We’ve been friends with Matt Williams, the clever chap behind The Oxford Charcoal Company, for several years now, as he’s a big fan of our Flamers (more about that later). We wanted to ask him why more people don’t BBQ year-round and his thoughts on encouraging the Great British public to cook outdoors, even in winter.
Traditional artisan crafts run in Matt Williams’ blood. He spent many years as a thatcher prior to starting The Oxford Charcoal Company. He was living in a thousand-acre wood and wanted to find a way to create a sustainable living that also allowed the woodland to be properly managed. He tried shingle making and spoon carving, but eventually hit on the idea of creating really good charcoal.
One of the problems with traditional charcoal making is that it’s not great for the environment. The heat used to burn off impurities in the wood during the production process creates the likes of methane, one of the worst of the greenhouse gases there is.
We import 60K tons of charcoal into the UK every year from many of the world’s poorest countries – the same ones that are facing massive deforestation as people try to eke out a living from tropical rainforests. One such culprit is charcoal making – one of the many industries playing havoc with our eco-systems.
However, The Oxford Charcoal Company is different. It uses only British wood and Matt has also created a type of kiln that means the entire process is emission free.
Talking through his ideas with timber expert Simon Fineman over a pint down at their local, he was delighted to receive Simon’s financial blessing and the company was launched in 2013.
The company now employs 15 people and is the biggest UK supplier of charcoal. They specialise in single species charcoal, which imparts a subtle flavour to any food being cooked with it. Sweet chestnut is perfect for pork whilst Wild Cherry adds a dash to duck, for examples – the pairing is all important. His charcoals are in huge demand from restaurants all over the country, keen to offer customers something a little different. Places such as the Hang Fire Southern Kitchen in Wales and Northampton’s Smoke Pit are big fans of The Oxford Charcoal Company.
It’s not just his big customers who are intrigued by his approach. People who use Matt’s charcoal for home BBQing are keen to know more about the company. Matt is planning kiln tours in 2018 where clients will get a guided tour of the production process and then enjoy something from the BBQ, Oxford Charcoal Company style.
What intrigues Matt is why the Brits wait until the hottest day of the year to stand around a fire to cook outdoors! He uses his BBQ all-year-round to cook most of his meals. Here’s his advice:
“To be able to cook in a variety of way with your BBQ, you need one with a lid – a kettle BBQ is ideal.
I cook my Christmas turkey in the BBQ – not only does it add an exceptional flavour, it keeps it moist and leaves plenty of room in the oven to cook all the other side dishes.
The key to using your BBQ to cook more than just sausages and burgers, is to create a small fire on just one side of the drum. Once the embers are glowing, put a drip tray on the other side and place your turkey in the BBQ to cook. A BBQ with a temperature dial is a must to ensure everything is well cooked – it should be at about 125oC to cook the average-sized bird. Always use a meat probe to make sure the internal temperature reaches 75oC.
I cook my Sunday roast on the BBQ as well as breakfast and don’t think twice about putting pots and pans on the grill to cook veggies. If you think about it, it’s a heat source, just like any cooker. The secret is to cook outside, but eat inside. You don’t have to watch over most things you cook, but I find friends and family often join me – who can resist a fire in winter?”
So why Flamers then? Well, according to Matt, if you use traditional paraffin-based fire lighters with his charcoal, it over-powers the subtle aromas and everything tastes of paraffin. Flamers are odourless, work really well and let the charcoal do its thing.
Find Orange Wood, Ash, Alder and more at the wonderful emporium that is www.theoxofrdcharcoalcompany.co.uk
We thought’s we’d end this feature with a lovely poem by AA Milne about the charcoal burner.
The Charcoal Burner
By AA Milne
The Charcoal Burner has tales to tell.
He lives in the forest,
alone in the forest;
he sits in the forest,
alone in the forest.
And the sun comes slanting between
and rabbits come up, and they give him
and rabbits come up and say, ‘beautiful
And the moon swings clear of the tall black trees
and owls fly over and wish him goodnight,
quietly over to wish him goodnight…
And he sits and thinks of the things they
he and the forest, alone together —
the springs that come and the summers
autumn dew on bracken and heather,
the drip of the forest beneath the snow…
All the things they have seen,
all the things they have heard:
an April sky swept clean and the song of
Oh, the Charcoal Burner has tales to tell!
and he lives in the forest and knows us