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Best Charcoal Briquettes: Less Additives, Great Performance

Jealous Devil Maxxx XL Charcoal Pillow Briquettes
Jealous Devil XL
4.7/5
Cowboy All Natural Hardwood Briquets
Cowboy
4.6/5
B&B Oak Charcoal Briquets
B&B
4.5/5
Billy Buckskin Co. Oak & Apple Charcoal Briquettes
Billy Buckskin Co.
4.6/5

Whether you’re smoking or grilling, using a quality charcoal fuel has the power to improve flavor, boost results and make the whole experience that much easier.

But, with so many different brands all claiming they’re a ‘natural’ product, it sure can get confusing when you’re trying to decide which brand to buy.

To make it easy for you, we’ve reviewed the best charcoal briquettes out there.

Here we look at a mix of how easy they are to light, what kind of heat they produce, and how much ash they leave behind.

Because we always try to use natural products in our own home and backyard, the charcoal briquettes you’ll see here are all as clean and healthy as possible.

Although lump charcoal is usually a preferred charcoal by people wanting natural, there are still some good performing, natural briquettes out there. These give you the ease of cooking with a more uniform product and are often cheaper than lump varieties.

Check out our lump charcoal vs briquette comparison to help you decide which way to go. Or, read on for our favorite, natural charcoal briquettes for both grilling and smoking.

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How We Tested the Best Charcoal Briquettes

In order to find the best charcoal briquettes you can buy, we used and tested the most popular, and some of the not so well-known, brands on the market.

Before burning them, we opened the bag and inspected the briquettes to assess the quality of the pieces and have a visual check that there were no nasties obviously bound into the charcoal (we found blue plastic in one brand that of course didn’t make the cut for this review).

After that, every brand of charcoal briquette was tested both at a low and slow smoking temperature and a high-heat for grilling.

We made notes on the following factors:

Then, we rounded just the best up to include here in our recommendations.

You might notice that we haven’t included your standard Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes here. Although they, and many other brands, are the go-to choice for both grilling and smoking, using natural products is of the upmost importance to us and we just can’t recommend a product that we know has potentially harmful additives.

Please note that we have used most of these charcoal briquettes more than just once or twice for the purpose of this review. We regularly use our favorites for our own personal use and when we trial grills and smokers for this website.

This has also helped us to make judgements on the consistency you can expect from each product and greater confidence in the brands that we recommend here.

Table of Contents

The Best Charcoal Briquettes for Smoking & Grilling: Our Top Choices

If you’re after a clean, proven product that burns well and doesn’t produce a huge amount of ash, choose from one of these tested and approved charcoal briquettes.

Jealous Devil Maxxx XL All Natural Hardwood Charcoal Pillow Briquets

4.7/5

Bigger briquettes = a naturally longer burn-time and Jealous Devil have created just that with their Maxxx XL Charcoal Pillow Briquettes.

These things are so big that they’re pretty much twice the size of a regular briquette.

They’re all-natural, made from quebracho hardwood with a small amount of vegetable starch to bind them. Quebracho wood burns nice and hot. So, that combined with their large size makes a high-quality, long-burning briquette that’s ideal for grilling but also performs just as well for low-and-slow smoking.

Because there’s no other additives, we find ash production to be minimal, and they don’t tend to spark or pop.

Overall, Jealous Devil Maxxx Briquettes are our go-to for a clean burning briquette that doesn’t have anything nasty in them. They’re definitely a premium product with excellent, long-lasting performance. Plus, they come in a resealable waterproof bag for easy storage and reliable performance.

Pros
Cons

Cowboy All Natural Hardwood Briquets

4.6/5

With a mix of 95% hardwood and 5% starch-based vegetable binder to hold the briquettes together, these Cowboy Hardwood Briquets are like Jealous Devil in that they’re all-natural for that real wood-fired flavor without any harmful additives.

They light quickly without any lighter fluid and produce a nice, clean looking smoke that gives the meat a great flavor.

At low and slow temperatures, we did get a decently long burn time, the heat was steady and easy to control, and ash production was minimal.

