There are a variety of charcoals sold out there, but we've done the research and found the best ones, with smoking in mind. Our favorite is Jealous Devil's All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal. These are made from one of the densest hardwoods, which burn slowly and consistently, perfect for slow cooking. We also put together a list of 7 of our favorite charcoals and even created a buying guide reviewed by a professional chef to help you pick the perfect charcoals for the next time you smoke some meat.
There are two main types of charcoal that are best used for smoking purposes, both of which last long and produce consistent heat. Our buying guide below will get you acquainted with the two, briquettes and lump charcoal, as well as go into detail of a few things to consider 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, and therefore, it's easy to control their heat output and keep temperatures low and steady.
Though briquettes come in a convenient shape, they are sometimes formed and bound together with chemical additives, leading to a toxic smell that seeps into lighter food like fish. With that in mind, we recommend looking for plant-based or natural binding agents like starch, clay, or molasses that burn clean.
It's also worth checking if the briquettes are made of wood. All-natural briquettes not only give you a cleaner taste, but also less ash, meaning an easier cleanup. It's worth nothing, though, that some brands add coal to their briquettes for better and hotter burning. Although coal is not an ideal fuel type for smoking, it doesn't affect flavor much.
Briquettes let you smoke slowly, letting the aroma seep in and giving the collagen in meat time to soften for extra juiciness. If airflow is difficult to control with your smoker, you can arrange the briquettes in a certain way for low and consistent temperatures. The snake method is one type of arrangement, for example.
Some briquettes are marketed as self-lighting or self-starting. These should be avoided for smoking since they tend to have lighter fluid added in, which means your meats will take on a chemical flavor when the charcoal burns. There are all-natural briquette alternatives that light up easily if this is a feature you appreciate.
Any briquettes that are flavored are best to avoid as well. When you’re smoking, it’s the wood chips, not the charcoal, that should be controlling the flavor profile. The cleaner your charcoal smoke is, the more flexibility you'll 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 from hardwood that has been burned and deprived of oxygen until it has become pure carbon. As such, this is a great way to imitate smoking with wood. With lump charcoal, there is no need for binders, meaning you get more all-natural components.
Lump charcoal, being made from hardwood, produces a more authentic and flavorful smoke. It's also known to burn cleaner and produce less ash than briquettes. In addition, lump charcoal allows you to reach higher temperatures for meats that need a longer and hotter smoking.
However, lump charcoal is irregularly shaped, which can lead to varying heat outputs. Furthermore, gaps in between each lump means more airflow and higher flames. Airflow has its positives, however, as it can allow for better control in achieving low and slow flames.
We recommend going for brands known for consistency in terms of size. If you can, choose ones that generally have medium to large pieces, as large pieces tend to burn longer, which is perfect for low and slow smoking. It's always best, however, to make sure the chunks can 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 known to be reliable for long-lasting burns at consistent temperatures.
Some bags also contain lump charcoal made from woods mostly found in South America, like quebracho blanco and inga wood, both of which are very dense woods. Quebracho blanco's name itself means "ax breaker," which gives repute to its dense nature. Dense woods like those and oak give you a slower cook, which is perfect for smoking. Oak is also great for its neutral flavor and scent.
There are also lump charcoals made with one type of wood, like the aforementioned quebracho blanco. Hickory is another type of hardwood that lump charcoal can be made from, and it even has a strong flavor profile.
From lumps and briquettes to Hickory and Mesquites, this lineup below will give you the 7 best charcoals to try for your next BBQ. We made our choices based on the points listed in the buying guide below, as well as reviewer comments when available.
*Please note that these products were chosen after extensive research by mybest writers. The choices are not necessarily affiliated with or recommended by Jim Quast. For more on our selection process, check out our editorial policy. Prices were gathered from respective EC sites on August 16, 2022.
Big Green Egg
All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
All Natural Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Chef's Select Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal Briquettes
All Natural Hardwood Briquets
Original Charcoal Briquettes
Oak & Hickory Lump Charcoal
Best Pure Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Best Hand-Selected Large Lump Charcoal
Best Versatile Charcoal Briquettes
Best All-Natural Hardwood Briquettes
Best Briquettes For a Steady Burn
Best Naturally Sourced Lump Charcoal
Best Charcoal Made From Premium Carbonized Wood
|Main ingredients||Quebracho blanco||Blend of inga wood||American oak and hickory hardwood||95 percent hardwood charcoal, 5 percent vegetable binder||Wood char, mineral char, mineral carbon, limestone||Blend of hardwoods||Oak and hickory|
|Amount||35 lbs.||35 lbs.||40 lbs.||14 lbs.||16 lbs.||16 lbs.||20 lbs.|
|Main ingredients||Quebracho blanco|
|Main ingredients||Blend of inga wood|
|Main ingredients||American oak and hickory hardwood|
|Main ingredients||95 percent hardwood charcoal, 5 percent vegetable binder|
|Main ingredients||Wood char, mineral char, mineral carbon, limestone|
|Main ingredients||Blend of hardwoods|
|Main ingredients||Oak and hickory|
Charcoal can easily become contaminated when not stored in a sealed container or dust-free environment. As such, we recommend placing the charcoal bag in a storage bin or designated container. Close the lid to protect the contents from contaminants, such as liquids, which make charcoal damp and a breeding ground for mold.
If you're looking to level up your grilling and smoking skills, we have a few more suggestions below to make your barbeque session even more convenient and enjoyable.
If you still haven't been able to narrow down your choices, or if you just want to get an idea of what other kinds of charcoal are out there, check out Amazon's best selling list of grilling charcoal.
This expert reviewed the contents of the buying guide for accuracy and provided factual corrections when necessary, as well as extra tips and advice. They did not participate in the product selection process, nor are they affiliated with any of our choices unless explicitly stated so.
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