People have a passion for grilling. You can hear fierce backyard debates about what equipment to use, the best accessories for flipping burgers, and how to create a hot fire.
You can find plenty of backyard grilling warriors who love to use propane. New technologies that convert meat drips into smoky results are turning some heads. It is a way to impart some flavor without the risk of adding soot and ash to your food.
When you encounter the grillers who prefer using charcoal, you’ll find two camps. One group prefers to use lump charcoal, while the other prefers briquettes.
The lump charcoal vs. briquettes debate will never get fully settled. What we can do today is review the arguments on both sides so that you can decide which option works better for your backyard grilling needs.
What Do People Love Using Lump Charcoal?
Lump charcoal uses natural wood as a heating source for your grilling needs. It gets made when you slowly burn the fuel with little oxygen. This process works to get all of the natural moisture out of the material, eliminates sap, and gets rid of whatever natural chemicals exist.
Once you reach the stage where it is ready to use, the good qualities of charcoal remain without the same risk of exposure harm. You have less carbon to manage, fewer ash issues, and the product lights faster while burning hotter.
There are no additives or fillers present in lump charcoal, making it one of the safest and cleanest ways to grill food. Although you cannot use starter fluids with this product, almost anyone can light it with a little tinder or kindling.
Since lump charcoal responds well to oxygen’s presence in the firebox, grillers can comfortably control heat levels by adjusting the air vents on their equipment.
The one change that lump charcoal forces on backyard grillers are the uneven size of its pieces. Since the item comes from natural wood, the lack of consistency requires a lot of knowledge to create consistent searing results. You can break down some of the chunks as needed to work with your equipment.
Lump charcoal is also more expensive than briquettes and burns faster, so you’ll need to budget more money to grill with this fuel.
Why Do People Love Using Briquettes for Grilling?
Charcoal briquettes come from leftover wood products and sawdust. Some people think it is coal, but it is not. You do have additives that burn with this fuel because the organic materials require a binder to put them into that classic square shape.
Backyard grillers love to use briquettes because the size and shape make the product easy to stack. You can start the product with natural materials in your equipment without worrying about the fire burning out.
Briquettes typically burn longer than lump charcoal because the product contains more density. Some manufacturers add lighter fluids or chemicals to it so that you don’t need any tinder to start grilling. That means it takes more time to prepare the fuel because all of the chemicals and additives must burn off first.
If you don’t take the time to let the chemicals flame out, your foods can taste like starter fluid. You can avoid many of these issues by shopping with a reputable brand that doesn’t contain “easy lighting” options.
Once the briquettes get hot, they stay at a consistent temperature that you can easily manage. That benefit means you have more ash to controls, and it takes more time to begin cooking. You must be careful to avoid having water enter into this mix because it creates lye, which has a pH of at least 9. It can burn your skin or damage your eyes.
Is It Dangerous to Grill with Charcoal?
Grilling with charcoal is a popular pastime in backyards all over the world.
When you look at the lump charcoal vs. briquettes debate, one critical issue involves both fuel sources. Some controversy exists for these options involving the risk of carcinogen exposure and cancer development.
Although safety concerns with charcoal grilling may be widely discussed, the scientific community does not have a definitive answer. It is up to you to determine if using lump charcoal or briquettes is supportive of your overall health.
Cooking with charcoal can be beneficial because grilled foods tend to drip fat away from the product instead of storing it for consumption. You can add dry rubs and spices to reduce dressings and oils on the meat and veggies.
Adding hardwood chips like alder, hickory, or cedar can impart additional flavors that aren’t always easy to accomplish when using a propane grill.
You also have certain dangers to manage if you choose either charcoal option.
It is not unusual for grillers using briquettes to use a starter fluid or substance to ignite the charcoal. When you use too much, the flammables can ignite in such a way that severe burns can result.
You may lose hair on your arms or face when it comes into contact with this instant heat.
Charcoal grills cannot operate in an enclosed space. The fuel produces carbon monoxide that could result in death.
You also have the risk of damaging your property when operating a hot grill next to your home. As a best practice, remember to follow all of the safety guidelines published by your equipment manufacturer and the charcoal supplier.