For high-heat grilling, we were able to reach good temperatures and still found the burn time long enough to cook what we wanted without having to top the charcoal up.

If you remember Stubb’s Charcoal Briquettes, these are the same, just rebranded for a more trendy look.

Sometimes we have found Cowboy Briquets hard to find in store but because they’re a briquet, they’re less prone to breakage and ship just fine.

Pros
Cons

B&B Oak Briquettes

4.5/5

If you prefer a more mild smoke profile, in our opinion, there’s simply nothing that beats oak for grilling and smoking. And, these all-natural charcoal briquets from B&B give you just that.

We found them a little more difficult to light than some of the competition. But, once they get going, the oak gives off such a good heat that’s easy to choke down for low and slow smoking or leave to burn away for high-heat grilling.

The ash production was low like you’d expect from any of the best charcoal briquettes. And, like the others on this list, B&B briquets are held together with a vegetable starch binder so you can cook confidently knowing there’s nothing nasty in these little bundles.

We got a little over 5 hours of cooking time from a batch of these at 225°F which was on-par with most other briquets.

Super versatile because of the flavor, we regularly use B&B.

Pros
Cons

Billy Buckskin Co. Oak & Apple Charcoal Briquettes

4.4/5

When you go briquette, a lot of the time you don’t get much control over the flavor of your smoke. But, these applewood briquettes with an oak base give you a popular fruitwood flavor with the reliability of oaks heat.

Sustainably produced from the wood cleared from unproductive apple orchards, they’re a more environmentally friendly option too.

The flavor is really great with nice quality smoke that compliments almost everything without giving your food an overwhelmingly charcoally taste.

Because of the oak base, they are fairly easy to light for a natural product and give off a good heat that you can choke down for low and slow smoking or crank up to grill over high heat.

These Oak and Apple Briquettes are a newer product for Billy Buckskin so we haven’t been able to assess them for quality consistency over time yet. But, we will update this review in good time.

Apart from the smaller bags which do make them more expensive than some of the alternatives, we do rate this charcoal as an especially good option for anyone wanting a mild, fruitwood smoke profile.

Pros
Cons

What Are Charcoal Briquettes?

Charcoal briquettes are compressed and molded chunks of charcoal that are at a minimum, made from a combination of charcoal dust and binding agent.

They’re designed to be used to create a steady source of heat when grilling or smoking. But, they also provide some flavor through the smoke they produce, often giving the food a distinctively charcoal grilled or smoked flavor.

These days, charcoal briquettes are often thought of as the dirtier and nastier type of charcoal because some brands do use fillers, flavors, and other additives that, in our opinion, aren’t ideal to be cooking with.

But, not all charcoal briquettes are made like this.

The brands of charcoal briquettes listed in this review aren’t just ‘all natural’, there’s no additives more than a simple vegetable binder used.

How Are Charcoal Briquettes Made?

The process of making charcoal briquettes involves crushing charcoal or charred wood, mixing it with a binder, and then pressing the mixture into briquette shapes.

The binding agent helps hold the briquettes together and allows them to burn consistently.

What Are the Advantages of Charcoal Briquettes?

Charcoal briquettes provide a steady and consistent heat output during grilling or barbecuing because each piece is the same size and weight. This gives you more predictability when cooking because you can better guess when your grill or smoker may need more fuel.

Because briquettes are made from compressed charcoal fines, they have a lot of weight to them and quite a bit of fuel to burn. This makes them ideal for low and slow cooking where you want a long cook time, reducing the need for or number of top ups required.

Charcoal briquettes are usually cheaper than other types of charcoal, making them a cost-effective choice for many grilling enthusiasts and smokers.

The consistent size and shape of briquettes make them easy to stack and arrange if needed. This can be a handy feature when you’re setting up multiple zones of cooking in a charcoal grill or smoker.

What Are the Disadvantages of Charcoal Briquettes?

The uniform pillow shape of briquettes doesn’t take to fire as easily as a piece of wood does. This can make them hard to light.

The easiest way to get charcoal briquettes going well is by using a charcoal chimney such as this one.

