash. Continued exposure to large amounts of ash is another known cancer risk. The volume of ash that charcoal produces is determined by the raw material it comes from. Charcoal made from coconut shells has very little impurities and therefore leaves only about 3.5% ash. This means less soot and particles enter your cardiovascular system.
- The Good – The product has a few important positive attributes. First of all, the product is indeed environmentally safe and sustaining. The KOKO Charcoal is made of pure charcoal shells, taken from the fruit of the tree and not from the falling of the tree itself. This proves that there are many other uses of coconut shells after its milk and meat have been extracted besides a container for exotic drinks or a “shirt” at a Jimmy Buffet concert. Also, we noticed that the lighting of the coconut charcoal which we did in a Chimney Starter, was just as quick and efficient as traditional charcoal and that the high-heat efficiency and longevity of the product was impressive. In fact, the product lasted almost 40% longer that traditional charcoal or lump hardwood and reached a peak temperature of 780°F….below its claim of 800° F but far above the traditional 735° F we usually attain with non-coconut products. The cylindrical disk design with its central hole seemingly played a role in increasing air flow and heat evenness. We grilled hamburgers and brats and the product seared them cleanly and quickly. We also were pleased with the results of a brisket that we smoked on the BBQ for 8 hours.
- The Bad – There are, however, a few negative attributes to this product as well. This is not the true extracted coconut charcoal of pre-2003. Obviously things have changed a bit in the manufacturing quality and process departments that have unfortunately negatively influenced coconut charcoal products. Gone is the sweet aroma of smoking coconut shells that on a long “low and slow” BBQ run certainly added depth to the final product of a brisket, pork shoulder or a rack of ribs. The product does produce a bold smoke, however it is utilitarian and no where close to the intoxicating aroma of burning coconut. Another negative element of this product is that it produced a bit more ash than expected. Afire claims that the KOKO Charcoal will produce no more than 3.5% ash at the end of a burn. We measured about 5% ash. One last negative of this product is the price. Keeping in mind that this product is superior in its high heat efficiency and environmental friendliness, a 4.5 lb box sells for $12.99 on line, compared to a 16 lb. mainstream, in the grocery aisle, charcoal briquette bag which goes for $9.99 – $11.99. However, we did discover that Willams-Sonoma carries them for $9.99 with free shipping, There is a lot more that goes into packaging, carefully stacking, then shipping coconut charcoal, due to its unique design and shape…but does the high efficiency heat output provide a higher ROI. You would have to grill or smoke everyday for a few years to see the difference in your wallet.
- The Ugly – We did not believe that this variable applied to this product. In fact, the afire KOKO Charcoal has a clean and attractive packaging and an unremarkable, albeit benign product design. This variable is usually mentioned for the strange, extremely unique or outright asinine product. An example of strange would be our Product Review of McPhee’s Bacon Body Wash wherein, besides the obvious we took a shot at their package design. The only real “Ugly” related to the KOKO Charcoal is that you may find a bit of broken and granular pieces of the product once you open its inner bag.
- Verdict – We give the afire™ Coconut Charcoal 4.0 out of 5 GrillJunkie™ GPR Firepots. This rating equates to a Hot product but not quite Searing. The product addresses and solves the problem for which it was designed, in a durable, fairly well designed product with heat sustaining, healthy cooking and environmentally-sensitive variables. The product lights easily, heats up well in order to quickly grill and sear while sustaining a long burn for a “low and slow” BBQ smoke-a-thon. With a bit more brand awareness and a tweak or two to pricing, availability and process issues, the afire™ KOKO Charcoal could spark long-term interest in loyalty among the ever hungry grilling brethren!
GrillJunkie ™ Rating of the aFire KOKO Charcoal = 4.0/ 5.0
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