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Made in America for
Keepers of the Flame Worldwide

Feb 17

How Our Favorite Way to Cook May Have Helped Make Us Human

The Barbeque That Made Us

So, what do you think about when someone mentions the word “barbeque” or “backyard grilling?” Do you think about the smell of grilling meat? Do you remember the sizzle and the smoke whetting your appetite? Maybe you think about the good times you’ve had at a barbeque. You remember the laughs around the grill and the joy of sitting down to a meal with close friends and family. Perhaps, you think about the fun of cooking and eating in the great outdoors.

The point is that all of the things associated with a barbeque are positive. A barbeque is a festive event. It’s a fun time. It’s an excuse to relax, enjoy the sun and have a cold one. It is good food and good company. In short, a barbeque is a good thing. Yet, why are we so attracted to cooking, eating and socializing outdoors?

A lot of people would answer that question by stating that barbequing is a part of the American way of life. It’s just something we, as a people, do. These people might point out that they have been barbequing all their lives. They would tell you that they learned to barbeque from their fathers and grew up attending picnics and parties where the outdoor grill was the center of the fun. You know what? They would be right.

Modern barbequing/grilling is a uniquely American pastime.

There’s also no doubt that Americans love to barbeque, as these industry statistics show. In 2013, the barbeque grill industry shipped over 13 million new grills to American households. Of these grills, eight million were gas and nearly six million were charcoal. Electric grills accounted for only a small percentage of new grills sold, but the number of electric grills shipped hit an all-time high.

Overall, over eighty percent of American households own an outdoor grill. Of the people that do own a grill, fifty-one percent have a gas grill, forty-one percent have a charcoal grill and eight percent have an electric grill.

Nearly all grill owners reported that they had used their grills at least once in the previous year. Sixty percent reported that they barbeque year round, no matter the weather. The traditional summer holidays are the most popular times to barbeque, with the Fourth of July leading the pack. However, winter holiday barbequing showed a sharp rise in popularity, with Super Bowl Sunday taking the prize for most popular.

Both gas and charcoal grill owners entertain guests with a barbecue, averaging twelve barbeque parties per year. All grill owners felt that their grilling area was a functional food preparation area, as well as a place to rest and relax. We’re hoping as people learn about how fast FiAir can get charcoal to cooking temperature, the debate between Charcoal vs. Gas might very well lean in the direction of Charcoal. But FiAir is NOT what this story is about.

So, what does all this data show?

Well, it certainly does show that grilling is a popular American activity, one that has become ingrained in our social consciousness. The smell of a charcoal grill is an iconic symbol of an American summer, right up there with the sound of a lawnmower and the smell of freshly mown grass. The thing is that while the United States can claim to enjoy barbecuing, perhaps more than any other country, it cannot claim that a barbeque is a uniquely American activity.

You see, barbequing is a uniquely human activity, one that has been around for a very, very long time. Humans have long enjoyed the taste and smell of barbecued food. The idea of cooking and smoking meat over an open fire did not originate in the United States. Instead, that idea originated far back in time, long before the idea of states and nations and even cultures had been conceptualized.

How far back in time?

Well, at some point over a million years ago, a group of our ancestors stumbled through the remains of a forest that had recently caught fire. Lightening, then as now, was responsible for igniting forest fires. Perhaps, this very group had fled this fire and was now returning to what was left of their territorial area. As they walked through the still smoldering stumps and trunks they may have come upon the charred remains of a larger animal, maybe a boar or wild pig.

Our ancestors were hunter gatherers. This meant that they had to be opportunists when it came to food. If a food source showed up, you stopped and ate, especially when the source was particularly large and potentially nutritious.

As the group gathered around the fire cooked animal, a delicious scent would have assailed them. The charred fat and muscle smelled good. The meat would have still been warm, since a forest fire will actually raise the temperature of the soil enough to roast anything resting in the dirt. As they tore chunks of meat from the carcass, the group would have realized that the cooked protein not only smelled good, it tasted good. Unlike the raw meat they were used to, this cooked meat was easier to bite, chew and swallow. It also left them feeling fuller with less, since the semi-melted fat was, essentially pre-digested and readily absorbed by the gut.

At some point during or after this impromptu feast, the penny dropped and the light bulb lit. If you have fire, you have better tasting food that’s better for you and those around you. Learning how to obtain and control fire became a priority.

Now, this is just a hypothesis. The deliciousness and higher nutrition value of cooked food may not have led to the control of fire. Fire is also a source of heat for human comfort. In the dark, the light of a fire provides protection from predators and other dangers. With fire, you can sleep on the ground or in a cave in relative safety. Any and all of these advantages could as easily have given rise to the desire to tame fire as cooked food. In the end however, what does matter is that fire was tamed and controlled by one group of proto-humans and the ability to use fire, in turn, led to fire cooked food.

So, what does any of this have to do with barbecuing and grilling?

Well, the group that first tamed fire was also the first group to start getting more nutrition out of their food. This additional food energy gave that group a distinct advantage on a day to day basis. Because they were better fed, they became more efficient hunter gatherers. Because they were satisfied with less, they could devote less time to food gathering and more time to other pursuits. Because cooked food kept longer than raw food, they were better able to get through lean times when food was scarce.

