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Charcoal is a popular method for barbeque, and for good reason. It’s easy to use and works for anything you’d care to use it for, from slow smoking to fast searing and everything in between; even baking is on the table with a good long burning charcoal.
Today we’re going to be looking at a ton of charcoals. Each is unique in its own way, with different reasons for using it. Some are better for some dishes than others, as an example.
Before we do that, though, let’s take a quick look at what exactly makes all of these so unique; the different features and factors that not just make a lump charcoal good, but good for different things.
Our Top Choice...
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Top 9 Best Lump Charcoal Reviews
1. Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
This lump charcoal is as near to perfect as you can get, with absolutely everything we look for in a lump charcoal.
The lumps are large and easy to arrange however you want, and are clearly cut from proper hunks of wood rather than reassembled later. The charcoal is made from a South American hardwood which has a nice, subtle flavor to it, making it perfect for any kind of dish, though giving it a slight drawback as compared to more flavorful woods if you want something that has its own bite to it like a good apple or cherry wood.
The price is quite good for what you get. You pay a bit more than cheaper charcoals but not so much it stings to purchase it.
You can’t really do better than this. All natural, no fillers, excellent quality, light flavor, and good, easy to light lumps that burn massively hot (7000 cal/g) and leave behind a nice, fine ash that’s easy to clean up. If you want a top quality charcoal without a distinct flavor of its own, do yourself a favor and give this a try.
Burns hot and clean.
No distinct flavor of its own.
Burns a very long time.
Lack of distinct flavor can be considered both an upside and a downside.
2. Kamado Joe KJ-Char Hardwood, Extra Large Lump Charcoal
This is an excellent charcoal as well. You’ve got a good mix of woods: Guayacan, Guayaibi, Mistal, White Quebracho, all great Argentinian woods with a nice, light, and clean flavor. It burns a great long time, up to 18 hours, and you can reuse these huge lumps up to 3 times, making it a good cost efficient charcoal for what you get.
The lumps are enormous and irregularly shaped, which can be a slight issue with smaller grills, but overall works perfectly for just about anything you’d care to cook.
The density of this charcoal is the real standout feature here. The way it’s made (densely stacked in a brick oven) creates a very nice, thick, heavy hardwood charcoal, which leads to all its other great features.
Good light flavor.
Extraordinarily hot and long lasting burn (burns for 18 hours).
Irregularly shaped lumps.
Extra large lumps.
Extremely dense; reusable up to 3 times.
Lumps might be a little too big for some grills.
3. Fogo Premium Oak Premium All Natural Hardwood
This is a good one, but is unfortunately a bit too expensive.
The lumps are good; large enough to be useful, but small enough to easily stack up in any kind of grill. These are especially good in ceramic grills, which is what they’re made for. The charcoal is designed to light up fast, but burn long, making them an excellent restaurant charcoal.
This is, in terms of pure quality, probably the best hardwood charcoal on the market. Oak is an excellent wood for this kind of charcoal, since it gives off a lot of flavorful smoke, but the smoke itself is nondescript; it gives what most would describe as a purely “smokey” smell as opposed to a more distinctly flavored wood which is more easily describable.
With oak you get quite a lot of this flavor as well. The smoke isn’t overly thick or greasy or anything, but it’s noticeably more voluminous than others we’ve covered so far.
Dense hardwood charcoal.
Lights comparatively quickly (slower than a briquette, but faster than most lump charcoal).
Good sized lumps without being too big.
Good “smoke tasting” smoke.
Fairly expensive for charcoal.
4. Bull Outdoor Products Competition Blend Lump Charcoal
This Bull charcoal is a fascinating blend of woods; oak, pecan, and mesquite. It was made specifically for making burgers at a competition and, of course serves that purpose amazingly well.
It makes beef taste delicious, and it’s not too bad on everything else either.
The price is excellent for what you get; you’re getting a great deal per pound on what is a great, painstakingly curated mix of wood.
It burns a long time, making it great for its intended purpose as well as smoking. You could make a huge amount of burgers on a single serving of charcoal, or smoke a brisket just as easily.
It’s a great, high quality blend, for a great price. What else could you ask for?
High quality, completely unique blend of woods.
Specialized for a burger competition, but great for everything else as well.
Great for beef, especially burgers.
Good sized irregular hunks.
Great price per pound.
Only comes in small bags.
5. Fire & Flavor Premium All Natural Olive Wood Charcoal
These are a very different lump than the usual. Most of the time, lump charcoals are made with slow smoking of mostly beef or pork in mind, maybe some chicken. They have a smoky, savory flavor to them that really shines through in those kinds of meats.
