Cooking with charcoal creates a one-of-a-kind flavor. This flavor changes based on the grill you use, the food you cook, and the charcoal you burn.
All charcoal starts as wood that is heated in a low-oxygen environment. Without oxygen, the wood can’t actually burn. As the temperature rises, moisture and everything else in the wood melts away. The result is nearly pure carbon which is the raw material for making charcoal.
Charcoal briquettes are one of the most common options for cooking charcoal. Each briquette is manufactured to be uniform, but not every charcoal briquette is manufactured the same way. Some manufacturers use additives to enhance burning or reduce expenses. Common additives include sawdust, borax, wood scraps, coal dust, and petroleum binders. These additives can create acrid smoke when first lit. That’s why choosing your charcoal briquettes carefully will help you grill food with the best flavor profile.
Lump charcoal is the other common charcoal option. It burns hotter than manufactured briquettes, but often doesn’t burn as long. Lump charcoal is made from pure wood carbon with no additives, making it a cleaner choice than manufactured charcoal briquettes. The hotter burn temperature and pure wood smoke are great for imparting tons of smoky flavor to your food.
Related: Be Your Neighborhood’s Best Outdoor Chef With A Gas and Charcoal Grill Combo
Considerations to Make Before Buying Charcoal Briquettes
Buying the best charcoal briquette for your needs requires a bit of education first. Here are the most important aspects of charcoal to consider:
How long you want your charcoal to burn will depend on what you are planning to cook. Because cooking with charcoal requires you to light coals, you don’t have as much flexibility with other cooking methods. If you run out of coals before you finish cooking your food, you have a big problem on your hands. Choosing a charcoal with a long burn time will ensure you have enough fuel to thoroughly cook your meals.
Charcoal briquettes burn longer than lump charcoal because of their uniform shape. Each manufacturer will provide approximate burn times for their products. Depending on your grill shape and size, you may experience longer or shorter burn times.
Grilling food typically requires lots of heat. Since many grills aren’t insulated, any temperature variations in your charcoal burn will directly affect your cook. While you can learn to many the temperature variations of charcoal, many grillers prefer briquettes that provide a uniform heat throughout the burn cycle.
Lump charcoal burns hot and fast while charcoal briquettes burn more evenly but at a lower temperature. With a skilled hand, it’s possible to manage lump charcoal effectively. However, for those just starting to grill, the high temperature can cause frustration over burnt food.
Burning charcoal produces ash. The amount of ash produced depends on the type of charcoal used. Charcoal briquettes manufactured with a bunch of fillers and additives will create much more ash than pure lump charcoal. Some ash can be a good thing since, ash can modulate the burn and insulate the coals. This results in a lower temperature but longer burn.
Some grills, such as ceramic grills, can’t handle large amounts of ash, making lump charcoal a better choice for those grills. If you have a large grill, then ash production won’t be as much of a deciding factor for your charcoal purchases.
Ease of Lighting
Instant light charcoal is best avoided. Instant charcoal is covered in accelerants that can leave your food tasting oily. Not to mention the potential health risks of the fumes the coals produce when first lit.
The irregular shapes of lump charcoal can make it slightly more difficult to light than charcoal briquettes, but there are several brands that light easily. When inspecting charcoal, look at the edges. Charcoal that has thin edges will be easier to light.
Best 6 Charcoal Briquettes
With hundreds of charcoal options to choose from, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. These are the six best charcoal briquette brands available. Each has unique advantages that may make it the perfect charcoal for you.
1. Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Jealous Devil uses legally sourced South American hardwood to make its lump charcoal. The result is 100-percent pure hardwood charcoal that is 30-percent denser than charcoal made with oak or hickory. It boasts 12 hour burn times in ideal conditions. This makes it one of the best overall charcoal options out there.
You’ll love the clean burn of this lump charcoal. The smoke produced is very mild in flavor, making it a great option for all types of meat, even fish. It burns without sparking or popping and produces minimal ash.
Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal is a great charcoal for those just getting started with grilling and grill veterans alike.
2. Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes
There is value in being the original. Kingsford charcoal briquettes are quick and easy to light, producing an even heat that’s ready for food in 15 minutes. They are made with 100-percent natural ingredients and wood that comes from North American Hardwood trees. You can expect your briquettes to burn for about two hours.
Kingsford Original is more affordable than other charcoal options. This makes them a great charcoal choice for those new to grilling. You’ll be able to learn and experiment without feeling like you’re breaking the bank. The food you cook will gain a rich, smoky flavor, letting you savor that authentic grilled taste.
3. Rockwood All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
This is lump charcoal you can feel good about burning. Rockwood uses renewable hardwood scraps left over from timber milling. This ensures that no harvested wood goes to waste. It’s made with oak, hickory, maple, and pecan wood grown in Missouri. The result is an easy to light lump charcoal that burns for up to 24 hours in ideal conditions.
