True 'Cue Lump Charcoal
Date Of Review: May, 2010
Purchased From: Home Depot
Date Purchased: April, 2010
Weight: 8.8 pounds
Type of Wood: Ebony and Red Oak
Strange Material?: None
Scrap Lumber Pieces?: None
Smell: Very strong woodsy smoke
Country of Origin: Mexico
True 'Cue Lump Charcoal
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True 'Cue Lump Charcoal
We were contacted by In Zone, the company that brought you the Big Steel Keg grill. They have come out with their own brand of lump charcoal and asked us to do a review. What's appealing about this brand is that it is going to be sold in Home Depot stores. From a post on the Bubba Keg bulletin board: "Currently Home Depot is the only retailer selling TrueCue. This is a rolling replenishment, so we will be moving into stores as the existing brands sell out. Eventually we will be in about half the Home Depots in the United States, concentrated in the Southeast and across to the Southwest." Catch that? Lump charcoal will be available in about half the Home Depot stores. That should be welcome news for many folks who struggle to find lump charcoal.
So, we hopped on down to our local Home Depot and sure enough, there it was. Two pallets of True 'Cue charcoal. We picked up 3 bags and headed home. When we opened the first bag, we noticed that the bag is quite substantial and sturdy. This should help prevent broken bags, leaks, and charcoal all over the place. Dumping the contents onto the sorting sheet we found a very very good mix of sizes and almost no chips and dust. The 2.3% chips and dust by weight is very low compared to other brands. Here's how the various sizes break down:
Large 1.6 pounds 18.0%
Medium 3.9 pounds 44.8%
Small 3.1 pounds 34.9%
Chips/Dust 0.2 pounds 2.3%
Total 8.8 pounds
While sorting the charcoal into the various sizes, however, we noticed that quite a bit of the charcoal was not thoroughly carbonized. More about this later.
It took 5 sheets to start the charcoal in our chimney starter test, which is high compared to other lump charcoals. The charcoal is relatively hard to start and the fire spreads relatively slowly. While burning in the chimney, there was very little sparking and no popping. The smell of the burning charcoal was a very strong woodsy smell. More on this later, too.
In our maximum temperature test, the charcoal was able to burn at 935 degrees which is high compared to other charcoals we've tested. And again there was very little sparking and no popping while the charcoal was burning full tilt. When we run this test, we let the charcoal in the chimney starter get roaring away and then we dump it into a medium Big Green Egg. We add more charcoal to bring the charcoal up to a certain level, then let it burn with the vents wide open. Once again we found the fire quite slow to spread and get going. And once again, we found the smoke to be very strong.
Next we ran our burn time test and the charcoal only burned an average length of time compared to other brands we have tested. When we lit the charcoal with a MAPP torch, we finally got some popping and sparking, but not very much. Nonetheless, you should exercise care when using a MAPP or other type of torch to start lump charcoal. During the burn test, we were once again struck by the strong smoke and how long the charcoal produced smoke during the test. There's no getting around it, this charcoal has a strong smoke. We could smell the smoke all around our house, which is unusual.
Finally, True 'Cue charcoal produced a large amount of ash. If you look at the volume of ash as an absolute amount, this charcoal produced the third highest amount of ash of any lump charcoal we've tested. Even when you look at the volume of ash as volume per hour of burn time, this charcoal produced the fifth most ash of any lump charcoal we have tested to date. It just produces a lot of ash.
It seems that the charcoal is not getting adequately carbonized. As you can see from the photo down below (and the "enhanced" photo in which we bumped up the contrast and saturation in order to make the uncarbonized charcoal stand out), a fair amount still resembles wood in appearance rather than charcoal. This probably accounts for the strong smoke, the long lasting smoke and the average burn time. (Instead of burning a pound of carbon, you are burning a pound of volatiles and carbon.) We ran into this once before with a brand where the owner said he deliberately didn't take the kiln to as hot a temperature as most charcoals in order to get more smoke. Evidently, the same thing is going on here.
So what rating to give? The maximum temperature and the size distribution are great. However, it burns only an average amount of time, it's hard to start, and it produces an amount of ash that barely escaped the Very High category. And then there's the smoke. The smoke is probably a lot stronger than most people would like and could very well drive some people away altogether. As a result we give it our Above Average rating.
Reader's Score: 3.65 (64 votes)
5 - Best Ever 20 (31%)
4 - Good Stuff 20 (31%)
3 - So So 12 (19%)
2 - Pretty Bad 6 (9%)
1 - Worst Ever 6 (9%)
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Statements From The Bag
"Better Fuel Makes Better Food!", "100% Natural", "Better Than Briquets", "Authentic BBQ Flavor", "Ready to Cook in 15 Minutes!", "Burns Hotter and Longer", No Chemical Additives of Fillers"
"True 'Cue™ 100% Nautural Hardwood Lump Charcoal delivers the ultimate outdoor cooking experience with authentic flaovr, unmatched performance, and incredible convenience. Unlike charcoal briquets, our Lump Charcoal contains no chemicals, additives or fillers. No chemicals in the charcoal means no chemical flavors in your food. You just get that delicious natural flavor of cooking over a real hardwood fire. Also, True 'Cue™ 100% Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal lights more quickly, burns hotter, and lasts longer than briquets. This means your grill will heat up faster and you'll use less fuel each time you cook. Clean up is easier too. It's the fillers in briquets that create all that messy ash. With no fillers, our Lump Charcoal produces about 5X less ash. Make True 'Cue™ the natural choice for your next barbeque because Better Fuel Makes Better Food!"
"For Your Safety
Never use gasoline to light True 'Cue™ 100% Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal.
Grill should be placed on a flat level surface away from flammable items, overhangs or trees.
Do not add lighter fluid directly to burning or hot charcoal.
Keep children and pets away from hot grill."
1. Arrange True 'Cue™ 100% Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal in a small pile in your grill.
2. Insert firestarters into the pile. You can use True 'Cue™ Matchtop Firestarter sticks, firestarter blocks, firestarter packs or similar solid firestarters.
3. Light firestarters. You will be ready to cook in just a few minutes. Unlike briquets, you do not need to wait for the charcoal to ash over.
Optional Lighting Methods
1. Chimney Starter Method
Fill and light according to manufacturer's directions.
2. Lighter Fluid Method
Follow directions on the lighter fluid package."
Unusual or Unique Statements
The Ruler Used In The Following Photographs
We use the following ruler in the photographs which follow. The blocks are 1 inch wide. The
upper scale is in inches, while the lower scale is in centimeters. The distance between the
centers of the two targets is precisely 9 inches.
Photos Of Contents
This is the contents of the bag. Those are 1 inch squares on the measuring bar.
This is the same photo of the contents of the bag, but we have exaggerated the contrast and saturation of the colors in order to make the uncarbonized pieces show up.
Here is a closer view.
Here are the larger pieces we found in the bag.
Here are the contents of the bag sorted into medium, small, and too small/chips/dust.
Photo of UPC Code
Here is a photo of the UPC code on the bag:
In Zone, Inc.
2251 Corporate Plaza Parkway, Suite 200
Smyrna, GA 30080