HOME > Chowhound > Greater Boston Area >


Hardwood charcoal in the greater Boston area

Cowboy charcoal is everywhere and the stuff at whole foods is really expensive. Anyone finding good deals out there for hardwood charcoal?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Brookline Ice and Coal sells Royal Oak lump charcoal (as well as RO briquettes and ethanol gel starter).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Luther

      Brookline Ice sells Royal Oak @ $10.00 for a 20.# pound bag. Very convenient to the Longwood area and route 9. They also carry Cowboy, and a Chefs Blend along with flavored wood chips and slab.

    2. Martignetti's has large bags of Royal Oak lump for $12.99. It's the best lump I have ever used, miles ahead of that awful Cowboy stuff, and the best part is that it's renewable: anything that doesn't turn to ash when you burn it the first time can be relit for your next cook. The steak I grilled last night -- which was outstanding -- was grilled over two-thirds of a chimney's worth of charcoal that I'd just picked up off the grate following the chicken I'd grilled over the weekend.

      I've seen Royal Oak lump in Brazilian and Armenian grocers as well.

      2 Replies
      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

        Is that Martignetti's as in the liqueur store?

        1. re: Ferrari328

          Yes, the one on Soldiers Field Road in Brighton.

      2. I use Wicked Good lump.
        I think its the best I have ever used, even though its pricey at Milton Marketplace. $19.95 for a 22 lb. bag.
        I buy it online, but with the shipping its pretty close to the same price as Milton.
        Check out the Naked Whiz website for comparisons of all lump.

        3 Replies
          1. re: enhF94

            Funny, I was going to post a link to the same lump charcoal "database" (pretty brilliant resource, actually). Full URL is http://www.nakedwhiz.com/lumpindexpag...

            Note: Don't let the domain name scare you off; it's legit and worthwhile.

            For everyday lump that's easy to find around here, I tend to go w/either Cowboy (burns fast and hot though, so fine for "grilling" but not so much for slow-burn roasting and such) or Royal Oak, which, as Barmy notes above, I've been finding big bags of (20 lb?) in my local Brazilian market.

            1. re: enhF94

              Yep, agree with the Wicked Good suggestion. Great for high temp grilling and slow and low. From a recent cook with WGC...

          2. I just bought a bag of something at Hannaford Bros. It's basically chunks of wood. Is that what you mean? It was my first time using it, I liked it but scallops weren't the best for it, tooo smokey! I'm anxious to do a nice steak or burgers on it.

            4 Replies
            1. re: lexpatti

              Lump charcoal is chunks of partially burnt wood, as opposed to briquettes. They're lightweight, powdery black and irregularly shaped. If that's what you got, then yeah, that was lump charcoal.

              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                nope, didn't get that - hmmmm, I'll have to check that out. Mine is definatly hunks of wood, irregular shaped. I used the charcoal chimney and they were blazing before long.

                1. re: lexpatti

                  I usually use the lump charcoal as BFP desribes above and use the wood chunks just before cooking to generate some flame..usually chopping them down to a smaller size. The wood burns pretty quickly on it's own.

                  Wood adds flavor and if you want a lot of smoke; soak it in water for a while.

                  1. re: lexpatti


                    I bought the same stuff at Hannaford. It's not lump charcoal, it's actually lumps of hardwood. The instructions say to light it and then let it burn down to charcoal, before cooking over it.

                    I use it in conjunction with the briquettes. I put a lump or two of the hardwood on the coals, and it adds a huge amount of smoke and flavor to the food.

              2. The Royal Oak lump charcoal is great but the Nature's Own that I get from Russo's is nearly as good and much less expensive. Score another one for Russo's! It is in their garden supply area, near the pots, seeds, and fertilizer.

                2 Replies
                1. re: PinchOfSalt

                  I've used Nature's Own Basque lump and it was very good stuff. I got it at the BBQ Barn in Arlington.
                  I'll have to try the other Nature's Own. How much was it a bag at Russo's?

                  1. re: janzy

                    The exact price is just not coming to mind. Something like $6.98 or $7.98? It was definitely less than $10/bag.