Higher temperature cooking may also create health concerns for some people. When animal proteins get exposed to substantial heat, the food produces HCAs, or heterocyclic amines. These substances have shown to be a carcinogen in laboratory animals under controlled conditions.
It must be stated that researchers do not know if HCAs have the same effect on humans.
Foods that get roasted, broiled, baked, and fried also contain HCAs, so this issue isn’t reflective of a decision to use lump charcoal or briquettes.
How to Avoid the Potential Dangers of Charcoal
The standard recommendation to avoid the potential dangers of charcoal involves common sense.
When you start lump charcoal or briquettes, use safe tinder that won’t spark or float in the wind. A grill starter that you can load with paper products to heat the fuel is an effective way to limit the use of chemicals.
As you start the grilling process, use smaller cuts of meat that can cook quickly. Reducing the time it takes to prepare items on the grill lessens the amount of HCAs that develop in the food.
You can also marinate meats before grilling to limit HCA production by up to 90%. It also helps to trim excess fat from your products before working over lump charcoal or briquettes to avoid flare-up issues. When you can sear with less char, fewer problems can develop.
Is the Lump Charcoal Movement an Extension of Organic Approaches?
Sales figures show that in the lump charcoal vs. briquette debate, the latter choice is consistently winning.
Over 90% of the charcoal shipped to consumers each year is of the briquette variety.
That doesn’t mean lump charcoal doesn’t have a market or advocates. Nearly 100 brands supply different forms of this fuel, and you can find supportive communities that love the results you get with this natural product.
You can even find DIY communities that teach backyard grillers how to make charcoal at home.
Some people get attracted to the idea of using a natural product, which is why a preference for lump charcoal develops. It is a small extension of the movement toward organic foods and processes. Some grillers prefer to have fewer additives, chemicals, and preservatives in what they eat and how they cook.
Supporters of lump charcoal suggest it is a superior option because it offers more purity. What you may not realize is that both fuels originate from scrap lumber.
What lump charcoal doesn’t have is limestone, cornstarch, borax, or coal.
Most charcoal grillers like to add a little wood for smoking, which tends to be a regional consideration. You might see peach wood added in the South, hickory in the Midwest, and pine in the Pacific Northwest.
That approach is also part of the organic movement.
How to Choose the Right Wood for Cooking
The third category of grillers in the lump charcoal vs. briquettes debate chooses a different option. These backyard champions prefer to grill on a log instead of using any form of charcoal. Although that means you must manage the volatile gases that escape from the organic product, it does offer the most authentic result.
Choosing the right wood to complement your charcoal depends on the foods you intend to prepare.
When you want to sear a steak, wood products that burn hot and fast will provide the best results. That means you’d want to try something like pine when you prepare your charcoal bed for the grill.
If the foods you make need a slower cooking experience, such as a brisket or thick chicken breast, a better option is to use a high-density wood like hickory or oak.
You can choose apple, alder, or peach for mid-range grilling that needs a boost of flavor without overpowering the natural characteristics of the food.
Best Grilling Accessories for Lump Charcoal and Briquettes
You could spread out your lump charcoal or briquettes in your firebox or grill, light the fuel, and have a roaring fire in minutes that could turn your backyard efforts into a gourmet experience in a perfect world.
Since we are all imperfect people trying to do our best grilling work each day, having a few accessories can make life a lot easier.
It doesn’t matter what side of the lump charcoal vs. briquettes debate you find yourself on today. These grilling accessories are going to make everything better.
A chimney starter allows you to fill the top portion of the product with your preferred charcoal. The bottom container lets you use tinder safely so that you can start to heat your fuel. Most items are designed to use newspaper or a similar product, although you could use the included firesticks that come with some products.
Non-stick grill mats make it much easier to enhance the flexibility of your equipment. It helps to look for reusable products that are simple to clean to maximize this investment. This accessory can turn some surfaces into a griddle, make it easier to use pots and pans, or prevent small foods from falling through the grates. The best items are PFOA-free. You’ll want to find a brand that offers a high temperature rating based on your grilling style.
Heavy-Duty Aluminum Foil
You cannot maximize the flexibility of your grilling without having some heavy-duty aluminum foil available. This product helps you to lock in serious flavors while reducing moisture evaporation, creating juicy roasts, brisket, ribs, and more. You can even use this item to create packets for cooking to make roasted potatoes, vegetables with cheese sauce, baked beans, and other classic favorites.
