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Of the fuels used for grilling, charcoal is probably the most common. I can sing the praises of all the others all I want; hardwoods, gas, and even electric heat sources have their own advantages, but charcoal is simply ubiquitous. You can buy charcoal pretty much anywhere and just get to grilling, making it both a popular and effective method for grilling and short (6 hours or less) smoke sessions.
You might think that charcoal is charcoal, but there’s a surprising amount of difference between the various charcoal types. Not just in quality but in size, shape, and price. All these factors go into deciding what makes the best charcoal for you or your purposes.
So below we’re going to go into what makes different kinds of charcoal unique, and how to figure out the best one for you, then take a look at some good charcoals!
Our Top Choice...
For the complete product list, please continue reading...
9 Best Charcoal Briquettes For Grilling (2021 Reviews)
1. Fire & Flavor Charcoal Briquets - Best overall
These charcoal briquettes are top quality and unique in flavor. Most charcoal briquettes are made of a mix of wood ash and some kind of filler; not so with these.
These are 100% olive wood, which gives the briquettes a nice subtle flavor to all your food. It’s great for cooking just about everything, bust especially anything you’d be comfortable cooking in olive oil, as it has much of the same neutral flavor to it.
These briquettes are also great at burning low and slow. They take a bit of effort to get to light initially (since they’re made of a fairly dense, oily wood) but once they are, they burn for hours on end. This makes them excellent not only for grilling but for smoking.
While it works well with any meats, it excels especially at poultry, fish, and lamb, as would be expected from a Mediterranean wood, being what is often the traditional wood used for cooking those meats in the region.
Delicious olive flavor.
Great long and slow burning ability.
Pretty decent pricing.
Excellent for fish, lamb, and poultry.
Maybe not a desirable as something like cherry wood for some meats.
2. Pok Pok Thaan Thai Style Charcoal Logs - Best budget charcoal
This is a high quality charcoal; the original Pok Pok Thai charcoal.
This stuff was made as a budget alternative to Japanese binchotan which is not only expensive, but typically made from endangered trees. This charcoal equivalent is both cheaper and more environmentally conscious than the traditional Japanese charcoal, while being little less effective.
Thai style charcoal burns for a long time at very high temperatures, giving you the perfect searing heat for fish and other meats, while still giving you plenty of burn time for everything from standard grilling bacon and other meats to slow smoking.
Thai charcoal is one of the best types of charcoal on the market, and this is pretty much the best example of it out there, with a nice fruity taste to it.
As an added upside it’s also pretty inexpensive, with a fairly low price tag for this 5 lb bundle. 5 lbs may not seem like a lot, but when you keep in mind how long it tends to burn overall, it evens out over how much extra you need to use over time with a standard charcoal.
Burns for a long time.
High maximum heat.
Nice fruity taste.
Can be hard to find.
3. Duraflame Cowboy 26014 Cowboy Brand Natural Hardwood Briquettes - Best all-natural charcoal
Another all natural hardwood charcoal, this time from Duraflame. This charcoal is very good for what it is, but pales a bit in comparison to the Jealous Devil charcoal above.
The performance is solid, with a nice long burning nature to it that lets you get the most out of each of the briquettes. Being an all natural hardwood charcoal it imparts a nice flavor to your food without producing a lot of thick, gritty smoke that can mess up the texture.
The briquettes come in a “pillow” shape as opposed to the natural “lump” shape of the Jealous Devil hardwood charcoal. This doesn’t really matter a whole ton, but does mean you’re going to get more dust out of each bag.
This is an issue combined with the other factor: the price. It’s not exorbitant, but is more expensive per pound than our winner, which is exacerbated by the increase in waste product. The dust isn’t completely worthless, but it’s not something you want to see a lot of.
For that reason it’s difficult to recommend the Duraflame Cowboy charcoal over the Jealous Devil charcoal, but it’s not bad; worth a buy if it’s ever on sale.
High quality all natural hardwood.
Pillow shape is easy to stack.
Lights pretty fast and stays lit a good long while.
Easy to use and install.
More expensive than our winner.
4. Kamado Joe KJ-Char Hardwood, Extra Large Lump Charcoal - Best charcoal for ceramic grills
This is pretty much exactly what it says on the bag there. It’s a number of very large, irregularly shaped lumps of charcoal made of a pretty solid hardwood.
The charcoal itself is pretty good, though a far cry from the all natural, high quality hardwood that the Duraflame Cowboy and Jealous Devil all natural hardwood charcoal briquettes provide.
On the bright side, the hardwood is still pretty good and it clocks in at a bit cheaper than both in terms of price per volume, making it a great deal for the quality of the charcoal you’re getting. It can be used for grill baking (an excellent way to cook food in mushikamado or ceramic stove like the Kamado Joe or Big Green Egg).
If you want a good hardwood charcoal for the flavor, low smoke content, long lasting heat, and all around ease of use mixed with high quality that entails, this is an excellent budget choice if you’re not willing to shell out for the premium stuff.
If you are in need of lump charcoals we have the complete sets here.
Good quality hardwood lumps.
