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charcoal vs. briquets?

I've been using wood charcoal for a long time, sometimes flavored with mesquite, apple. or hickory chips depending on what I'm cooking. I imagine that a lot of us in the baby boom demographic grew up with the briquet/lighter fluid combo manned by dear old dad at the grill. (Nothing like the thrill of the whooooshh of the lighter fluid and that initial flame to entertain the kiddies.)

Now I use a chimney and wood charcoal. Just wondering what folks' preferences are these days.

(I also noticed the Kingsford Charcoal Briquet product placement on Top Chef episode 3...I have to say, I was a little surprised at that.)


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  1. I have cooked on a charcoal grill for more than 40 years, never gas. I always preferred Kingsford briquets, but a few years ago tried the real charcoal. I began to notice that the Kingsford left lots of "dust" which I suspect was the filler, sand. Now I use real charcoal almost exclusively. Also use the chimney and have a fire in 10-15 minutes.
    Real charcoal (I prefer Cowboy brand) lights easier, burns hotter (better to sear a steak) and burns cleaner...not much dust left over. I tried the Kingsford pure charcoal a week ago, and its chunks were larger and not uniform and thus more difficult to
    spread out and they sparked terribly. I was worried with the extremely dry conditions we have here in Florida.

    4 Replies
    1. re: steakman55

      I've always used charcoal, but have been wanting to try the Cowboy wood stuff. Do you have to use lighter fluid? Or do you stack it in the chimney with newspaper underneath and just light? How do you know when it's ready?

      1. re: mojoeater

        it gets ash covered when it is ready to use. No need to use any starter fluid.

        1. re: mojoeater

          I use a blow torch. I prefer mapp gas because it burns 30% hotter than propane. If you get one, spend the extra $20 and get self lighting one.
          An old welder friend of mine had seen a friend of his get burnt by lighter fluid really badly and decied to try his blow torch the next time. and it worked. and when I got into grilling I got a blow torch and have used it ever since. I grill alot and one cannister lasts me almost 2 years. although if you want something to actually cook food with I would get a propane one. I have both. I use the mapp gas one on the grilland if I need to heat some food up directly I use the propane one. besides I dont like the idea of all the news print burning on the charcoal.

        2. re: steakman55

          Cowboy brand preferred here, too, better than the Whole Foods stuff, or that Royal Oak kind (something like that).

        3. by "wood charcoal" I suspect you mean "lump". Trader Joe seems to sell a lot of this, seem like an awful lot is from hardwood flooring. I think it is fine. Do others have better source of lump?

          In some of the smoking/grilling web sites there are folks that seek out various specialty charcoal, some made from peat or other alternative fuels.

          I have to say that I vary my charcoal selection based on when/where/what I am cooking.

          For straight high temp grilling at home lump is hard to beat. If i want something that is slowing burning I will use briquettes, unless I away from home and have to clean the up the smoker/grill to transport back home and then I might use a mix to cut down on the residue/ashes/filler (which I believe is actually clay, not sand). For the most aroma-filled cooking I will build a fire of all wood, but it can take quite a while for this to die down to a usable cooking fire, and is something I generally will only do a few times a year. I have friends who spend all summer at the shore and they can do this every night -- lucky dogs!

          1. Checkout this site. They rate lump charcoal!!!


            1. when i first got my grill a couple of months ago, i grabbed some "all natural hardwood charcoal" and a chimney starter to go with it. the charcoal was in regular, uniform lumps - ie briquettes.

              my next one was the cowboy brand lump, and now i have the royal oak lump (red bag).

              the initial briquettes worked out waaaay better for my smoking attempts. alas, i don't remember the name brand - but it was from home depot.

              i can't seem to get the lump stuff to burn evenly and it's SUPER hot. i wouldn't EVEN attempt to use this stuff for slow smoking.

              LOVE the chimney starter!!!!

              1 Reply
              1. re: hitachino

                the quality of lump charcoal varies drastically by brand. The link above to the Nakedwhiz.com is the best resource I've ever seen for charcoal comparisons.

                A few comments. Someone mentioned that their lump was from old lumber scraps. That's what cheap lump comes from. In a bag of a good brand lump, you'll see what actually looks like wood from trees, not cast off flooring scraps.

                As for burning hotter and shorter, that's true if you let it. But if you have a smoker or grill that can control air flow effectively, lump can burn low and slow just as effectively as kingsford briquettes. But if you don't have effective air flow control, then it's much harder to get really long burns with lump. Also, cheap lump burns more quickly.

                Here's the best test, if you get a really good bag of lump, you'll notice its significantly heavier than you'd think it would be. that means the wood is dense, which gives you longer burns.

                The very best wood for lump charcoal comes from brazilian hard wood. However, keep in mind that some brands get it responsibly while others don't. Buyer beware.