Some brands unfortunately use fillers to bulk up charcoal briquettes to reduce the cost of production. We have found plastic, metal, and even glass in charcoal briquettes before. And, considerable amounts of it too… we’re not talking about a piece or two.

Additionally, some charcoal briquettes use starter fluid to make them easier to light. This can leave a chemical taste on your food.

And, you might also find some brands use oils or other non-wood flavorings in an attempt to create more flavor cheaply.

All of these additives, in our opinion, aren’t ideal to be cooked with.

But, you can find additive-free charcoal briquettes and we’ve rounded up the best in this review above.

Because charcoal briquettes often contain additives, there’s a considerable amount of non-wood volume to burn down, creating a considerable amount of ash.

But, charcoal briquettes with nothing more than a vegetable binder do produce minimal ash compared to some other briquettes.

Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes

Lump charcoal is simply whole pieces of wood, charred in a fire without much oxygen. And, quite often, briquettes are made from the charcoal dust left over from manufacturing lump charcoal.

Because charcoal briquettes have a more uniform shape than the natural chunks of lump charcoal, is usually burns more evenly and for longer. Briquettes are also a cheaper product to manufacture so they’re more affordable to buy although good quality charcoal briquettes can get up there in price too.

So, while a lot of people out there are talking about how lump charcoal is the premium product and briquettes simply aren’t as good, charcoal briquettes do have their benefits. Some pitmasters and grilling enthusiasts even prefer them over lump charcoal because of those pluses.

Read more about how lump charcoal and briquettes compare in our in-depth guide.

What to Look For When Buying Charcoal Briquettes

Unlike lump charcoal which is naturally just wood, there can be BIG differences between a quality charcoal briquette and one that’s simply not.

Either buy from the ones we’ve tested and approved above, or look for these things:

It’s not enough to be labeled as ‘all-natural’.

For example, borax is a naturally occuring mineral that is sometimes added to charcoal briquettes. But, it’s known to be a poison, pesticide, and fungicide that’s toxic, particularly to children.

Steer clear of anything that’s labelled as quick light too. It’ll have nasty starter fluids in it that are generally best to avoid.

FAQs About the Best Charcoal Briquettes

Our personal favorite additive-free charcoal briquette is the Jealous Devil Maxxx XL Briquets.

During testing and over regular use, we find that their large briquette size gives the longest burn which is ideal for low and slow smoking. The quality of the smoke produced is also very good as is the flavor it gives the meat.

When we’re grilling though, we do prefer to use Cowboy’s All-Natural Hardwood Briquets. Their smaller chunk size reduces wastage when grilling and we love the even heat and flavor they provide.

For the longest burn, there’s simply no beating the large chunk size of the Jealous Devil Maxxx XL Charcoal Briquets.

They’re also additive-free and made from a type of wood that burns well over a longer period of time.

Kingsford are one of the original manufacturers of charcoal briquettes and you’ll see them in stores around the world.

Due to the ingredients they use in their briquettes, we personally don’t use Kingsford when cooking for our family or in our barbecue reviews.

How long charcoal briquettes burn for will depend on what temperature you’re cooking.

Charcoal briquettes can burn through in about an hour if you’re using them at really high heat. Or, they can be choked down to burn at a low temperature for 6 hours plus.

There will be natural variances due to the type of wood used to. 

Weber stopped selling their charcoal briquettes in the USA a few years ago. They are still available overseas in some countries and you might find them from time to time in local retailers.

Jared Brown, an avid lover of all things meat has a fearless enthusiasm for experimenting with anything that's grilling, smoking or outdoor cooking. With a wealth of experience across a range different barbecue types, Jared's got a real knack for helping others make a decision they're happy with, ensuring they find the perfect fit regardless of conventional notions of the 'right' choice. This unique approach has made Jared a trusted guide in the world of barbecue.

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Burning Brisket is one of the leading, independent authorities on all things barbecue. Family-owned and run, it's our mission uncomplicate the art of smoking to help you enjoy making incredible food at home for your family and friends to create memories over.

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