We often think carefully about where our food comes from, but it’s also important to consider the fuel we use to cook it.

Whether you’re firing up the barbecue or lighting the pizza oven, cooking with charcoal is a fantastic way to add smoky flavour to your food. But do you know how charcoal is made, or where it’s from? Jamie and Jimmy hit the road to find out more about this fuel.

Where does charcoal come from?

Britain is the biggest barbecuing nation in Europe, and we currently import 95%
of the charcoal that we use to grill our food.

Charcoal is made by burning wood, usually in a brick oven, and restricting the oxygen so that it keeps its shape. A large proportion of the charcoal we import comes from Namibia, Paraguay, and Nigeria, where its production brings challenges around deforestation and pollution.

For instance, Paraguay has the world’s worst tropical deforestation rates, and yet the country uses an area of forest the size of London every year in order to make charcoal. The UK imports 5,000 bags a day of charcoal from Paraguay.

So, what should we buy?

Look for the FSC mark on charcoal packaging, it’s a sign that auditors have visited the source of production, and checked that deforestation wasn’t being worsened by the process.

But, if you want to be really confident in the quality and credentials of your charcoal, buy British.

British charcoal

In the show, Jamie and Jimmy speak to Matt Williams, who runs a British charcoal company. Matt’s charcoal uses less energy to produce, and creates less pollution in the process.

He explains that it takes just four tonnes of wood for him to make one tonne of charcoal, compared to the global average of 12 tonnes of wood for every single tonne of charcoal produced.

Meanwhile, as his wood burns in the ovens it releases a gas which is then re-used in a circular system that means significantly less air pollution.

Where does the wood come from?

Matt’s wood all comes from sustainable sources, where they make sure the trees are being replanted. And by using British trees, the charcoal industry also encourages good forest management. This is because woodland needs a balance of light and shade – so felling some trees for charcoal benefits wildlife and other plant growth.

Meanwhile, trees that have grown under a shady tree canopy can be misshapen. So this wood can’t be used for many other purposes, and is ideal for charcoal. Win win!

The taste test

British charcoal is definitely more sustainable, but is it better quality? Jamie puts it through its paces with a grill off…

The first thing he notices is that British charcoal is less dense – each piece is larger and lighter. It has a higher carbon content than other products, meaning it burns longer and more slowly, giving you fantastic control.

The results: Jamie and Jimmy love the woody smokiness and pure barbecue flavour from the British charcoal. And when compared directly, they can both taste more chemicals in food cooked over the standard charcoal.

So, for better flavour, longer burn and sustainably produced charcoal that helps the environment, look for FSC-certified charcoal or – even better – buy British!

You can read more about Jamie’s campaigns on Friday Night Feast, here.