Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes

    It is also known as chunk charcoal. Lump charcoal is made from natural hickory, mesquite, oak or other hardwood. Hickory and mesquite wood are known to produce a more distinct aromatic charcoal.

Plain lumps can be used with aromatic wood chips to flavor foods on a charcoal grill. The preparation of this charcoal is done at high temperature in a kiln with no additives.

This high-temperature preparation is also called 'charring',  hence reference to this type of charcoal also as char wood.  The final result is an all-natural, pure, lightweight product. It is unfinished, sometimes shiny, brittle carbon that smells and burns 'cleaner' than charcoal briquettes. Char-wood leaves less ash residue after cooking too!

Natural Lump Charcoal Natural Lump Charcoal

Here is an example of a brand named Royal Oak 100 % Natural Wood Charcoal. A similar kind of this type of charcoal should be readily available in your neighborhood big-box, department or grocery store.

Lump charcoal costs more, starts faster, burns more quickly, smells better and achieves higher temperature. This high heat factor makes lump charcoal ideal for direct grilling and searing.

Be prepared to add more charcoal while cooking with the lumps. This is especially true when using the indirect grilling method as it takes a little longer to cook your foods.

The best way to add charcoal is by using a chimney starter, also known as a charcoal chimney. Larger pieces of charcoal take longer to burn.

Shopping for this charcoal can be tricky. At least with composite manufactured briquettes you already know what size to expect.

It will take a little trial and error with different available brands to get your favorite right-size lumps of charcoal. The coals are sealed in opaque bags so you can only feel but cannot actually see the lump sizes.

Very cheap briquettes are available. They are made from low quality materials and burn even faster than lump charcoal.

Some charcoal pieces are large while others are small. You want to get lumps that are larger than briquettes. The larger they are the better. You will get more burning time and high heat.

Some Whole Foods stores have their own recycled-wood  brand of lump or chunk charcoal. They are relatively cheaper than many other brands of hardwood charcoal.

A Critical look at Charcoal Briquettes

We have two main types of charcoal briquettes. The first type is plain briquettes which need lighter fluid to start them. The other type is instant or self-igniting briquettes. These do not need lighter fluid to start them as they are impregnated with mineral compounds that help them to burn.

Charcoal Briquettes Ready to Cook Charcoal Briquettes Ready to Cook

All types of briquettes are made from a varied mix of ground or powdered compressed traditional charcoal, coupled with starch, coal dust, nitrates, lime, other additives and the list goes on.

In the market today, you can find all natural eco-friendly briquettes that boast of fewer fossil fuels used in their production.

The complex production process of briquettes is necessary to ensure they first, light up, then, burn off compounds, then, turn gray, then, stay hot and finally, stay aglow to cook for a long time. Phew! Briquettes have surely come a long way since the Henry Ford days!

Note that ceramic briquettes and lava rocks are for use only in gas grills.
Briquettes burn longer and more evenly when compared to lump charcoal. This makes them more ideal for indirect grilling. Some briquettes are self-igniting or contain flammable compounds to light them up. Plain briquettes require lighter fluid to light them up.

Mesquite Briquettes Mesquite Briquettes

Some briquettes are impregnated with mesquite wood flavor. The mesquite gives cooked food a strong characteristic aroma and wood flavor. Other injected smoke 'flavors' include, hickory, maple and oak.

Here is the brand name Kingsford Mesquite Briquettes in a 17lb (7kg) bag.

If you are using this type of charcoal briquettes for the first time, try grilling without adding more wood chips for flavor.

After sampling the food, keep a record on how the impregnated briquettes score for your desired level of mesquite flavor.

Self-igniting briquettes burn faster than plain ones. Mix them, stretch burning time.

Grillspot Tip! - After using 'Instant', self-igniting or self-starting briquettes, re-seal the bag tightly with clips or even tape. The burning compounds will  evaporate from a poorly sealed bag. Manufacturers do not include a 'Use by...' date so you know how long the coals will be effective in the bag.

If your self-igniting briquettes do not light up as a result of an open bag, use lighter fluid to light them just as you normally would with regular, plain briquettes.

How to Keep Charcoal Lit

The amount of charcoal needed for grilling, whether you are using lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes depends on the amount and type food you are cooking, the size of the grill and the general weather conditions. A good place to start is by having enough charcoal to make two layers or levels of charcoal on one side of the grill and one level on the other half.

The more the food you are cooking, the more the charcoal you will need. Also, the colder the weather the more the charcoal you will need and the 'adding intervals'. For optimum heat and temperature control in cold weather, leave your bottom vents open more. If you are not doing some heavy 'smoking', keep the top vents closed most of the time.

Follow safe shutdown procedures when using either of these fuels for your charcoal grill and have a good time as you grill tasty, zesty and flavorful foods!

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"All normal people love meat. If I went to a barbeque and there was no meat, "Yo Goober! Where's the meat? I'm trying to impress people here Lisa. You don't win friends with salad."

-Homer Simpson

"Grilling, broiling, barbecuing - whatever you want to call it, is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach."

-James Beard

"It is very important that when you put something on the grill, you leave it in place to cook. If you move it around too quickly, chances are it is going to stick."

-Bobby Flay