Whether you have been grilling for years and know what you are doing, or you are starting as a beginner, grilling can be a fun and enjoyable hobby. Regardless of your level of expertise, there will be one thing that drives your BBQ to perfection: charcoal. Should you use lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes? If you don’t know the difference, it can be confusing!
Experienced grillers recommend using lump charcoal, for its more natural effects on the finished meal. However, lump charcoal is more difficult to work with. Because of this, charcoal briquettes are suggested for beginners. Briquettes burn longer and less likely to char your meat.
Getting to know the science of grilling can be hard to do, but taking it one step at a time will make this task seem easier. Lump charcoal and briquettes both have their pros and cons, so let’s look into them!
Starting with lump charcoal helps grow your experience with charcoal as a whole. Lump charcoal is simply hardwood that has been charred. Many different types of wood can be used to make lump charcoal, ranging from fruit tree wood, to hickory or mesquite. This means that there are no added chemicals or artificial ingredients incorporated into its composition.
This will give your food a much better taste, allowing the smoke of natural wood-burning to soak into whatever you’re cooking. Not only will it taste better, but the emissions are much cleaner, and not as hard on the environment. Different types of lump charcoal, made of different types of wood, will give you different underlying tastes. Producers of a specific kind of charcoal will label it with the type of wood each product is made from.
This is why lump charcoal as a product is generally more attractive to experienced grillers, people who are looking for that natural wood flavor that transforms good barbecue into great barbecue. However, lump charcoal is not for the faint of heart! It comes with its own set of challenges and restrictions you’ll have to adjust to.
Lump charcoal is very light when picked up. This is due to the pockets of oxygen created when it was charred during production. These pockets of oxygen will cause lump charcoal to burn hot and fast. Results will vary based on the climate and altitude, but a pound of lump charcoal should burn for roughly 2 hours. Since lump charcoal burns hot it’s ideal for when you’re barbequing in a hurry.
If treated carefully lump charcoal can be used to cook more slowly, but this process depends on the size of the lump charcoal itself. When lump charcoal is created it breaks into different sizes, making a bundle of large pieces and smaller chunks.
The small pieces burn fast, and the larger pieces will typically burn more slowly, but because you’re dealing with lump charcoal, you still need to keep an eye on the temperature. You don’t want your charcoal to turn your meat into coal as well!
Charcoal briquettes are pieces of lump charcoal that have been ground up, turned into powder, mixed with a variety of different chemicals (based on the company producing them), and compressed into the briquette shape we’re all familiar with. You should definitely hold out for a higher quality brand when it comes to briquettes. This will improve the quality of your grilling and limit unwanted chemical byproducts.
Briquettes are much easier to use when smoking or barbecuing because of their uniform shape and composition. They are much denser, which means they will burn longer. This makes briquettes the best choice for low heat and slow-grilled meat. They also create an even heat dispersal as they burn. Although they don’t produce as much heat as quickly, they can still get quite hot and are adequate for a barbecue. This makes it much easier to calculate average cook time when it comes to meals!
There are caveats to the simplicity of briquettes. Because of the chemicals used to bind the charcoal together, there can be side effects to the finished product. More specifically, you may notice a difference in taste, or a slightly chemical aftertaste in the finished product. The difference is slight and may not be noticed at all, but the briquette smoke being used to cook the meat can still combine those chemicals into your food.
Overall, briquettes aren’t a bad way to go when it comes to grilling for a large group or just yourself. They will get the job done and are easier to manage. Sometimes grilling already has too many factors to deal with, and throwing in the difficulty that comes with lump charcoal may be too much.
Good To Know
After all the information that has been given, it might be good to know some interesting and fun facts about lump charcoal and briquettes. Both are great for cooking, with lump charcoal being used by more experienced grillers and briquettes being used by less experienced grillers. This is due to the uniformity of the briquettes and the different factors that lump charcoal has.
Lump charcoal is excellent for searing steaks and other firm meats, providing great heat to cook through the entire entrée. It can burn at an astonishing 1400 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also easier to manage this heat due to the oxygen trapped within the charcoal itself.