Extra large lumps of charcoal for ease of choice and stacking.
Cost efficient price point for the quality.
Comes in good sized bags.
Not as high quality as some other hardwood charcoal briquettes.
5. Fogo Premium Oak Restaurant All-Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Another hardwood lump charcoal, this time from Fogo.
In terms of quality this sits somewhere between the Jealous Devil and Duraflame charcoals, with a great quality that overshadows the above Kamado Joe charcoal by a fair margin. It’s made from the excellent quality wood, which gives you a really long burn time even compared to some other hardwood charcoals (like the Kamado Joe Big Block charcoal above).
The main downfall of this otherwise excellent charcoal lies in its pricing; per pound it costs about 20% more than our winner (the Jealous Devil all natural hardwood charcoal) and, at best, it’s just as good as that brand of charcoal.
This leave sit in the awkward spot of being very good…but giving you a pretty poor bang for your buck. On the bright side though you can buy this in fairly large bags, cutting down on shipping costs for ordering multiple batches…but it comes in the same size as the Jealous Devil bags as well.
All in all it’s difficult to recommend this charcoal unless it’s on sale, since it’s roughly equivalent in quality to our admittedly excellent winner, but costs just a bit too much.
Extremely high quality wood.
Very large lumps of charcoal.
Good sized bags available for bulk purchase
A little too overpriced for what it offers; the charcoal is great, but not as good as the cheaper Jealous Devil charcoal.
6. MUXI Portable Grilling Charcoal Briquettes
This is a good convenient charcoal to keep around. It comes in .8 ounce bags, with 8 good sized pieces of charcoal per each of the sealed containers.
It comes ready to use and doesn’t even need to be offloaded; just light the bag and let it go once it’s in the grill.
The charcoal itself isn’t anything special; a standard mix of actual wood charcoal powder, a corn starch adhesive, and a “botanical combustion improver”. All pretty normal stuff and safe to use, though not the highest quality stuff out there.
No, what this charcoal is carried on is its convenience factor. It’s easily portable, making it great for hiking and camping trips where carrying a big sack of charcoal might not be practical. You can lay it down in pretty much any grill and lay a lighter to it without ever removing it from the bag, which acts as a starter for your fire.
The stuff works well and lights up quickly, touting a 3 to 5 seconds lighting time, for an impressive 2 hour burn from that point; essentially it’s made to light faster than regular charcoal but stay hot about as long.
I’d say avoid if you’re mostly grilling at home (due to the relatively high price point per bag), but if you’re an avid hiker or camper, this stuff can be a great buy.
Easy and convenient to use.
Lights super fast.
Perfectly portioned amount for a single fire.
Fairly high price point for the quality of the charcoal; only worth it if you’re using it for the intended purpose.
7. MUXI 4PCS Portable Grilling Charcoal Briquettes
Another one from Muxi, with a bit of the same gimmick. These charcoal briquettes are designed to light in minimum time and burn for a good long time, while being easily portable and storable.
The composition of the charcoal is the same this time around, though the shape is different. It’s covered in a number of deep divots which help contain the fire and create a good smolder that burns for quite a while.
Fast, cheap, and portable are the main goals here, so the briquettes certainly lack in quality, but they’re perfect for hiking, camping, and other travel needs, or keeping around as an emergency fuel source for when you’re in a pinch.
The main cool feature is that they light in about 3 seconds, making for a super fast fire starter whenever you need it and burn for about 2 hours without needing any additional fuel or attention. It provides an odorless, smokeless flame too, which means if nothing else they might be an interesting alternative to starter cubes to keep around for when you’re cooking with actual wood or something similar.
The main issue is price; you’re getting 4 of these for the price of about 12 lbs of the good stuff (our winner), so it’s really cost inefficient unless you need them for their specialized usage, the same as the other Muxi charcoal above.
Lights extremely quickly; at the lowest, about 3 seconds.
Burns for a decent amount of time per brick.
Very expensive for what it is.
8. Kingsford Original Charcoal Briquettes
Good and cheap is the name of the game. Sometimes going with the old standby is best, and as regular, no frills charcoal goes, few match Kingsford’s quality.
The charcoal itself is nothing special, but all of the component parts of this standard briquette are pretty good. It’s a composite of wood charcoal, anthracite charcoal, mineral charcoal, starch (as a binding agent), sodium nitrate, sawdust, borax, and limestone. The chemical components are undesirable but a necessary evil to drive the price down in this case, and don’t provide too much of an unhealthy quality to the charcoal itself.
It burns for a decent period of time as well, but let’s be real: the main reason you’re buying this is you want to buy decent, cheap charcoal in bulk to keep around the house because you grill a lot, and this provides that use for you.
You can buy this 4 pack (72 lbs of charcoal in total) for the price of 5 of those Muxi bags above; pricing doesn’t get much better than that.
Decent material composition.
Good burning time.
Available pretty much anywhere in the US; from gas stations to department stores.
Not the greatest charcoal around in terms of flavoring.