Over time, these advantages began to have an evolutionary impact. Fire users didn’t have to climb trees at night to sleep, so their arms became more proportional to their bodies. Fire users also didn’t need large teeth and jaws to tear, crush and grind raw food, so their skulls became more streamlined with a more modern human look. Finally, fire users had more free time and more food energy, so their brain capacity grew and enlarged.

Our hypothetical group that discovered the impromptu barbecue in the remains of a burnt forest would have been members of a species known as Homo habilis. H. habilis is regarded as the first human. Although they walked upright, they still looked different than us. Also, their brain capacity was not much larger than their immediate predecessors, the very first upright apes – Australopithecus. In short, Homo habilis wasn’t us, not even close.

Something amazing happened to change all this just over a million years ago, right around the time of our hypothetical barbecue. A new species arose, seemingly out of nowhere. This new species, known as Homo erectus, was more streamlined than Homo habilis. The skull was more modern will smaller teeth and jaws. The arms were proportional. Most importantly, H. erectus had a brain that was twice the size of H. habilis. This was a thinking being who used fire and likely used language.

So where did Homo erectus come from and why did they arise so abruptly?

The answer is, in all likelihood, fire. Somewhere along the way, a group of Homo habilis had learned how to control and use fire to their advantage. This advantage, as we have discussed, allowed them to develop much more rapidly. In essence, the use of fire changed these H. habilis into something different, something the world had never seen before – a cognitive and rational creature.

Homo erectus was a child of fire and, through them, so are we. This fire, that we still gather around and cook over, allowed us to develop into a better and more advanced state. Fire became the ultimate tool and cooking over a fire became the ultimate advantage. Without this tool there would be no advantage and without the advantage there would be no us. So, the next time you gather around the grill to enjoy the food and the company, remember that humans have been doing this for over a million years. The barbecue made us what we are.

Jan 20

FiAir fire starter got charcoal to cooking temperature in just 10 minutes for these 2 tasty flank steaks

These 2 super tasty flank steaks were grilled over charcoal that was up to cooking temperature in about 10 minutes thanks to our FiAir air blower / fire starter. 

No more waiting forever for your charcoal to reach cooking temp. Just use our FiAir blower to cut your time to cooking in half the time you're used to. You never have to keep your guests waiting for dinner when you have FiAir on your side.

Dec 30

Got Christmas Eve Party fireplace started fast with no fuss

Got our Christmas Eve Party fire blazing in just 2 minutes with my FiAir. Lasted all evening with no fuss.

We all have better things to do when throwing a party than messing hassling with a fire. I got this one started just before our guests arrived. I did need to add wood, but never needed to add FiAir for the rest of the evening. All any fire needs is fuel and air. This fire was plenty hot enough to just add another log or two and walk away to enjoy our guests.
Dec 04

Two reviewers who love FiAir

We've gotten so many great reviews from customers and pro's alike, we decided to share them in a slightly more entertaining way. The two in this little video:

"Another one of those I-can't-believe-I-didn't-invent-this devices..." 
by Award-winning journalist and blogger Mikey Rox

"We wouldn't grill without this apparatus" from Uber Apparatus

You'll find the complete reviews here.

If charcoal grilling and BBQ are a passion or you just need a good fire in the fireplace or wood stove, you're gonna love FiAir.
Nov 03

Can I use Charcoal Lighter Fluid with FiAir?

You can use Charcoal Lighter Fluid, but if you do, use it sparingly.

There was a time when the only solution for starting a charcoal fire was Charcoal Lighter Fluid.
There are videos on youtube where people absolutely drench the charcoal with charcoal lighter fluid before lighting. There seems to be an element of glee, especially when the coals are lit and the lighter fluid blazes to life almost burning the eyebrows of the griller. Funny, but dangerous. There are two big things wrong with this picture.

  • Charcoal lighter fluid is a petroleum accelerant that is harmful to our environment
  • Charcoal lighter fluid can leave a nasty flavor in your food

Many believe the fluid will burn off by the time you're ready to cook. That is certainly a possibility if you don't overdo it. But the way most people pour on the fluid, the foul taste is almost inevitable. And never add more charcoal lighter fluid to a lit fire. You may lose more than your eyebrows.

All a fire really needs to grow is the oxygen in our air

FiAir delivers that at the push of a button.
But FiAir needs flames (or at least embers) so it has something to work on.

The good news is that these days there are lots of terrific options to choose from that are both environmentally safe AND don't mess with the flavor of your food. Here are just a few...
  • Starter sticks
  • Starter gels

If you just want to play with fire, how about doing it safely w fiair

Again, if you are going to use charcoal lighter fluid, use just enough to get the coals lit and let FiAir do the rest.

Using FiAir on lit wood or charcoal is the most eco-friendly and fastest way to get charcoal to cooking temp and wood to full blaze. 

Oct 29

What my Dad taught me about starting a fire

Many years ago my Dad taught me the state of the art of starting a fire.