You’ll love the flavor the blend of woods imparts to your food and the sustainable mission of Rockwood. In fact, even the packaging for the hardwood lump charcoal is recyclable and doesn’t release harmful fumes if burned since they use soy-based inks. Once the charcoal is spent, you’ll have minimal ash to clean up.
4. Royal Oak Natural Lump Charcoal
Royal Oak uses renewable oak, hickory, maple, and walnut woods to make their lump charcoal briquettes. This charcoal is easy to light and will be food ready in 15 minutes. It burns hot and clean, leaving minimal ash. It’s a great choice for any grill but especially ceramic grills.
This lump charcoal is free from additives, burning clean and hot to sear your food and kiss it with the perfect smoky flavor. It burns at high temperatures for about an hour, but will burn at lower temperatures for at least a few hours. Royal Oak produces a high quality natural lump charcoal that works well for many amateur and professional grillers.
5. Cowboy Brand Natural Hardwood Briquettes
Get the flavor of the open range right in your backyard with Cowboy Brand hardwood briquettes. This charcoal is made from 95-percent hardwood with 5-percent vegetable binder. The briquettes have a unique pillow shape to make lighting easier. With Cowboy briquettes, you’ll get even heat with a natural wood smoke flavor.
Made from scrap wood, this charcoal has a lower density than other options. You may use more briquettes to cook for an equal length of time. It’s a great option for grillers looking for the smokiness of lump charcoal with the ease and consistency of charcoal briquettes.
6. Fogo All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Made from Oak hardwood, Fogo lump charcoal provides quick lighting charcoal that burns hot. While the bag states that the charcoal contains only one ingredient, the promotional material states that the charcoal uses a blend of tropical hardwoods for a mild smokey flavor. This hot burning pure hardwood charcoal burns clean, leaving you with minimal ash to clean up.
Fogo is an excellent long lasting lump charcoal. This charcoal can feed a smoker for at least 12 hours, though the manufacturer doesn’t give a maximum burning time. It’s sold in a large bag, letting you easily stock up on your charcoal needs for the season. Fogo’s lump charcoal is great for experienced grillers looking for a long-lasting charcoal with a mild to moderate smokey flavor.
Just in case we missed something, we added a few of the most frequently asked questions related to charcoal briquettes that grill owners have.
Is charcoal grilling healthy?
It really depends what you mean by healthy. Grilling food usually results in food that has less fat and oil since it is cooked directly over heat instead of in a pan with oil. The seasoning that smoke adds to the food may reduce the use of salt. This results in food that is lower in calories and sodium which some may consider healthy.
The char or blacked bits on grilled foods are chemically known as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. HCAs and PAHs have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
However, the animals in these studies ate over 20,000 times more HCAs and PAHs than a typical person could consume in their lifetime. This means that the risk of cancer from eating charred foods is likely minimal, yet still correlated. Cooking food over low heat and preventing char is therefore a healthier way to prepare foods.
Is charcoal environmentally friendly?
Using charcoal to grill foods leaves a decent carbon footprint. Compared to gas grilling, charcoal grilling produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions. However, you can reduce the impact charcoal grilling has on the environment by using sustainably sourced charcoal. The Rockwood lump charcoal reviewed in this article is a great sustainable option.
Choosing USA-made charcoal can reduce the carbon footprint by reducing the transportation costs associated with charcoal. Many popular charcoal brands are produced in Central or South America. Another sustainable option for charcoal is charcoal produced from coconut husks. Coconuts are ready for harvest much more quickly than hardwood trees.
How much charcoal should I use?
To answer this question you first need to know how long and how hot you want your grill to be. Most often, you will light one full charcoal chimney since that’s easy. However, if you want to cook something over low or medium heat, you could conserve charcoal by lighting only a quarter- or half-chimney full of charcoal.
Altering the way you arrange the coals in your grill can affect how much charcoal you need to use. If you want to create high heat across the entire cooking surface of your grill, you’ll need to spread the coals in an even layer and will need more charcoal.
That said, you could cut the number of coals in half by making a two-zone fire. This makes a high-heat zone over half of your grill’s cooking surface while making a medium heat zone over the other half.
Which Charcoal Briquettes Are Best For You and Your Grill?
The best charcoal for you depends on your grill and your experience. Those with ceramic grills know that lump hardwood charcoal is the way to go. If you have a classic kettle grill, you have more options. Briquettes are a great option when you’re first getting started or don’t want a lot of smoky flavor.
For those who crave that wood-fire taste and need hot coals, then lump charcoal is the way to go.
Now that you know how to choose the best charcoal briquette, go buy yourself a bag today and get your grill on.
After all, food always tastes better when you cook it over an open fire. Don’t you agree?
Do you have a favorite charcoal briquette brand? If so, let us know in the comments section below.
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