This charcoal is more focused on poultry and fish above all else though, being made largely to cook Mediterranean style dishes. Olive wood is oily in a good way, with a very light touch on the flavoring of your meat, making it perfect for foods that inherently have a lighter flavor: white fish, chicken, lamb, and so on.
On the flipside though, unless I was in a pinch and had no other choice for some reason, I wouldn’t use this to smoke a brisket or a rack of ribs, for sure. It imparts basically nothing of itself for those more richly flavored meats.
This makes this charcoal unparalleled at what it’s made for…but very niche. Thankfully it’s also quite inexpensive overall, letting you keep it around the house as a once in a while charcoal without feeling like you wasted your money.
In short: great all natural charcoal for a great price, but not something you’re likely to reach for as your go to charcoal, unfortunately.
Excellent light flavor is perfect for white meats: chicken (and other poultry), most fish, goat or lamb.
Excellent high quality wood.
Niche use; not a good everyday charcoal.
Only sold in small bags.
6. Harder Charcoal 100 Percent Natural Restaurant Style Lump Charcoal
This is just a very good quality “basic” charcoal made of quebracho. Of note, this charcoal is made without cutting down a single tree; it’s all made of naturally fallen branches and similar leavings.
The charcoal itself is excellent quality, very dense lumps and cut into large, but not unwieldy chunks. You get a very good sized bag here for a reasonable price, which is a bit surprising given the method of harvesting. It’s not inexpensive by any means, but reasonable compared to other charcoals of similar quality for sure.
This charcoal is incredibly dense and reusable, with a very nice smoky flavor. Quebracho wood is favored for a reason; it’s flavorful, burns hot, burns incredibly long, and can even be reused for 2 or 3 uses. This makes it not only very effective but cost efficient.
Most of the charcoal we’ve looked at so far has been a mix of different woods, often with some quebracho mixed in, but this is 100% the real deal, making it a great buy if you can find it.
Incredibly dense wood is reusable multiple times.
Burns hot for very long periods of time.
Great smoky flavor.
Sustainably harvested from uncut trees.
Reasonable price for the method of harvesting.
Availability can be a bit scarce.
7. Cowboy 24220 Lump Charcoal
This is a good, standard lump charcoal. While not made from ultra dense quebracho wood, what it lacks in cost efficiency, reusability, and sheer long lasting power it makes up for in flavor.
Made from a mix of hickory, oak, and maple woods, the flavor of the smoke this Cowboy Charcoal produces exemplifies traditional Southern barbeque, with its naturally sweet and delicious flavors on full display here.
There’s no gimmick or super special qualities here; it’s just a bag of extremely high quality charcoal with the flavors most people have come to associate with Southern barbeque ready to be mingled into the meat of your choice. It’s a good price, comes in a variety of bag sizes, and is just all around great quality lump charcoal.
Delicious, “classic” barbeque flavor for wood.
Works well with just about any kind of meat or flavoring you’d care to try.
Versatile and easy to use.
No “killer app” that makes it stand out from the crowd of other, similar charcoals, even on this list.
8. VIVA PANCHO 100% Mesquite LUMP Charcoal
It is surprisingly difficult to find a high quality lump charcoal with mesquite in it, much less that is made of 100% mesquite. The wood is popular for a reason, with a unique and almost indescribable flavor that brings out the best in a lot of meats, particularly beef.
Much like chipotle, it’s often associated with Latin American and Southwestern foods, and is a staple of that style of barbeque, so its relative lack of representation in the market is weird, but I digress.
Even if it was more common, this would probably still be my go to choice; it’s an excellent quality charcoal with good lumps, a decent price for what is in general an extraordinarily expensive wood, and all the wonderful things that mesquite cooking brings to the table.
The only drawbacks are ones inherent to the wood itself: the flavor is incredibly strong, and liable to overpower “weaker” meats like fish, chicken, and even pork, making it best reserved for things like beef and game meats, which have naturally intense flavors that want to be enhanced by other strong flavors.
Incredible high quality wood.
Powerful and utterly unique flavor is perfect for beef and other strong meats.
Exemplifies the unique flavor profile of several barbequing traditions.
Flavor is a bit TOO powerful for most meats, which can have their own unique flavors completely obliterated by mesquite smoke.
9. Ippinka Kishu Binchotan BBQ Charcoal
Binchotan is the Superman of charcoals in many ways. It burns incredibly hot for incredibly long periods of time; somewhere in the ballpark of 700 degrees Fahrenheit (370 degrees Celsius) for about 6 hours at a time. This makes this charcoal great for long cooking periods, when you need to crank out a lot of seared meat, or use a grill like an oven for a while with intense temperature control.
