Take Kingsford’s Original Charcoal Briquettes, for example. It lights quickly and burns slowly and steadily, giving you evenly cooked and oh-so juicy meats. We’ve picked out nine more contenders to revolutionize your BBQ smoking and even included a buying guide to help you pick the right charcoal for your next grilling session.
From lumps and briquettes to Hickory and Mesquites, this lineup below will give you the top 10 charcoals to try for your next BBQ.
|Main ingredients||Wood char, mineral char, mineral carbon, limestone|
|Main ingredients||Blend of hardwoods (Guayacan, Guayaibi, Mistal, and White Quebracho)|
|Main ingredients||South American hardwoods|
|Main ingredients||Blend of tropical hardwoods|
|Main ingredients||Missouri-grown Oak (Hickory, Maple and Pecan)|
|Main ingredients||American Oak and Hickory|
|Main ingredients||American Oak and Hickory|
|Main ingredients||Blend of hardwoods|
|Main ingredients||Mesquite hardwood|
Best of the West
Original Charcoal Briquettes
KJ-Char Big Block XL Lump Charcoal
All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
35-Pound All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal Bag
All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Instant Charcoal Briquets
Chef's Select Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal Briquettes
All-Natural Hardwood Briquettes
Premium Mesquite Natural Lump
Lights Fast, but Burns Steadily and Consistently
Huge Lumps in a Bag for a Long, Slow Burn
Pure Hardwood and Zero Fillers for a Clean Flavor
Hand-Selected Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Charcoal With Eco-Friendly Packaging
Versatile Charcoal for Professional Use
Light the Grill Within Seconds
Briquettes and Packaging That Are Produced Sustainably
Premium Mesquite Charcoal for That Boost in Flavor
|Weight||15.4 lbs.||20 lbs.||35 lbs.||35 lbs.||20 lbs.||6 lbs.||40 lbs.||14 lbs.||20 lbs.||40 lbs.|
|Main ingredients||Wood char, mineral char, mineral carbon, limestone||Blend of hardwoods (Guayacan, Guayaibi, Mistal, and White Quebracho)||South American hardwoods||Blend of tropical hardwoods||Missouri-grown Oak (Hickory, Maple and Pecan)||American Oak and Hickory||American Oak and Hickory||Blend of hardwoods||Hardwood||Mesquite hardwood|
There are two main types of charcoal best used for smoking purposes, because they last long and produce heavy heat. The buying guide below will get you acquainted with briquettes and lump charcoal plus a few more considerations to remember when choosing a particular type.
Briquettes are little cylindrical or pillow-shaped pieces of charcoal made out compressed fuel–usually wood waste materials like sawdust or paper. Briquettes are a great choice for beginners because they’re regularly shaped, therefore, easy to control heat output and keep temperature low and steady.
The pretty shape of briquettes come with a price. They are sometimes formed and bound together with chemical additives leading to a toxic smell that seep onto lighter food like fish. With that in mind, we recommend making sure they’re made with plant-based or natural binding agents like starch, clay or molasses that burn clean.
You can also check if the briquettes are made with wood. All-natural briquettes not only give you a cleaner taste but also less ash, meaning easier cleanup. Do keep in mind that some brands add a bit of coal to their briquettes for better and hotter burning. Although coal is not an ideal fuel type to cook over, it doesn’t affect the flavor much.
Briquettes let you smoke slowly, letting the aroma seep in and giving the collagen in the meat time to soften for extra juiciness. If airflow is difficult to control with your grill, you can arrange the briquettes in a certain way for low and consistent temperatures for smoking. You can check out the snake method, for starters.
You’ll see a few briquettes around that are “self-lighting” or “self-starting.” Despite not having much experience with grilling or smoking, do avoid these briquette types. Self-starting charcoals tend to have lighter fluid added in, which means chemicals turning your meat acrid. There are all-natural briquettes that light up easily; just read the reviews to see if the flames took quickly.
Also, don’t get anything that’s flavored. When you’re smoking, it’s the wood chips, not the charcoal, that should be controlling flavor profile. The cleaner your charcoal smoke is, the more flexibility you have to play around with different kinds of wood and create a smoke that perfectly complements your dish and your taste buds.
Lump charcoal is made with one or a variety of hardwood that’s been burned and deprived of oxygen until it’s pure carbon. You get as close to smoking with hardwood without having to split logs. With lump charcoal there’s no need for binders, meaning you get more all-natural components.
The hardwood in lump charcoal means more authentic and flavorful smoke. They’re also known to burn cleaner and produce less ash than briquettes. Plus, lump charcoal allows you to reach higher temperatures for meats that need longer and hotter smoking.
The thing about lump charcoal is that it’s irregularly shaped, leading to varying heat outputs. Furthermore, gaps in between each lump means airflow and higher flames. On a positive note, the airflow gives you better control to achieving low and slow flames.
If you can, go for medium to large pieces. We say this because large pieces tend to burn longer–perfect for your low and slow. Just make sure the chunks fit in your smoker or charcoal chimney first.
Most bags of lump charcoal are made up of a mix of different hardwoods. Some contain a mix of American hardwoods like Oak, Maple, Hickory and Pecan. They are knwon to be pretty reliable in long-lasting burn at consistent temperatures.
There are lump charcoals made with one type of wood like Mesquite, which is known for a distinct aroma that yields a smoky flavor. Hickory is another hardwood that can be used solo and has a stronger and less sweet flavor profile than Mesquite smoke.
Dense woods, like Oak, give you a slower cook, perfect for smoking. Oak is great because it’s also mellow and has a neutral flavor and scent. Another popular wood is Quebracho, from South America. The name means axe breaker so it’s pretty dense stuff.
Charcoal can easily become contaminated when not stored in a sealed container or dust-free environment. Since these would often go in the garage, we recommend placing the bag in a storage bin or designated trash can. Close the lid to protect the contents from contaminants such as liquids which make charcoal damp and a breeding ground for mold.
Are you looking to level up your grilling and smoking skills? We've got a few more suggestions to make your BBQ session even more convenient and enjoyable.
We talked about what lumps let you control flavor profile and master the flames. We looked at charcoals from different brands, made from different woods, giving you varied results. So, pitmaster, it’s time for you to grab some charcoal and get smoking.
Whether it’s before or after you smoke some meat, flavor infusion might be another step you’re willing to explore. With the help of plant-based food blogger Anisha Chandra, you can experiment with the best ingredients to unleash the full potential of your meal.
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