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Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes: Is One Better?

Barbecue enthusiasts love a good debate. And, understandably so! There’s a lot of different variables that go into the cooking equation, each of them, in some way, impacting the end result.

So, when it comes to the all-important question of what you’re cooking with, which side of the lump charcoal vs briquette question should you be standing on? Each have their own benefits and drawbacks. Is one really better than the other?

In this article, we take a good look at what it’s like to cook with both lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes. We’ll go over the pros and cons of both and talk about how they’re the same and different to help you decide which to use and when.

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A Quick Comparison of Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes

Table of Contents

What Is Lump Charcoal?

Lump charcoal is a type of cooking fuel that’s made by burning wood slowly, without any oxygen, until the sap, natural chemicals and moisture have been used up.

What’s left are pretty much carbon chunks. There’s no fillers or additives. So, you get a clean burning charcoal that lights easily, can get very hot, doesn’t leave much ash, and, responds well to changes in oxygen levels when opening and closing barbecue vents.

Because it’s such a clean fuel, lump charcoal is often preferred by purists or those looking for a more natural, less harmful barbecue fuel. And, although charcoal briquettes used to be the only charcoal readily available, lump charcoal is becoming more commonly and widely sold.

The video below goes into more detail on lump charcoal.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Lump Charcoal

Pros
Cons

What Are Charcoal Briquettes?

Briquettes are uniformly shaped charcoal pillows that are made from sawdust and leftover wood.

Just like lump charcoal, the sawdust and/or wood is burned down slowly, without much oxygen, to remove the sap, natural chemicals and moisture, leaving condensed carbon chunks. Because briquettes are condensed into regular shapes, they burn slowly and perform consistently, making them ideal for barbecuing.

But, what’s important to note is that unlike lump charcoal, additives that fill out, bind or help the charcoal to light easier, are often added to the wood in the production process. So, charcoal briquettes can contain chemicals and other impurities. Sodium nitrate, borax, cornstarch and limestone are common.

But, thanks to the rise in popularity of more pure forms of fuel, charcoal briquette manufacturers are finding ways to make briquettes without all the extras. Now, you can actually get briquettes that don’t have all the unwanted extras, or natural alternatives that aren’t so questionable.

The video below goes into more detail on charcoal briquettes.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Charcoal Briquettes

Pros
Cons

How Similar Are Lump Charcoal and Briquettes?

Both lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes are:

But, because of their form and shape, lump charcoal and briquettes have different burning properties.

Their differences are what cause them to be such hot topics of debate, and, can also give a slight edge when used appropriately.

How Do Lump Charcoal and Briquettes Perform Differently?

Lighting and Ignition

Lump charcoal, with it’s different sized pieces and raw timber edges, is generally easier to light than charcoal briquettes. A natural firestarter should do a good job of sparking the outside edge of pieces and the rest can easily get going from there.

Because briquettes are like little balls of charcoal, they don’t have so much of an outside edge to light easily.

Some brands have tried to manufacture a single or even multiple ridges along each briquette to help them spark. Others actually add chemical starters to make them easier to light.

We talk more about the healthiness and safety of charcoal briquettes below. But, a natural lump charcoal versus a natural charcoal briquette, the lump is much easier to get going.

Weber Briquets In Use

Heat Output and Temperature Control

Lump charcoal generally burns hot and fast. Logically, that makes it ideal for grilling.

But, us and Greg Blonder from AmazingRibs.com have found that if the lump pieces slot together too much like a puzzle, it’s hard to get enough airflow in there to create that really good heat. You also want to get rid of any charcoal dust at the bottom of the bag. Putting that in your barbecue will fill gaps and reduce airflow for an inefficient burn.

But, because lump charcoal responds really well to reduced airflow, it’s really easy to choke it down for low and slow cooks. It might burn out a little faster than tightly packed briquettes, but, you can add more lump charcoal as you need on longer smokes.

