There’s something about cooking and talking about barbecue that turns normal people into crazed zealots. The first and perhaps more fundamental question that gets debated over and over again is whether we should use charcoal or briquettes.
We’ve turned to the experts to weigh up the pros and cons of cooking with lump charcoal vs charcoal briquettes. If you’re new to cooking with charcoal and haven’t come across the Charcoal vs. Briquettes debate then don’t worry. We’ll run through the differences between each fuel source.
Read on to understand exactly which type of fuel is best for your situation.
What’s all the fuss about Lump Charcoal?
Lump charcoal is made by slowly burning pieces of wood in the absence of oxygen until all the natural chemicals, sap and moisture get out of the wood. After that we are left with less harmful charcoal lump with lots of good qualities; it is little more than carbon, leaves very little ash after burning out, burns hotter and lights faster than briquettes.
Lump charcoal also responds accordingly to oxygen, hence you can easily control the level of heat if your grill features adjustable air vents. It also contains no fillers or additives which makes it one of the cleanest ways to barbecue.
Lump charcoal burns faster and hotter than briquettes so you do need to be careful with your temperature control.
- Contains no additives (all natural)
- Easier temperature adjustment
- Little ash production
- Burns hotter
- Lights quickly
- Bags contain uneven pieces of charcoal that can make it hard to grill. It also takes a bit more effort to cook with the snake method although it can be done by breaking the lump down into briquette sized chunks
- More expensive than briquettes
- Burns faster
Overview of Charcoal Briquettes
Briquettes are made from saw dusts and left over woods that are burnt down the same way as lump charcoal. Unlike lump charcoal, additives are in the process of making briquettes unlike lump charcoal which is purely wood.
The additives are mainly used to hold the materials together in order to achieve clean little blocks that are often roundish-squarish in shape which makes them easier to stack.
Although briquettes burn longer, they do not burn as hot as lump charcoal.
They are sometimes made using chemicals or other lighter fluids to make starting easier. In most cases, you will end up tasting what you burn because of the additives used when making briquettes. ‘
Many briquette users have claimed to smell the additives as they cook and sometimes even taste it in lighter foods like chicken or fish.
But that shouldn’t discourage you from using briquettes so long as you stock up on a reputable brand like Stubb’s all-natural charcoal briquetts.
- Maintains a steady temperature for a longer period.
- Cheaper than lump charcoal
- Burns longer
- Large ash production
- Produces a chemical smell
- Takes longer to light
If you’re researching to decide if you want to try cooking with charcoal, we have a guide to the best charcoal smokers available.
The expert weigh in on the lump vs briquette debate
Most experts with an opinion on the matter can relate that each of the two choices come with their advantages and disadvantages. So let’s hear what the experts had to say about the pros of using either lump charcoal or briquettes.
Meathead goes on to point out that claims of chemicals effecting the taste of your food are overblown. “There is no sufficient evidence that the additives in briquettes cause much impact on the food that one is cooking,”
For instance, Kingsford, the largest producer of charcoal in the U.S., rarely talk about what their briquettes include. But in their website, they mention that they use cornstarch, borax, limestone and coal.
Jeff Allen, executive director of the National Barbecue Association, says “I have seen a lot of experts who prefer the lump charcoal over briquettes, simply because charcoal can have a regional, cultural aspect.”
If you use lump charcoal made from pine, then it would burn fast and hot — and it is awesome for searing a steak,” says Allen.
But you can use charcoal made from wood with higher density like hickory or oak if you want a slower cook.”
Not everyone is convinced though…
As much as charcoal or briquettes can be awesome for grilling various foods, they also come with their drawbacks. Here is what experts had to say against using lump charcoal.
While Matt makes some good points, we think you can still control the heat with care and practice.
Jeff Allen from the National Barbecue Association points out that “charcoal generates more smoke than briquettes, which could be a problem with strict rules like apartments, retirement communities or even condos.”
Where to buy and best lump charcoal brands
Well, I am sure there are some of us who are wondering where to get the best charcoal brands for successful charcoal barbecue. Truth be told, there are many charcoal brands out there in the market but choosing the best brand can sometimes be confusing.
If you really want to obsess over it, the great people over at The Naked Whiz maintain an incredibly detailed charcoal review database.
If spending hours reading charcoal review doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then you can get started with a bag of Fogo’s natural premium hardwood lump charcoal from Amazon.
We’ve had good and bad experience with some of the lump charcoal available in the market. But after years of testing and spending great hours of research, including conversations with professional colliers, barbecue experts and charcoal obsessives, we’re convinced that Fogo’s are consistent as far as shape, size and quality. And yeah – they produce less ash and lasts longer than other brands I tested.
You can buy on Amazon or stores such as Wal-Mart, Kmart and Home Depot.
Resources to help you determine whether to use lump charcoal or briquettes
Grilling Smackdown: Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes — In depth guide to choosing lump charcoal or briquettes.
Charcoal fuel types – Weber blog helps you determine which type of charcoal to use.
The Great Charcoal Debate: Briquettes Or Lumps? – An article that provides relevant information on the great charcoal debate: Briquettes or Lumps?
Lesson 8: Lump vs. Briquette Charcoal – An episode by Fred Thompson that deep dives into the debate.
Well that brings us to the end of this article regarding lump charcoal vs. briquettes. I hope that you will find useful information to help you choose wisely. You can go ahead and leave a comment to add any important information you think I may have left out.
Feature CC Image courtesy of Mark Skipper on Flickr