Grilling Charcoal - What Type to Use?

When you wander through a barbecue store, you will probably see a vast array of grilling charcoal. What type should you use? Charcoal falls into basically two types: natural lump charcoal, and charcoal briquettes.

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Natural Lump Charcoal

Lump charcoal is produced by burning wood without oxygen and retains its natural shape instead of being pressed or molded into 'bricks'.

The Good Stuff

  • There's no chemical additives. It's just charcoal.
  • It lights more easily than briquettes.
  • Burns nice and hot.
  • Produces very little ash.
  • Good for barbecues that can control air flow.

The Bad Stuff

  • Expensive!
  • Burns quickly (...going back to the whole 'expensive' thing...). This also means you might have to replenish the charcoal if you're planning to barbecue for a long time.
  • Charcoal pieces are inconsistent in size - you can get giant pieces in the same bag as tiny little unusable pieces too.

Charcoal Briquettes

Briquettes are a mixture of crushed charcoal and additives, meant to help the briquettes keep their shape as well as burn consistently.

The Good Stuff

  • Burns at a more consistent temperature, making it a good choice for barbecues that don't allow you to control air flow.
  • Cheaper than lump charcoal.
  • Lasts longer / takes longer to burn, so you can just light it and leave it for all those hours it takes to make fall-off-the-bone tender BBQ ribs.
  • Consistent size and shape - no wasted or unusable pieces.

The Bad Stuff

  • It's not all-natural - there are chemicals added to briquettes, which can result in a chemical smell and sometimes even a chemical taste. To try and combat this, don't start cooking until there's a layer of white ash covering the coals.
  • Produces a lot of ash.
  • More difficult to light.

Your choice of grilling charcoal all comes down to personal preference. Both types will work fine. Check out more BBQ tips, including how to BBQ with charcoal for options on igniting charcoal.



This website offers tips on how to BBQ as well as some of our favorite barbecue recipes. We barbecue with a charcoal grill in an outdoor kamado-style cooker called The Big Green Egg. We love food and we love the grill, and hope you enjoy our recipes!