Lump Charcoal vs Briquettes – What the Experts Say

lit lump charcoal

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There’s something about cooking and talking about barbecue that turns normal people into crazed zealots. 

One of the most common questions that gets debated over and over again is whether to use lump charcoal or briquettes.

We’ve turned to the experts to weigh up the pros and cons of cooking with lump charcoal vs charcoal briquettes.

If you’re new to cooking with charcoal and haven’t come across the Charcoal vs. Briquettes debate then don’t worry. We’ll run through the differences between each fuel source.

Read on to understand exactly which type of fuel is best for your situation.

And if you are also confused about how much charcoal to use, we’ve got you covered in our separate post on the subject.

What’s all the fuss about Lump Charcoal?

Lump charcoal is made by slowly burning pieces of wood in the absence of oxygen until all the natural chemicals, sap and moisture get out of the wood.

After that we are left with less harmful charcoal lump with lots of good qualities; it is little more than carbon, leaves very little ash after burning out, burns hotter and lights faster than briquettes.

Lump charcoal also responds accordingly to oxygen, hence you can easily control the level of heat if your grill features adjustable air vents.

It also contains no fillers or additives which makes it one of the cleanest ways to barbecue. A great choice for cooking steak caveman style directly over the coals.

Lump charcoal burns faster and hotter than briquettes so you do need to be careful with your temperature control.

Lump Charcoal Pros:

  • Contains no additives (all natural)
  • Easier temperature adjustment
  • Little ash production
  • Burns hotter
  • Lights quickly

Lump Charcoal Cons:

  • Bags contain uneven pieces of charcoal that can make it hard to grill. It also takes a bit more effort to cook with the snake method although it can be done by breaking the lump down into briquette sized chunks
  • More expensive than briquettes
  • Burns faster

Overview of Charcoal Briquettes

Briquettes are made from sawdust and leftover woods that are burnt down the same way as lump charcoal. Unlike lump charcoal, additives are in the process of making briquettes, unlike lump charcoal which is pure wood.

charcoal briquettes in smokey mountain

The additives are mainly used to hold the materials together in order to achieve clean little blocks that are often roundish-squarish in shape which makes them easier to stack.

Although briquettes burn longer, they do not burn as hot as lump charcoal. 

They are sometimes made using chemicals or other lighter fluids to make starting easier. In most cases, you will end up tasting what you burn because of the additives used when making briquettes. ‘

Many briquette users have claimed to smell the additives as they cook and sometimes even taste it in lighter foods like chicken or fish.

But that shouldn’t discourage you from using briquettes so long as you stock up on a reputable brand like Kingsford (make sure you don’t get the easy lighting one).

Briquette Pros:

  • It maintains a steady temperature for a longer period.
  • Cheaper than lump charcoal.
  • Burns longer.

Briquette Cons:

  • Large ash production.
  • Produces a chemical smell.
  • Takes longer to light.

If you’re researching to decide if you want to try cooking with charcoal, we have a guide to the best charcoal smokers and best charcoal grills available. 

Lump charcoal vs briquettes – what do the experts say?

Most experts with an opinion on the matter can relate that each of the two choices come with their advantages and disadvantages.

So let’s hear what the experts had to say about the pros of using either lump charcoal or briquettes.


Meathead Goldwyn, The Great Charcoal Debate

Lump charcoal is superior amongst its users because of its purity – it contains no lighter fluids like instant-light briquettes or additives like regular ones.

The reason why many people go for charcoal lump is because it reflects on their desire to have less additives or chemicals taste in their cooking and their food.

I see lump charcoal as an extension of the organic movement”

Meathead goes on to point out that claims of chemicals affecting the taste of your food are overblown.  

“There is no sufficient evidence that the additives in briquettes cause much impact on the food that one is cooking,”

Meathead Goldwyn – The Great Charcoal Debate: Briquettes Or Lumps?

For instance, Kingsford, the largest producer of charcoal in the U.S., rarely talk about what their briquettes include.

But on their website, they mention that they use cornstarch, borax, limestone, and coal.

Jeff Allen, executive director of the National Barbecue Association, says “I have seen a lot of experts who prefer the lump charcoal over briquettes, simply because charcoal can have a regional, cultural aspect.”

If you use lump charcoal made from pine, then it would burn fast and hot — and it is awesome for searing a steak,” says Allen.

But you can use charcoal made from wood with a higher density like hickory or oak if you want a slower cook.”

Not everyone is convinced though…

As much as charcoal or briquettes can be awesome for grilling various foods, they also come with their drawbacks. Here is what experts had to say against using lump charcoal.

