Charcoal is charcoal, right?
Well, not quite. The type of charcoal you use, and what wood it was initially made from, can have a significant impact on the taste, and cooking time, of your food.
The first hurdle to jump is defining the difference between lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes.
- Lump charcoal is made from chunks of pure wood that are burned in an oxygen-deficient environment until they are little more than pieces of carbon.
- Charcoal briquettes go through a very similar process, but they are made of sawdust and waste wood that is clumped together in neat little squares using a range of additives. Some pitmasters claim to be able to smell these additives when cooking and that they flavor lighter foods like chicken and fish.
If you’d like to know more about the differences between lump charcoal and charcoal briquettes, you can check out our article on the subject. For the moment, we’ll be sticking with the cleaner burning lump charcoal and giving you a rundown of the charcoal brands we like the most.
Our top 9 choices for best lump charcoal in 2020
Jealous Devil manufactures all of their charcoal from South American hardwood using an all-natural carbonization method. So, if you are concerned about what is in your burn, Jealous Devil is an excellent choice for a no additive charcoal.
The other benefit of only using dense South American hardwood is that it burns longer and hotter than traditional charcoal. This is because it is about 30% denser than oak or hickory.
The choice of wood also gives your food a mild smokey flavor that adds a delicious undertone to more substantial cuts like brisket, but won’t overwhelm lighter foods like chicken or white fish.
Jealous Devil is also justifiably proud of their charcoal bags. Instead of the flimsy paper, we’re all used to, their bags are:
Since you won’t need as much Jealous Devil charcoal per cooking session, having a way to store this high-quality product properly is ideal.
Fogo’s all-natural restaurant-quality charcoal is made entirely from quality hardwood and matches up very well with a ceramic style grill, like a Kamado Joe or a Big Green Egg.
White oak is the principal wood in the mix that Fogo uses, it is blended with other woods to create a charcoal that is quick to light, burns for longer, and produces enough heat to sear a steak with.
Fogo is renowned for providing large chunks of charcoal in their bags, so you don’t have to worry about paying for a bag of charcoal chips, and their size and uniformity makes it easier to get a consistent temperature when cooking.
Cowboy brand Lump charcoal contains no coal or chemical additives and is made from a mix of hardwoods that give you a long, clean burn.
One of the benefits of using Cowboy charcoal is that the mix of woods used in the creation of the charcoal doesn’t impart much of a flavor to the food it is cooking.
So, if you are the kind of pitmaster who prefers that their BBQ fuel doesn’t impinge on their carefully crafted rubs and marinades, then this is precisely the kind of charcoal you need.
Unlike the Cowboy Lump Charcoal, B&B Charcoal Oak Lump Charcoal is packed with oaky flavor, and the density of the hardwood used in its manufacture makes it ideal for long burns without needing to add in a bag after bag of extra charcoal.
B&B doesn’t include any additives in their charcoal making process, so the only flavor you’ll be getting is from the wood, and their 100% natural charcoal creation process is as environmentally friendly as possible.
You might have seen us singing the praises of Kamado Joe in our review of the best kamado grills for 2020, and you’ll be happy to learn that their charcoal is just as good as their ceramic grills.
Their all-natural mix is made from Argentinian hardwood trees that are so famously dense that the locals refer to them as ‘Axe Breakers.’
The resulting charcoal burns for longer and is able to produce the high temperatures required to put a proper sear on a steak. The larger sized chunks you’ll find in the Kamado Joe bags also burn slower, and therefore last longer, than standard lump charcoal.
As with the Jealous Devil charcoal, the Argentinian hardwood adds a mild, but noticeable smokey hint to the food being cooked over it. It’s not overpowering, but it does add a little something extra to your usual BBQ rub’s taste profile.
Royal Oak charcoal has become a byword for quality when it comes to fuel to feed your grill. Their clean-burning charcoal lights relatively quickly, although it doesn’t contain any additives, and comes up to cooking temperature quickly.
The charcoal itself is made from an environmentally friendly mixture of oak, hickory, maple, and walnut wood that is taken from sustainable forestry projects.
This mixture burns cleanly, leaves little ash behind, and provides consistent heat. The larger lumps can be used multiple times, and Royal Oak claims burn times as long as 16 to 18 hours. Ideal for that slow-cooked brisket.
IPPINKA Kishu Binchotan is a specific type of charcoal imported from Japan. Binchō-tan or “white charcoal” is a traditional fuel for Japanese kamado-style cooking pots and is made from Japanese white oak.
Much like the quality Wagyu beef, it was originally used to cook, some regard Binchō-tan as the highest quality charcoal in the world.
Kishū binchō-tan indicates that the charcoal was manufactured in Wakayama province and, much like how Kobe beef is the pinnacle of Wagyu beef, Kishū binchō-tan is considered to be the best charcoal that Japan produces.
Kishū binchō-tan is incredibly dense, burns for an extraordinarily long time and partially burned lumps can be reused by dropping them into the water to cool them and then drying them out for a day before burning them again.
Primo Natural Lump Charcoal is entirely free of any harmful additives and tars and has an exceptionally long burning time. Because loads can be doused and then reused, Primo suggests that a single bag can fuel up to 35 cooks with each burning for up to 36 hours.
So, if you are looking for the perfect fuel for some low and slow cooking, then Primo is an excellent choice.
All of the wood used in the manufacture of Rockwood’s all-natural hardwood lump charcoal comes from Missouri and is taken exclusively from renewable sources. The oak, hickory, maple, and pecan used to make the charcoal is solely made from hardwood leftover from timber milling, and no trees are explicitly felled to make charcoal.
Additionally, the bags and soy-based inks used for transporting the charcoal are recyclable, landfill-safe, and won’t produce harmful fumes if burned.
So, if you are looking for a sustainable, environmentally friendly charcoal that is still made from high-quality wood and burns clean and hot, then Rockwood is the fuel for you.
Wrapping it up
So, there you have it. Our list of some of the best charcoal producers on the market. All of these brands produce charcoal that is free of additives and made from quality wood. You can expect long burn times, high and consistent heats, and minimal ash left to clear up.
With a range of woods from Argentine ax-breaker trees to sustainable Missouri pecan, there is sure to be a smokey wood flavor on this list that suits your palate.
Is there a charcoal brand you love that you think we’ve missed out? Do you have the best way to light the super dense Kishū binchō-tan? We’d love it if you’d let us know in the comments below.