                My favorite brand that you can find in most states is called "Wicked Good" charcoal. Awesome, awesome stuff. If I'm just grilling, Royal Oak has a very nice flavor/scent. But it's pretty light weight and burns rather quickly so I don't use it in my smoker.

                The biggest change with lump for people used to using briquettes, is to not wait for the entire chimney to be completely ashed over like you would with Kingsford. You need it all to be lit, but if you wait for it all to be gray and ashed, you won't have much lump left to grill with. It's ready to be thrown on the grill when the lump at the top of the chimney is lit, but not ashed all over.

                Anyhow, I guess my point is, lump is great. I use briquettes at times too, but to those who didn't like their first results, give lump another try. Good stuff.

              2. I stopped using briquets about 15 years ago. I only use natural 100% hardwood lump charcoal. With a chimney.

                3 Replies
                1. re: janeer

                  Clearly, lump charcoal is superior to charcoal briquettes. Lately, the charcoal briquettes that I have used (KIngsford) have tended to smell like coal. I won't use them anymore. By the way, Mrs. Janeer, I clicked on your link, and for some reason, I couldn't find any information on Charcoal, lump or briquettes.

                  1. re: janeer

                    What type of lump do you use? Curious..

                    1. re: melloski

                      Honestly, there are so many lump charcoals that are almost impossible to find, I jump from brand to brand just based on availability. We have a store in Denver (I believe it is called Outdoor Furniture), that carries lump charcoal and smoking wood where I intend to buy small quantities of charcoal for the purpose of finding one that I like.

                  2. From my experience, Lump charcoal seems to burn hotter, and faster. I use it for grilling. When I am smoking or roasting something big, I prefer briquets, because they stay at a constant temperature better for longer periods of time. I also prefer to use briquets for dutch oven cooking, because it is easier to gauge the temperature that I need to cook at with uniform sized briquets. So long story short, lump charcoal for grilling, Briquets for roasting, smoking, and dutch oven cooking. Chimney starter for both, I don't use lighter fluid.

                    1. I am personally a lump fan - it is my preferred charcoal - I do agree with the other posters that some lump brands are better than others - Royal Oak lump is my preferred brand -

                      1. I just started using lump after using Kingsford briquets. I love how hot it burns, perfect for searing steaks, but when I lit it in my chimney (I used Cowboy brand), the sparkles flew all over the place. I could not get to the chimney till the fire died down a little.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: JackB

                          cowboy brand is notorious for sparks. It's probably got the most odd stuff in it than any other lump brand (not uncommon to find large rocks etc., in cowboy brand.

                          All lump sparks, but it shouldn't be excessive and should die down once it's lit. If it isn't, then you should probably look to find another brand. Probably the most commonly found lump around, Royal Oak, is quite good, actually. Not great for really long burns in a smoker, but it's very good for grilling.

                          Good luck!

                        2. If I'm grilling, I use Kingsford (easier to make a nice, even layer of coals), but if I'm going low and slow, it's lump for heat and hardwood for smoke (usually pecan, apple, or cherry). I don't use chips anymore, because they don't last long enough and really don't produce much smoke.

                          I must give a shout out to Kingsford for their chimney, too...I used to use El Cheapo chimneys, but a couple of years ago I broke down and spent the extra for the Kingsford chimney, and what a difference! It is much more reliable, and lights a load of either lump or briquets faster than the cheapos.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: ricepad

                            If you like the Kingsford chimney starter, you will love the Weber chimney starter! Kingsford works for me too when grilling, lump is a challenge to find the right one. Whicked Good Charcoal makes 100% natural briquettes, they are great! They don't stink (but I think Kingsford is a nice stink) and are a pleasure to use. They are expensive to ship to my area of the states-New Mexico. Check them out!

                          2. For years my fuel of choice was lump mesquite. Here in LA Smart and Final sells 40 pound bags of mesqite for a reasonable price. Lately I have been using seasoned wood, not charcoal, that I get at Barbeques Galore. They have hickory, mesquite, and pecan. It burns hotter than charcoal, and has better flavor. Works great in the smoker, no need to add soaked chips or chunks as the wood produces plenty of smoke and burns for hours.

                            1. I prefer hardwood charcoal, but recently found a natural briquet product at home depot, no fillers, it burns hot and uniformly. So far (2 times) it works very well

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: mmalmad

                                I agree. I think it's called rancher and it is very good. cheaper than kingsford too. I've only found it at home depot. Depending on if they have a sale, you can pick it up as cheap as $3 for a 20 pound bag. But the standard price is still only $5 for a 20 pound bag.

                                Back to hardwood charcoal... the best I've ever used is Wicked Good charcoal. Dumb name, but amazing stuff.

                                1. re: adamclyde

                                  Rancher all Natural from HD for $3 for 20 Pounds? I'm not going to say that I like it, but I have almost 400 pounds of it in my car.

