Fire & Charcoal

You can't fry brats unless you got a good fire. And you're not going to get a good fire unless you use good charcoal. But charcoal alone won't do you any good unless you know how to start a good fire. You see? It's all inter-related. Sort of like the Hegelian dialectic.

smoke coming out of charcoal chimney
smoke coming out of charcoal chimney


BratFry Ferg has suffered many a sleepless night thinking about the state of charcoal today. Tossing n' turning, heaving the Brat Fry body from one side of the bed to the other, dredging the sheets from out of their pristine, tucked under the matttress location to a more liberated environment (a procedure known as "excavating" in Brat Fry parlance). Bratfry Ferg is always on the look-out for the perfect charcoal for a Brat Fry. Charcoal briquettes are a must, because lump hardwood charcoal today is just too hot. The challenge, however, is to find briquettes that stay hot enough long enough, and do not create tons of ash in the process.

The problem is that everyone seems to always want to "improve" their charcoal recipe. The original Kingsford was great and probably was the gold standard for a Brat Fry back in the day, at least as Bratfry Ferg remembers it. But then they came out with the new, improved original Kingsford with those silly ridged coals (if they changed it, how could it still be original?). In BratFry Ferg's opinion, this new original version is not nearly as good as the old original version because it burns too quickly and produced a whole bunch of ash. Then the search began. I've tried Royal Oak briquettes (pretty good), then Trader Joe's (pretty good until they changed the recipe), then Stubb's, Great Lakes (quite happy with that) and even Kroger's when I just run out and need a quick re-supply. Wherever it may ultimately lead, the search for the perfect charcoal briquettes for a perfect Brat Fry continues.

Charcoal vs Gas

Years ago we only fried brats using a charcoal grill. How times have changed! Today only about 30% of the grilling population use charcoal. You do the math - yep, that means that about 70% have turned to gas instead. But hey, if you don't want to mess with charcoal, go ahead. Forsake tradition! Sacrifice the smell of sizzling sausage and relegate that succulent swirling of smoke to the backburner of sterile insensitivity! But just so you know what you're missing on . . . Brat Fry is a Gesamtkunstwerk - a universal synthesis of all forms of grilling. Aroma is its aura. Aroma is everything. So, if you want to become Brat Fry, you gotta use charcoal (and don't forget to put on a new T-shirt before you go to bed afterwards).


A chimney is a great investment. Ask for one if you got a birthday coming up. Since they only last about 2 years, your loved ones will thank you, knowing that they never have to worry about what to get you for your birthday (at least every other year, such as every odd numbered year, or even numbered year if you find yourself in that situation). You can use newspaper to start it as described at some other place on this website, or pieces of brown paper bags (such as the empty charcoal bags), which tend to burn longer and get a good fire going.

LIGHTLY pack two or three crumpled up newspaper pages inside. Where is inside, you ask? Lift the chimney up above your head and take a look (you have not set a match to it yet, right?). See that space in there underneath the place where you're going to put the charcoal? That's where you place the crumpled paper. Don't cram and jam it in there like you're insulating the garage. It needs some air to breath and burn properly.

Next, give the paper a light and watch it puff away! Brat Fry Ferg is convinced that you'll agree that this is the way to go. Sure beats those electric prods or even gasoline as we did in the old days and has no nasty lighter fluid smell (although that does bring back sweet memories when I catch of whiff of that when I'm out and about). Plus, a seasoned chimney in turbo-charge mode keeps the mosquitos away.

Secret Tip! By the way, we don't say "I'm going to light the fire" since you can't light a fire (after all, a fire is already lit, right?). If you want to sound like a Pro, say "I'm going to start the fire" instead. Try using different versions such as "well, I better get the fire started now" or "did anyone start the fire yet?" or "ok, I got the fire started, time for a beer." Practice it a couple of times so you can impress your guests.

Now what?

Now you wait. Perhaps 20 minutes or so, depending on a variety of factors. But don't worry about that. Once you see flames creeping up from underneath the top pieces of charcoal, it's time for the next step. I bet you're wondering how you're going to get those hot coals out of that thing. Well, just tip the chimney upside down and they'll all fall out. Pretty easy, right? Just let the coals sit where they fell for a bit. Don't mess with 'em yet. This allows the charcoal that is still black to heat up and begin to turn white. While this happens, you may want to go inside and grab another beer.

Secret Tip! By the way, Brat Fry etiquette requires that once the charcoal turns white, you should refer to them as "coals." Otherwise you sound like you don't know what you're talking about.