Fueling The Fire: Choosing Between Lump Charcoal And Briquettes

To a newbie entering the world of charcoal grilling, the choice between lump charcoal and briquettes can be overwhelming. With the influx of new brands and wood flavors hitting store shelves, the decision only seems to be increasing in difficulty, leaving many grill lovers wondering whether there's really a discernible difference between the two types.

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Is the ongoing debate valid or is there a lot of opinionated noise over nothing? To answer this burning question, it's imperative to know how these two types of charcoal are formed, as well as understand the unique qualities that define them.

Lump Charcoal

Made from scraps of apple, oak, cherry, hickory, mesquite, and other hardwoods, manufacturers create lump charcoal by burning wood in a controlled environment with no oxygen. The result is irregular pieces of all-natural lightweight carbon that doesn't contain binders or other nasty chemicals.

Good Qualities:

• It's charcoal in its purest form (no additives), which is likely to appeal to many grill enthusiasts who prefer to maintain an organic element to their cooking.
• It produces less ash, making cleanup easier.
• It lights quickly and generates more smoke flavor.
• The temperature is easier to adjust.
• The bags are lighter and easier to manage.
• Aromatic wood chips can be used to infuse extra flavor if needed.

Bad Qualities:

• Lump charcoal tends to be more expensive than briquettes and can be difficult to find in some areas.
• It burns out faster and varies in heat output, making each cookout different in terms of how much charcoal is used.
• Bags can be inconsistent, with some containing useless carbon dust and pieces too small to use.
• Lumps may not be evenly charred during the production process.

Briquettes

Compressed into a small, hard mass of coal, a briquette is made from a mixture of wood chips, sawdust, and additives. The wood by-products are first burned down to char before being combined with binders such as starch, limestone, sodium nitrate, borax, and other chemicals.

Good Qualities:

• Briquettes are cheaper and more widely available.
• They burn longer, saving money in the long run.
• Briquettes make it easier to maintain a consistent temperature since they provide a more stable burn with their uniform shape.
• When compared to lump charcoal, the components in briquettes are more evenly charred.
• Bags are more consistent, making them more reliable.

Bad Qualities:

• Depending on the brand you buy, briquettes may contain additives that can produce a chemical smell and infuse nasty flavors into your food.
• They take longer to light.
• They create a lot of ash, which makes cleanup more of a chore than it needs to be.  

The Winner

Unfortunately, there's no clear champion in the debate over these popular fuel sources. The reality is that charcoal is not needed for the smoke flavor it produces, but rather for the heat it produces. You'll have to draw your own conclusion after researching and testing both charcoal products in your own outdoor cooking environment. At Grill Beast, we prefer natural lump charcoal, but we're not going to judge you if you're a briquettes kind of griller. As long as you share your findings and a cold beer with us, we're good!

Have you ever been in any other barbecue related debates? Which side are you on?  Here's a few other links to more barbecue related interesting debates you can use next time you have friends and family over to barbecue:

Before you take off to experiment with these fuel sources, be sure to subscribe for more tips and advice on creating better barbecue. If you know other grill fans who might find this post useful, be sure to share it!