Lone Star Dispatch: Breaking Coal in Jeddo, Texas

From the keyboard of guest blogger Daniel Vaughn, whose computer smells vaguely of brisket.

Under an overcast Central Texas sky, grown men covered in soot are hunched over charred branches, hacking at them with hammers and picks. Once small enough, these chunks of charcoal are scooped into large nylon bags labeled OAK, HICKORY, MESQUITE, and PECAN. The men’s faces are obscured by surgical masks and plastic goggles cloaked with a fine layer of black powder.

Photo by Daniel Vaughn

Elsewhere on the grounds, there are furnaces housed in modern metal buildings next to decommissioned concrete burning chambers—now covered in vines and filled with weeds. Stacks of wood taller than a man border the property, and when a breeze blows through the fresh split oak, it smells like bourbon.

Photos (here and below) by Nicholas McWhirter

Farm to Market Road 713 will get you from Whizzerville to Jeddo, some twenty miles east of Lockhart. At that point the road continues, but gone are the well-maintained asphalt, the yellow lines, and any semblance of a shoulder. At the Jeddo crossroads, FM 713 becomes Charcoal Road and quickly takes a sharp bend to skirt the Post Oak Ranch. When this isolated road bends back, there’s a faded sign for B&B Charcoal, Inc. The logo is familiar to many Texans, even if they can’t locate Jeddo on a map.

Paper sacks full of B&B hardwood charcoal are given shelf space in grocery stores across the state. Some use it for grilling, while others start the fires in their smokers with a chimney full of oak lump charcoal. Unlike the uniform briquettes of charcoal out of a Kingsford bag, these lumps are irregular, with visible grain still intact and sharp fissures from the hammers and picks.

Since visiting B&B, the sparks dance even brighter as I light my smoker and think of the work that went into my charcoal.

You can follow Daniel Vaughn on Twitter at @bbqsnob.