Charcoal briquettes are made to burn consistently over a longer period of time. They can put out a low heat for smoking, and although they do get hot enough for good grilling and searing, they can’t get quite as hot as lump charcoal.

But, unlike lump, because charcoal briquettes are a uniform size and shape, they’re ideal for keeping the temperature steady. A lot of people will opt for briquettes over lump because of their consistent performance. If you count out the same number of briquettes, they should burn for about as long at the same temperature every time. There’s no way you can get that same level of consistency and predictability with lump charcoal.

Flavor Infusion

Properly produced and lit charcoal shouldn’t actually give off too much of a woody flavor. That’s because the almost complete carbonization of the wood should burn off the lignin which is what gives that woody flavor.

In saying that, smoking or grilling with quality charcoal does give off that unmistakable char-like flavor and you’ll get some of that in your food.

So, does the flavor differ between lump charcoal and briquettes?

If both are carbonized well, and the briquettes contain nothing more than a vegetable starch as a binder, there shouldn’t be a huge difference in the flavor infusion you get from cooking with lump vs briquets.

Chunks of wood can be added to charcoal to give off that real wood smoke for greater flavor.

But, in our experience, we find that lump charcoals usually give more of a naturally woody flavor. I guess that’s because they’re not fully carbonized. But, we do notice the slight taste difference between using an oak lump charcoal vs fruitwood, hickory, etc.

Ash Production and Cleanup

Another main advantage of lump charcoal is that it doesn’t produce much ash.

Ash production might not be a big deal on some barbecues that have enough space for ash like the Weber Smokey Mountain that has a separate ash tray. But, most kamados do recommend using lump charcoal because because the ash just sits in the bottom of the egg. If there’s too much ash here, it would stiffle the fire and cleaning it out mid-cook isn’t an option.

Because of this, lump charcoal is generally preferred among kamado users for both smoking and grilling.

But, for kettle grills, offset smokers, and some other charcoal barbecues, the higher ash production from briquettes isn’t a problem.

Healthiness and Safety

But, the main reason charcoal briquettes have had a bad rap is additives!

Fillers, binders and chemicals are often added to reduce costs, help them keep their shape, and, light and burn more easily.

In our opinion, it can’t be good to send heat and smoke through your food that contains potentially harmful additives. Some people, us included, believe they can taste the impurities in their food. Others, aren’t at all bothered by it and will opt for cheaper briquette varieties that are easier to light.

But, thanks to the growing movement of more pure forms of food and fuel, there’s lots of choice now when it comes to all-natural or additive free briquettes. Check out our favorites here.

Environmental Considerations

Some lump charcoals are actually produced from leftover tree waste after logging or clearing unproductive orchards. Appropriately sized branches are taken, cut, and carbonized in a kiln as a productive way to get rid of leftover slash.

Briquettes can then be produced from the ground up charcoal fines leftover from lump charcoal production. So, both are quite a cool way to use what would otherwise be thrown out.

But, if you’re looking for one that’s more environmentally firnedly than the other, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that because there’s more involved in it, the manufacturing process of briquettes involves more carbon emissions compared to the production of lump charcoal.

Cost Comparison

A bag of lump charcoal is usually more expensive to buy than charcoal briquettes. But, here’s a comparison of the cost of some of the best lump vs charcoal briquets so you can see how they stack up against each other.

Other Opinions & Preferences

It’s always alright to ask for a second opinion. Here’s what other people think of lump charcoal versus briquettes.

Grillmasters & Pitmasters

Beyond the commonly known arguments, what do famous grill and pitmasters actually prefer?

Here’s some of the most well-known talking about what they use:

“I really don’t like lump charcoal. [With briquettes] you know exactly how long your heat curve is going to last, and it’s a milder heat,” in Texas Monthly.

“Briquets give me consistency as well as better temp and flavor control and I’m all about control when I cook.” in Charcoal Science.

“If you’re choosing between briquettes and wood lumps, Scott recommends lumps, which you can get in a variety of wood types that each impart their own flavors.” in Business Insider.

