Mystery Lighter Fluid Taste

Jackson Ortega-Scheiner Smoking Leave a Comment

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Hi, Dr. BBQ

I”ve been smoking my food for several years on a WSM. Last year I decided to jump in and do some KCBS competitions with 3 WSMs. I consider myself lucky by placing in the top 10 most of the time. Except for my last contest. The contest had the experimental comment cards in use. All  four of my entries took a big nose dive. Yes, I got some 3s. The comment cards I got back said that my food tasted like lighter fluid. That bugged the heck out of me because I don’t use lighter fluid to light my coals. I’ve never had this problem before because I use a chimney and paper.  So my question is, what can impart a lighter fluid taste in your food when you don’t use lighter fluid? Could the charcoal have been bad? I had used Ranchers Charcoal.


Hi Steve,

The use of the comment cards at Kansas City Barbeque Society cookoffs has revealed that a lot of judges think they are getting food that has been cooked using lighter fluid. It seems obvious to me that these judges are mistaken because I only know one cook who uses lighter fluid and he only uses it to start his wood fire long before the food goes on. BTW he’s also one of the best cooks in the country. As we all know you can smell lighter fluid a mile away when the neighbor uses it, but I very rarely smell that at a cookoff. I don’t think the use of lighter fluid actually transcends to the taste of the food anyway as long as it’s allowed to burn off. Yet somehow there are many judges who think they taste lighter fluid on food that has been cooked for many hours by the best cooks in the country. My theory is that they may be mistaking the charcoal taste that comes from using lump or possibly a little too much smoke or a strong smoke like mesquite or even hickory for the taste of lighter fluid. Having said all of that I really don’t have a solution. It’s blind judging and if the judge doesn’t like the taste of your food he has the right to score it down. It’s the cook’s job to somehow convince every judge to write down a high score. That’s the game and the top cooks seem to have a handle on it. The comment cards don’t accomplish much besides showing the judges ignorance and ticking the cooks off so I hope they’ll go away soon.


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