Living in Pittsburgh It usually involved folding several pages of newspaper and waving it like a fan at the coals. My Dad explained that he was fanning air into the coals because all a fire needs to grow is the oxygen in our air.

OK. Got it. 

That was the state of the art when I was a kid. And it stayed that way for decades.

I'm a pretty impatient person so waiting for a charcoal grill to be up to cooking temp or waiting for the wood in our fireplace to catch were never my idea of fun. 

I even gave up charcoal grilling when our kids were young and switched to propane. Ugh. It was faster than the 20-30 minutes I used to wait for charcoal, but the flavor just wasn't there. I finally switched back to charcoal once I developed FiAir. I was never able to cook immediately with my gas grill. It usually took 7 minutes or so go heat up the box and grilling grate. With FiAir, I'm usually cooking in 8-12 minutes, so I don't feel like I'm very far behind people who grill with gas. I now have the State of the Art in my hand at my charcoal grill -- and that IS my idea of fun.

With our wood fireplaces, I now just ball up several pages of newspaper and FiAir gets the logs blazing in just a couple of minutes. Compared to bending, waving and blowing FiAir turns that chore into more fun. I love the sights and sounds of a real wood fire in the fireplace — especially when I can start it so fast without the bending. Yeeha! 

Jul 31

How many fires will I get from fresh batteries in my FiAir?

FiAir uses 3 AAA batteries and the number of fires you can get out of them is a moving target since each person will find his or her own way to use it. But that's not all.

You don't really have to run FiAir for a very long time per fire. It may be only a total of 5 minutes for an evening of wood fire. Charcoal fires are harder to figure because people start them in so many ways and other variables, but we figure an average of about 5 minutes per charcoal fire depending on -- well, you'll see the variables below.

A new set of single use (not rechargeable) Alkaline batteries will drive about 50 - 60 minutes of effective use. That estimate is based on a cumulative total of about 5 minutes of FiAir usage per fire and an overnight rest for the batteries to recover. The batteries are working pretty hard to get so much airflow through such a small device.

Your results will vary depending on:

  • how often you use FiAir
  • the type of fuel you're using (Charcoal is far more demanding than wood; briquets more demanding than Natural Wood Lump charcoal)
  • how long you need to keep the fire going
  • what type and amount of food you're cooking
  • outdoor temperature
  • how hard it's raining or snowing

FiAir is fun and very easy to OVER use!

It's kind of like Miles Per Gallon (MPG) in your car.

If you have a heavy foot and peel out from every stop light, your MPG won't be so good. With FiAir, if you have a heavy thumb and want to keep adding air to the fire just for the fun of it, you'll get shorter battery life (and use more fuel). So, take the time to learn how YOU use FiAir for your purposes and adjust accordingly. But, this is a tool meant to add enjoyment to the task of fire making. So - enjoy!

Jul 17

First Blog Post: What sparked FiAir?

In a word: Impatience

I love the taste of charcoal grilled food, but hated waiting for the coals to turn white so I could start cooking. That became a real problem when the kids were young and every time we grilled, there came the repeated mantra: Is it ready yet?

We switched to a gas grill to quiet the kids and speed things up, but taste went down the tubes.

Same deal with our fireplaces. We really loved a real wood fire on a cold winter’s night, but hated the time it takes to get it going and keep it at full blaze. 

One night, I was having an especially hard time starting a fire. I finally resorted to blowing on it until I hyperventilated. As I lay recovering on the hearth, I yelled in frustration: "Why is this so hard? All it needs is AIR! 

So I grabbed our hairdryer from the bathroom, turned it on low and aimed it at the kindling. Wow. It worked almost TOO well! 

I know I'm not the first to try this trick, but it got me thinking — air really is all it takes, right? Why not make a “hairdryer”— without the heating element (no heat, no power cord) — that can direct a controlled, continuous flow of air to fire from a safe distance? Make it elegant, affordable, portable and battery powered and we’re in business. I WANTED ONE!  So I set about finding one.

I looked at every catalog that came in the mail, searched websites and roamed through every store I could think of that might carry a product to feed fires like the one I had in mind. I even bought some of them. None had the combination of features I envisioned. I wanted a sleek, lightweight, handheld tool with a battery-powered motor to create continuous airflow. Existing blowers either required users to blow into a tube, crank by hand or plug into an electric power source. I decided I'd have to make it myself.

We've been shipping over a year now and the response has been very gratifying.

I'm starting this blog to share the mountain of information I've gathered while developing FiAir and bringing it to market. Some of the topics I'll be covering:

    • Using FiAir - best practices, tips and tricks
    • How FiAir changes the Charcoal vs Gas debate
    • Grilling vs BBQ (smoking)
    • Natural Wood Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes
    • Novel ways to start a campfire
    • Ways to organize your coals
    • Fire starters to use with FiAir
    • How FiAir can help Competitive BBQers
    • Cooking for a crowd
    • Recipes, recipes, recipes
    • Other topics as the spirit moves me

I begin this blog to inform and entertain. 
Please visit often, comment freely and let me know what's on your mind.

Alan i Harris
Founding Member and FiAir Chief
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