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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!!!

            http://www.nakedwhiz.com/lump.htm

            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.
                www.littlecomptonmornings.blogspot.com

                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.