Matt duckor against lump charcoal

Matt Duckor
, Why I’m Over Using Lump Hardwood Charcoal

“I went out and bought a bag of lump hardwood charcoal, brought it home, and loaded up my chimney starter with the irregularly shaped shards of petrified-looking wood.

I immediately noticed just how hot the hardwood stuff got and, before I knew it, how quickly it burned out. Things get especially tricky if you’re aiming to use lump hardwood charcoal for the kind of grilling session that can stretch over a span of several hours.

Every time I used it I ended up frustrated and confused, feeling all alone in this brave, overheated new grilling world.”

While Matt makes some good points, we think you can still control the heat with care and practice.

Jeff Allen from the National Barbecue Association points out that “charcoal generates more smoke than briquettes, which could be a problem with strict rules like apartments, retirement communities or even condos.”

Where to buy and best lump charcoal brands

Well, I am sure there are some of us who are wondering where to get the best charcoal brands for a successful charcoal barbecue.

Truth be told, there are many charcoal brands out there in the market but choosing the best brand can sometimes be confusing. 

If you really want to obsess over it, the great people over at The Naked Whiz maintain an incredibly detailed charcoal review database.

If spending hours reading charcoal reviews doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then the hardwood lump charcoal from Jealous Devil is a popular choice.

It produces low ash, excellent heat, lights fast and the chunks aren’t too big.

We’ve had both good and bad experiences with some of the lump charcoal available in the market.

Rockwood, Fogo and Royal Oak are also solid choices.

There seems to be a lot of variance in the level of quality, size and ash produced.

Resources to help you determine whether to use lump charcoal or briquettes

Grilling Smackdown: Lump Charcoal vs. BriquettesIn depth guide to choosing lump charcoal or briquettes.

Charcoal fuel typesWeber blog helps you determine which type of charcoal to use.

The Great Charcoal Debate: Briquettes Or Lumps? – An article that provides relevant information on the great charcoal debate: Briquettes or Lumps?

Lesson 8: Lump vs. Briquette CharcoalAn episode by Fred Thompson that deep dives into the debate. 

That brings us to the end of this article regarding lump charcoal vs. briquettes. I hope that you will find useful information to help you choose wisely.

You can go ahead and leave a comment to add any important information you think I may have left out.

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  1. Lump charcoal for me every time. I don’t like additives in my food and don’t want them being exposed to additives in smoke either.

  2. I’ve tried Stubbs briquettes, but nothing is better than lump. Better flavor. Burns hotter and less ash. You can control it easily with air flow to make it burn slow for long cooks.

    1. I was surprised that briquettes contain borax. That thing poisonous.

  3. I picked up a bag of B&B Oak Lump. Not sure what is meant by lump smoking more. Kingsford puts off a ton of blue-white smoke. This lump puts off next to nothing.

  4. I use lump mixed with large chunks of wet and dry hickory for low and slow cooking. I used to struggle to get the lump coals to light until I discovered lighting from the top down. To do this, arrange your lump charcoal and wood chunks in your cooker, then fill a chimney halfway with either lump charcoal or briquettes and light it…when the coals in the chimney are lit, dump them in on top of your lump charcoal and wood chunks in your cooker. The lit coals burn down through the unlit fuel in your cooker. It is easy to control the temperature since you start out with a cold cooker. I use a remote probe style thermometer to track the temp of my grill and my food while it slow cooks.

  5. james worsham says:

    I use a mix of both. The lump gives a great smoke flavor.Also if you need to add more fuel add the lump . It wont smoke like charcoal.

  6. I’ve been grilling 60 years. Briquettes are far superior to lumps. Here’s why.

    Lump charcoal has everything from dust to giant chunks. The result is pockets of hot and cold. Uneven cooking.

    The big chunks don’t burn at all.

    The only filler in briquettes is clay. That’s what makes them burn evenly. And the ash is great for your garden.

    As long as you don’t get the kind with lighter fluid impregnated, there are no chemicals in briquettes.

    With any charcoal, the lighter fluid completely volatilizes in a few minutes. There is no residual taste in the result.

    I’m all for natural, that’s why I don’t use a gas grill. But we shouldn’t take it to ludicrous extremes.

    Lump charcoal is just an advertising gimmick to induce you to pay more for a cheaper product.

    1. GameMasteBob says:

      There ARE chemical additives in most briquettes event Kingsford admits it if you know where to look

  7. I started cooking as a boy scout over an open fire about sixty years ago. By age twelve I could cook pancakes, eggs, and bacon over a camp fire.

