Courtesy of Rockwood Charcoal
By Nicole Plegge
Missouri may be known for its barbecue joints, but it’s the charcoal that smokes, flavors, and cooks the meat that put the state on the culinary map.
Leading the charcoal charge across the nation is Jonathan Heslop of The Saint Louis Charcoal Company, whose Rockwood Charcoal has garnered a fervent following among barbecue connoisseurs. Since 2006, he’s been singing Missouri’s praises while slinging his product to consumers.
“Wisconsin has its cheese; Idaho has its potatoes,” he says. “With Rockwood, we want to make Missouri synonymous with good charcoal, especially since the state produces 80 percent of the country’s lump charcoal. By using only local Missouri hardwoods, we can offer the quality cooks deserve.”
Rockwood continues to pack shelves at 1,500 locations nationwide and converts new fans by the day.
For Jonathan, Rockwood blossomed out of necessity. He long struggled to find a consistent lump charcoal in the store but often was left with underkilned, charred wood in a bag, which produced a smoky burn.
A helicopter pilot, Jonathan was ying over the Mark Twain National Forest when he spotted charcoal kilns deep in the woods below. He soon developed a kinship with the producers and began transporting charcoal back to his hometown of Eureka for family and friends. As word-of-mouth spread, Jonathan knew the market was hungry for a higher quality charcoal, and in 2012, the Rockwood brand was born.
Today, Rockwood producers rescue oak, maple, and hickory scraps from the timber mill industry. The wood is then dried for six months before it’s kilned for five days. The result, according to Jonathan, is a 100 percent natural, premium charcoal that offers a desirable, rich aroma ideal for both smoking and grilling.
“I knew we had something you couldn’t find anywhere else, but in the end, it’s charcoal,” Jonathan says. “Our biggest hurdle was taking a commodity and making it cool. Through a grassroots effort, we slowly created a cult following. There are chefs who refuse to use anything else now; they’ll drive two hours to a dealer and end up bringing ten or twenty bags home.”
Just as important to Jonathan as Rockwood’s popularity is its sustainability. All charcoal is packed in recyclable, natural paper bags. Excess charcoal fines are collected for agricultural use as a carbon soil amendment, which ensures nothing is wasted.
By preserving the rich history of Missouri charcoal and focusing on its future, Jonathan helps keep the spotlight on our state.
To learn more about Rockwood Charcoal or find a list of retailers, visit rockwoodcharcoal.com.