“Smoker ran 4 days straight using my new Lump Charcoal. Make sure and check out how little ash it produced after running for 4 days. Good stuff!” on Instagram.

“I buy whatever is on sale.” in his chat with Meathead Goldwyn.

At-Home Users

What the professionals use isn’t always what’s best for using at home. So, what do other people like you and me prefer?

A survey conducted by BBQ enthusiasts on the popular BBQ Brethren forum, revealed that 60% of respondents prefer lump charcoal for its natural and intense flavor, while 40% opt for the consistency of briquettes in long cooks.

On the other hand, Matt Duckor, editor at Epicurious said that “After months of struggle, I decided that I’m done with lump hardwood charcoal. I’m going back to briquettes.” in his charcoal comparison.

So, What’s Better? Lump Charcoal or Charcoal Briquettes?

Unless you’re using a barbecue where having a really low amount of ash is essential, we do actually prefer to use an all-natural charcoal briquette.

The uniform shape of briquettes just means it’s easier to control, and, consistent performance equals consistently good meals on our plate (that’s the ultimate goal, right?!). The longer burn time reduces the amount of babysitting you need to do, especially when cooking low and slow. And, now that you can easily get all-natural briquettes, lump charcoal doesn’t have that all-important appeal.

Yes, briquettes are a bit harder than lump charcoal to light. But, with a charcoal chimney or even better, an electric starter, they’re not too bad, and, in our opinion, worth it for the longer cook time.

The slightly lower price (even for the natural varieties) is just an added bonus for us!

In saying that we naturally head for a briquette, there’s no way we’d turn down a bag of quality lump charcoal! Pure wood, low ash, easy lighting and a versatile heat range does make them a top choice for fuel. Plus, we always go lump when smoking or grilling in a kamado.

But, when there’s pros and cons of using both charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal, there’s going to be a divide. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which you think is better. Grab a bag of both and give them a try!

Finding A Quality Charcoal For Grilling and Smoking

Regardless of where you sit with the lump charcoal vs briquette debate, there’s no arguing that finding a good quality charcoal will go a long way to making smoking and grilling easier, better and healthier.

Here are some of our favorites (they’re all natural and chemical free):

Our Favorite Lump Charcoals

Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Jealous Devil
4.9/5
FOGO Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal
FOGO
4.6/5
Rockwood All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Rockwood
4.6/5
Kamado Joe Big Block XL Lump Charcoal
KJ Big Block
4.6/5

Read our full review of the best lump charcoals.

Our Favorite Charcoal Briquettes

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

Read our full review of the best charcoal briquettes.

FAQs About Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes

Yes, you can use lump charcoal and briquettes at the same time.

A few people do this to round out the benefits and drawbacks of both fuels and feel like using both is a good solution.

The best way to do it is to layer briquettes and lump charcoal on top of each other. So, you’re not actually mixing the bags but creating a bit of a layered fire.

Theoretically, lump charcoal burns hotter for less time so will ideally boost your temperature while the briquettes act like the workhorse, powering the fire in a slow and steady manner.

But, in reality, we feel like you run into problems getting the heat consistent. As soon as that lump charcoal burns through, you’re going to see a temperature drop unless you open it up and refuel which will have to be done more frequently due to the different burn rates. Basically, we don’t think you’re actually getting the benefits and feel like it’s more of a headache trying to sit somewhere in the middle!

No. Lump charcoal is made from whole pieces of wood that’s slowly burned without much oxygen. Briquettes are made from sawdust from wood that’s burned and compacted into small brick-like shapes.

Charcoal briquettes usually have a longer burn time than lump charcoal. This is because a more condensed carbon chunks of similar sizes and they generally keep a steady temperature.

Because lump charcoal is made from small, whole logs, the raw materials cost more than the charcoal fines and/or sawdust that’s left over form other industry. It’s also made from pure wood with no cheaper additives or fillers that would reduce the overall cost.

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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