9. Royal Oak Premium Charcoal Briquettes
These are an interesting, a “premium” take on the cheaper charcoal briquettes out there that are NOT made of hardwood.
These compare favorably in quality to the Kingsford charcoal below, having a higher concentration of good materials and lacking the worst of the artificial elements that bottom of the barrel charcoal is packed with. In this case it has a composition that is roughly 75% to 80% charcoal dust (so 75% to 80% actual wood ash, essentially), around 15% limestone, and 5% to 10% sawdust, the latter two ingredients acting as the binder.
That’s not too bad as briquettes go, and the price is more than fair for that level of quality, giving you (in this particular deal) about 46 lbs worth of charcoal for the price that 35 lbs of the Fogo Premium Hardwood costs you.
The quality isn’t really comparable to be sure, but the combination of price, convenience, and relative quality (compared to similar style briquettes) makes it worth consideration.
Fairly high quality composition for non-hardwood charcoal.
Ability to buy in bulk.
Easy to find almost anywhere.
Not up to snuff on quality with hardwood charcoal.
There are a lot of great charcoals on this list, and none I wouldn’t recommend under certain circumstances.
My favorites are still by far the Fire & Flavor olive wood charcoal briquettes and the Pok Pok Thaan Thai Style charcoal. These two provide excellent performance at a great price for how much they’re offering you; both essentially unmatched in quality. The Fire & Flavor charcoal won out after much deliberation because of its slightly lower price point while retaining similar levels of performance (if a bit of a different specialty), but the Pok Pok charcoal was very close.
The others fall short of that mark but that doesn’t disqualify them outright. Some, like Royal Oak’s and Kamado Joe’s charcoals fill the niche of fairly cheap but good charcoals, while the Muxi charcoals are excellent for travelers of all stripes. The only hard pass I’d give is the Fogo Premium hardwood charcoal, unless it’s on sale; it’s both more expensive and lower quality than our winner. Once you’ve made a decision you can then decide on what delicious food to cook. I suggest trying out our grilled bacon recipe.
How to Choose Between Different Types of Charcoal?
Charcoal comes in a few varieties, both in types and quality. Unlike a lot of other products, charcoal doesn’t (usually) go in for gimmicks; it’s all about composition and performance first and foremost.
As a general rule, the best charcoals are going to be made of pure wood with no filler.
The type of wood can vary, but is generally going to be come kind of good hardwood that leaves a solid hunk after being burned the first time. This can be a lot of things; oak, mahogany, walnut, any wood that people cook with is fair game. These hardwood lumps make for great charcoal, burning for a long time and reaching fairly high heats.
The majority of hardwood charcoals are “all natural”; pure wood. Usually these are handpicked and cut for use as charcoal.
Cheaper variants might be processed quickly or have a bit of added filler (though not much), or even be shaped into more standard charcoal shapes. This isn’t a huge deal, but generally these are slightly lower in quality while also being slightly lower in price; the difference in both is usually pretty negligible.
The more standard charcoals are what you might be more likely to be familiar with. These charcoals often come in regular shaped lumps or briquettes, usually roughly pillow shaped.
These charcoals can still be good, but the trouble of using charcoal of this quality level is going to naturally be a bit lower than any kind of hardwood version.
This is due to 2 main reasons: their composition and method of creation.
The method is the big one in a lot of ways. Rather than being irregularly shaped lumps of actual wood, charcoal briquettes are generally made entirely from ash, which is then processed back into solid hunks. This brings us to the composition. Those hunks don’t hold their shape very well.
As a result, charcoal makers need to bind the ash together with something, and what they choose to do that with can vastly alter the quality of the charcoal itself.
Vegetable based binders (like corn starch and sawdust) are generally harmless overall. They burn well and don’t release any dangerous fumes; it just reduces their overall burn time by a bit.
The more dangerous options are the chemical binders, things like sodium nitrate and petroleum. They’re still safe enough, but dangerous to inhale too much of, and may also leave a bad aftertaste in the food. These kinds of charcoal are better left alone unless they’re cheap enough you’re willing to make do with subpar charcoal.
Among bbq enthusiasts the most common varieties of charcoal are those made of hardwood, either directly or indirectly. This is the European and American style of charcoal. However, there are two notable types of Asian charcoal to talk about: binchotan and the closely related Thai style charcoal.
Binchotan is a Japanese charcoal made primarily from endangered Malaysian mangrove trees. It is a ridiculously efficient charcoal, coming in whole logs that burn for incredibly long times at immense temperatures.
This makes them great for barbecuing on a charcoal grill or for smoking (once the coals have died down or been used in an adjacent furnace to cut the direct heat) and searing, particularly for foods like fish.
Binchotan is pretty hard to come by, being made from endangered trees, as mentioned before. I mentioned it so you know it’s properties, and can be properly impressed by the other kind: Thai style charcoal.
Thai charcoal was invented by a restaurant owner as a cost efficient equivalent to binchotan. It’s not as good…but only very slightly worse. It still has incredible temperature and burn length, but is made from easily renewable fruit trees (giving your meat a nicely fruity undertone) and is quite affordable, though a bit more expensive than other options.