                    The BBQ Barn is a great place! I go there for replacement parts for my beloved 25+ year-old Weber kettle. (It's about to get lit for my annual 4th of July rib fest. Hickory chunks from Home Depot if ya care to know.) Thanks for pointing out that they have charcoal. I will have to go browse the selection!

                2. BBQ Barn in Arlington has had a nice selection in summer's past. I've purchased Maple Leaf and Royal Oak there.


                  1. Most Market Basket's carry Cowboy and/or Duraflame lump. Cowboy is usually around $5. for 8lbs.

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: treb

                      And Cowboy is worth less than half that. Terrible, terrible charcoal.

                      1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                        What's so terrible about Cowboy Charcoal? I like it better than the Nature's Own Basque lump since I found that very expensive, full of fragments when you get closer to the bottoms and it always had a tear in the bag.

                        1. re: Ferrari328

                          What I don't like at all about Cowboy, is that the fragments are usually so small that when I pour them into my grill from the Chimney, half of them fall through the fire grate onto the bottom of the kettle. Then, if you try to move them around a bit with tongs, to even out the flame, they break apart and more fall through the grate onto the bottom of the grill.

                          1. re: mwk

                            I've used Cowboy, Duraflame and Royal Oak and all had good sized pieces of wood. I also use a chimney starter. Not sure what BarmeyFP's problem is, wish he would tell us, usually lack of detail makes me wonder whether the beef is real or just trumped up hot air.

                            1. re: treb

                              I get Cowboy for $5 at Trader Joes. Works fine for me in my chimney starter too.

                              One beef I have is that they use some plywood in their mix. However, it's not much of a beef because it tastes just as good as any other lump charcoal I have used (Royal Oak and Whole Foods brands).

                              1. re: treb

                                Or it could be that I mostly took the weekend off from being online and I was out actually doing things. And why on earth would I make a point of complaining about a product if I didn't actually dislike it?

                                Anyway, Cowboy is fine if you're doing a quick sear on some steaks or anything else where you need about 10 minutes' worth of medium-high heat, because that's all you're gonna get out of it. If you're planning a longer, indirect cook (which is about 75% of the grilling I do), you'll need to use most of a bag to get the same amount of heat you'd get out of a chimney's worth of a decent lump or briquettes, which means that even though it's cheap, it's still not cost-effective. And forget about using it in a smoker, it'd drive you nuts and increase the time of your cook by 50% because you'd have to replenish so often.

                                It's simply really poor-quality charcoal compared to Royal Oak, Maple Leaf, etc. This is one of those cases where you get what you pay for: if it works for your purposes, fine, but it's useless for mine.

                                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                  FYI, I slow cooked (indirect heat) BBQ Ribs and Chicken this weekend on my Weber kettle, each took 2 1/2-3 hours and I did it with 1 charcoal chimney of Cowboy charcoal for each, the leftover charcoal from previous cooking that had been doused out plus 4-6 pieces of soaked Hickory chuncks. Everything came out great and I did not have to use whole bag of charcoal. Temperature cooked at was approx. 250 degrees.

                                  1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                    Cowboy worked fine for me for many years when 'queing on the offset. But yeah, I did tend to go through a decent amount (at least 1+ bag) if doing a five hour ~ 250 degree smoke for multiple racks of spareribs.

                                    1. re: Dax

                                      I use Wicked Good most of the time because I'm cooking low and slow with a ceramic cooker (Kamado).
                                      I fill it up with probably 1/4 to 1/2 a bag of lump, set the cooker for 230 degrees and it will burn for 19 hours.
                                      That's the time it takes to cook a 13 lb. brisket.
                                      A pork butt (for pulled pork) takes about 8-10 hours and baby backs take about 4-5 hours.
                                      The advantage of buying a good lump charcoal is that it will burn for a long time with little to no ash.

                                      1. re: Dax

                                        Yeah, it's those tiny little chunks. There's just no way they can retain heat very long, because they simply disappear! I want a lump of a relatively consistent size.

                                      2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                                        Ahh, now I get it you cook low and slow. I use briquettes on the bottom and either uncured hardwood or soaked wood chips on the top when I want low and slow. I only use lump charcoal for hot grilling.