Forget about those silicone tools that you see used in kitchens and backyards all of the time these days. The best grilling experience for lump charcoal or briquettes comes from stainless steel spatulas, tongs, forks, and basting brushes. It helps to look for tools with a large head or a hanging hook to keep the item next to your side table. Larger sizes help you to make more significant foods with less effort.
Some charcoal products can get stoked up to 1,000°F or higher, creating a need for personal protective gear when grilling. One of the best tools to protect your hands is a set of barbecue gloves. These items are typically heat-resistant by incorporating silicone into the product’s surface to offer a maximum level of safety. Incorporate a meat thermometer and some claws to create an accessories trifecta that helps you to create the perfect backyard meal.
Every great griller was a rookie trying to find their way to culinary heaven at one point in their life. When you want to embrace the idea of making backyard delights with lump charcoal or briquettes, a cookbook meant for the grill can get you off to a running start. You can find information on basting, marinades, spices, dry rubs, and more to expand your knowledge base. Pretty soon, you’ll be in a position to start experimenting with your own techniques!
Lump Charcoal Reviews: What Brand Is the Best?
1. Better Wood Products 100% Lump Charcoal
This product provides consumers with about 18 pounds of lump charcoal to use for an average retail price of about $20. It is made in Mexico using the processes developed from a third-generation family business. Not only do you receive the fuel for your grill, but it also comes with four starter sticks in the container.
You’ll find a wonderful variety of small, medium, and large chunks so that you can manage almost any firebox. This product also works well with ceramic grills, such as Kamado Joe or the Big Green Egg. It offers a significant burn time, keeps temperatures consistent, and is an overall excellent product to use.
2. Basque Sugar Maple Lump Charcoal
You’ll spend about $25 to pick up an 18-pound bag of lump charcoal from this brand. It used to be marketed as a hardwood product before transitioning to its current name. You’ll find more smaller pieces in this mix than larger items, with a lot of dust that could be problematic for some users.
The flavors received from this lump charcoal are noticeably mild. You get very little ash, but you may want to add a flavorful smoke to your grill for most foods. It does an excellent job on fruits and veggies that you may want to improve with a little char.
3. Lazzari Mesquite Charcoal
The bag says that this lump charcoal is the “gourmet’s choice,” although you must be skilled to use it appropriately. It burns hot and fast, giving you little time to manage the grilling experience. The fire spreads quickly in the box, providing a hint of mesquite to your grilled items. You’ll get a hot temperature for a fantastic sear, but the burn time is low. Ash production is also noticeably higher with this product.
You can pick up the mesquite lump charcoal at most retail locations or online. It comes in 15-, 20-, or 40-pound bags with minimal dust or debris contributing to the package. The 20-pound bag retails for about $18.
4. Mali’s All-Natural Gourmet Lump Charcoal
This 100% hardwood product provides a mild smell and pleasant aroma, but it also has one of the lowest burn times available in the industry today. That means you get almost as much ash with this product as you would if you chose briquettes. It gives you a high temperature for a fast sear or to cook burgers and hot dogs with speed, but you’d need to use almost the entire bag for a single roast.
The one noticeable issue with this lump charcoal is that it seems to contain more moisture than similar products. It creates a lot of popping and sparks that could impact your health and the quality of food. You can usually pick it up for about $1 per pound at many retail or online outlets.
5. Kamado Joe Big Block Lump Charcoal
You can grab a 20-pound back of this lump charcoal for about $45 online. When you use it in heavy-duty ceramic grill, the fuel burns for up to 18 hours so that you have low-and-slow support for ribs, brisket, and more. The product is also reusable up to three times because of its low ash levels, extending the value of your investment.
The manufacturer uses a blend of Mistal, Guayacan, Guayaibi, and White Quebracho hardwoods to create the lump charcoal. It lights quickly without sparking, has a nice heat, and offers consistent results. It tends to produce broken chips, especially when shipped to your address.
6. Jealous Devil All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
This 100% natural product comes from South American hardwood species. You don’t need to worry about any fillers, scrap materials, or chemicals when using it for your grilling needs. It reaches a maximum temperature of nearly 1,200°F, making it one of the hottest-burning products on the market today. You get up to four hours of time on an open grill and all-day support in a smoker.
