When we were growing up, our parents always used charcoal briquettes in our BBQ. These days, we use lump charcoal while most of our friends use briquettes. What's the best charcoal for grilling?
Briquettes are really popular for a lot of reasons. For one, they're readily available and fairly cheap. They also last a long time because they burn slower, and at a consistent heat. Briquettes are also all the same size and shape so there's no wasted or unusable pieces.
Dissenters often dislike briquettes because of what the briquettes contain.
Briquettes are made from sawdust and wood by-products or scrap wood, burned into
charcoal, and compressed into the briquette shape along with a binding additive
and other additives that helps the briquette to burn. Some people say that using
briquettes gives the food a chemical taste or smell.
Briquettes are also harder to light. While there are ways to light the briquettes without chemicals (see, How to BBQ With Charcoal), often times lighter fluid is added to help ignite it, again running the possibility of adding a chemical taste or smell to the food. In fact, some briquettes are already coated with lighter fluid to make igniting them easier. And if the briquettes get wet, they'll be very hard to light at all.
Charcoal briquettes also tend to produce a lot of ash, so clean-up can be messy.
Natural lump charcoal
is produced by burning wood without oxygen. There are
no additives or fillers, so the charcoal burns hot and fast (meaning, it can
get expensive!). Lots of people prefer lump charcoal because it doesn't have
anything else in them, just the charcoal. Lump charcoal is easy to light and
produces little ash, too. And it's a great choice for barbecues that can
control air flow because it's easy to adjust the cooking temperature.
But natural lump charcoal can get pretty expensive, especially if you do a lot of grilling. It also seems like there's a big range in pricing - well-known brands sell their charcoal for more, and although some of our friends have insisted that this pricier charcoal lasts longer, we haven't seen a difference.
Along the same "expensive" line, because lump charcoal isn't pressed into briquettes -- it retains its natural shape -- that means there are usually small, unusable pieces in the bag that are wasted. So basically, because the charcoal burns fast and has wasted pieces, it adds to the cost of using lump charcoal for grilling.
There's now charcoal available that's already embedded with BBQ wood chips to add smoke flavor to your food (like this one or this). This is meant to be a time-saver in that you wouldn't have to buy the wood chips separately, soak them, and then add them to the barbecue. They also come in briquettes and are started in the same way.
So what's the best charcoal for grilling? It basically comes down to personal preference. There are pros and cons to each type, but in the end, choose what suits you better. Find more BBQ tips on our website.