For the hardcore grilling enthusiast, pure and natural lump charcoal is always going to be the first choice for outdoor cooking.
Lump charcoal imparts a wonderful smokey flavor with exceptional heating performance.
From a low smoke to a sizzling sear, it gets hotter than gas and is affordable, too.
Lump charcoal has been around longer than outdoor grilling as we know it today, and it’s still incredibly popular.
It does face competition, though. Briquettes have become popular because they’re convenient, consistent, and easy to use.
Choosing between the two can be difficult if you’re new to the world of outdoor grilling, or if you’re making the switch from a gas grill.
We’re going to look at both options to find out which is best; lump charcoal vs. briquettes.
The Key Differences Between Lump Charcoal and Briquettes
Lump charcoal is made from natural pieces of timber without additives.
The timber is burned in a low oxygen environment removing the moisture and organic compounds.
Lump charcoal is almost all carbon. It’s one of the most efficient and energy-dense fuels known.
Briquettes are also mostly carbon, but they’re formed differently.
They’re made from processed wood products rather than natural timber.
Briquettes are formed and then heated in a low oxygen environment.
The result is incredibly consistent, unlike lump charcoal, which can vary in size and shape even in the same bag. Briquettes are all the same size.
Sometimes briquettes have chemical additives for easier lighting or smoother burning.
The best charcoal briquettes have no additives and are simply compressed pieces of processed timber.
While both options are reliable for outdoor cooking, they do have significant differences, pros, and cons.
Understanding these will help you to make the right choice for your grill.
Natural Lump Charcoal – The Pros and Cons
Ask a serious home griller or even a professional and they will tell you that nothing compares to lump.
In many ways, this is true. Lump charcoal is natural. It is made from real timber and can impart a mild smoky flavor.
Lump charcoal requires intensive processing and hand sorting to deliver a quality product, so it’s also relatively expensive.
Even so, you can still buy a bulk bag of lump charcoal that is cost-efficient, if you’re willing to pay a little more than budget briquettes or propane.
Lump is clean burning. There are no chemicals, so you don’t have to worry about bad flavors or aromas.
The mild smokey flavor can vary depending on the quality of the charcoal and the species of wood used, but most home grillers would agree that charcoal tastes different (and many would say better) than gas cooking.
Because lump charcoal is made from solid timber without fillers and additives, there’s much less mess than other fuels. Ash production is low.
Lump charcoal is about flavor and temperature. Choose lump over briquettes if…
- You want the highest possible temperature for a Kamado or ceramic grill.
- You want the flexibility to go from low and slow to a blistering sear. Temperatures can exceed 1000°F
- You cook for medium to long sessions in a smoker or grill.
Lump charcoal might not be for you if…
- You cook for long sessions and want to keep the cost down.
- You don’t want to spend too much time arranging the charcoal.
- You want easy to control and consistent temperature.
The downsides can be overcome by choosing lump charcoal that is more consistent in size and shape.
The biggest problem with lump charcoal is that it is hand sorted and this can lead to some significant variation in low-cost products.
For the most consistent pieces, choose high-quality all-natural lump charcoal. For longer burning, choose jumbo or XL lump charcoal.
Charcoal Briquettes – The Pros and Cons
One of the first things that you will notice with briquettes is that they’re all the same size.
Even the very best lump charcoal has pieces of varying sizes in one bag. Briquettes are consistent.
The uniform size, shape, weight, and density have many benefits, like easier arranging in a grill, consistent heat zones, and predictable burn times.
Temperature is easy to regulate when using briquettes. And, just like natural lump charcoal, briquettes can get extremely hot.
Most range between 800°F and 1000°F if you have the right grill. Most Kamado grills will easily reach this temperature.
Briquettes are mostly about convenience. You should choose briquettes if…
- You want an inexpensive fuel that is easier to handle and store.
- You want a reliable option for slow cooking or smoking. Briquettes burn consistently.
- You are tired of spending time carefully arranging oddly shaped lump charcoal in your grill.
- You want to easily maintain temperature over a grilling or smoking session.
There are downsides to briquettes…
- Some briquettes (not all) contain chemicals and additives.