The flavor is mild and enticing with this option, making it the perfect solution for seafood. It blends well with other woods for steaks or burgers, featuring consistent medium lumps to get a reliable fire going. The only issue is price: you’ll pay about $50 for a 35-pound bag.
Briquette Reviews: Affordable and Practical Solutions
1. Original Natural Charcoal Hardwood Briquettes
This briquette option gets you closer to lump charcoal than any other product on the market right now. It is such an effective solution for backyard grilling that you don’t need to use lighter fluid to get it to start. The smoke is almost non-existent when cooking, and the amount of ash is surprisingly low. You can begin producing sweet flavors in as little as ten minutes.
The briquettes burn hotter than competitive products because of their composition. That means you’re not going to get the low-and-slow option unless you’re using a ceramic grill. Expect to get about 90 minutes of action in the standard firebox. It’s about $40 for a 20-pound bag.
2. Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes
When you use a Firestarter product with these briquettes, they are red-hot and ready in about 15 minutes. That’s about 25% faster than the other mass-marketed brands in the United States. The design of each briquette includes grooves that help them to light more quickly, while the edges are vulnerable to heat for fast ignition.
It’s a straightforward grilling experience with this product. You receive briquettes in excellent condition, blue smoke that billows forth when lighting, and extended heat without the use of added chemicals. You’ll pay about $10-$15 for a 12-pound bag, with the price dependent on where you live.
3. Duraflame Cowboy Briquettes
This premium hardwood charcoal retails for about $25 with a 14-pound bag when shopping online. It does an excellent job of injecting natural flavors into all of your grilled foods, using a blend that creates a distinctive character. You won’t find any fillers, chemicals, or coal included with this product to ensure even and long-lasting heat. The pillow-shaped briquettes are a little challenging to stack, so a chimney is highly recommended.
The smoky aroma produced by the hardwood briquettes is going to capture the attention of your neighborhood. It works best when you keep temperatures down, although you can create an above-average sear with this product.
4. MUXI Charcoal Briquettes
If you own a portable charcoal grill, this product can maximize the work you do when cooking food. It comes in a moisture- and dust-proof bag to make it a viable choice for tailgating, camping, and other outdoor activities. You can light the paper on fire with the briquettes inside to get your grill ready in no time. Each one comes with a dimpled shape to encourage more heat and better stacking.
The price is a little high for this product. You’re only getting about 1 pound of charcoal (8 briquettes) for $12.99. You can get an entire bag of another brand at that level. The added cost is for the convenience of the lightable bag – it’s up to you to determine if it holds that much value.
5. Zenfiyah Coconut Shell Charcoal Briquette
Instead of using wood products for your grilling needs, this brand produces a briquette made from 100% coconut shells. It is a sustainable approach that burns up to three times longer than a standard product in this category. Grillers can use up to half of what they’d usually start when making a meal for their family or guests.
It does take some extra time to light this product, which means a chimney is absolutely necessary. You’ll see less ash and smoke with a clean flavor profile when successful. Price is also an issue for some since it retails for about $85 to get a 40-pound bag.
Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes: Which Is Better?
Lump charcoal provides a superior grilling experience for some because it is one of the purist fuels you can use today. You won’t find any light fluids or chemicals in this item, which is becoming more regular with instant-light products.
Most people fall on this side of the lump charcoal vs. briquettes debate because they want healthier food. You won’t get left with chemical flavors or additives when choosing a high-quality product in this category.
It really is a reflection of the movement toward using organic and sustainable methods of growing foods and preparing them.
Charcoal briquettes have a lot of variety to consider. You can use a chimney starter, hardwood products, and a few flavoring chips for the smoke to obtain almost the same result when compared to lump charcoal. These premium products get hot quickly without reaching the potentially dangerous temperatures of the competition.
Most people fall on this side of the lump charcoal vs. briquettes debate because they enjoy the convenience of the product. If you wait until the coals are an ashy gray, you can avoid many of the flavor issues that send people to the other side of the argument.
Where do you stand in this debate? Do you prefer lump charcoal, or are you a briquettes griller?