It is extremely easy to get confused by charcoal and coal. Most people think that they are actually the same thing. They look similar and they are both used as fire starters. So, what are the differences between coal and charcoal so that you can better tell what you are looking for next time you go to the store to buy one of the two. It is best to begin looking at the definitions of each and how the two are made.
Coal is a natural mineral which is formed under plants and animals that are decaying way below the earth’s surface and is formed by heat and pressure being applied to it for a long period of time. Meanwhile, charcoal is made when wood or other vegetable or animal substances are slowly heated over a long period of time. Just be looking at the definitions alone we see that the biggest difference between coal and charcoal is that coal is a natural mineral, while charcoal is not.
If you are in the market looking for something to start your fire and keep it burning, you not only need to know what the difference is between coal and charcoal but knowing their properties and how to use them correctly is vitally important as well.
Coal takes many many years to be formed and is a result of fossil fuels forming it. It happens when vegetable and animal substances start to degrade a little bit at a time and they, in turn, get covered up by organic materials like sand and dirt. Over a long period of time the pressure that the organic substances apply to the fossil material, as well as the high temperature beneath the earth, begins to form the fossil materials into coal. Once the coal is mined out of the ground and used, it can not be made or used again.
For hundreds and hundreds of years, people have mined coal and used it as a source to forge fires. Blacksmiths especially have been known to use it for their fires because it burns for a long time and gets so hot. While it certainly has its wonderful uses, like helping to start a fire that burns for a long time, it also has its drawbacks and major issues that make many people not use it anymore.
One of the major drawbacks of using coal is that is is not available easily. It is a natural resource that has to be mined out of the ground which means that there is never going to be an overabundance. If you are able to find it, coal is very expensive to buy so using it for everyday purposes would really hurt the wallet.
When coal burns, it releases a gas known as sulfur dioxide. This gas alone is not dangerous, but if this gas is emitted and it comes into contact with water, the two together make an acid known as sulfuric acid. This is an extremely dangerous reaction as sulfuric acid can cause serious damage and burns if it is not handled properly.
Because of the toxins that it releases when it is burning, coal is not considered safe to use for cooking food. If you use it when you are doing things like grilling out or cooking over a campfire, your food will actually become poisonous and very dangerous to eat. For most people, this is the biggest thing they need to know! A big difference between coal and charcoal is that coal is toxic to cook with while charcoal is not.
Charcoal is different from coal mainly in that it is not an organic element. Charcoal is formed when water and other organic substances are completely taken out of carbonic compounds. When it is in its final state before being burned, charcoal is hard and has a dark grey color to it.
Charcoal, unlike coal, is not created organically. It is produced through a process known as Pyrolysis which is where the organic material is decomposed at the hands of man when they expose it to extremely high temperatures and take away its surrounding oxygen. A good way to visually see this is thinking about heating up wood to an extremely hot temperature and removing all the oxygen from the area. This would result in more charcoal being obtained.
There are four different types of charcoal: Extruded, Lump, Japanese, and Briquettes, and no matter which type of coal you go with they all have about 1/10th the density that coal has which means you need at least ten times or more the amount of charcoal to get to the same hot temperature that you would get from coal.
How To Know Which One To Use
If you need a higher temperature of fire, your best bet would be to go with coal as your fuel since it can burn at up to 3.500 degrees, though at its lower temperature it can be used to heat up boilers and furnaces and stays hot for an extended period of time.
Charcoal is a great option when you are going to grill out on the grill, and it actually gets much hotter than a gas grill will. This is because it is basically pure carbon and generates a lot of heat and energy- great for getting your food cooked fast. The charcoal will also add a delicious wood flavor to your food which makes your grilling experience that much better.
If you are forging a fire and burning things that require intense temperatures of fire, coal will get the fire extremely hot without heating the surrounding area up too much, while a fire forged by charcoal will make the air around it roughly 45 degrees hotter than normal which can be dangerous. Charcoal is also going to burn faster than coal.
Both coal and charcoal are perfect for starting a fire and keeping it going, but they both have their appropriate uses and each can do things for your fire that the other can’t! When you learn the difference between coal and charcoal, you will learn how to build an appropriate fire for all occasions.