When it comes to tailgate grilling most of us fall into 2 camps: Charcoal or Gas. If you’re in the “Gas” group you probably appreciate the convenience and speed that you gain from that fuel source. Our friends in the “Charcoal” group are prepared to forgo the ease of use you might get from gas, if it means that they’re able to get the smoky goodness that only burning wood products can produce. Whichever side you find yourself on, you probably wouldn’t mind a little help with making things go more smoothly. Unfortunately the bulk of the new grilling products seem to be aimed at gas-grillers, but every once in a while we’ll see a new product for the charcoal crowd. The FiAir is one of those products.
(Disclaimer: We did receive a sample of the FiAir for free. The fact this sample was provided to us free of charge in no way influenced our opinion of the product nor did it impact our ability to test and review the product fairly and objectively.)
Quite possibly the biggest hurdle to using a charcoal grill is getting the stuff lit. There are several options, but I would imagine that the two most widely used options in the tailgating world are going to be lighter fluid or a chimney. Lighter fluid or those match light briquettes are probably the simplest option, but the smell of the lighter fluid can impact the quality of your food if used improperly, and using too much can cause a very large flame that burns quite large. Chimney starters are great options in that they can light a large amount of coals without the need for accelerants. Furthermore the coals are all contained and any flames outside of the chimney are going to be more contained. But chimneys can take a good while to get going, especially if you pack them full. That’s where the FiAir comes into play.
We all remember that the 3 ingredients for fire are Fuel, Oxygen (Air), and Ignition. Just like a clean air filter in your car, the introduction of more air and thus more oxygen will lead to a hotter more intense fire. The concept of adding more air to a fire is not new. The earliest examples of this can be found way back in the ancient world, when ancient blacksmiths would stoke their fire with bellows made of leather to allow them to forge their ancient tongs and spatulas. All kidding aside, the FiAir works in much the same way, it uses a battery powered fan to direct a stream of air into a fire. The claim is a hotter burning, and thus quicker lighting fire. How quick? They say you can get your coals lit in half the time, which is what we’re going to test.
The FiAir is incredibly simple to operate. Load 3 AAA batteries into the end, lock on the cap, and press the button. What you get is a nice steady stream of air. Not to mention that the nozzle is designed to direct the air where you want it. From there you aim it at the fire and you should get a hotter burn. Sounds easy enough, but how does it work?
To test the efficacy of this product it seemed quite prudent to light a chimney using just ambient air, and then to do the same test but adding air to the mix with the FiAir. The chimney I’m using for this test is the Weber RapidFire Compact Chimney which is roughly half the size of their full size model. This was done to save on fuel and test time. Each run of the test consisted of 40 Kingsford “Blue Bag” Charcoal Briquettes, and a wad of paper crumpled under the chimney. The chimney that will be stoked with the FiAir will be given roughly 3 minutes of burn time before the FiAir will be used to make sure that the lowest coals are sufficiently lit and that the paper has had a chance to burn off a little. Each test will be conducted in the Weber Smokey Joe Gold model.
The control run produced white ash on the top most briquettes in roughly 22 minutes. This may seem fast, but remember we are using a smaller chimney for this test so it’ll naturally be quicker than the standard chimney. I should mention that the top most briquettes were not completely covered in white ash, but they had some which led me to know they were burning.
The FiAir stoked chimney produced white ash on the top most briquettes in about 17.5 minutes. Remember that we gave this chimney 3 minutes of initial burn time so the final times could be viewed as (Time – 3 minutes). It was difficult to measure how “lit” the coals were scientifically, so I based it on appearance. I did take some pictures just before dumping the coals to show that the 2 test chimneys looked similar. If anything the FiAir stoked coals were slightly farther along, so you might be able to assume that the coals were ready closer to 17 minutes, so roughly a savings of 5 minutes. Those 5 minutes translated into pre-heating time mean you are cooking when the next guy is just dumping his coals. Furthermore if you have a very large grill, looking at you with the 55 gallon drum made into a grill, and you need to light a lot of coals it would undoubtedly aid in accomplishing that faster.
For what it’s worth I decided to try the FiAir on another chimney, and using the product more aggressively I was able to get what I consider a lit chimney at 15.5 minutes. I was unable to cut my light time in half, but I was able to get them lit in roughly 32% of the time it took without the FiAir. Photos of all my test runs are below:
How else might the FiAir benefit your grilling? Well for starters you can raise the heat of your grill pretty easily, and quite quickly. But it’s more than that. Using the product on lit coals I dumped into the grill, I was able to achieve what I felt to be a very complete combustion of the charcoal, even getting some bluish flame from it. Complete combustion is a crucial element when talking about charcoal grilled foods. Off flavors can be associated with coals that are not burning well. And while it is possible that the observed flame may have been a result of binders in the coal burning off, I do believe that the fire was far and away hotter than it would be without the introduction of additional air. This increase in heat would be perfect for searing applications when you neat a raging hot fire to get a nice brown crust, such as steaks or burgers. On that 2nd test of FiAir I used the product, quite successfully, to raise the temp of the coals in the grill for searing steaks.
While the obvious time and temperature gains make this product seem like a no-brainer there are several other considerations that need to be made. Firstly the hotter the fire burns, the more fuel that will be consumed and additional coals may be needed for longer cooks. Secondly the extreme temperatures may necessitate the use of heavy grill gloves, or at least very long tools, to prevent any burns to the hands and wrists. It is important to remember the FiAir is not a toy, it is a tool. I do not want to hear about someone getting seriously burned and rushed to the ER because they got carried away with a fire. I don’t want you to read that as this product is dangerous, it just needs to be used responsibly to be used safely. Blowing air can cause a fire to act somewhat unpredictably so do not overuse this product or use it in confined spaces. The other aspect of the FiAir that may turn some tailgaters off is that you actually have to be around the fire to use it. I mentioned above how you could save time, but if you used that chimney time to set up your tailgate site or to prep food, you may find that you aren’t coming out much better.
When used properly I would definitely recommend the FiAir to tailgaters and grillers who use or want to use charcoal, or in other words, it is “Tailgate Approved.” Despite not reproducing the results they claimed, the time savings make it a more practical option for those who don’t have a lot of extra time to wait for the coals to be ready. The ability to boost the heat of your fire is also desirable for some direct grill applications, and the price point is seems more than fair at $29.99. To find out more or to order the FiAir you can visit www.FiAir.net.
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