Grilling and smoking are art forms. It takes research, patience, and lots of trial and error. If you'd like to get serious about it, one of the most important things that you need to learn is which type of charcoal to use.
This article is for those who are planning on getting started with grilling, as well as the experienced ones who would like to explore new options. The wide array of choices for the best lump charcoal could get a bit confusing, so allow me to narrow things down for you. Below, you will find information that could help you in your search, and answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
There is a wide array of excellent products out there, so you need to evaluate which one will fit your taste, cooking method, and griller. Are you doing low-and-slow, or hot-and-fast? Are you working with an open grill or a closed one like kamado? Read on and this article could guide you through which type to use!
What is Lump Charcoal? (And How is it Different from Briquettes?)
Before we go any further, let us first define what lump charcoal is, and discuss its difference with briquettes (lump charcoal vs briquettes always a topic of debate).
Simply put, lump charcoal is made of wood that is burned with no oxygen, and briquettes are compressed coal dust - the former is the more natural option, while the latter contains additives.
I personally prefer lump charcoal, which is why it's what we're featuring in this article. Another reason is because compared to briquettes, it's hotter and lights faster (around 15 minutes), and does not produce a chemical smell when lit. It also produces way less ash when I'm done grilling.
How to Light Lump Charcoal using a Chimney Starter
If you're just getting started in grilling, I have one suggestion that will allow you to do it efficiently: the chimney.
Using a chimney starter is one of the easiest ways to light charcoal. A chimney for grilling costs around $15-$40, and trust me - it's going to be a grilling essential that you will not regret purchasing. Some of the good brands available in the market today are Lodge and Weber.
To use it, simply grab some used paper/newspaper and crumple and lightly twist some pages and place them at the bottom (make sure that they're loose; do not over-crowd the chimney). Then, place some medium to large pieces.
After filling the chimney with charcoal, light the newspapers (there are holes under the chimney where you can easily place your torch or lighter). Allow the flame to spread. Place the chimney on top of the grill and wait for all the charcoal to burn, which will take about 25-30 minutes (sometimes longer, depending on how big your pieces are).
There is a chance that you will see some sparks and hear popping. This is the point wherein the charcoal gets really hot. Once the pieces of charcoal are all hot (gray and lit in some spots), transfer and spread them around the bottom of the grill. Wait a few minutes to get the grills hot, and you're ready to start cooking.
Remember : After a few uses, you may notice that the chimney starter starts to rust. Don't be alarmed, as this is a normal thing for chimneys because it's an effect of the hot temperatures (and sometimes weather conditions). Don't be alarmed. You can keep using a rusty chimney - it will not affect the quality of the food you're grilling.
Things to Look for When Buying Lump Charcoal
Lump charcoal is one of the best options for grilling, as it's made of real hardwood. Make sure that the package states it's chemical-free and additive-free, and does not contain igniting agents. There are many types of smokiness levels and flavors, so it's really up to you which one fits your preferences best.
I would recommend to try out different sizes first and see which ones you like. I personally prefer the large and medium pieces - not too big, but not too small either. If you end up getting a brand that has extra large pieces, simply break them into smaller pieces with a hammer.
Lump charcoal an ingredient; an essential part of the dish you're making, and not just a tool that will cook your food. This could take practice and some trial-and-error, but stick to it long enough and you will see great results, and eventually find the best one that suits your cooking style.
Our Top 6 Picks
Good flavors (contains oak notes)
Low-and-slow cooking or smoking
Kamado cooking and smoking
Low-and-slow cooking or smoking
Now that we have discussed all the essentials, it's time for the recommendations for the best lump charcoal. I'll start by saying that all of these things are great, but since they differ in factors like price points and sizes, you will need some careful deliberation.
Take a look at the pros, cons, flavors, and price points and see which one you like best.
Fogo lump charcoal has different types of hardwood charcoal - there's the Premium (which is what we're going to focus on in this article), the 40-pound bag Quebracho, and the 40-pound Kebroak.
The Fogo Premium Hardwood is one of the best lump hardwood charcoal in the market because of its excellent flavor - it has subtle oak notes which do not overpower, so it's excellent for all types of meat, as well as poultry, seafood, and vegetables.
In addition, this brand produces very little sparks once lit (a common issue with lump charcoal), lights easily, and burns for a long time.
This charcoal is famous for it huge pieces, so if you're into low-and-slow cooking, this is something that you'll appreciate. This could be a disadvantage to those who are not going slow, however - you might need to break them into smaller pieces if you're not doing the low-temperature cooking.
This is the best lump charcoal for Green Egg - not just because it's their own brand, but it's also one of the most efficient lump charcoals out there. If you have (or planning on buying) the grill, make sure to check out this one.
Some of the great features of this American oak and hickory charcoal include the following: it is not difficult to light, it burns for extended periods of time, and it burns/cooks evenly. Simply the essentials that one needs to have when grilling or smoking.
