Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

Let me start by saying that this is probably the longest, most picturesque, most in-depth, and most scientific post that I've written to date. Kingsford® has changed their "blue bag" formulation yet again, and I think it deserves a fair investigation.

As you can see by the claim on the bag in the image above (left bag), the new formulation is "ready even faster and burns longer". This is clearly good news, if it holds true.

Just for background, the new Kingsford® comes from an apparent "green" initiative by the company. In short, they sought to produce a product that yields the same amount of heat, but in a smaller package. The bag is lighter, which means more bags in a truck, which translates to less trucking miles, and therefore less emissions.

As I mentioned, this is all well and good, so long as I get the same or more bang for the bag. Let's dive in and see how this new stuff stacks up.

I wanted this review to be as fair and impartial as I could make it at home. I don't have a laboratory, but I am an engineer, so I did the best that I could. I ran side-by-side tests of two brand new off-the-shelf bags of the old and the new. As you will see, I've weighed and photographed each product so that you can see exactly what I saw.

Here goes...

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

As you can see, the new bag is 1.4 pounds lighter than the previous formulation.

Note: From here on the old briquettes are pictured on the left, and the new are on the right.

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

The new briquettes are about the same size, but they appear to be more tightly compressed and feature larger and deeper grooves. As you can see, the new grooves are diagonal.

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

I weighed various quantities of the old and the new briquettes and here is how they compared:

QuantityOldNew
1 briquette3/4 oz7/8 oz
5 briquettes4 1/4 oz4 3/8 oz
10 briquettes8 3/8 oz8 5/8 oz

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

For the burn test, I punched two aluminum pie pans with an identical pattern of six holes. I wanted to use a method that would contain the ash for a final weight, as you will see later.

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

I arranged the old and new briquettes in each pan as similarly as I could. I used 12 briquettes in each, in layers of six, four, and two (all with the grooves facing upward). I put a single Weber wax starter cube in each pile.

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

I lit each cube and took pictures at five-minute intervals. For those interested, the temperature was 48º and the humidity was 52%.

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

At five minutes.

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

At 10 minutes.

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

At 15 minutes.

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

At 20 minutes.

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

At 25 minutes. I started taking temperature measurements at this point. I used an infrared thermometer on the bottom of each pan at the 9 o'clock position.

OldNew
459º334º

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

At 30 minutes.

OldNew
478º313º

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

At 35 minutes.

OldNew
426º389º

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

At 60 minutes.

OldNew
431º557º

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

At 90 minutes.

OldNew
244º325º

I stopped taking pictures at 90 minutes, but I continued reading the temperatures out to 180 minutes.

MinutesOldNew
120169º203º
180136º168º

Here is a chart that shows the old and new temperatures over time. The horizontal axis is time and the vertical shows the temperatures.

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

What about ash? Well, as you can see below, they are very close, but the new stuff produces slightly less by weight (3 oz vs. 2 1/2 oz).

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

Review: Old vs New Kingsford Charcoal

OK, so what does all of this really mean? The bottom line for me is that, based on my testing, the new product lives up to its claims. In fact, I think it's better than they claim.

While you could argue that it starts slower, I think the crossover temperature at roughly 500º is a good indication that they really are comparable out of the gate.

As the chart above shows, it does indeed burn longer (and even hotter) over the long haul. Combine that with less ash weight, and I think it's an all-around better product.

Note: The new formula is far less smokey starting up than the old formula. I'd estimate that the old stuff smokes four to five times as much.

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31 Comments:
Anonymous Diva Q said...
Great Review John!
Blogger Leslie said...
I really enjoyed your review, very interesting.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I happened upon your post through FoodGawker. I've never commented on anyone's blog I've found through there. I usually just take my recipe and go --- but this post was so impressive that I had to say something.

Thanks for taking the time to so carefully test the new charcoal. I'm ready for grilling season and it's good to know the new stuff lives up to the claims.

Great job!

-Tracy
Blogger John Dawson said...
Thanks to all of you for your very kind comments. The review was a pleasure to do, and I'm glad that you found it useful. -John
Anonymous Jonathan Arnold said...
John, Awesome review. Thanks for taking the time to give us your insight. Great reading. Think I will try some this weekend.
Blogger Chris said...
My son used his first batch of the new Kingsford this past weekend and it did seem to burn longer but I was not being as objective and controlling variables like you were.

