Eh, maybe you got a bad batch? I've had several boxes and the only wayi ever taste coal is if I put it on to early.
They smell a tiny tiny bit when first lighting, but i smell more of the lighting source than the coals most of the time. Mine last a good hour before they are dead. They dont ash to bad for me. I can knock off the ash and keep on smoking.
When they get really small like in the last 10 minutes of the smoke, they become very brittle and will fall apart, but in the last 10 minutes you can either throw on a new set of coals, or move them in the middle if you're just about done for the night.
EDIT* I CANT SPELL WORTH A DAMN.