In contrast to the lump charcoal, briquettes burn at a maximum of 1260 degrees Fahrenheit with a have much more consistent heat. So once the heat is where you want it, you can keep it there easier. This is a good heat to use when smoking especially.
Also, the price of lump charcoal against charcoal briquettes is not a large difference, but it can be enough to sway the difference. Here is a table showing some prices and where to get them.
|Lump Charcoal||Price||Link To Purchase|
|Masterbuilt Lump Charcoal (16 lbs.)||$14.97||Walmart.com|
|Royal Oak Lump Charcoal, All Natural Hardwood Charcoal (15.4 lbs.)||$9.87||Walmart.com|
|Charcoal Briquettes||Price||Link To Purchase|
|Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquets (18 lbs.) (Two-pack)||$17.97||Walmart.com|
|Expert Grill Charcoal Briquets, Charcoal Briquettes (16 lbs.)||$5.96||Walmart.com|
Many of these prices will range based on the brand and where you purchase the products. But for a general rule lump charcoal will be more expensive than briquettes, but they are better quality as well with no chemical additives.
Charcoal is a very useful substance to use when it comes to smoking and grilling. The choice of which one to use is entirely up to the griller and what meat is being grilled, but each has its uses. Discovering those uses and becoming acquainted with them can greatly enhance your grilling experience.
When it comes to grilling with a kamado grill it is suggested to use lump charcoal as it burns more efficiently with better heat. This will make the grill function to its greatest capabilities and the natural wood smoke will contribute to the flavor of the meat.
It has an airflow system to allow the charcoal to burn without drying out the meat itself. Once the smoke enters the main chamber, it will either escape through the top vents or flow downward with help from the curved interior. This two-vent system enables air to ventilate in at the bottom and hot air can escape out the top, heating the area in which the meat is cooked. It’s super-efficient, and cooks your meat perfectly!
You’ll be able to enjoy moist, tender, well-flavored meat when you use a Kamado grill. These smokers are also fairly compact, which has made them popular among grillmasters who prefer a more portable option. They are made out of thick ceramic and metal though, so they can end up being breakable and fairly heavy.
Lump charcoal is usually the best fuel source for Kamado smokers, although you can experiment with charcoal as well. You’ll need to monitor it more closely if you use lump charcoal though, because smaller pieces will burn faster and raise the temperature. You can’t beat that delicious hardwood smoke though!
How To Get Started
A popular subclass in the world of vertical smokers is the charcoal smoker. This is also sometimes known as a vertical water smoker. Charcoal smokers come in several different types and designs because that term mainly refers to the fuel source that they use. Vertical water smokers are one of the most common types used by pitmasters.
As the name suggests, charcoal smokers usually work best when they’re powered by charcoal. It’s easier to maintain the temperature and you can add or remove them as needed.
Vertical charcoal smokers are upright models that usually have a rounded design. There are several layers and components that make up its interior structure. The bottom layer contains a supply of charcoal, which produces a lot of heat, but not much as smoke compared to wood fires.
This fuel source does emit other gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide though. That might not sound like a benefit, but they actually add a lot of flavor to the meat. If you want a more genuine smokey flavor though, you can add a few wood chips to the mix, or place them in a tray above the charcoal. As these smolder and burn, they’ll create the tasty smoke you’re looking for.
Many vertical smokers also include a water pan built into the design. When the heat hits the water pan, it evenly distributes throughout the smoking chamber. It also creates a moist smoking environment and prevents the meat from drying out.
The smoking chamber is an enclosed space that is covered by a sealed lid. This lid has vents and exhaust ports that can let out excess heat. It may take a bit of time to learn how to operate these smokers, but they’re definitely a good choice for pitmasters who are interested in using charcoal.
This type of smoker is fairly easy to maintain and it’s smaller than some other models. If you’re interested in cooking with charcoal or briquettes, a vertical water smoker is a pretty good place to get started. You’ll want to have a supply of charcoal, wood chips, and water on hand before you start cooking.