In its latest expansion on its slow-burning march across the U.S., Basques Hardwood Charcoal, a family-owned Canadian charcoal company, officially hit the shelves of Harpeth True Value Thursday as the Franklin store became only the third in Tennessee to carry the brand.
Though Basques’s Sugar Maple Charcoal has a relatively small presence in the area so far, its unique flavor and consistency are gradually winning fans across the American competitive cooking market and beyond.
For Harpeth True Value owner Shelley Moeller, that growing fanbase made supplying the charcoal a simple decision.
“I had a customer drive in all the way from Huntsville, Alabama, because he was in a competitive cook-off and they were out down there, and he drove all the way up here to get it,” Moeller said. “And that really made an impression on me. I didn’t even have it out yet – it was in a back room.”
One such fan, Jeff Campbell, owns Neptune Refreshments, an office bottled water and coffee machine supplier located in Watkinsville, Georgia. A competitive chef in his spare time, he discovered the Canadian brand eight years ago while searching for new charcoal. It didn’t take long for him to connect to the company, and today, he works in tandem with Basques, helping distribute their charcoal across the southeastern and southwestern U.S.
“I kind of stumbled across Basques,” Campbell said. “They weren’t selling anything this far south, but they sent me a couple bags, and I really liked it. I was sold on it when I tried it.”
For Franklin resident and competitive cook Bill Kreager, finding high-quality charcoal is a crucial component of a successful competition. Maintaining flavor throughout a piece of meat requires consistent heat, and natural lump charcoal like Basques’ provides the stable temperature he needs to cook well.
“I’ve started using lump charcoal on my smoker, because when I smoke, I’m constantly monitoring the temperature the grill is at,” Kreager said. “I have to be constantly adding wood, so if I can more easily manage my fire with a lump charcoal that I know how it burns, that’s what I’m going to be looking for.”
Basques doesn’t just emphasize producing a high-quality charcoal. With its emphasis on preserving the local forests as it harvests the lumber it needs, Basques was the first North American charcoal to be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, according to its website.
“In their (Basques’) experience selling worldwide, this is another way to show it’s a premium product,” Campbell said. “They only cut down trees that have stopped producing syrups, and another tree grows in its place. You know they’re doing it the right way, and that’s important.”
From his first time cooking with Basques charcoal this month, Kreager knew he had found a strong new brand of charcoal.
“We did a little cookout here before the Fourth of July, and I cooked 16 racks of ribs,” he said. ”A couple of people who I have cooked for before said these were better ribs that I had ever done, and I have to think the charcoal had a hand in making it taste better. The flavor profile was there, and the consistency in the heat was there.”
Basques Sugar Maple Charcoal can be bought at Harpeth True Value, located at 203 Downs Blvd. in Franklin.