After becoming enamored with charcoal cooking in Nairobi, Ben West decided to redesign the backyard grilling experience from top to bottom.
August 13, 2020
Founder, Spark Grills
“I fell in love with cooking with wood and charcoal while living in Nairobi,” explains Ben West, founder of Spark — a precision grill that combines the ease of gas, with the unique flavors of wood and charcoal.
“We’d escape into the backcountry all the time and that’s really where I fell in love with wood and charcoal cooking,” he continues. “The flames drew people in and created flavors unlike anything I had tasted before.”
When West moved back to the States from Kenya, his passion for charcoal cooking continued to grow and he was fascinated by the number of new, high-end restaurants using wood and charcoal to prepare their meals. “It brought me back to some of my favorite experiences in Kenya - being outdoors with family and friends and cooking amazing food,” he recalls.
West wanted to bring those flavors to his home cooking and rekindle those fond memories of the endless Nairobi nights in his backyard, “but it was basically impossible” he says. “We all know that charcoal tastes better, but it’s messy, takes forever to light and is hard to control.”
And West isn’t alone in feeling the pain of charcoal grilling — in fact, he found out that 70% of grillouts today are cooked on gas-powered grills.
So West started out on a journey to rethink charcoal grilling from the ground up: “I was curious what it would be like to redesign the whole grill, and to get this flavorful way of cooking back into the mainstream,” he explains.
With his mission in place, West founded Spark and began to redesign the grill from top to bottom.
"The majority of people are cooking at home with propane because it’s easier to work with — despite the annoying propane tanks,” says West. “But wood and charcoal, you can cook with a much wider range of temperatures and the flavor is so much better.”
This is where West saw an opportunity: “By tuning the fuel (wood and charcoal) to work really well with the hardware (the grill), we could provide an amazing experience that would bring the joy of charcoal grilling to everyone,” he explains.
“By tuning the fuel (wood and charcoal) to work really well with the hardware (the grill), we could provide an amazing experience that would bring the joy of charcoal grilling to everyone.”
The result of West and his team's hard work is the Spark Grill — a beautifully designed charcoal grill that offers the ease of gas alongside the delight and unique flavors of charcoal grilling, with the control of an oven. Sounds pretty amazing, right?
The Spark doesn't use traditional charcoal briquettes. Instead it's fuelled by what the company calls a "Briq", a block of blended charcoal and natural woods. And unlike most charcoal grills, the Spark ignites at the switch of a button — so no more messing around with firelighters and trying to get your charcoal ready for cooking.
Once ignited, you’re able to control the temperature of the grill from 200 to 900 degrees fahrenheit, “which is perfect for searing, among other things,” says West. And the Spark app connects over Bluetooth to keep tabs on your grill's temperature to make perfect cooking easier than ever before.
“The grill, the charcoal Briq, the app – all tuned to work together as one system. Our temperature dial enables you to set and control the temperature. Stoking and cooling fans automatically hold the temperature where you want it," explains West.
Engineered by food and biomass scientists, Spark’s “Briq” is one of its key innovations. The Briq slots into a tray on the front of the grill and provides the fuel. “The electric ceramic ignitor lights the Briq instantly - meaning the grill gets to temperature much faster than traditional charcoal or gas,” says West.
“Our Briqs, made with a blend of natural wood and charcoal, create the perfect smoky flavor. We view our Briqs as the first ingredient to a recipe, so flavor profiles are key to these.”
A range of Briqs are available, each with its own unique flavors and burn times: The Everyday Briq, Hickory Briq, and the Applewood burn for an hour, up to 90 minutes (depending a little on what temperatures you're cooking at), for those quicker, more spontaneous grilling sessions the Quick Briq lasts 30-45 minutes, and its Low & Slow Briqs last a few hours at smoking temperatures (though exact specs are still being fine tuned).
“Loading and quick ignition is simple, while clean-up is seamless and mess-free,” says West. According to Spark’s website, cleanup takes about 30 seconds — and as a bonus, you don't have to shower after.
The Spark Grill is available to pre-order at $799. Each Briq costs about $4-6, depending on the Briq, and they're sold in packs of 8.
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