                            2. Restaurant Depot has Royal Oak (the large bag) for a little under $9 per bag.

                              1 Reply
                              1. just saw Cowboy at the Pru Shaw's for $4

                                1. As I side note I bought a serious electric smoker this week at Bass Pro Shop in Foxborough. They have a HUGE selection of barbecue equipment, charcoal and flavored woods. The sales guy pushed very hard to buy the Jack Daniels wood chips made from old barrels at the distillery. After 3 days of smoking over the holiday I'd seriously suggest trying these chips. If you filtered the water you soak them in you'd have the equivalent of a watered down glass of JD. Excellent and unique smoke flavor as well. Great conversation piece for the party as well.

                                  1. As far as I can tell Cowboy Charcoal is made of scrap wood (lot of it looks like 1x2s to me, but not certain what that has to do with "hardwood"). If you control the flaps on the grill, you can get it to last longer, but for grilling purposes I find myself having to put more unburned charcoal on right when I get the coals to exactly where I want them -- ick. On a 22" grill, I probably put 2 chimneys worth of charcoal to get the right amount of coals. It also comes with a lot of dust, although with hardwood charcoal some of that is not entirely unavoidable. Its not the end of the world to use it, but I do agree that you get what you pay for.

                                    In the past I have always bought Brazilian charcoal in 20lb bags at Brazilian butchers. One nice feature of this is it usually comes with a lot of larger chunks and if you want smaller pieces just whack them lightly with a stick or grill brush. Royal Oak lump (from paraguay I believe) is more uniform and used by a lot of Brazilian churrascarias (as noted Restaurant Depot in Chelsea/Needham offer this, I thought in two-packs, but you need some business association to get in and more info is in past threads). Recently because of the dollar the Brazilian charcoal has been going up in price (and I have seem some lousy quality bags), so a lot of the butchers and stores have switched over to Royal Oak. New Deal Fish used to carry Argentinean hardwood charcoal at a small premium, but I haven't checked recently.

                                    I would be curious to know what charcoal is running at BBQ Barn in Arlington. Its a great place (both there and at Brookline Ice & Coal you can also get wood chunks for smokers), but in the past I found it a tad pricey.

                                    BTW, most of the Brazilian charcoal comes from Eucalyptus (not native, but reasonable for this purpose) and almost all the bags pledge that only renewable resources are used however, you can't be sure how enforceable that is given the amount of illegal logging in Brazil. The charcoal industry in Brazil, though, has a huge human toll because working conditions where charcoal is made are deplorable and the workers often end up with health problems (not to mention its not the most environmental process). Paraguay has its own deforestation issues. Briquettes, imported hardwood, etc all have some tradeoffs and its worth learning at least a bit about where the charcoal comes from and how its made, but there isn't a great way to be green with charcoal grilling/smoking.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: itaunas

                                      I use over 400 lb of charcoal a year--let me throw a few random thoughts out.
                                      I used to hate Cowboy, but I have found it really is OK, as is Duraflame brand. All hardwood charcoal burns fast, that is its nature. The scrap oak used to make Cowboy is OAK, just like the chunks of OAK used to make lump. Oak is oak, regardless of whether it was milled prior. As for the dust in the bag, it is at the most an ounce, or less than 1% by weight, hardly worth factoring in, and the amount varies widely with any brand based on how the individual shipment was handled.
                                      Whole Foods' is far too expensive. I used to prefer Maple Leaf, from Canada, but it is very hard to find now. Royal Oak is quite good. To be honest I tend to buy many bags of whatever, when I find a good price. I also tend to like Kingsford briquets in the smoker due to the low cost fatcor (two 24 lb bags for under $10 at Home Depot) and the slower cooler burn. I would never buy Brazilian charcoal. I feel I am doing enough environmental damage burning charcoal in the first place--no need to exacerbate it by cooking over depleted rainforest.

                                      the following link is the definitive site on charcoal:

                                      1. re: AHan

                                        Folks, if you'd like to continue this interesting tangent on the pros and cons of various types of charcoal, please head over to the Cookware board where that discussion is on topic and of interest to BBQ owners everywhere.

                                        Please feel free to continue the discussion here on where to find various charcoals on the Boston area.

                                        Thanks for helping us keep this boars Boston-specific.