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Safely Lighting Binchotan Japanese White Charcoal: A Comprehensive Guide

Safely Lighting Binchotan Japanese White Charcoal: A Comprehensive Guide

Japanese Grill

Binchotan is renowned for its high and consistent heat, yet it is notoriously difficult to light.

Various online resources offer methods for lighting binchotan, including using indoor gas tops and portable gas tops, which may pose dangers. Additionally, there is the issue of popping pieces if the charcoal was stored in humid conditions.

So, what is the best and safest way to light your binchotan? Let's find out.

In this article, we will explore:

Click here to learn more about Japanese binchotan and why it is considered the best charcoal in the world.

First of all, to light a binchotan by following this user guide, you will need:

We have prepared a detailed video tutorial below to accompany this guide. The video provides visual instructions for each step mentioned here, ensuring clarity and ease of understanding.

In the video, our chef Roger Young does not use a mesh to cover the chimney to avoid popping, as Melbourne is relatively dry and his judgement on the charcoal should be safe.

However, we recommend using a mesh to cover the top of the chimney (as stated in the following step-by-step instructions), especially if you live in a humid area such as Queensland. Recently, Sydney has been very wet as well.

You will observe Roger filling the grill with 2 to 3 layers of Binchotan charcoal, depending on the size of your Binchotan. The idea is to leave a gap; stacking the charcoal too high could result in excessive heat.

So now, a few key points to remember:

  • Complete the entire process outdoors.
  • Keep this away from children.
  • Always wear oven mitts to protect against heat.
  • Cover the chimney with a grill mesh to prevent pop-up pieces.
  • Do not stack the charcoal too high to avoid excessive heat.
  • Break larger Binchotan pieces as necessary.

Understanding the Risks and Preparations

Many online tutorials suggest lighting binchotan on a stove top or a portable gas top, but these methods are fraught with risks.

Stove-top lighting can create indoor hazards due to carbon monoxide, regardless of how well the area is ventilated. The risk remains high unless there is professional ventilation that efficiently draws the smoke outdoors. 

There is also another method using a portable gas top. From some videos, we can see the flame is so high and it is so close to the gas canister of the portable gas top. It carries the risk of heat-induced explosions, as the heat is too high for a portable gas top.

The Ideal Lighting Time

Another misconception is that binchotan can be lit quickly. Although some sources suggest a 10-minute lighting time, generally, this is not accurate.

We should take time to light binchotan safely. Chef Roger Young advises that 30 to 45 minutes are necessary for the charcoal to be fully lit up. After the binchotan is lit, he will go and prepare the food, allowing the charcoal to burn for another 45 minutes. He suggests that binchotan can be burnt for a few hours, as the temperature will keep rising during the process, so there is no need to rush.

We hear some customers use a professional high-heat blow torch or an electric charcoal starter – but these may not be equipment that everyone has. Some suggest using a gas barbecue to light the charcoal, which you can do, but it can be messy.

Therefore, we recommend the following method.

Step-by-Step Lighting Procedure

  1. Charcoal can be lit outside of the konro using our charcoal chimney.
  2. Place a grill mesh on the konro grill and then position the chimney on top of the mesh. Ensure the chimney is placed stably and the konro grill is on a stable, heat-resistant surface.
  3. The chimney can also be placed on heat-resistant surfaces like concrete or bricks, but be aware it may leave marks. The idea is similar to the video above; you see Roger placing the chimney on a stable and heat-resistant surface.
  4. Arrange the binchotan vertically in the chimney.
  5. Place a grill mesh on top of the chimney to prevent pop-up pieces.
  6. Place starter cubes (we recommend a natural product like Samba natural wooden firelighters at the bottom of the charcoal chimney.
  7. Use about six pieces. Light the starter cubes.
  8. After 15 minutes, replace the starter cubes.
  9. After another 15 minutes, turn the charcoal upside down. Replace the starter cubes again if necessary.
  10. The total process takes about 45 minutes.
  11. Complete the entire process outdoors.
charcoal extinguishing pot

Extinguishing the Charcoal

Using water to extinguish binchotan is dangerous as it causes the binchotan to absorb water, leading to popping pieces the next time you use it. Although you could try drying binchotan in the sun, it is better to do it the safe way in the first place.

Our starter and extinguishing chimney can be used to extinguish the charcoal by covering the lids on both sides, but as it is not an absolute insulator, it will take time.

The donabe clay extinguisher is always the best way to extinguish the binchotan; remove binchotan from the grill into the extinguisher then cover with the lid. We demonstrate the proper method using a donabe extinguisher in our instructional video.

Remember to use oven mitts and a long tong while handling hot charcoal. Keep out of reach of children at all times.

About the Author

Roger Young, a professional musician with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and an enthusiastic chef, is the mastermind behind this recipe. His unique fusion of culinary art and music is showcased on his 'fiddle and food' channel. Collaborating with My Cookware®, Roger brings to life exceptional recipes enhanced by his delightful tunes.


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