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Comparing lump charcoal and briquettes


One of the most heated debates in all of grilling is whether to use lump charcoal or briquettes. There are die-hard proponents on both sides, which makes sense since each has its benefits and drawbacks. Lump charcoal is carbonized wood without any impurities, which is why purists love it. Briquettes are often made with additives that let them burn longer and more consistently, making them easier for the average home griller.

Lump charcoal

Lump charcoal is wood that has been burned down to its purest form. It goes through a carbonization process called charring where it is burned in a low-oxygen environment to get rid of moisture, sap and other impurities. What’s left is pure carbon, ideal for grilling and barbecuing foods without imparting any unwanted flavors.

Lump charcoal pros

There are many things to like about lump charcoal.

  • Quick lighting: It lights easily, without the need for lighter fluid, and burns hot and fast. This makes it perfect for meats you want to cook at very high heats or get a heavy sear on.
  • No chemical flavor: The lack of impurities means that it will impart a nice smoky flavor to your foods without giving it any kind of chemical taste. This also results in it burning cleanly and leaving behind minimal ash in your charcoal grill.
  • Responds fast: Lump charcoal fires respond quickly to added oxygen, so you can easily control the temperature if your grill has adjustable air vents. (Be careful not to give it too much oxygen, as it can quickly get so hot it burns your food.)

Lump charcoal cons

If you have never cooked with lump charcoal before, it can take some getting used to. It burns much quicker than briquettes, so you’ll need to periodically add more charcoal if cooking food for a long period. It also tends to be more expensive, so it may not be the right choice for those on a tight budget.

Best lump charcoal

Fogo Super Premium Oak Restaurant Quality Lump Charcoal

Fogo Super Premium Oak Restaurant-Quality Lump Charcoal

This is designed to bridge the gap between the cooking times of lump charcoal and briquettes. It consists of pieces 4 inches or longer, so it burns longer than many other charcoals, yet still lights easily and can reach high temperatures for heavy searing.

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Best lump charcoal for the money

Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal

Jealous Devil All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal

It’s made from dense South American hardwoods so it can burn hotter and longer than many other lump charcoals. This makes it a good choice for both high-temperature searing and low, slow barbecuing. It burns with little popping and sparks and leaves behind only a small amount of ash.

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If you go to your neighborhood store and buy the first bag of charcoal you see, more than likely briquettes are what you will get. These small, squarish blocks are what come to mind when most people picture charcoal.

Briquettes are often made from a combination of sawdust and other wood byproducts, compressed together with additives to help them maintain their shape, light easier and burn longer and more consistently. The move to purer forms of fuel has carried over into the briquette world, though, and now you also can find some made from carbonized wood and little else.

Briquette pros

One of the main advantages briquettes offer over lump charcoal is consistency. A company’s briquettes always come in the same shape and size, so you know exactly how long they will burn. This also makes them easy to stack when making your fire. 

Briquettes tend to burn longer than lump charcoal, which makes them ideal for large cuts of meat that require low, slow cooking. They also are more affordable.  

Briquette cons

There are some downsides to briquettes you should consider before reaching for a bag.

They can be difficult to light without a charcoal chimney or lighter fluid. Because of that, many manufacturers sell some briquettes pre-infused with a chemical that helps them light quicker and easier. It is important to wait until these briquettes are entirely gray before you start cooking your food, or they can impart a noticeably chemical taste.

Their additives mean they don’t burn as cleanly, either. Most leave behind a large pile of ash, so expect more cleanup than when using lump charcoal. 

Best briquettes

Kingsford Professional Competition Briquettes

Kingsford Professional Competition Briquettes

Grill masters know to turn to Kingsford’s competition briquettes when they need fuel that will burn at a consistent temperature for a long time. They are ready to grill on after about 10 minutes, so you won’t have to wait long before you can start cooking, and they are made using one of Kingsford’s lowest-ash formulas.

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Should you buy lump charcoal or briquettes?

The answer depends entirely on what you feel is most important. If you want the purest smoky flavor from your food and nothing else, and you don’t mind the learning curve that comes along with achieving a consistent fire with lump charcoal, it is probably the right option. 

On the other hand, if you want something affordable, consistent, and easy to use, and you don’t mind not being able to create as heavy a sear on your foods, briquettes are the way to go.

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Brett Dvoretz writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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