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Charcoal vs firewood

February 15, 2011

We are planning a Dokmai Garden cooking pit, and I want to use firewood to heat the stones. I asked Ketsanee Seehamongkol, owner of Dokmai Garden, what they used in her home village outside Roi-Et in Esan. She said they used charcoal. That made me wonder why anyone would go through the trouble of building a clay kiln to make charcoal, it seems like an unnecessary step.

Ketsanee said she asked her grandfather the same question when she was a child, and he replied that charcoal is ‘conserved fire wood’. A stack of firewood may be degraded by fungi and termites, while they would never touch charcoal. Furthermore, charcoal is light and easy to pack in bags, while firewood is bulky and heavy. Charcoal does not produce as much smoke as firewood, which might be important when cooking certain dishes.

Eric Danell

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2011 7:37 AM

    There is another alternative and that is to build a pyrolysis stove.
    This can be used to produce heat, using leaves, grass or sticks for heating and cooking while at the same time producing charcoal for improvement of soils improving agricultural and forest productivity and sequestering of carbon in the soil.

    Both cooking with wood and traditional charcoal production produce dangerous, smelly by products. In the confined space of a kitchen this is hazardous to the health of the inhabitants, while a charcoal slow burning oven produces a stinking pall of toxic smoke which affronts the neighbors noses.

    For more discussion on this subject you may visit

    • February 15, 2011 8:20 AM

      Dear Ricky,

      That is a very interesting suggestion – I shall absolutely look into that option! My initial idea with the cooking pit is to learn how to cook old style, without gas or electricity, without vessels or aluminium foil, using a magnifying glass instead of matches. I was merely planning for a square meter of fire, while the neighbouring farmers burn square kilometers. It could be a one-time experiment.

      Cheers, Eric

  2. Kaarina o Boerje permalink
    February 16, 2011 7:51 PM

    Another very important reason why making charcoal: in the 16th century they found out that charcoal produced much higher temperature then did the fire wood (1600 centigrades). That invention made it possible to melt iron which in turn made it possible to make very efficient tools and, of course, rather soon in the history they started to produce various more and more deadly weapons….One may conclude that the whole industrial era started with the invention of charcoal. I may also add that Eric´s paternal grandfather and his colleagues in the 1940s was partly involved in the production of charcoal with the charcoal stacks in the area of Sweden where they produced raw iron for the industry. He was also the dean of the Swedish high school for forest wardens at that period of time where they had the charcoal production as one important subject.

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