Big Green Egg boasts of an all-natural product that does not contain treated wood, petroleum, nitrates, and fillers. It's an that you will not feel guilty about using. No frills, just premium hardwood with no additives.
One of the things that most don't find very pleasant about this product is the price tag. It's relatively more expensive than other brands on this list, so if money is an option, you may opt for other options on this list.
Other than this, however, this is a top-notch brand that will allow you to grill and smoke efficiently. It is also worth mentioning that it meets the EPA environmental guidelines, as well as CE Certified in the European Union.
This lump charcoal brand boasts of having an all-natural and very dense hardwood that has a unique flavor - it's hand-picked and hand-cut, too, which results to having a hot and consistent burn.
I have tried this one myself and found that it produces very little ash. Longevity is something that I look for in lump charcoal, and I have to say that this is one is excellent in terms of hotness - it burns really well. The flavor is just right (not too smoky) which is what I look for in most of the meats that I grill.
One downside, however, is on the second time that I purchased a pack, I noticed that there were extremely small pieces. These weren't present in my first pack, so there was some inconsistency in the batches the produce. I usually grill big batches, so these small pieces are definitely a waste for me.
If you're looking for the best lump charcoal for kamado (a Japanese-style cook stove), this one is definitely something that should be on the top of your list. I've seen how this grill works and found that provides very efficient insulation, which is perfect for both grilling and smoking.
This is a 100% natural lump charcoal that is excellent for kamado cooking. The Kamado Joe Big Block XL Lump Charcoal box delivers what it promises: big, chunky pieces of charcoal that will not let you down especially if you're doing slow-cooking.
This does not mean that the box only contains big chunks, however. Another excellent thing about the Kamado Joe charcoal is it also contains smaller chunks (usually medium-sized) that you can use if you're doing a quick grill. The variety of sizes is really what sets it apart from the other brands.
This lump charcoal for kamado is nearly perfect when it comes to cooking, but I've noticed that I would still sometimes prefer other brands because they have better flavor. I like the general smoky flavor, but sometimes I get very mild hints of chemical-like notes. This doesn't always happen, however - most of the things that I grill cook very well.
My suggestion is if you're doing kamado cooking, try this one out and see for yourself first. Try it out on different dishes and see if it works for you.
Grill Dome, a chemical-free lump charcoal, is another brand that is excellent for low-and-slow grilling methods. What I really like about it is it produces less ash than most lump charcoal that I've experimented with.
This additive-free product also does not contain Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs, an ingredient that is usually found in briquettes.
There are a lot of other more affordable lump charcoal brands out there, and Grill Dome is not exactly on the cheaper side of the spectrum. It, however, lasts for a long time, so you're actually saving money in the long run (you can also reuse it, especially if you're not grilling for very long).
One of the issues that are often raised about charcoal is the environmental impact. Many companies that make the product could contribute to things like deforestation, air pollution, and emissions.
Eco Charcoal's Harwood Lump Charcoal is environment-friendly. This New Jersey company promises that its product is 100% all-natural and sustainable, and are made from tree trimmings that are already cut.
The sizes are medium to large, so it's great for slow smoking and steady grilling. It also leaves very little ash, so you won't have a hard time with the clean-up. Because it's all-natural, there are no strange, unpleasant smells - just an excellent smoky flavor.
The bag explicitly mentions that the charcoal has a tendency to throw off sparks, and it is best to use in a safe area. It's true that there were sparks, but it really was not that bad. The bigger issue actually was the significant amount of dust at the bottom of the bag that I bought (it could be caused by the how it was transported to my home). Other than this, this brand is a great option that grilling enthusiasts should definitely check out.
All of these brands have their strengths and weaknesses, but the one that really stood out is the Big Green Egg 100% Natural Oak and Hickory Lump Charcoal. It is flexible - excellent for both slow cooking and casual grilling, and it has an excellent flavor that will bring out the flavors of whatever it is you're grilling.
I personally love the Big Green Egg charcoal because the chunks are excellent for slow-cooking and smoking. If I need to do regular casual grilling, I just simply break them into smaller pieces and I'm all set, no problem. This is so much better than having small, useless pieces that I sometimes encounter in some sacks I've ordered before.
You do not need to have a Big Green Egg device in order to use this. It works very well on all types of grills and smokers.
I do not only like this charcoal not just because it's efficient. It's also a great choice because it's a pure product that does not contain additives. Any efficient, eco-friendly product is a yes in my book.
Some pro tips that you may find handy
There you go! I hope this article helped you in your search for the best lump charcoal. There are simply so many great types to choose from, so make sure that you evaluate wisely before you make your purchase. It is only through practice that you'll learn.
Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for more tips and reviews. Meantime, experiment, have fun, and keep grilling!