How to Choose the Best Lump Charcoal for Grilling
Whenever I think of cookouts, I automatically think of lump charcoal. After all, you can’t really make authentic-tasting grilled meat if you don’t use the right type of charcoal, right?
With so many brands to choose from, how do you choose the best lump charcoal for your grill? Let me help you decide.
But first things first
What are the Different Types of Charcoal?
Grilling expert breaks down four different types of charcoal in this video:
Briquettes are made from wood by-products and mixed with additives and a binder. They burn longer than natural charcoal, and do not have their own scent, so they don’t add any flavor to your food.
Match Light Charcoal
This type of charcoal briquette is presoaked in lighter fluid, so it lights very easily. However, I strongly advise against using this, because it leaves a weird taste on your food.
This is basically charcoal briquettes with wood shavings glued all over them. Because a briquette does not have its own scent, the wood shavings add the smoky smell to your food. The downside is that this charcoal is very hard to control, so there’s a big chance your food will end up too smoky and the smell too overpowering.
Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Also called natural charcoal, lump charcoal is really just chunks of wood exposed to extreme high temperatures until all that’s left is pure carbon (mostly). I think this type is great for cooking red meat like steaks and loin pork, because it burns hotter than briquettes. It also gives your food a natural smoky flavor.
What Are the Advantages of Using Lump Charcoal over Briquettes?
I recommend against using match light and flavored charcoal because they tend to give food a funny taste. Because of this, I’m going to focus on the advantages of hardwood lump charcoal over briquettes instead.
Made of all-natural ingredients
Additives-heavy briquettes may give your food an unpleasant, chemical taste. Lump charcoal, on the other hand, gives your meats and vegetables a natural smoky flavor. I make it a point to check the label of a charcoal bag before I purchase it. If it doesn’t have a 100% Natural label on it, then I’m not even going to bother.
Lights quickly and easily
It only takes 10 to 15 minutes to light lump charcoal, while briquettes takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Lump charcoal lights faster than briquettes because it does not have any binders or additives in it. While briquettes generally burn longer than lump charcoal, you can easily resolve this disadvantage by adding more charcoal into the grill once the first batch starts to lose heat.
I find that lump charcoal is great for grilling my steaks. If you give your grill good ventilation, you can even reach a temperature of up to 1000oF. While briquettes may burn longer, it cannot reach the same temperature that good ol’ lump charcoal can.
More heat, less ash
Because it does not have any additives, lump charcoal does not produce as much ash as briquettes. This means less cleaning time, and more room for the fire to cook your food.
How to Choose Your Lump Charcoal
I use these simple guidelines whenever I go to the supermarket to buy a bag of lump charcoal for grilling:
Type of wood
Some brands have a balanced mixture of oak, mesquite, and other hardwood, which gives meat a strong smoky scent without any distinct flavor. I personally prefer hickory wood over other types of wood because it works well with grilled pork, so I try to look for a brand that is made mostly of this type of wood.
Size of pieces
One distinct characteristic of lump charcoal is that each bag contains irregular chunks, depending on the type of wood the charcoal was sourced from. I like using larger pieces because they generally burn hotter and take longer to burn out. I recommend that you look for a brand that offers a good mix of medium- to large-sized charcoal for grilling.
The Proper Way to Light Lump Charcoal
In the Grill
Larry of Total Outdoor Programming (http://www.totaloutdoorpursuit.com/) gives a step-by-step guide on how to light lump charcoal directly in the grill, in this easy-to-follow video:
What You Need
- Fire sticks, or pieces of cardboard soaked with corn oil or canola oil
- Lump charcoal
Line up the fire sticks or oil-soaked cardboard at the bottom of the grill. Avoid using petroleum-based products because their smell can transfer to your food.
Place the lump charcoal over the pile. Light the fire sticks with a matchstick, and allow the fire to spread to the charcoal pieces.
Your charcoal will be ready to cook on in 15 to 20 minutes
Using a Charcoal Chimney
What You Need
- Crumpled newspaper
- Lump charcoal
If you’re using a charcoal chimney, just place a few sheets of crumpled newspaper at the bottom of your equipment. Add the amount of charcoal you need, and then light up the chimney. You can transfer the lit charcoal to your grill in about 10 to 15 minutes’ time.
My Top 5 Favorite Lump Charcoal for Grilling
Big Green Egg’s bestselling charcoal is popular among chefs and grilling enthusiasts because of the nice smoky scent it gives to grilled meat. Each bag contains all-natural hardwood charcoal, free from by-products that ruin the taste of your food. I like using this brand for all kinds of barbecued meats, especially when grilling pork loin and tenderloin.
- This product is made from 100% natural ingredients and contains no chemicals, fillers, or any petroleum additives.
- I like the distinct hickory and oak smoke it produces, because it gives the meat a nice and mild smoky smell.
- Because there are no chemicals or additives in the lumps, your food won’t end up with a weird taste or smell.