The charcoal is made using a unique method (a very labor intensive and specialized skill) that increases its carbon content through the roof (about 95% as compared to the average 75% carbon), giving it these unique properties. It’s also made from very specific kinds of Japanese oak wood that are in relative short supply.
This, as you might imagine, leads us to binchotan’s main drawback: it’s ludicrously expensive and hard to get your hands on, at least for “true” binchotan.
There are imitators (like Thai variants) which are almost as good but much less expensive and more sustainable, but if you want the real thing you’re going to be shelling out a pretty penny. But the results are well worth it for grill afficionados.
Incredible heat and burn length.
Great for searing or smoking and baking (with careful temperature control).
Reusable if stored properly.
Can only be bought in very tiny batches.
Availability is scarce.
Very finicky to work with.
This list is less of a “best” list and more a collection of equally good charcoals that all do something different. While I do still have a favorite, because Jealous Devil’s hardwood charcoal is a great all around charcoal to keep around, each of these might suit different purposes better.
Some are best for fish, chicken, beef, or some other kind of unique purposes. Some are better for slow smoking, while others best for quick searing. Flavor profiles vary and reusability is a factor that only exists for some charcoals but not others.
Every one of these charcoals is unique and perfect for someone else, and the one that fits one person best might be absolutely terrible for another’s standards. If you’re cooking fish the Fire & Flavor charcoal is excellent, while the Viva Pancho mesquite charcoal would ruin your fish’s flavor; a similar problem arises trying to use the former option for beef instead of the latter. It’s all a give and take.
Again, for my money, the best all rounder “jack of all trades’ charcoal is the Jealous Devil option, closely followed by Harder Charcoal’s quebracho lumps, but sometimes you don’t need the one that is good enough at everything.
What to Look For in Lump Charcoal?
First, we look at overall quality. This comes down to an easy single factor: is it 100% wood or not?
The main thing that separates lump charcoal from briquettes is that lump charcoal is in the traditional sense; it’s made from wood that has been burnt down and carbonized into long and hot burning lumps.
There should be no fillers in a lump charcoal, no mix of woods in each lump (though there is often a variety in the bag; this is fine), and nothing else that indicates it’s impure.
This increases the burn time and decreases cleanup; pure lump charcoals like this leave less gritty ash to clean up afterward.
Going from there, the only thing that matters is the type of wood used, so let’s go over some common ones.
Quebracho is a South American wood roughly translated as “axe breaker”. As the name might imply, this wood is ludicrously dense for a tree.
It’s a very common wood for barbequing, not just in South America but internationally. A lot of high end lump charcoals are bags of either wholly or partially quebracho lumps, because the wood is simply a workhorse once converted into charcoal. It burns long, it produces enough smoke without being overbearing or oily, and it gives off a great long lasting heat, making it perfect for all kind sof barbeque.
The only drawback to it is that it doesn’t have much flavor on its own, which is why it’s often mixed with other woods.
Apple wood and cherry wood are common smoking woods for barbeque, especially in the northern parts of the US, where the trees are more common. They produce a solid flame, though nothing impressively hot or long lasting.
What they do provide is a sweet, delicious flavor that permeates the meat you’re cooking and gives it that unique apple or cherry tint under everything else you might put on it.
Charcoal of these woods is going to be a bit more rich, a bit less sweet, but overall similar in flavor undertone.
A trio of woods makes up the backbone of Southern barbeque tradition: oak, maple, and hickory.
These woods combined give a slightly sweet but very deep and rich flavor that has been described as “bacon-y” by some, since hickory and maple are so ubiquitous when it comes to curing bacon.
Oak here serves less for flavor and more to be the “working man” of the group, burning long and hard so the others can get used up a bit quicker and infuse your meat with that delicious rich flavor.
Joining these three is sometimes a hint of a 4th member: pecan, but it should be used sparingly; much like much of the shell and inner bits of the nuts themselves, the wood can be bitter, so is best when it remains at a minimum.
Mesquite is a wood that stands on its own but performs equally well as part of a team. It has an incredible flavor on its own which is best paired with meats that can handle such a strong partner; it completely overpowers subtler flavors, like most fish (salmon is a notable exception to this).
In many ways it’s similar to hickory, but stronger. It burns well, tastes great, and is a cornerstone of the Southwest’s barbequing tradition.
Binchotan has no real unique flavor; it’s here because of its raw performing power. While hard to find (the cheaper but still good Thai imitator is a bit more common), it’s well worth a buy if you can get it for a half decent price.
This wood burns long and hot, making it great for just about anything you’d care to throw at it, with a super high carbon content and heat retention.