Lump Charcoal vs. Briquettes: Which Fuel Should You Use?

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Last Updated on July 14, 2021

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

lump charcoal vs briquettes

Which is the better fuel: Lump charcoal or briquettes? It’s a common question asked among barbecue enthusiasts who want to explore better ways to grill using charcoal. 

Like most topics of debate, there’s no easy answer to this question, and the type of fuel you use depends on the meat you’re using, your budget, and the type of flavor you want.

It’s essential to define both types of fuel, understand the pros and cons of each, and know the types of meat that work well with each, so you can decide what type of fuel is right for you.

1. What is Lump Charcoal?

lump

Lump charcoal is a traditional charcoal made directly from hardwood material.

This charcoal comes from pieces of wood usually collected from sawmills, lumber mills, and other unprocessed branches and limbs. These wood pieces are then burnt with no oxygen supply until all the natural sap, moisture, and chemicals escape from the wood to ensure the best possible flavor. 

After this process is complete, you get pure charcoal. Lump charcoal is often described as the more “natural” type of charcoal because it doesn’t contain additives or added components. Many lump charcoal users state that this kind of charcoal makes their food taste even better compared to other fuel types.

It’s also important to know that lump charcoal responds well to oxygen, so it’s a good fuel source if you like your grill to have a well-controlled level of heat. This can be particularly useful if you enjoy cooking meats at different temperatures or for varying lengths of time.

Pros

  • All-natural and 100% free from additives
  • It’s often reusable
  • Burns hot, up to 1,200°F or more
  • Lump charcoal gives meat a nice wood smoke flavor
  • Usually more convenient to adjust your grill’s temperature when using lump charcoal than other types

Cons

  • Bags of lump charcoal contain different-sized pieces, which sometimes make grilling consistently challenging
  • Lump charcoal can be inconsistent
  • The quality of lump charcoal depends on the type of wood used
  • Lump charcoal is more expensive than briquettes

Lump Charcoal and Meat Pairings

Mild woods such as alder, bamboo, and applewood give subtle flavors, making them good poultry and fish options. Meanwhile, woods such as oak and cherry infuse a medium amount of flavor, making these types of good wood options for beef and pork.

If you’re looking for intense flavor, pecan, hickory, and mesquite are excellent choices, which makes these woods ideal for salmon, pork, and brisket.

2. When Should You Use Lump Charcoal?

grilling a steak

Lump charcoal is the better choice if you’re looking for a more natural flavor in the meat you cook or if you like your meat to have a wood-smoked taste to it. Lump charcoal also burns for longer than other fuel sources. A piece of lump charcoal will usually burn for around one hour, so you’ll use less of it than you would briquettes. Just remember to add new pieces of lump charcoal every hour for as long as you are grilling. 

This type of charcoal is more expensive than briquettes, which may impact your choice if you’re just starting to learn how to barbecue or you’re on a tight budget. You can usually find lump charcoal in any reputable store that sells smokers or outdoor cooking equipment.

Since lump charcoal tends to burn hotter than briquettes, it’s advisable to wear a high-quality pair of high-heat gloves, particularly when you’re adding fuel to your grill, to avoid any nasty burns or injuries.

3. What are Briquettes?

grill

A briquette is a block of flammable matter used as a fuel source for starting fires. Briquettes are made from a combination of leftover materials, including sawdust and leftover woods. Unlike lump charcoal, certain additives are used in the compression of charcoal briquettes.

These additives make briquettes easier to light, allow them to smoke more, and infuse particular flavors. These additives also help briquettes retain their shape for longer, making them easier to stack.

Pros

  • Uniform in size and shape
  • More affordable than lump charcoal
  • Great for smoking and grilling
  • Excellent for beginners
  • Typically burn for longer than lump charcoal
  • Briquettes maintain a steady temperature

Cons

  • Briquettes aren’t reusable
  • Can sometimes give meat an acidic, chemically taste, particularly if you use low-quality briquettes
  • Briquettes produce a considerable amount of ash

Lump Charcoal and Meat Pairings

Briquettes contain additives and don’t infuse different flavors into different kinds of fish and meat as potently as lump charcoal. This gives lump charcoal a leg up in the lump charcoal vs. briquettes debate. This also means you can use almost any type of briquette for grilling most meats. 

However, there are flavored briquettes on the market that produce a flavored flame. Flavored briquettes commonly come in applewood, hickory, and mesquite flavors, so choose these if you’re using briquettes and want to add a bit more flavor to your meat.

Ensure the briquette you use is high-quality; this will minimize the chances of any acidic flavorings making their way into your meat.

4. When Should You Use Briquettes?

kebab

If you want your grill to stay at a steady temperature and you’re going to be grilling for a considerable amount of time, briquettes may be better suited to your needs. This is because briquettes are easier to light than pieces of lump charcoal, so your grill can retain its heat for longer.

The typical briquette usually stays hot for around 40 minutes. If you’re going to be grilling or smoking for longer, you’ll need to add additional briquettes every 40 minutes after the last batch.

Briquettes are also particularly useful if you’re new to grilling or if you’re on a tight budget, so consider this when you’re looking to answer the question of lump charcoal vs. briquettes.


Jim Bob

Author: Jim Bob

Wrapping It Up

There’s no clear winner in the battle of lump charcoal vs. briquettes because the type of fuel you use depends on the grilling experience you’re looking to achieve.

If you’ve got the budget and the time, try both fuel types to see which you prefer. By doing this, you can decide which you prefer.