Do you know if they are also reformulating their hickory blend briquettes?
Blogger John Dawson said...
Chris - Yes, from what I understand they are reformulating the entire standard line-up. It will be interesting to see what happens with their Competition product (which I really like). -John
Anonymous James Brazo said...
Finally. Somebody doing research and worrying about the actual cooking source instead of the "best sauce" that they over pool on top of what once was beautiful meat. BBQ ain't nothin' unless it's cooked right over a good, long lasting, and in these times, "economical" heat source
Anonymous CB said...
Hey Daddio...Does the bag still say to dispose of the ash in garbage rather than the compost or garden?
Anonymous Anonymous said...
That was an incredible bit of research. Thank you very much for taking the time and effort to do a Consumer Reports type experiment
Anonymous Anonymous said...
CB- I would throw it in the garbage (after it has completely cooled, of course). I never read the bag that carefully. What's the deal?
Blogger John Dawson said...
CB & Anonymous (man, that's a common name :-) - I just checked both bags and I don't see any specific ash disposal instructions or warnings. I did a quick Google and I see opinions both ways from gardening folks (shocking, I know). Since the stuff burns at over 600*, I can't see how much "bad stuff" could be left.

I have been putting all my ashes in my compost pile for years, and my kids have no extra appendages. :-)

-John
Blogger Juli P said...
very interesting review....we have his and her grills at our house. I have the charcoal and my husband has gas (go figure, it holds true in grilling too!)anyhow, I have always purchased hardwood Cowboy lump charcoal. Do you always use Kingsford? Just curious. I'm open to trying other things, but I do like the lump charcoal.
Blogger John Dawson said...
Juli - I use many different kinds of charcoal, but Kingsford is far and away my go-to brand. I also like lump, but I find it's not as consistent and repeatable as briquettes. In competition, a repeatable process is absolutely key.

The Kingsford Competition briquettes are a great blend of both. You can think of it as lump in briquette form. See my review here:

http://www.patiodaddiobbq.com/2009/02/review-kingsford-competition-briquetes.html

I hope this helps,
John
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Thank you John. I have always been a kingsford fan & your testing only made it stronger.

Dick
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Been using Kingsford for 45 years.
The product never used to generate so much ash.

Their new bag banner should read........

SAME GREAT BAG - LOTS LESS CHARCOAL !

Just like Laundry detergent, you can say all day how you can use less and get more loads...people still use the same amount they always have and just keep paying more. Same with Kingsford Charcoal
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Wow. And all I noticed was that once again Kingsford has decided to try to fool us by cutting the amount of product they put in the bag - therefore making us buy more bags. Remember - they just cut the size of the bag a couple of years ago. I don't think it has anything to do with "green" initiatives. I think they're just trying to charge more for less.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
If you find a bag of lump charcoal, I really suggest trying it out. I bought lump charcoal once and it really opened my eyes to the real art of BBQ'ing. Never going back to the mass produced, engineered product!
Blogger John Dawson said...
I use lump all the time, but in competition consistency is king. Lump is good, but it's just all over the map in size and composition.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I guess what I see here when I look at this is inconsistency. I don't mind the variation, after all this isn't gas, and if I wanted to play it safe and easy I would be using that instead. A certain amount of skill and experience is tapped to cook food with a dynamic heat source. Still, if I really wanted to live on the edge I could use lump coal. Using briquettes is supposed to be less work and more manageable.

It's been over a year since this article was first published. What I see in thr charts here is wildly varying temps from the 25 to 60 min. marks. While the old formula gave a pretty consistent mid 400s, varying only about 50 degrees. New coals were all over the place, 313-557.

Variety makes the world go round, and if I wanted a static experience I would have used gas. However this time range is the optimum cooking window and this wild fluctuation is just maddening. If I wanted a greater challenge that day I would have gone lump. It negates the whole reason why I chose briquettes in the first place that day.