- Briquettes are often denser and aren’t as easy to light as lump charcoal.
- Some low-quality briquettes are messier and produce more ash.
The Best Lump Charcoal and Briquettes to Buy
We’ve covered the pros and cons of charcoal in lump and briquette form. Lump charcoal vs. briquettes comes down to performance and personal preference.
There’s no ‘perfect’ solution for every scenario and you might have to make some small compromises to get a product that suits your needs.
To keep things simple, we’ve got three excellent suggestions that would work well in your grill or smoker, whichever direction you choose to go.
The brand has established itself as a leader in quality control and even packaging.
Although hardwood will never be as consistent as briquettes, the lump charcoal from this company is still more consistent than competitors.
This makes it easier to control the burn, arrange the coals, and get your grill going.
Made from 100% natural dense South American hardwood, there’s no scrap, filler, or other contaminants in the packaging.
The charcoal bag itself even stands out from the crowd.
It is waterproof, tear-resistant, and has a resealable top to keep moisture out.
Many home grillers transfer their lump charcoal to a plastic container, but this isn’t necessary with Jealous Devil’s resealable bags.
The hardwood lump charcoal creates a mild smoky flavor that elevates any ingredient from fish to thick steaks.
Despite being one of the best hardwood lump charcoal products on the market, Jealous Devil is competitively priced and is economical for people who grill regularly.
- Long burn time for low or medium cooking temperatures.
- Excellent searing temperatures when needed.
- Consistent quality and lump size from bag to bag.
- Good for most grill and smoker sizes.
- Great for long grills and smokers where coals are arranged lengthways.
- Doesn’t burn as long as large briquettes.
- Harder to light (although not overly difficult) when compared to briquettes.
- Slightly more expensive than budget charcoal brands.
Kingsford Briquettes are the favorite choice among home grillers.
These are consistently sized, easy to light, and they burn consistently with excellent heat performance.
This is the option to choose if you are new to grilling or if you want to try briquettes for the first time.
Although there are some additives in the briquettes, they are safe for cooking and don’t produce any unwanted flavor or aroma.
All ingredients are completely natural, so there are no harsh chemicals to worry about.
The burn time is long with slow grilling and smoking getting around four to five hours from these briquettes.
- Reasonable burn time considering the small briquette size.
- Very easy to arrange and light.
- Excellent temperature control.
- Consistent performance and flavor from bag to bag.
- Won’t burn as long as large natural hardwood briquettes.
- Contains additives (these are 100% natural).
They are provided in a resealable box which is much more convenient than a bag, and much less messy.
Without any added chemicals, you can enjoy smokey grilled meals without worrying about unwanted aromas or flavors.
These briquettes are larger than the average product, making them ideal for bigger grills and smokers.
Even in standard-sized grills they work well and have a longer burning time.
Whether you’re searing, smoking, or slow grilling, you’ll get excellent performance from Devil Max Charcoal Pillow Briquettes.
- Great taste and flavor without chemical additives.
- Made from natural hardwood.
- Double-sized briquettes.
- The resealable package is one of the best seen on the market.
- These briquettes aren’t suited to small tabletop or camping grills.
- The slow and long burn time will be inefficient for quick-cooking sessions.
The Bottom Line – Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes
There’s room for both lump charcoal and briquettes in the market.
We strongly recommend that you buy both, but if you want one to get started with, you can use these questions to help you decide…
- Do you need something that lights easily and requires little temperature maintenance? If yes, then briquettes are the best choice.
- Do you want a cleaner-burning fuel with less ash? If yes, then lump is the best choice.
- Do you want the highest possible temperatures? If yes, then lump gets up to 1400°F, compared to around 1000°F for briquettes.
- Do you want the longest burn time? Briquettes, when comparing similar sizes, burn longer than lump charcoal.
It all comes down to what you’re looking to do with your grill. Sometimes you might prefer hardwood lump charcoal vs. briquettes for specific cooking sessions, and then switch back when it’s convenient.
You can even layer briquettes with lump charcoal on top for extremely long cooking sessions to enjoy the pros of both.
Charcoal grilling is all about flavor. Both options share amazing flavor when you choose natural products that are free of harsh chemical additives.