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posted April 19, 2023

Types of Charcoal

New to grilling with charcoal? Or maybe you’re just interested in learning a bit more about different types of grilling. Either way, this post will have you up to date on the different types of charcoal and what to look for when buying charcoal.

Stack of lump charcoal on butcher paper with text overlay - Types of Charcoal.

Types of Charcoal

The first step in choosing charcoal is understanding the two main types of charcoal on the market: lump charcoal and briquette charcoal.

Lump Charcoal

Lump charcoal is made from whole pieces of natural wood that have been kiln fired. Lump is typically irregular in shape, with different brands carrying different sizes of chunks. It has the ability to burn hot (great for high heat searing), produce less ash, and can give your food a heavier smoke flavor. Additionally, larger chunks of lump charcoal tend to have a long burn time.

Some downsides of lump charcoal are that the heat can be inconsistent from piece to piece, depending on their size. These inconsistencies can produce hot spots and possibly overcook or burn your food. Lump charcoal is a little harder to find and can come in at a higher price point than briquettes.

Charcoal on butcher paper.

Briquette Charcoal

On the other hand, briquette charcoal is made from compressed charcoal powder from whole chunks of charcoal that have been pulverized. This charcoal powder is mixed with binders and pressed into a form to create a uniform shape. Briquettes tend to burn longer and provide really consistent heat and cook time.

Almost all brands of briquettes produce more ash than lump charcoal. Additionally, some brands may contain additives from the binder or accelerants to help the charcoal light easier.

Stack of lump charcoal on butcher paper.

Charcoal Flavors

Just as different types of wood smoke impact your BBQ with unique flavors, charcoal made from different types of wood can also impart distinct flavors to your food. For example, charcoal made from hardwoods like oak or hickory can add a strong, smoky flavor to your grilled meats, while fruitwood charcoal, such as apple or cherry, can provide a milder, sweeter taste.

Some brands of charcoal also have different “flavors” of briquettes with aromatics or wood chips mixed into the charcoal itself. Some people consider these briquettes more of a gimmick if you’re cooking at high heat (the smoke won’t impact your food too much at high temperatures. However, they can make a big impact on flavor if you’re smoking low and slow.

Check for Additives and Binders

Some charcoal may contain additives like lighter fluid or binders. If you prefer a more natural grilling experience, look for charcoal that is free from additives and binders.

Lump charcoal is usually considered a more natural style of charcoal cooking. Briquettes without these additives are typically labeled as “all-natural” or “additive-free”.

Individual types of charcoal of butcher paper.

Additional Types of Charcoal

While briquettes and lump are the two most common forms of charcoal, they certainly aren’t the only types of fuel available for those who love charcoal cooking. Coconut charcoal is growing in popularity as a natural form of fuel and becoming more readily accessible.

Larger-formed briquettes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and promise longer burn time, more consistent heat, and less ash. There have never been more options and brands to try and test and experiment with.

Two stacks of charcoal on butcher paper.

How to Choose Charcoal

Often, it’ll all come down to cost and availability when choosing charcoal.

With all of the options available on the market, I like to remind people to pay attention to the cost and accessibility of their charcoal. Coconut charcoal may be amazing, but not meet your budget requirements. Mesquite lump might taste just like Texas to you, but it’s hard to find in upstate New York.

The best charcoal is one that you can afford and readily access so you’re not stuck wanting to grill up some dinner and you don’t have any fuel.

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