    The trick is even heat. In an open camp fire you feed the fire with twigs about pencil size. Cooks want hot coals without flames.

    Later I fell in love with BBQ. I used many fuels. Oak was best, or any hardwood available. Once again it must be coals. A friend once loaded up his BBQ with oak logs to cook a ham. In three hours the ham was covered in thick creosote. A lost day. Oak must be burned down to coals first, else too much smoke.

    On my horse ranch I always had an oak tree down from lightening or other causes. I sawed the logs into three inch rounds. Let them cure in off-center stacks. Then broke them up in chunks with a sledge hammer. Then burned them down into perfect BBQ coals. Then shoveled them into to the grill.

    Most of us don’t have access to nearly free oak trees to saw up and burn.

    Briquettes are the next best thing.

    1. i wanna know how to make pancakes, eggs and bacon over a camp fire

  8. I grew up in Venezuela, and we grill pretty much every weekend huge chunks of beef. I never saw a briquette until I came to the United States. I went to the store to get some charcoal, got a bag and went grilling, then I was surprised how all pieces were the same size and shape. And also surprised on how terrible that charcoal was.

  9. Ken Warner says:

    Allow 5 hours. A serious barbecue to die for:
    1. Find a dead oak tree.
    2. Prime chainsaw.
    3. Cut oak tree into smallish pieces.
    4. In an indentation in the ground start fire approximately 1:00 p. m. for dining at 6:00 p. m.
    5. Have up to 3 building bricks in each corner for height control.
    6. Place large metal grating on top of 2 or 3 bricks.
    7. Prepare steak (or lamb loin chops, pork, stuffed rainbow trout, or….) with oil and herbs.
    8. Barbecue to taste.
    9. Finish off meal with barbecued bananas in their skin until skin is 100% black. Slit open lengthwise and add sugar and lemon, or maple syrup or even chocolate. Enjoy.

    You will never use smelly old reconstituted clay or cement briquettes ever again.

    P. S the above is serious and have used it 100s of times

  10. So I’ve only ever had a problem with cheap briquettes or charcoal. But what I’ll take from this is briquettes are good for low and slow and charcoal is good for searing my sou vide steaks. That hopefully will eliminate a lot of time lighting and give me a higher temp for a quick sear. Thanks for the write up.
    Ps I’m not into taking sides here. Just want to enjoy the positives of each side.

  11. Tom Donaghy says:

    Weber kettles work best with briquettes, like Royal Oak. They are designed to deal with the excessive ash, and the burn can be regulated by counting the briquettes, which are around one ounce each (28 grams). Each one gives bout 20 degrees, F. Used to be 25 but the Accountants started running the charcoal briquette companies and downsized the coals.
    Anyways, 40 briquettes with the vent setting on any kettle BBQ will cook most weekend meals.

    Ceramic Kamodo style cookers need lump charcoal. Their design has one great virtue, excellent vent systems— and one great flaw, no space below the firebox for ash to collect without impeding the bottom vent. The rapid burn is controlled and slowed by the vents. In fact, Kamodo cookers use less charcoal, although its 3 x as expensive, than kettles. You can smother the fire after cooking and save the leftovers. Difficult to do with kettles, they usually burn out.

    So depending on your Barbecue pick one or the other. Briquettes in a Kamodo is a disaster and sometimes the reason people don’t like ceramic cookers. Lump in a Weber style kettle gets fiercely hot and is uncontrollable in my experience. You will get a sear heat for about 40 minutes.

    This is based on my time with two Weber’s and one BGE.

  12. I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned the all natural hardwood briquettes. Best of both worlds. I use the Cowboy brand as that is what is available in my area, but I think there are a few others as well. Trader Joes used to have their own brand for a few years, but I can’t seem to find them any more.

  13. Calamity Jane says:

    I really want to like lump charcoal but there are a few problems with it: you get really filthy with charcoal dust when picking your pieces out of the bag; it burns SO FAST. No sooner do you light up a chimney, then you have to light another. Third, you end up with a bunch of smithereens and charcoal powder in the bottom of the bag. What do you do with that? We usually dump it on a campfire. So maybe if I had a bigger barbeque, or perhaps for open-fire pit cooking, I could use lump. Like I say, the idea appeals, but so does the relative cleanliness and convenience of briquettes. I never thought that I would be saying that.

    1. There’s nothing wrong with using briquettes! I always put on my heatproof gloves when handling charcoal and that takes care of getting dirty.

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