The reason I came here was my belief that the smaller coals burn out too quickly and fall through the grate more, which to me absolutely limits their effectiveness. Nothing I've read here has dissuaded me from this thinking. I'm not speaking as someone who hates progress or the product, quite the contrary. Far as I'm concerned, for quality of experience and results you just can't beat the old stuff.
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous - I use Kingsford almost exclusively and I don't have any problems. It's the best-selling charcoal in the world, and the choice of many championship competition cooks. I know first hand that you can't compete well with inconsistent fuel. The results speak for themselves.

Although we hold different opinions I appreciate you stopping by and offering your thoughts.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I'm like u john kingsford is the best! I hate to tell the people this but if our using propane u might as well be using a stove
Blogger BBQMASTER said...
I have used kingsford for over 40 years and it has lost favor with true bbqers.

Your study showed at an hour it reached over 500 degrees? Well number one who waits an hour to stat grilling and second if you do there is no charcoal left unless you dump the whole 20 lb. bag on the grill, then it is still questionable . So the question is what were you using compared to what i was using?
I use the original kingsford and it does not get hot enough to char the hamburgers, steaks or chicken. Like i said i have been using kingsford for over 40 years. IT IS NOT THE SAME PRODUCT IT USED TO BE SINCE CLOROX BOUGHT THE CO.

I SAW A PROGRAM ON DISCOVERY ON HOW KINGSFORD NOW MAKE THERE CHARCOAL AND THEY NO LONGER USE HICKORY WOOD AS IN THE ORIGINAL THEY USE ANY KIND OF WOOD AND IT ALSO SAID THAT THEY USE 40% REGULAR OLD COAL FROM COAL MINES, HOWS THAT FOR A ALL NATURAL PRODUCT.

BBQ MASTER


Blogger John Dawson said...
BBQMASTER - Far be it from me to confront a BBQ master, but you don't know what you're talking about. Have you been to a Kingsford plant to see the product made? I have. Can you substantiate your claims? No. Did you know that the majority if the char at their Belle Missouri plant is hickory? Clearly not.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
John Dawson obviously works for Kingsford. The new coals are complete crap. Hands down. Period.
Blogger John Dawson said...
Anonymous (how courageous of you) - No, I have never, nor do I now work for Kingsford. I am, however, a huge fan of many of their products. Why? Simply put, they are the best products of their kind on the market. I was raised, from a very young age, on grills powered by Kingsford. If you do some simple homework you'll quickly find that Kingsford briquets are far and away the most popular and the most winning charcoal on the planet.
Blogger Scott Ruby said...
I haven't used Kingsford in a while. Been either using gas or lump charcoal. I bought a bag recently and fired it up. What is that STINK? It's not the sweet smell of Kingsford I remember from my youth. This stuff smells like a chemical plant fire.
Blogger Harry Tuttle said...
I'm a fan of their mesquite charcoal. I grew up in West Texas and as a Boy Scout, mesquite was our only source of firewood for campfires for cooking and warmth. Almost no smell stocks in my mind more than mesquite smoke. Having just finished my umpteenth grilling with their mesquite charcoal (and smelling my mesquite infused t shirt as I type), I can tell you that, for mesquite at least, it's the real deal.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Agree with BBQ Master. Been grilling for 30 years with new Kingsford and the new product is crap. Inconsistent burns, does not last longer, and anyone who thinks otherwise is not giving a fair evaluation. Chuck from Georgia
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Agree with BBQ Master that the new Kingsford is crap. Been grilling exclusively with Kingsford for 30 years and could not be more disappointed. Burns inconsistently, burns out quicker, packed with what seems too much starch, and anyone who says otherwise is a stooge for the company. Chuck from Georgia.
Anonymous Anonymous said...
I've been using Kingsford for 30 years, and this new formulation is not as good as the old stuff. The old stuff used to get up to temperature in 20 minutes, sear the meat, and (I'm using a small Smoky Joe) I could put the lid on and kill the coals. Half of the charcoal would be left over for the next time I used the grill. Now I have to use 50% more coals, it never gets hot enough, and I have ashes left in the grill. I could get by with 12 coals before, now I have to use 20, and it never really gets that hot. It's been really interesting looking at all your posts.

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