The topic of whether to use briquettes or lump charcoal during a barbecue has been constantly debated. Some barbecue masters claim that their barbecue cannot be as good as they intend it to be if they use lump charcoal instead of briquettes. Others opine that lump charcoal grills are better than briquettes.
All available products have their pros and cons. The reason why some people may prefer charcoal lumps over briquettes or vice versa is that they have gone through the merits and demerits of each. Before deciding on what to use, they must have realized that that particular type has pros that suit their needs better as compared to the pros of the other type of fuel.
Experts who have used both have also aired their opinions on why briquettes barbecue better than charcoal lumps or the other way round. Despite these views and opinions, at the end of the day, only your views, needs and preferences matter when deciding on which is the best.
If you are a newbie to both or, are yet to establish which one will suit your needs best, you are in the right place. Below we shall take you through the description, pros, and cons of both briquettes and charcoal lumps. You can then make an informed decision.
Why Lump Charcoal?
The creation of lump charcoal involves the slow combustion of wood pieces without oxygen. This enables moisture, wood sap, and other chemicals to exit from the wood leaving charcoal lumps as the end result.
Charcoal lumps are among the most harmless and least toxic forms of fuel. Due to the deprivation of oxygen, charcoal lumps leave behind little ashes during the creation process. When lit, they respond faster to heat and burn at higher temperatures compared to briquettes.
Keep an eye on the temperature configuration, bearing in mind that the burning speed of charcoal lumps is higher than that of briquettes.
The absence of additives and fillers means that the heat or smoke emitted by lump charcoal is clean and organic. This makes them the cleanest barbecue fuel.
Lump charcoal is in the category of carbon, but with a slight upgrade. It is positively responsive to oxygen, therefore easy to control the heat emitted. This is done through the adjustment of the grill’s air vents.
Merits of Lump Charcoal
- They are fast to light.
- They produce a lot of heat.
- They are natural and mainly organic. There are no additives in them.
- They produce little amounts of ash when burnt.
- Their temperature is easily adjustable.
Demerits of Lump Charcoal
- They are more pricey than briquettes.
- They get consumed by heat faster than briquettes. You’ll need to keep adding them to the charcoal burner from time to time.
- They are produced in uneven and shapeless pieces. This makes them hard to arrange in the grill. Most of the time they require crushing into smaller pieces to make their accommodation in the grill easy.
- They crush easily, leading to dirt and soot on the surfaces they get into contact with.
Why Charcoal Briquettes?
Leftover wood and sawdust are the main components used in briquette making. Additives are also included in this process, as opposed to lump-charcoal making.
Briquettes are long-lasting in terms of burning but produce less heat as compared to lump charcoal. The additives in them are for holding the sawdust and wood leftovers together. They also help in the creation of firm round shapes in the briquettes.
Due to the addition of additives and other chemicals, there are high chances of having these strong tastes in the meals you grill, barbecue, or smoke using briquettes. Chemicals such as lighter fluids are added to help the briquettes light up easily. Here’s a guide on how to light charcoal without lighter fluid.
The smell of these chemicals is more prolonged in light meats such as fish and chicken. However, high-quality brands of briquettes such as Kingsford briquettes, have found a way to curb the issues of additives and chemicals that may affect the quality of your meals. Any time you are making a choice on the briquettes to purchase, insist on getting those that are not ‘easy lighting’.
Merits of Briquettes
- It takes time before burning out, unlike lump charcoal which burns for a shorter time.
- The temperature maintained while burning briquettes is steady, hence no need to keep adjusting it.
- In terms of cost, briquettes are less costly compared to lump charcoal.
- They are made in smaller sizes and more compact shapes compared to lump charcoal. This makes them easy to stuff in the charcoal burner and grill.
Demerits of Briquettes
- Unless chemicals are added to make the briquettes easy to light, they don’t catch fire as fast as lump charcoal does.
- Briquettes release large amounts of ashes. This can be attributed to the additives and chemicals in them.
- They produce strong smells that can sometimes be tasted in the cooked food. The smell is caused by lighter chemicals and additives used during production.
Experts’ Opinion on Briquettes vs Lump Charcoal
The choices on what works best between the two sources of fuel bulge heavily towards the merits and demerits of each of them. Other factors that influence preference include cost, type of meat prepared, and availability.
Most grilling, barbecue, and smoking experts have encountered both types of charcoal. Their opinions on the same are based on their personal experiences while using either charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal.
Meathead Goldwin, a celebrated barbecue maker says that the purity of lump charcoal makes it stand out from other types of charcoal such as briquettes. To put more weight on lump charcoal as his preference, he adds that he sees it as the beginning of an organic fuel evolution.
He further says that the idea of having additives and other chemicals being tasted in food when briquettes are used to make it is blown out of proportion. He says that the evidence of these claims is insufficient.
A US-based charcoal production company, Kingsford does not highlight the components used in making their briquettes. Their website, however, states that coal, borax, limestone, and cornstarch are among the additives in the briquettes.
National Barbecue Association’s executive director, Jeff Allen says that he has noted that many barbecue experts prefer lump charcoal over briquettes. Their main reason being that lump charcoal has a cultural and regional aspect surrounding it. Many barbecue experts like to identify with these aspects.
Charcoal from different trees has different characteristics. For example, lump charcoal burnt from pine trees produces a lot of heat and burns very fast. This makes it good for steak preparation.
Depending on the wood’s density, the cooking may be fast or slow. Oak and hickory lamp charcoal cook slower than those from other trees due to their high density.
The large size and irregular shapes of lump charcoal may force one to go for briquettes. Matt Dukor, an expert in meat grilling says that he was surprised when the lump charcoal he had intended to use for slow grilling burnt out long before he could think of placing the meat on the grill. He talks of his frustration and due to this, it’s evident that he prefers briquettes.
Another reason that leads experts to recommend briquettes over lump charcoal is the smoke produced by the latter. Lump charcoal produces a lot of smoke that may not be necessary unless you are smoking meat. Some apartments or community rules and guidelines warn against the emission of too much smoke within the premises. This makes lump charcoal unsuitable for use in such places.
Related content: Best Charcoal Grills of 2021
Recommended Lump Charcoal and Briquette Brands
Charcoal barbecue requires a selection of good quality lump charcoal or briquette, depending on what you choose among the two.
Here is a list of brands that barbecue experts have tried, tested, and testified of how well their products worked for them.
- Royal Oak– It heats fast and remains hot for a longer time than other lump charcoal.
- Fogo lump charcoal– Charcoal from this brand is a solid choice because it doesn’t produce too much smoke. It also lights fast and retains heat for a long time.
- Rockwood Charcoal– Suitable for barbecue that requires a high amount of heat. It burns steadily and for long.
- Jealous Devil– This is a brand of lump charcoal made from hardwood. Its ash-production rate is low. It is fast to light and available in small-sized chunks.
Some choices are harder to make than others. This should not be the case for you when choosing between lump charcoal and briquettes. All the pros, cons, and experts’ opinions highlighted above should come in handy to help you decide what to choose.
Despite what other people may have experienced in using the two types of charcoal, you also need to give yourself a chance to test each of them. That way, you’ll be in a better position to decide on what to stick to based on your personal needs.