Vacation Rentals by the Sea We are local - here for you every day!

Where Does Your Silver Sands Villa Barbecue Fuel Come From?

When you do a barbecue at your Silver Sands villa, if you are not using a gas grill, it is more than likely that your fuel will be what Jamaicans call "fire coal" and what you most likely call charcoal or lumpwood charcoal.

Where does that fire coal come from?
If it arrived at your villa in a recycled crocus bag or similar with the top knitted closed with vines or twigs, you can be fairly sure that it was made somewhere in the hills of Jamaica. This is a true cottage industry. There are no commercial fire coal manufacturing operations in Jamaica. Highly skilled country folk make this fire coal using a slow burn method, handed down through the generations, mostly farmers. It is an old trade that, in Jamaica, appears to be dying out.

Have you ever seen what looks like a mound of dirt with smoke or steam slowly rising from it? If it looked like this photo (below), you probably saw a fire coal kiln.

 Making Fire Coal in the Jamaican Countryside

So how is fire coal made?
Coal making requires finding and cutting hard wood trees deep in the forest, and dragging the wood back to a suitable spot where a somewhat circular pit is made. The pit is not necessarily a hole in the ground, but certainly a cleared level area. 

The trees are chopped up and packed in the centre of the pit making a mound which can be any size, depending on how much fire coal you want to make. This mound is covered with grass and leaves. Finally a few inches of dirt is used to cover the whole thing. 

The grass and dirt are critical to the success of the process. The dirt is necessary to stop oxygen from reaching the wood or it will just burn up. The grass creates a barrier, preventing the dirt from getting down to the wood so it will not char or put out the fire. The coal maker actually prefers it to steam so there is little smoke. It requires a lot of attention, to make sure that no holes are formed that will let in too much oxygen and cause all the wood to burn to ashes. The whole process takes several days. But this hard work is very profitable as a bag of fire coal sells for about US$7.00.

Is fire coal making bad for the environment?
There has been some controversy about making fire coal from forest trees. Conservationist are worried about deforestation. There was a serious effort made to convince poor Jamaicans to switch from domestic cooking with fire coal to kerosene stoves. 

Respect to the fire coal man!
When I fire up that barbecue at my Silver Sands villa, I pay respect to the poor farmers who have worked very hard to produce that fire coal so I can make my favourite jerk chicken. The price of a bag of fire coal is money that goes completely into the local economy.

The Wailing Souls released "Mr Fire Coalman" in 1971. Go to YouTube to listen to Mr Fire Coal Man.

Shelly-Ann Thompson has published a very interesting story in the Jamaica Gleaner on 7 February 2006, called Building a coal kiln.