- Each 20-pound pack contains just the right size of charcoal chunks compared to other charcoal brands. This means the charcoal burn hotter and longer, which makes grilling a whole lot faster.
- I find that Big Green Egg charcoal produces very little ash when burned.
- This brand is cheaper per pound compared to other brands.
- I find that the packaging is inconsistent. I’ve bought some bags with a good number of medium and large pieces, and some that were filled with tiny lumps which were hard to cook with.
- Some packs may contain a few small rocks, unburned wood, and a handful of dust. Others may have a few pieces of bark, which I personally find to have a bitter flavor.
Grillon BBQ provides restaurant quality, all-natural alder lump charcoal that many grill users love (and I do, too!). I like using this charcoal when I have salmon or blue marlin on the grill, because it has a distinct flavor that matches almost all kinds of seafood.
- Each bag contains only the highest quality of alder lump charcoal and no additives whatsoever.
- Use it for low and slow cooks, direct grilling, or indirect cooking. The food comes out tasting great no matter which way you cook it.
- Grillon BBQ’s charcoal is made of 82% carbon, which is great if you need a very stable temperature during cooking.
- I love this brand’s packaging. Each bag is composed of three layers, and the middle layer is made of plastic film. This is good because the charcoal remains dry even when exposed to humid environments.
- The bag is also easier to grip compared to bags by other brands.
- This product is suitable for all types of grills, even those that have a significant gap between the charcoal and the grate.
- While this product generally has big chunks of charcoal, I found some packs that have smaller lumps which do not burn as long as the large ones.
While Grill Dome’s premium lump charcoal is 100% made in the USA, it is also bought by grill enthusiasts outside the country. I haven’t used this brand too much, but I think it might be a good choice if you want a crispier flavor to your food.
- This brand gives a bold and crisp flavor to grilled food, which is great if you are cooking chicken or fish.
- This lump charcoal is 100% free from tar and other chemicals, and contains only natural wood trimmings.
- Another good feature is its charcoal ratio—there is just the right mix of big and smaller pieces in each bag.
- Grill Dome’s lump charcoal burns longer than traditional charcoal, which makes it good for repeat uses.
- Another thing I love about this product is that it is very easy to light. I only need to use one matchstick to start the flames.
- This brand is pricier per pound compared to other brands.
- Some charcoal chunks are way too big. I actually had to break up several huge pieces for them to fit into my grill.
- I find the packaging too large, which makes it harder to get the pieces once the bag has gone halfway empty.
I tried Fogo one time when my local dealer ran out of my favorite brand. I really appreciate how this charcoal lighted quickly because it allowed me to quickly finish grilling my BBQ for a weekend cookout with some friends. Although this is not my usual brand, I wouldn’t mind using it again in the future.
- Fogo uses only selected pieces of dense Central American hardwood, mostly oak. It also doesn’t have any chemicals or additives in the mix.
- This product produces a delicious hardwood smoked flavor, which I think is great for all types of meats. I also think the big chunks of charcoal makes it ideal for slow grilling, smoking, and barbecue.
- The charcoal lights very quickly. Your grill will be good to go within 15 minutes after you light it.
- This charcoal goes really well with all kinds of meats and fish, even vegetables!
- I had some issues with the packaging. The bag I received was partially torn open and was resealed haphazardly with duct tape.
- There were a few chunks that were too big for my grill, so I had to break them up before I could use them.
What I love most about Jealous Devil is that it is harvested and made sustainably in Paraguay. They use clay ovens to bake the wood and then manually select the charcoal that goes into the bags. One issue I have with the brand though is that its charcoal sizes are a bit smaller compared to other brands made in the US.
- This product is made of 100% quebracho blanco “axe breaker” hardwood, which is one of the densest woods in the world. This produces a mild smoky flavor that I think smells great with delicate meat like salmon and other types of fish.
- Aptly named “devil,” this charcoal burns twice as hot compared to ordinary charcoal.
- Because it produces so little ash, it is very easy to clean up after a grilling session.
- Many restaurants and pro BBQ competition groups prefer to use this brand because it burns thrice as long as other charcoal brands.
- Because the charcoal is baked in brick ovens, some bags come with brick pieces in them.
- This brand has small pieces, which makes them easier to fall through the grill’s charcoal grate.
- Jealous Devil does not light up as fast as other charcoal brands, so you may need to use more than one matchstick or light starter to get a flame going.
My favorite choice of charcoal for cookouts is the Big Green Egg 100% Natural Oak and Hickory Lump Charcoal. Not only is it cheaper than most charcoal brands, it also produces a nice hickory scent that I love in my meats.
I also find that it has the ideal size of wood chunks that fits nicely in my grill. Unlike Jealous Devil’s, the pieces are not too small that they fall off the grate. But they are also not too big that I have to break them up into tinier pieces, just like what I did with Fogo and Grill Dome.
Grillon BBQ comes a close second, and I prefer to use it when I’m grilling lighter meat, like fish or chicken. I also like its packaging better than the other brands.