                                  I used about 1.25 bags (25 pounds) to cook 3 overnight briskets (2 seperate cooks) GREAT STUFF - Kingsford changed their formula at just the right time for Rancher!

                                  1. re: rich in stl

                                    yeah, have to agree. Aside from the fireworks spectacle when I dump it from the chimney onto my smoker or grill, it's awesome stuff. Less ash than Kingsford, as far as I can tell, and burns just as long.

                              2. My mountain house in Cuchara was at 9000 ft altitudte and a charcoal fire took an hour. A Briquette fire took an hour and a half. A steak dinner would be planned around two naps and two hot tub soaks. The kids blew through here in about an hour and cooked all the meat and left.

                                1. I like to use lump but my wife hates the taste of food prepared with it. She prefers briquets.

                                  There's no accounting for taste.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Jimmy Buffet

                                    Really? My husband likes to cook with briquettes because he says they burn slower, but I have insisted on lump charcoal for the taste. Briquette cooked food tastes a bit chemical to me.

                                    1. re: Jimmy Buffet

                                      Try Whicked Good charcoal briquettes! They don't stink and are the best of both worlds.

                                    2. Just putting in my vote for chimney + lump charcoal... Although briquettes aren't horrible. The main thing is no gas, and no lighter fluid.

                                      I already have a gas grill... it's called my OVEN!

                                      1. I use a local brand, FireKing by Struemph in Steelville MO. The little meat market I frequent carries it in 40 lb bags for $17. It is produced using sawmill scrap. Their operation was featured on Dirty Jobs.

                                        Kind of interested in trying the extruded stuff with mesquite I see at a local latino market.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: rexmo

                                          I've always wanted to try extruded. The extruded product I REALLY want to try is kamado's extruded coconut charcoal. It's supposed to be amazing. But the company makes it darn near impossible to get the product without paying an arm and a leg for shipping. At least to the East Coast.

                                          Here's some info on it: http://www.nakedwhiz.com/lumpdatabase...

                                          1. re: adamclyde

                                            Yeah, the shipping makes it cost prohibitive...but it sure sounds like the perfect fuel, doesn't it? I wish I had bought a pallet or two when it came in near me, but now it comes into the US via San Diego...bummer.

                                            1. re: ricepad

                                              I have been thinking of trying to get in on or perhaps share a pallette expense of Kamado charcoal, as it is very good. But I have almost used up what I ordered with my grill.

                                              Kamado opened an Atlanta facility awhile back...I was hoping that might make it a bit cheaper.

                                        2. I have used both, and prefer the plain old Kingsford briquettes. I found the lump charcoal would spark, and with a wood deck I dont want that..

                                          I use a chimney starter as well, no fluid allowed. I typically use Kingsford to start my grilling , and once hot I use them to get the hickory, or mesquite I use burning/smoking.

                                          1. **A WORD OF CAUTION**
                                            A couple of years ago after lighing a chimney of lump about 15 min prior and it BLEW UP! Thinks it had something to do with knots in the wood. Coals everwhere even blew a hole in the cement under the chimney! So stay clear until coals are ready to cook with!


                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: don515

                                              Just a thought, did you put the charcoal chimney directly on the cement after lighting? If so, it is possible it was not actually something in the charcoal exploding. Likely, it may have been the cement itself exploding due to trapped moisture that reached a boil due to the heat of the coals above. I have had this happen before myself, as well as melting a blacktop driveway with a charcoal chimney! Never had lump charcoal or briquets really explode, but those spark showers can be exciting!

                                              1. re: klieglight2

                                                Thanks never gave that a thought you are probably right it did go off like a cannon!


                                            2. given the choice i prefer pecan wood, with soaked mesquite chips for flavor...wonderful stuff!

                                              1. All good info. Thanks for giving Stubbs the thumbs up. I just picked up 3 bags of Stubbs at Lowes. Anything’s gotta be better than Kingsford. I never had a problem with Kingsford in the past. But, ever since they re-formulated it earlier this year, it’s just not working for me. My biggest gripe isthis; by the time the coals are lit at the top of my chimney, the coals at the bottom of the chimney are half the size! When I dump the coals onto the grate, quite a few of them fall through. I’m using a Weber 22″ Kettle and a Weber chimney. My work around is to dump the coals before they’re all fully lit into a pile onto the grate. I got a bag of lump charcoal at Albertson’s supermarket under the Kroger brand name. They seem ok. I think just need to learn how to fine tune my process’s to maximize them to their full potential.

                                                1. i prefer lump to briquettes. however, i do not use cowboy brand any more. it contains scrap wood and the charcoal at the bottom of the bag is heavily dusted with undesirable powdery stuff. right now is use green egg brand lump--tho i'm sure that other brands offer large chunks like those found in the green egg sack. i add chunks of grape vine or apple limbs when smoking.

                                                  surely, i don't use fluid, but am happy to use waxy starter pellets, if i don't use the chimney--or chimnies